Complexity, Economics, and Libertarianism
I don't think complexity necessarily justifies libertarian economic philosophy on the grand scheme of things.
To be sure, it certainly suggests we allow economies to function naturally as much as possible. Taoism, in many respects, contains realizations which are ancient precursors to many notions found in complexity science. Naturally, we similarly find a connection between its observations of the world and prescriptions on 'how we should be'. For example, Chuang-Tzu warns of over-intrusive government, saying it is a sign of intolerance of people's natural proclivities and inclinations (On Intolerance), and encourages corruption and oppression (Horses Hooves).
All of these notions point to the same realization, which is that free market economies will tend to operate as a self-organizing complex system with an organic structure (or 'Li', as the Taoists might say) with all of the advantages of growth and adaptability thereof. Government intrusion, then, hampers the free operation and efficiency of that system.
Yes, economics will self regulate as a system. For example, wages will rise and fall because of the supply of certain professionals and the demand for them. Over time, if the wages get too high, too many people will choose that as their profession and supply will exceed demand. Employers will recognize they can get away with paying less because they'll have plenty of desperate people in need of a job. As wages get too low, employers will find that no one wants to work in that profession and will therefore need to raise their rates. The system corrects itself in a beautiful organic process!
But before we kneel at the altar of the economic complex system, we need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
First, we must realize that this economic organism is not 'us' individually. Nor is it 'us' in terms of it being humanity. It is not even 'us' in terms of it being our society. It is an independent system in its own right, that yields conditions we suffer or enjoy.
As such, it is not an end unto itself, but rather a means to an end - that end being to provide an ethically sound environment in which people can live well.
As a system, while the economy will indeed correct itself, in the process its variable flow into highs and lows that have little respect of 'what is right' or 'what is humane'. One might think that we drive these variables by our likes and dislikes, thus 'humaneness' and 'rightness' is inherent in the system because those are things we like. However, this simply isn't the case in practice. In reality, wages will often rise above what is excessive and harmful for individual lives and society (which includes more than the economy, but also our social networks, morale, etc). More importantly, wages will sometimes fall well below what is a humane level of compensation for the work done, leaving desperate people with no realistic alternative. The same is the case for all of the economic variables throughout the entire economy. Most of the time it works, but occasionally it veers without concern into environmental conditions which are inherently inhumane and ethically unacceptable.
People who marvel at that intricate and amazing complex system that is our economy, tend to focus all of their thoughts and attention on how best to make it run more smoothly and efficiently. They look at 'averages' and 'trends' and 'indexes' as indicators of whether or not things are 'going well'. Little concern is given for the individuals getting tossed about on the fringes of those overall curves.
Unconscious and as well intentioned as it may be, this is worship of the 'economic organism' at the expense of people, the expense of ethics, and the expense of basic human compassion.
We must instead keep the larger view in mind: that the economy is here to serve human beings as one element in the grand mix of our larger concerns as good people - and we are not here to serve the needs of the economy. When we do, we realize that, yes, we want a smooth running economy that yields good fruits for us. But, we also recognize there are certain conditions and situations that are morally unacceptable, regardless of the indexes, averages, trends, or long term self correcting mechanisms. When that happens we must, as a people (i.e. government) step in and say "no".
Will that hamper the efficiency and health of the economic organism? Yes it will - and that's ok. Some things are worth the price of apples being higher or the growth of new businesses being lower this quarter.
Unlike what Libertarians will tell us, this sort of judicious ethical intrusion in certain areas while being appreciative of the need of an economy to evolve freely, will not necessarily lead to all-controlling socialism, communism, or bureaucratic oppression. We must simply judge these things ethically as we go, considering those factors as well. Tough decisions? Yes. But to simply say that all eyes should remain on the economic organism and trust that individuals will get their just rewards for their obedient worship of that entity, is a harmful notion in my view, that misses major concerns about our humanity.
It is also good to note Wu Wei, a philosophy specifically designed for skillfully working in and with complex systems. If we use 'skillful means' in our decisions, we see that there is almost a 1-to-1 correlation between money spent on education or on jails. Low wages lead to desperation, which leads to crime, which leads to money spent fighting crime and jails. Thus, the 'interconnectedness of all things' means that we pay either way - it's just a question of how smart we are about it.
Some may be too consumed with judgments about 'what others deserve' and 'who should get what' to look at things as a dynamic system without preconception. That individual therefore puts himself in the very role he would forbid the state, as being inhumane and oppressive.
Therefore, we are benefited in subtle ways by being ethical first. The maxim is maintained: there is never a distinction between what is virtuous and what is wise. Any notion to the contrary is an indication that we are suffering from a delusion about either wisdom or virtue.