Dahrendorf Forum Academic Co-Director Helmut Anheier presents at conference celebrating Albert Hirschman’s legacy in Berlin

At the third conference on Albert Hirschman’s Legacy, titled ‘A Passion for the Possible’, Professor Helmut K Anheier gave a presentation on ‘The principle of the Hiding Hand revisited’. The conference ran from 24-25 October at the Berlin School of Economics and Law and was supported by the Dahrendorf Forum.

Professor Anheier’s talk covered Hirschman’s famous Hiding Hand principle, which provides a framework for exploring how unforeseen challenges interact with the rational choice to begin a project, and can help explain the creative solutions that emerge during the course of a large undertaking. He argued that understanding the Hiding Hand is a crucial tool for exploring important questions regarding large-scale success and failure. For example, it can be used as a tool to understand why some polities fail while others don’t and why some organizations are more creative than others.

He explained that there are 4 types of ‘hands’, based on the types of situations that can arise: the hiding hand, the protecting hand, the malevolent hand, and the passive hand. In all situations, information asymmetry is key to explaining the phenomenon. In the case of large projects, for example large infrastructural undertakings, this asymmetry actually be beneficial. For example, if people had complete information beforehand, they would not venture to complete the task, and creative solutions would not come to the fore. Two underestimations are at play in this case: one is that of the difficulty of the task at hand, the other is misjudging one’s own creativity.