Legibility, Control and Equilibrium in Economics

Peter Lewin notes that

It is an understanding of the incentivized behavior of human beings that allows us to understand and predict invisible-hand outcomes.
Yet, the complexity problem remains. Can we be certain, as a logical matter, that if certain conditions obtain, certain definite types of outcomes will result from the free market process? It is on this type of thinking that the more sophisticated Keynesians might base their arguments for benevolent and effective intervention in the face of economic crisis.

Both the invisible-hand and the mainstream Keynesian argument implicitly take legibility, predictability and stability to be desirable characteristics of economic outcomes. The Keynesian argument sees the illegibility and uncertainty as justification to put in place a system of control whereas the invisible-hand argument claims that the system is legible and at “equilibrium”. The latter operates in a fantasy land and the former through the very act of stabilisation renders stability all the more elusive.

Technocratic and Technological Utopianism

At the heart of Adam Curtis’ documentaries is a critique of utopianism, whether it be technocratic (Pandora’s Box) or technological (All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace). So it is ironic that at the same time that Curtis returns to the BBC with a new series, we have the perfect real-life exposition of this clash at the e-G8 conference. Nicholas Sarkozy on the technocratic side of the debate arguing for “boundaries” to be set on the “wild west” of the internet, and Eric Schmidt on the technological side of the debate arguing that

before we decide we need some regulatory solution let’s ask if there is a technological solution that can scale that we can all get around. We will move a lot more quickly than one of the governments, let alone all of the governments.