We propose to advance a research agenda pioneered by F.A. Hayek that focuses on the knowledge generating properties of competitive market processes embedded in liberal institutions that secure property rights, freedom of contract, freedom of association and freedom of the press. We believe this agenda has continued and vital relevance today, but its potential has been limited by a failure to cross disciplinary divides. We intend to generate greater interdisciplinary communication between the analysis of ‘knowledge problems’ in economics and political science and understanding of these issues in the humanities such as cultural studies, anthropology, history, and communications. Our core questions include: What factors promote or retard the production and dissemination of knowledge regarding solutions to socio-economic problems? Is knowledge produced and disseminated in ways that empower a wide range of actors or does the production of knowledge entrench patterns of privilege and social control? Does it matter if market participants are ignorant about many dimensions of the products they consume? Does it matter if voters are ignorant about public policies? Investigating these questions is of political significance in a context where the ignorance of the general population is frequently cited as a rationale for limiting civil and market freedoms in favor of the regulatory state and expert rule. Populist movements across the world meanwhile have increasingly questioned the reliability of ‘expert knowledge’, yet paradoxically these very movements are intensifying demands for greater regulatory control through calls for ‘stronger leadership’ on multiple social issues. In contrast, we propose to explore a case for liberal institutions that is simultaneously critical of technocracy and of populist democracy. Our central hypothesis is that the ‘problem of ignorance’ provides the principal justification for liberal institutions in general, and markets, in particular.
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