Articles – The Centre for Independent Studies

Ron Barassi and the marvel of spontaneous order

Matthew O’Donnell

04 May 2018 | Ideas@TheCentre

Before the rise of the AFL, when our sporting heroes ranged the muddy pastures of long forgotten suburban grounds such as North Sydney Oval, Leichardt, Victoria Park and Windy Hill, our great nation was split along the Barassi Line.

The Murrumbidgee, and the Riverina in particular, denotes the dividing line between where the social life of towns revolves around local AFL clubs or rugby league clubs.

This Barassi Line is an example of spontaneous order, where social institutions are the result of human action — but not of human design. The Riverina’s preference for AFL was not created by government fiat, devious planning by the VFL Commission, or based on state borders but rather social connections. The Riverina’s trade tends to flow south, many of its children board at Melbourne schools and most Riverina families have their annual ‘big shop’ along Bourke St Mall rather than Pitt St. Regular exposure to AFL subtly impacted consumer preferences — which ultimately affected the composition of local sporting clubs.

Spontaneous order is a powerful reminder that economies and societies in general create successful institutions to solve practical problems without the need of conscious design. Which side of the escalator we stand on, the common English we speak — even the vernacular slang, memes and emojis we use to communicate — are all examples of social institutions that weren’t consciously designed.

The greatest of all forms of spontaneous order is the market system itself. Every day goods and services are bought and sold by the millions without any central planner pulling the strings. It is truly wonderful how our daily needs are met with no one have any semblance of overall control.

The burgeoning wealth of capitalist societies compared to the failure of every central planned socialist state confirms that the market system more efficiently allocates society’s resources than any consciously designed system could ever hope to. So the next time you wonder why things work so well, don’t look for a central planner, thank the marvel of spontaneous order.

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