I had the fortunate pleasure of growing up surrounded by supremely talented musicians. Raised in a community where music was highly valued, I was exposed to a wide variety of instruments and genres. But what was most exciting about this in hindsight, was the lessons music taught me about spontaneous order.
While my family was inherently musical, I learned the most about music from my friends. During my formative years, I had a front row seat to many “jam” sessions as they were called, where spontaneous order was all around me. Without planning or structure, I would watch my friends make incredible music. The drummer would be keeping the rhythm while the two guitarists wailed on their instruments. The bass player keeping harmony while the singer made up lyrics on the spot. Each session lacked order and structure, and it was absolutely fabulous.
It always fascinated me that five individuals come together without a plan, and still manage to make incredibly sounding music. The answer for this, I would later discover, came from the economic principle of specialization.
The Division of Labor
Specialization makes the world go round. It is what allows me to be a writer, while someone else is a farmer, and another is a lawyer. Imagine a world without specialization.
Before 19th-century liberalism made the concepts of the division of labor and specialization commonplace, many people were self-sufficient. But this meant doing almost everything for themselves. From planting and harvesting crops to making clothing and constructing homes, individual households were stuck having to do almost everything for themselves. This, of course, leaves little room for much of anything else like hobbies or self-improvement.
But by specializing in a very specific skill, while others did the same, the division of labor was organically created and spontaneous order able to provide consumers with more than they could have dreamed. And we each rely on this system heavily.
As Mises writes in Liberalism:
In order to provide the family of an English worker with all it consumes and desires, every nation of the five continents cooperates. Tea for the breakfast table is provided by Japan or Ceylon, coffee by Brazil or Java, sugar by the West Indies, meat by Australia or Argentina, cotton from America or Egypt, hides for leather from India or Russia, and so on.
And while this system has given us a robust market, it is also seen in other facets of life, such as music, for example.
Specialization and Spontaneous Order
Each musician in a band has specialized in one unique set of skills. The talented drummer has learned to keep perfect time, which in many ways, keeps the rest of the band on track. The guitarists set the tone and the melody of the band, creating those catchy riffs that make us all want to replay a song in our heads over and over again. Meanwhile, the bass provides the harmony while the singer gives the music a relatable story.
Each is doing their own thing, yet they are each pulled together by an unseen force, weaving the music together. And as a result, amazing music is able to occur.
But even when the music sounds balanced and united, no one has given up their specialized task. The drummer is still in his own world doing his own thing, while one guitarist seems to be trying to outperform the other in a “power stance” duel. But this individuality only seems to add to the chaotic yet harmonious music being made.
Anyone who has ever seen a jazz band play will understand this instantly. Each player seems to be marching to the beat of his or her own drummer, and yet the music sounds amazing and united in a common theme. It is almost as if a magical force is keeping everything in perfect order without any one person needed to assume the power to do such.
And the magical force holding the music together is the same that allows the market to flourish when it is untouched by regulation. It is emergent order at its finest.
If each musician was being regulated by an authority telling them how fast they can play or which style they can play in, music would be boring. It’s that simple. Every single performance would be similar to watching a high school band performance where each artist is only subpar at their instrument and terrified of originality.
Likewise, a market where things were uniform and unoriginal would be boring. But when spontaneity is encouraged and individuals are left to their own devices, an amazing form of order emerges.