One of my favorite examples of the Hayekian concept of “spontaneous order” is stairway traffic. In the subway at rush hour, when people are trying to get up and down the stairs in a hurry, two lines always form between the guardrails, and they are always on the right. Any idiot who tries to plow through on the left is forced to the right by the sheer mass of the traffic. The escalators, two bodies wide, work the same way. The stationary riders stay to the right, and the walkers to the left, the passing lane, as it were.
Hayek explains far better than I ever could why such rules arise. But why this particular rule? I theorize that it’s because in America we drive on the right and pass on the left. This hypothesis is easily tested: in England or Japan or any number of other countries, where they drive on the left and pass on the right, do they walk the opposite way we do? If so, that would suggest that spontaneous rules are formed by analogy with preexisting rules. If not, it’s time for a new hypothesis. Can any readers enlighten me on this score?