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  • The Punk Spirit in Hayek’s Economics: Inspiration for No_System’s Unorthodox Designs

    May 24, 2023 4 min read

    We at No_System don’t just slap designs on shirts – we craft narratives, each design reflecting ideas that inspire us. We've got a soft spot for Austrian economics, and Friedrich Hayek's work in particular. Even though Hayek hailed from a different era, we feel a connection with his struggle of communicating complex ideas to a world that was racing towards an economist (Keynes) who was saying the opposite, and his desire to challenge the status quo. Hayek's thinking often seeps into our designs, becoming one of the hidden intellectual layers in our streetwear.

    One of his most influential essays, "The Use of Knowledge in Society," has been a major inspiration for us. Now, it might seem like a stretch – linking an economic essay from 1945 to punk aesthetics and libertarian leanings. But hear us out. At its core, the essay talks about the importance of individual knowledge and the limitations of central planning. He argued against the central planning of economies. He believed that individuals, with their unique knowledge of their particular circumstances, were better equipped to make decisions for themselves. It's a lot like punk, really. Decentralization gives everyone a voice - whether it's in economics or in punk rock.

    1. **The Knowledge Problem**: Hayek begins by asserting that not all knowledge is scientific or easily quantifiable. He states, 

    "Today it is almost heresy to suggest that scientific knowledge is not the sum of all knowledge. But a little reflection will show that there is beyond question a body of very important but unorganized knowledge which cannot possibly be called scientific in the sense of knowledge of general rules: the knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place."

    That’s a really dense way to say that one central authority can’t make the best decisions for everyone. They don’t possess this decentralized, context-specific information. It’s not saying that there’s necessarily two different kinds of “science”, but he is saying that it's the height of hubris to think one can understand everything. None of us can ever be an everything bagel that’s "Everything Everywhere All At Once."

    Each of us has unique knowledge based on our own experiences and circumstances. Your playlist isn’t going to look like everyone else’s, and that’s cool. The idea is bigger than music, but it’s not a horrible analogy. In this world of streaming, we used to have a handful of stations dictate just what had the chance to become a hit. Would you want to go back to the era where the only thing you have access to is the music that’s been approved of?

    1. Communicating through Prices:
      Hayek suggests that prices are a way of communicating value. Prices are signals that provide information about the scarcity and desirability of goods, which guide consumers and producers in their decisions. When the price of a good rises, it's a signal that the good is in high demand or low supply.

    1. The Role of Competition: Hayek views competition as a discovery process. It's through competition that we discover the best ways to use resources, create products, or deliver services.

    1. Decentralized Decision-Making: Hayek argues that since information is decentralized, decision-making should be too. This way, each person can use their unique knowledge to make decisions that best suit them, instead of relying on a one-size-fits-all approach by a central authority.

    1. Economic Calculation Problem: Hayek warns that without a price system (resulting from competition and free markets), there's no efficient way to allocate resources. This critique is often used against planned economies, where a central authority decides production and pricing.

    Hayek's ideas resonate with us, but it’s also totally true that academic essays can be dense and challenging. We see value in learning from these complex texts and transforming them into modern, more approachable narratives through our designs. Just like punk culture takes complex feelings of rebellion and disillusionment and turns them into raw, powerful music, we translate these principles into our designs, creating a unique expression of these thought-provoking concepts.

    Let's also address anarchocapitalism and its place in punk culture. There's often tension between leftist anarchists and libertarian-leaning punks. Both sides argue that the other side is irrational and antithetical to the ideas of anarchism. How could a capitalist be an anarchist? When you go to burning man, cash is outlawed. But, outside of central planning, people will still self-organize into units. Figuring out how to trade with one another whether that’s an exchange of cash, or bartering, doesn’t conflict with anarchy. Anarchy is just the lack of a concrete overarching structure. Everything is voluntary. 

    We think that the core value that should be important above everything is that everyone has value. Hayek, in talking about decentralized decision making, (in a round-about ‘economic’ way), says the same thing. If there’s knowledge that only someone in a community can know about, say, how many sandwiches should be made on Tuesday, that person has the knowledge. A sandwich czar isi never going to be able to know where all of the sandwiches have to be at what time. Our "Not Greater or Less Than" shirt reflects this sentiment. 

    In other No_System merchandise, Hayek left a mark on our "Badasses of Thought and Action" collection. Our Road to Serfdom shirt playful parodies  The Clash's iconic "London Calling" album cover, interprets the smashing guitar as a serf with a thresher. Hayek, writing in the aftermath of World War II spent a lot of his formative years in London teaching at the London School of Economics. So, parodying London Calling was a little cheeky in it’s own way. 

    So here's the challenge: can you take these principles and apply them to your life? Can they inspire you to interpret and represent your unique understanding of the world? Even though these ideas come from dense and sometimes inaccessible works, the spirit behind them carries through, offering us fresh inspiration for modern designs.

    Curious to read Hayek's full essay? Check it out here. Fancy a rap battle between Hayek and Keynes? Don’t miss this here.

    In a world that often feels like it’s trying to make everything homogenous, No_System celebrates the beauty of individual expression and thought. Our designs, like our "Badasses of Thought and Action" collection, are inspired by these very principles. It's not about telling you what to think; it's about inspiring thought and individual interpretation. With our clothes, we want to help you do just that.

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