Friday, October 31, 2008

The 4,827th Reexamination of Hayek's System

In various blogs, John Holbo, Julian Sanchez, and Matthew Yglesias comment on Hayek. In commenting on Jesse Larner's views on Hayek, I have already mentioned my opinion that The Road to Serfdom can be read more as a jeopardy argument than a slippery slope argument. I've also noted Hayek's difficulties in analyzing mixed, mainly capitalist economies.

Update: Brad DeLong says that The Road to Serfdom was too a slippery slope argument, and Matthew Yglesias reacts.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The central "theme" of von Hayek's work is that economic intervention leads to dictatorship. It is interesting that there have been no examples of that actually happening.

Under Lenin, the Bolsheviks created a political dictatorship before they started to nationalise industry. Under the Nazis, it was the same -- political monopoly came first.

Not that I am suggesting that the Nazis were socialists, regardless of the "National Socialism" part of their party name. Only right-wing "libertarians" seem to think that calling something X makes it X -- as in "anarcho"-capitalism and, indeed, "libertarianism" itself.

In terms of freedom, Sweden shows no signs of becoming totalitarian. However, the "free market" has been imposed by dictatorships (Chile, most obviously) or elitist governments (laissez-faire was correlated with elections in which only the wealthy could vote). And civil liberties took a big knock under Thatcher, as did workers' freedom to strike and organise.

Free market, strong state is no real contradiction. As Malatesta put it (in 1892!): "The criticism liberals direct at government consists of want to deprive it of some of its functions and to call upon the capitalists to fight it out among themselves, but it cannot attack the repressive functions which are its essence for without the gendarme the property owner could not exist, indeed the government's powers of repression must perforce increase as free competition results in more discord and inequality." (Anarchy)

One thing is sure, the ability of von Hayek and Friedman to turn the back 180 degrees, to equate "economic freedom" with wage slavery and defend authoritarian but pro-laissez-faire regime as being on the path of freedom is staggering.

I would suggest that Leninism/Stalinism helped somewhat, making genuine (libertarian) socialist tradition marginal. Contrasting capitalism with state capitalism makes it easier to defend the former given how back the latter was.

An Anarchist FAQ