A Hayekian Walk Down Wall Street

The always enjoyable Candace Smith, Etiquette Advisor to the Stars (my description), has a great short post on the etiquette of going for a stroll. Candace’s post is full of excellent nuggets of general polite rules of walking in public. These rules are not legislation; for the most part, they are convention. People, even those new to the society, quickly pick them up and obey; to not do so would be against their self-interest. These rules developed over time and, as Candace notes, have connections to similar activities we partake in (“The general rule here in the United States: keep to the right and pass on the left, exactly as if one were driving”). These rules, in other words, emerged from human interaction with one another in out society and they exist outside those members (in other words, the rules are not just the reflection of the current members of the society but have power over newcomers as well). In that sense, they are more like laws.

But there is another aspect of Candace’s post I wish to draw attention to: namely, the unarticulated rules. Candace is articulating many of the unspoken rules of walking, but there are things she leaves out, not because of incompleteness on her part but simply because those things are inarticulatable.; they are very loose, vague, indeterminante, and subjective.

Consider her common-sense rule: “Stay mindful and off your phone as you will be moving in and out among others, gauging their movement without bumping into them or pushing up against them.” This rule is simple enough, but what it fully means is not captured in this short sentence. The actual steps needed to be taken will vary from situation to situation, from person to person, from moment to moment. No one could explain all the lightning-quick decisions made while on a walk. Don’t believe me? Try to guide someone who is blindfolded down a street only by your words (articulation). I bet it would be impossible.

These inarticulate rules still influence us despite their inarticulate nature. We try to articulate them as much as we can, like Candace, but even that is incomplete. There is so much background knowledge we need in order to make our actions coherent, to make them in concert with other people.

And that is the fundamental insight of FA Hayek.

Jon MurphyPrice Theory, Knowledge