The Federal Reserve’s (Permanent) Knowledge Problem
Almost eighty years ago, economist and philosopher Friedrich Hayek published what is now considered to be one of the most important essays in all of economics, “The Use of Knowledge in Society.” In it, he detailed what is known as “the knowledge problem,” which he describes as, “a problem of how to secure the best use of resources known to any of the members of society, for ends whose relative importance only those individuals know.”
In other words, the knowledge problem is the problem of how to ensure the most productive and efficient use of society’s resources, when the sum total of knowledge of what the most efficient and cost-effective resources, methods, and products to use and create is fragmented among an entire population with highly specialized and localized knowledge, instead of being possessed by a single mind or group.
What’s important to know about the knowledge problem is that it shows why central planning is a poor alternative to the free market. That’s because in a market, changes in the efficiency of different resources, methods, and processes as well as changes in the demand for different products are all reflected through changes in prices. In turn, because individuals want to maximize profits and minimize costs, changes in prices will guide individuals toward choosing efficient alternatives and producing more valued products, an optimal use of resources.
Contrast this with a centrally planned economy, where the state replaces prices and property to determine economic outcomes. Yet without private property, there are no prices to convey changes in the efficiency and scarcity of resources and methods or their demand. Instead, central planners must blindly choose between a limitless number of options with no way of determining the most efficient inputs and outputs. Whereas the market draws on the dispersed na
Article from Mises Wire