All Commentary
Monday, July 8, 2013

Thorpe-Freeman Monthly Blog Award: The Paradox of Spontaneous Order

This month brought us a number of blogs worthy of consideration. Particularly of note and honorable mention were two runner-up entries:  Henry Moore, commenting on Ross Emmett's  article “What's Right About Malthus,” first infers two themes embedded in Emmett's commentary: that great theorists “illuminate the path” and that “human institutions can mitigate human (nature).” Moore then extends Emmett's observations concerning “what's right” about Malthus to salvage portions of both Herbert Spencer's and  Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's thinking. Moore's blog effectively reminds us that just because they didn't get it all right doesn't mean they got it all wrong.

And Babatunde Onabajo, commenting on the same article, likewise provides additional valuable insight by linking Malthus' belief that a “uniform course of prosperity” would “degrade (rather) than exalt the character” to a defense of the business cycle that is a centerpiece of anti-capitalist criticism. It is common economic wisdom that recessions provide incentives to economic players to correct inefficiencies.  Less common is Malthus' moral observation that economic downturns may provide individuals (and by extension society) with opportunities to develop and strengthen “virtues … such as charity and piety.”                       

The winner this month is Adam Millsap, for his observations on Troy Camplin's article “The Beautiful City.”

Millsap extends Camplin's observations about the paradoxes that make a city beautiful by speculating on what may be some of the causal factors that have led to the re-emergence, in recent years, of many vibrant urban communities. Though Millsap clearly decries excessive urban planning and “burdensome zoning and regulation” as inimical to the “controlled chaos” that produces the paradoxes Camplin identifies as the source of a city's beauty, Millsap nevertheless recognizes that the subsidies embedded in urban transportation systems may have had the effect of lowering the cost of urban dwelling relative to suburban commuting. Libertarians need not love central planning to recognize its consequences, even when narrowly or inadvertently positive; and one may either love or hate the consequences and still recognize the causal relationships that may have produced them.

Millsap's speculations thus provide a mental springboard encouraging the reader to consider more fully the factors that have led to “the renewed interest in city living.” Millsap's speculations range wide, from the gender distribution of college degrees to the availability of affordable housing to the need for specialized labor forces to juxtapose with a variety of employment opportunities. Where Camplin provides a poetic appreciation of the contrapuntal tensions that allow a city's beauty to emerge, Millsap provides an array of speculative hypotheses concerning the social and economic factors that may have facilitated that emergence.

Congratulations to Adam, this month's recipient of the Thorpe Blog Award.

Karl Borden 

Professor of Finance, University of Nebraska

Chair, Thorpe Award Committee

  • Karl Borden is professor of financial economics at the University of Nebraska-Kearney and a serial entrepreneur with 11 successful business start-ups to his credit.