Friedrich August von Hayek received one of the first Nobel Prizes in economics in 1974.  His acceptance speech “ The Pretence of Knowledge” addressed the limits of economics and applying science to complex social problems.

“Economists are a this moment called upon to extricate the free world from the serious threat of accelerating inflation, which, it must be admitted, has been brought about by policies which the majority of economists recommended and even urged governments to pursue.  We have indeed at the moment little cause for pride: as a profession we have made a mess of things.”

“There is much reason to be apprehensive about the long-run dangers created in a much wider field by the uncritical acceptance of assertions which have the appearance of being scientific. If man is not to do more harm than good in his efforts to improve the social order, he will have to learn that in this, as in all other fields where essential complexity of an organized kind prevails, he cannot acquire the full knowledge which will make mastery of the events possible.”

Politicians and thinkers would be wise not to try to bend history as “the craftsman shapes his handiwork, but rather to cultivate growth by providing the appropriate environment, in the manner a gardener does for his plants.”

The reference came from The Age of the Unthinkable by Joshua Cooper Ramo.  The author summarizes:

For hundreds of years now we have lived in our minds as builders… This mode of existence, which delivered amazing progress, is no longer suitable.  The world is too complex, its resources too limited, and its internal dynamics too unstable to accommodate much more of this mania. It is now delivering the opposite of what we intend even as it presents us with new and insoluble problems.  In a revolutionary age, with rapid change all  around us, our architects’ tools are deadly.  It is time for us to put them down and follow Hayek’s injunction to live and think as gardeners.