Brad DeLong has an article up at Project Syndicate noting and celebrating "intelligent design" in the economy. He also spends time on why things are not always designed well - which is important. He goes through the long history of economic design in this country, and finally he talks about the current debate - specifically cautioning against the idea of "competitiveness" as an inappropriately zero-sum outlook.
I would add a few things:
1. We should not restrict early design to the Federalists, as DeLong has done. The designs associated with western expansion (which eventually reached fruition in the the railroads and land grants that DeLong does mention) grew out of a distinctly Jeffersonian take on design. Jefferson was not opposed to manufacturing or commerce - what he was opposed to was an impoverishing version of manufacturing and commerce, which he sought to remedy with western expansion. This was a complaint Jefferson registered against George III in 1776, and with Hamilton throughout the 1790s, and it was a concern he acted on when in office and advocated after leaving office.
2. We should not confuse all design with central planning. This conflation has been very problematic for a lot of Hayekians especially.
3. In the same vein, we should not think that designed systems do not have evolutionary tendencies. Designed systems perpetuate themselves with some likelihood of (1.) ending, or (2.) changing. That is a recipe for evolution, or as some people like to put it - spontaneous order. Again, many Hayekians end up conflating two very different issues: undirected Darwinian evolution and directed social evolution. When Spencer mixed Darwin with society uncritically it did not turn out well, and it does not turn out well for a lot of modern proponents of spontaneous order either. Change in society is not driven by genetic variation, it is driven by conscious decisions and designs. Sometimes these are designs executed in a market, sometimes they are not. When designs are executed in the market there are certain informational advantages - and as we know, informational fidelity is extremely important to evolution. But the conditions for the informational advantages of markets don't always exist, so social evolution or spontaneous order simply can't be considered as always being market order.
I am guessing the Hayekian community will have a field day with this. I am guessing I will be frustrated with much of the commentary because they'll just assume that DeLong is somehow repudiating the idea of spontaneous order.
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