Judt and Hayek

by Henry Farrell on May 11, 2012

A few months ago, Tyler Cowen “argued”:http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2012/02/tony-judts-new-book-thinking-the-twentieth-century.html that Tony Judt had been unfair to Hayek in his final book.

it doesn’t show Judt in such an overwhelmingly favorable light. He is cranky, unfair to his intellectual opponents, and he repeatedly misrepresents thinkers such as Hayek on some fairly simple points. …

One does not have to agree with Hayek’s Road to Serfdom to find this an unfair characterization:

Hayek is quite explicit on this count: if you begin with welfare policies of any sort — directing individuals, taxing for social ends, engineering the outcomes of market relationships — you will end up with Hitler.

But is that actually so unfair? I meant to follow up at the time, and never quite got around to it. Then, yesterday, I re-read “Hayek’s own introduction to the US edition”:http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2012/05/the-1956-preface-to-friedrich-von-hayeks-the-road-to-serfdom.html.

bq. That hodgepodge of ill-assembled and often inconsistent ideals which under the name of the Welfare State has largely replaced socialism as the goal of the reformers needs very careful sorting-out if its results are not to be very similar to those of full-fledged socialism. This is not to say that some of its aims are not both practicable and laudable. But there are many ways in which we can work toward the same goal, and in the present state of opinion there is some danger that our impatience for quick results may lead us to choose instruments which, though perhaps more efficient for achieving the particular ends, are not compatible with the preservation of a free society.

bq. … Of course, six years of socialist government in England have not produced anything resembling a totalitarian state. But those who argue that this has disproved the thesis of The Road to Serfdom have really missed one of its main points: that the most important change which extensive government control produces is a psychological change, an alteration in the character of the people.

bq. This is necessarily a slow affair, a process which extends not over a few years but perhaps over one or two generations. The important point is that the political ideals of a people and its attitude toward authority are as much the effect as the cause of the political institutions under which it lives. … the change undergone by the character of the British people, not merely under its Labour government but in the course of the much longer period during which it has been enjoying the blessings of a paternalistic welfare state, can hardly be mistaken. … Is it too pessimistic to fear that a generation grown up under these conditions is unlikely to throw off the fetters to which it has grown used? Or does this description not rather fully bear out De Tocqueville’s prediction of the “new kind of servitude” …

bq. Perhaps I should also remind the reader that I have never accused the socialist parties of deliberately aiming at a totalitarian regime or even suspected that the leaders of the old socialist movements might ever show such inclinations. What I have argued in this book, and what the British experience convinces me even more to be true, is that the unforeseen but inevitable consequences of socialist planning create a state of affairs in which, if the policy is to be pursued, totalitarian forces will get the upper hand.

You can certainly argue that Judt is too sweeping when he says “welfare policies of any sort.” It would undoubtedly have been more accurate if he had said “welfare state policies of any sort,” as Hayek clearly believes that there are non-statist, non-paternalist ways of achieving some (if not all) of the same ends. The conditions under which Judt was writing (or more precisely dictating) go some very considerable way towards mitigating this inaccuracy.

However, even if Hayek qualifies his claims in the first paragraph quoted, he’s changed his tune towards the end. He very explicitly claims that the paternalist welfare state is creating the conditions under which (unless the policy is changed or reversed) totalitarianism will blossom, reducing the populace (as described in the bit of Tocqueville that Hayek quotes) into a “flock of timid and industrial animals, of which government is the shepherd,” which will surely sooner or later come under the control of “any group of ruffians.” More tersely: Welfare Statism=Inevitable Long Term Moral Decline=Hilter! ! ! !

Hayek surely had his moments of brilliant insight, but this wasn’t one of them – for all his protestations of anti-conservatism it’s a fundamentally conservative, and rather idiotic claim. I don’t think that Judt was being unfair at all.



Steve LaBonne 05.11.12 at 2:16 pm

Would it be unfair, and show me in a less than favorable light, if I were to point out that Cowen is a ridiculous hack?


Tom Hurka 05.11.12 at 2:24 pm

In the quotes you give here Hayek talks only of totalitarianism in general; the specific reference to Hitler is Judt’s addition and surely a questionable one. Wasn’t Hayek talking more of communist totalitarianism, i.e. shouldn’t it have been “you will end up with Stalin”? Another bad guy but not bad in the same way and not the subject of Godwin’s Law.


Barry Freed 05.11.12 at 2:24 pm

Steve LaBonne more or less beat me to it but is there a reason* to read Tyler Cowen at all**?

*i.e., a good reason.

**Or ever.


Bill Murray 05.11.12 at 2:25 pm

I agree with Steve. Why does anyone take Tyler Cowen seriously?


Henry 05.11.12 at 2:26 pm

Tom – click through to the Hayek intro. There is extended discussion of how communism and national socialism are merely specific manifestations of the same logic of totalitarianism, which in turn is all about teh Planning.


themgt 05.11.12 at 2:26 pm

I’m coming around on this conservative critique of the modern nation-state. I think, like large corporations, modern nation states and their bureaucracies do wind up impersonal, inefficient and rife with internal corruption. And I think there’s also a truth to the idea that interacting with one of these states as it’s subject has a psychological effect on a citizen – e.g. average Americans feeling impotent to change things for the better even as society slides downward

I think it’s possible to conceive of a form of micro-socialism where people form small cooperative groups to organize the production and distribution of necessary goods and services needed by all and coordinate between groups to meaningfully push back against encroachment by larger entities (corporations/governments)


Jonathan H. Adler 05.11.12 at 2:28 pm

Your and Judt’s interpretation requires fully discounting the first paragraph you quote (as well as disregarding Hayek’s statements in support of “comprehensive social insurance” in Ch. 9 and support for a minimum guaranteed income in other works). The first paragraph makes clear that while welfare state policies pose a danger, through “careful sorting out” the problems of “full-fledged socialism” might be avoided.


Drunkeynesian 05.11.12 at 2:29 pm

Tony is not actually a diminutive for Anthony in this case, it’s actually his name (as it’s explained in the same book Tyler Cowen mentioned).


Ryan Cooper 05.11.12 at 2:31 pm

In the second to last graf, shouldn’t “However, even if Judt qualifies his claims…” be Hayek instead? Or am I missing something?


Henry 05.11.12 at 2:35 pm

Tom Hurka –

When Hitler came into power in Germany, I had already been teaching at the University of London for several years, but I kept in close touch with affairs on the Continent and was able to do so until the outbreak of war. What I had thus seen of the origins and evolution of the various totalitarian movements made me feel that English public opinion, particularly among my friends who held “advanced” views on social matters, completely misconceived the nature of those movements. Even before the war I was led by this to state in a brief essay what became the central argument of this book. But after war broke out I felt that this widespread misunderstanding of the political systems of our enemies, and soon also of our new ally, Russia, constituted a serious danger which had to be met by a more systematic effort. Also, it was already fairly obvious that England herself was likely to experiment after the war with the same kind of policies which I was convinced had contributed so much to destroy liberty elsewhere.

bq. Thus this book gradually took shape as a warning to the socialist intelligentsia of England; with the inevitable delays of wartime production, it finally appeared there early in the spring of 1944. This date will, incidentally, also explain why I felt that in order to get a hearing I had somewhat to restrain myself in my comments on the regime of our wartime ally and to choose my illustrations mainly from developments in Germany.

Jonathan – I don’t think that you’ve read my post carefully enough. I’m aware of Hayek’s arguments about social insurance and minimum income, and speak to this. See where I say:

bq. It would undoubtedly have been more accurate if he had said “welfare state policies of any sort,” as Hayek clearly believes that there are non-statist, non-paternalist ways of achieving some (if not all) of the same ends.

Clearly, what Hayek is objecting to are the state-interventionist aspects of welfarism. As noted, Judt should have been more careful in his distinctions. Doubtless, had he not been fully paralysed, and slowly suffocating to death, he would have been able to go back to his sources and done this. Equally, Hayek’s claim that the paternalist welfare state is paving the road towards totalitarianism is hilariously preposterous. Judt is a little inaccurate: he is hardly unfair.


Henry 05.11.12 at 2:59 pm

drunkeynesian, Ryan – thanks – errors corrected.


mds 05.11.12 at 3:03 pm

Equally, Hayek’s claim that the paternalist welfare state is paving the road towards totalitarianism is hilariously preposterous.

Oh, come now. Just imagine how repressive and antidemocratic Chile would have become if Allende had been able to enact his dream of a paternalist welfare state.


Greg Ransom 05.11.12 at 3:11 pm

So you are as dishonest as Judt; and as ill informed on the work of Hayek as Judt.

Glad you’ve now made that self-evident.


William Timberman 05.11.12 at 3:14 pm

themgt @ 6

Yes, there is a problem with democratic socialism, and it’s with the democracy part, not with the socialist part. On our side of the fence, Hayek was worried. On the other side Djilas was equally worried. The New Left might be said to have embodied that worry, as any number of treatises from the 60’s, such as the Port Huron Statement made clear.

Is democracy compatible with the management of complex, interconnected systems (human, machine, or mixed) which cannot be allowed to fail no matter what else happens? We don’t know. What we do know is how awful the consequences will be if the answer turns out to be no.


Bruce B 05.11.12 at 3:16 pm

I also read the intro at DeLong’s site yesterday and my reaction was that Hayek was backtracking (aka “clarifying”) a bit from his original assertions. However, he lived quite a while longer and should have done a bit more backtracking.

Still, it is amusing that, given his acceptance of social welfare programs, the libertarians and conservatives are so fond of him today because of this one assertion which is so clearly wrong.

But perhaps we should all be thankful to Hayek for trying to quietly warn us about the Sheeple


Henry 05.11.12 at 3:23 pm

Greg Ransom – if you have a specific argument to make, I invite you to make it. If you just want to have a toddler-tantrum about my “dishonesty,” you have your own blog to do that on, and I suggest that you return there to post it, alongside the various posts on important new articles by unimpeachable intellectual authority Andrew McCarthy on Barack Obama &c&c. I’ll note that it’s usually (although certainly not always) a good idea to start from the presupposition that people you disagree with are arguing in good faith, and explain why you think they are wrong – it’s certainly more likely to convince disinterested bystanders.


Henry 05.11.12 at 3:24 pm

William – as noted in a comment to another post, hope that Cosma Shalizi and I will have something more specific to say about the relationship between democracy and complex interconnected systems very, very soon.


William Timberman 05.11.12 at 3:34 pm

Henry, yes, I took careful note of that comment, and I look forward to reading your and Cosma’s paper as soon as it appears. I should have said so on the other thread, I suppose, but honestly, it’s so obviously where our efforts should be concentrated, that it didn’t seem to me that you needed any encouragement from the peanut gallery ;-)

(See also The International Organization for a Participatory Society) Green shoots? Great Minds think alike? I’m encouraged, if not exactly optimistic.


Steve LaBonne 05.11.12 at 3:39 pm

Glad you’ve now made that self-evident.

Right-wing projection in action, as per usual.


Emily 05.11.12 at 3:46 pm

“Hayek is quite explicit on this count: if you begin with welfare policies of any sort — directing individuals, taxing for social ends, engineering the outcomes of market relationships — you will end up with Hitler.”

Will post back with the reference, but in the 19thC (from memory) the King and His supporters argued for welfare (hospitals) for soldiers in peacetime against the wishes of a lot of the Parliament. England didn’t end up with Hitler, but Thatcher, Blair and Cameron and a Big Society.


rea 05.11.12 at 4:06 pm

“ill informed on the work of Hayek”

Quite correct, of course. Nobody properly informed on the works of Hayek wouldl quote them verbatim in support of a position.


K. Williams 05.11.12 at 4:11 pm

This is a pretty unconvincing defense of Judt. Hayek doesn’t say that either “welfare policies” or “welfare state policies” lead to totalitarianism. He says that “the unforeseen but inevitable consequences of socialist planning” do. Hayek wasn’t writing about “taxing for social ends” (as Judt says), or national health insurance, or unemployment benefits (the things we would typically think of as “welfare state policies”). He was writing about a government that enacted a law giving it the peacetime authority to conscript labor for whatever purpose it deemed necessary, that announced that it was the role of the Government “to say what is the best use for the resources in the national interest,” and that advocated (and in many cases carried out) the “common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange.” You can still argue, and I would agree, that there is no straight road from socialism of this sort to totalitarianism. But Hayek was writing against socialism, not the welfare state.


Metatone 05.11.12 at 4:23 pm

@William Timberman

FWIW, I’ve spend some time on complex adaptive systems and while democracy has all sorts of flaws, I don’t think there’s anything about complex systems which are incompatible with democracy. Some of the solutions are somewhat inefficient, but the hidden reality is that as soon as you add “cannot be allowed to fail” every solution we have so far is inefficient in one way or another.

My short statement to back this up is that human societies have been dealing with complex, interconnected systems for a long time and they have a simple and effective strategy for engagement – simplicity coupled with redundancy and safety nets.

Now, where I have to go back on my statement is that there are challenges (global climate change as an example?) which are so much bigger than the span of our democracies that I think there arises a serious problem.


shah8 05.11.12 at 4:38 pm

I also will look forward to that post with Cosma, since I also have doubts–essentially for political economy reasons. The number of moving parts that has to be done right, or things fall apart could go up, but that also means that the cost in bezzle and oversight also goes up, which I think defines the middle-income (and other) traps.

I also think, sorta like *themgt*, that the welfare state has its problems. Except that entirely in a fashion different from Hayek, I think socially repressive and economically inefficient localities, like Mississippi, are generated from rents on surplus recycling–whether that be from national social retirement plans, defense industrial policies, national health care policies, etc, etc. It’s not that people are turned into sheeple through indulgence. It’s that parasitic entities soak up most of the cash, after the one go-around, and this cash funds the arms of social and economic paralysis. Kickbacks on bids, anti-abortion media, underhanded race war policies, and a cultivation of atomic and toxic individualism that displace blame from the parasites. Inevitably, all this drives the formation of young right wing radical groups (in the extreme) like Golden Dawn who provides the muscle for totalitarian-minded regimes like the current Republican Party.

In neither Wiemar/Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union were people agitating for perpetuation of any unreasonable privileges, other than antisemitic ones. Of course, the wealthy also quietly and not so quietly agitated for privileges as well. In fact, the closest example of the dynamic Hayek professes to be so concerned about are oil-funded right wing welfare states. Your Brezhnev-Andropov Soviet Union, KSA, Quadaffi Libya, etc, etc


Shane Taylor 05.11.12 at 4:54 pm

Barkley Rosser:

‘Many observers, perhaps most prominently Paul Samuelson in a bunch of his Principles texts, saw Hayek as promoting a “slippery slope” argument, that any move towards a welfare state by the US or UK or other western democracies, would put them onto “the road to serfdom,” which, of course, history has shown to be a bunk argument, even if the tea partiers are now invoking Hayek to repeat it along with Limbaugh and Beck. Hayek himself, with Caldwell agreeing, have argued that this is a misreading of RTS, and that Hayek was really focusing on the dangers of Soviet-style command central planning, with Hayek writing angry letters to Samuelson about this matter.

‘Now we have a new entry into this with an article by Andrew Farrant and Edward McPhail, “Does F.A. Hayek’s Road to Serfdom Deserve to Make a Comeback?” in the July/August issue of Challenge, 53(4), 96-120, (requires subscription or payment to read, unfortunately). Anyway, they say that Samuelson was right all along, and that one can find passages in RTS where Hayek certainly looks like he is making the strong version of the slippery slope argument that he later realized was an embarrassment, even if it is probably the source of the renewed sales. Thus, Farrant and McPhail would say that Limbaugh and Beck are more on the money here than Caldwell, even if they are ignoring Hayek’s call for social insurance (a clear sign that he did not view any and all such moves as going onto the slippery slope).’

Actually, it strikes me as a clear sign of trying to eat your cake and have it, too.


phosphorious 05.11.12 at 4:55 pm

A few months ago, Tyler Cowen argued that Tony Judt had been unfair to Hayek in his final book. . .

Is it just me, or are conservatives of every stripe pathologically afraid of being “misrepresented?” They seem to think that if only you *really understood them* then you would agree with them.

It’s actually become quite annoying.


amrcel 05.11.12 at 5:22 pm


2 glosses on your point:

1) No true understanding would let you disagree with me.

2) A new pick up line: My wife doesn’t really understand me.[1]

[1]Because if she did, she would agree with me.


dsquared 05.11.12 at 5:24 pm

I would certainly be happy if I was generally regarded as being as dishonest and as ignorant as Tony Judt. After achieving that, I think I’d try to become as poor as Donald Trump and as ugly as Jude Law.


William Timberman 05.11.12 at 5:30 pm

Metatone, I don’t think it’s that simple, or perhaps more accurately, I think that the kink in human thought which produces a dull conformity on the one hand, or goose-stepping, one-simple-solution-for-every-problem armies on the other is more elusive than we faithful democrats have yet acknowledged.

(Pieces of this discussion — and very good ones — are also appearing on the Baffler thread, and I’m beginning to feel a little stretched. Maybe Henry, or one of the other principals can do another post that pulls it together in one place.)


Bruce Baugh 05.11.12 at 5:32 pm

Hayek wasn’t just wrong about this, he was really deeply, profoundly, comprehensively wrong. The major attacks on the rule of law, on personal freedom of choice, and on the viability of the non-governmental institutions that support people in times of need have all come from the right and been justified with conservative arguments. Where there is an oppressive element in a social service – Medicaid’s abusive limitations on inheritable assets, for instance – it will pretty much always turn out to be the handiwork of conservative legislators and administrators. They impose limits of inadequate funding and restrictions that have nothing to do with budgeting but just make it that much harder to provide help and justify that much more intrusive surveillance and governance, and then their running-dog lackeys quote Hayek’s claptrap again as if it were relevant to anything actually going on.

The NSA and TSA and FBI are not part of the welfare state. The ongoing degradation of Medicaid and the NHS are not liberal projects, let alone socialist ones. The disruptive tyranny of the NIS is the pet project of conservatives, and of Democratic “centrists” who gave up on liberalism long ago. The corporate raiders, mega-chain franchisers, and other business people who destroy the viability of the little brigades are far more likely to be conservative heroes – and funders – than liberal ones. Conservatives run on platforms of removing the rule of law whenever it interferes with their ability to punish designated sinners or reward designated winners. This is not a liberal venture.

It’s true, I think, that there were totalizing elements in left-wing groups who sometimes had actual political power in the early 20th century. But that was no longer the case outside the Soviet and Chinese spheres of influence by mid-century or so, and it’s not the case much of anywhere now. (Arguing about how to classify current Chinese policy is worth doing, but not by me, since I don’t know nearly enough to avoid sounding like an ignorant fool about it, and in any event, it’s kind of a sui generis thing.) Throughout what Hayek would have considered the developed/civilized world, tyranny flourishes where conservatives and their “centrist” buddies have power, and recedes where liberals and leftists get some leverage.


musical mountaineer 05.11.12 at 5:37 pm

“start from the presupposition that people you disagree with are arguing in good faith”

Uh, what argument? You went to some trouble to establish that Hayek said something, and then you called it idiotic. The reason, I suppose, is something you regard as self-evident. Is it just that the Prime Minister doesn’t sport a toothbrush mustache?

Anyone, friend or foe, who tries to reduce Hayek’s argument to a simple declarative statement or slogan is going to be stuck with something along the lines of “Al Gore == Stalin”. It’s only too easy to nitpick that into oblivion. And Hayek may have suffered a failure of the imagination; just because the Welfarized masses are perfect raw material for fascism, doesn’t mean that’s how it’s going to play out. But there are plenty of very bad endings in sight, other than fascism as such.

If you want credit for arguing, address what Hayek himself says is the most important point: “extensive government control produces…a psychological change, an alteration in the character of the people”. That’s worth talking about, even if it’s only to say you think Welfare is more important than the character of the people.

I personally think that Welfare is bad for people, and State Welfare is the worst kind. At the same time, I don’t see how to do without at least some State Welfare, and I mean that in the largest context of all civilization, not only in the present situation. I have yet to discover a bright line in principle between necessary Welfare and soul-destroying, life-crushing, civilization-annihilating Welfare. Then again, I’m just a public telephone sanitizer, not the guy who’s supposed to have the answers to tough questions like this. All you smarty-pantses who do this kind of thing for a living ought to be working on it, and Hayek could give you some clues. But hey, the Prime Minister doesn’t have a creepy mustache. We’re fine.


Steve LaBonne 05.11.12 at 5:45 pm

Is it just that the Prime Minister doesn’t sport a toothbrush mustache?

That’s actually quite sufficient refutation: his (moronic) prediction was in fact clearly falsified. The fact that you manage to be accurate and cogent only when you’re trying to be snarky should tell you something.


Data Tutashkhia 05.11.12 at 5:54 pm

I must say, what I find paternalistic and fascistic is this concern about “the character of the people”.


Barry Freed 05.11.12 at 5:58 pm



Pascal.Leduc 05.11.12 at 6:12 pm

Are you sure that it isint being worried about peoples concerns about“the character of the people” that is paternalistic and fascistic?


Russell L. Carter 05.11.12 at 6:12 pm

musical mountaineer, you need to read the very best blog post ever written, and it’s subject is exactly your theme. By CT’s own John Holbo:


It contains this fantastic line:

“Where did all these people go? Into each other, to a dismaying extent.”

Which you’ll have to read the post to get the multilayered meanings.

Don’t complain that it is too long. For then, we will know the weak is deep with you.

Back to the general subject. I had actually bought and devoured “Thinking the 20th Century” on the strength of Tyler Cowen’s complaint that “He is cranky, unfair to his intellectual opponents, and he repeatedly misrepresents thinkers such as Hayek on some fairly simple points.” Good enough for me!

And then I read the book, and I died laughing at this comment by Judt:

“Money makes goods measurable. It blurs any discussion as to their respective standing in an ethical or normative conversation about social purposes. I think it would serve us all well to “kill all the economists” (to paraphrase Shakespeare): very few of them add to the sum of social or scientific knowledge, but a substantial majority of the profession contributes actively to confusing their fellow citizens about how to think socially. The exceptions are well known, so we could perhaps excuse them.”

Ayup. Tony Judt is my hero.


dsquared 05.11.12 at 6:36 pm

I have yet to discover a bright line in principle between necessary Welfare and soul-destroying, life-crushing, civilization-annihilating Welfare.

One day, little sparrow! Keep searching!


Substance McGravitas 05.11.12 at 6:39 pm

Fear apocalypse or build utopia?


Lee A. Arnold 05.11.12 at 6:41 pm

Hayek: “the most important change which extensive government control produces is a psychological change, an alteration in the character of the people.”

This is wrong. No such psychological change was observed, even after generations in the Soviet Union. They needed a police state to keep people in line.


choncan 05.11.12 at 6:44 pm

Until now I’d never much cared for the “evil Google” arguments, but I just had a revelation: the fact that they have yet to develop a filter enabling me never again to read comments of the form 1, 3, 13, etc., is a certain confirmation of their evil intent, as it’s more or less the feature most missing from the internet.

For the record I also like Hayek *and* Tony Judt. (As I thought was once the understood rule, I try to judge writers at their best. I didn’t much care for the last Judt interviews while he was sick, nor do I think highly of Road to Serfdom, but both men had work that is, for me, of permanent relevance and importance. I also like Tyler Cowen and most of the CT contributors. The commenting noise machines, on the other hand…)

But yeah, clearly the problem is those professional economists. I mean, before those guys showed up, everything was so nice! (When was it that citizens “thought socially”, again? Back before those professional economists came along and crashed the party, that is.)


Dave 05.11.12 at 6:45 pm

Is there some corollary to Godwin’s law that says if you start a discussion with “what leads to Hitler,” the probability of trotting out some personal pet peeve approaches one?


Henry 05.11.12 at 6:51 pm

K. Williams @22 – you’re missing the bit about how the character of the British people is changing so as to pave the way to authoritarianism thanks not only to a few years of socialism, but its long experience of a paternalistic welfare state, I think.

Let me retrospectively associate myself with dsquared’s remarks @27.

William Timberman – for selfish reasons, I probably will not do another post on this until there’s something more solid that I can put up for critics to shoot holes in, and hence improve.


Alex K. 05.11.12 at 7:08 pm


The attractiveness of your vision depends on giving the impression –real or imaginary– of control, and this in turn depends on a crucial ambiguity about who controls the resources.

If resources are controlled locally, then your democracy would indeed be empowering. But some extreme version of this is not very different from libertarian utopian talk, especially if the rights given to _idiotes_ include the right to use their own resources mostly as they see fit.

On the other hand, if resources are controlled centrally, then your description lends itself easily to a dystopian reading. When you say that ” the citizen/worker groups would orchestrate pressure […] [on] chronically biased outlets”, in the context of centralized resources for mass media , this sounds ominous and a lot like political censorship . (I know that you don’t mean that — I do think that centralized resources for mass media would have as an unintended consequence political censorship and I’m explaining how your vision has crucial ambiguities in it)

I’m not going to continue because a detailed critique would need a more detailed proposal (I find your talk about committees and sub-committees coordinating with each other and with upper hierarchies quite alien to any form of self-empowerment, but maybe your detailed version solves the problems) and probably a different medium.


Alex K. 05.11.12 at 7:08 pm

Wrong thread ! Sorry.


blavag 05.11.12 at 7:18 pm

“Hayek was a romantic writer, which is why he appeals so very much to our fin de siècle sensibilities after languishing so long amongst a small coterie of Austrian economists and conservative politicians. His entire oeuvre can be compared to a roman à clef which looks very much like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. There is a mad scientist, and a monster, and a “constructivist” project which is bound to fail because no one can fully encompass the unintended consequences of trespassing where angels fear to tread. It all is set in a castle somewhere in Eastern Europe, though the hero is British. The moral of the story is that there is knowledge which is intrinsically forbidden fruit; there are things which are better left unknown. The whole thing turns Gothic when we realize that there is plenty of room here for any number of sequels, all with roughly the same plot.”

Philip Mirowski in “Economics, Science, and Knowledge:
Polanyi vs. Hayek”
(at http://www.missouriwestern.edu/orgs/polanyi/tad%20web%20archive/tad25-1/tad25-1-fnl-pg29-43-pdf.pdf)


William Timberman 05.11.12 at 7:27 pm

Henry @ 42

I understand completely — I was just whining. There’ll be plenty of opportunity to go at it later, when your paper comes out.


Barry 05.11.12 at 7:33 pm

another: “I have yet to discover a bright line in principle between necessary Welfare and soul-destroying, life-crushing, civilization-annihilating Welfare.”

dsquared: ” One day, little sparrow! Keep searching!”

There’s a USA political joke, that ‘pork’ is ‘money going to another congressional district’. Similarly, “soul-destroying, life-crushing, civilization-annihilating Welfare” is ‘government money going into somebody else’s pocket’.


Cherry Paulette (Finer) Brown 05.11.12 at 7:35 pm

Regarding this sudden exhuming from the grave of Hayek – is this the result of the mess
he and his free-market economic allies, such as Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman ( I’m imagining very odd Danse Macabre somewhere!) and the groupies predominant in United States
politics today? May I refer you all (greenhorns ) to my Father’s answer to Hayek – Herman Finer, of course, and his rebuttal to Hayek, “The Road to Reaction”, 1945, Little Brown and Company, Publishers. Translated into many languages. Hugely impact making!
No one quotes my Father anymore, one of the great Liberal economists of his time. As
an amusing personal note, Hayek was undone by the publication my Father’s answer –
from that day on on the University of Chicago Campus Hayek crossed the road upon seeing Finer coming, and Milton Friedman was none too friendly either on those walks
down 57th Street! Finer vs. Hayek formed one of the great academic tiffs of all time. Is
there not a man now alive who remembers the man who wrote the textbook on Modern
Government, and formed the viewpoint of the socially concerned Liberal Left? Let us
bring the “Road to Reaction” back into the game.


Kieran 05.11.12 at 7:44 pm

“Your claim that I am wrong is mistaken because your interpretation of what I wrote misunderstands my intention—I didn’t intend to be wrong.”


Nine 05.11.12 at 8:09 pm

Ditto on looking forward to the the Farell/Shalizi paper.

“the change undergone by the character of the British people, not merely under its Labour government but in the course of the much longer period during which it has been enjoying the blessings of a paternalistic welfare state, can hardly be mistaken.”

Does Hayek adduce anything material to defend this ? Seems rather woo-wooey.


Matt 05.11.12 at 10:47 pm

What we see playing out in this country right now is Hayek being proven right, but for EXACTLY the wrong reasoning. The vigorous corporatist opposition to anything that impedes “profitability” – including sensible levels of taxation, regulation, and a modern welfare state (can’t find people desperate enough to work themselves to death if there’s a dole, after all) – is fueling exactly the sort of totalitarian impulse that leads to horror.

For instance, we’ve already seen high-level GOP folks insisting that allowing poor people to vote is “aiding burglars”, references to food assistance programs as “feeding wild animals”, and the full-on embrace of police-state tactics to keep undocumented workers properly docile.


Emily 05.11.12 at 11:53 pm

Substance @ 38
To paraphrase: fear the hidden or build no place?

I’m going for Charlotte’s Web again – “Some Place” like “Some Pig”


tomslee 05.12.12 at 2:16 am

Shane Taylor #25: Actually, it strikes me as a clear sign of trying to eat your cake and have it, too.

I’m pretty sure it is a general trait of successful writers to have a strong form and a weak form of your argument. The strong form is to put on the cover, to get people excited, and to stoke controversy. The weak form is there so that, when challenged, you can explain that the reader does not understand, and that the nuanced argument you are making is that of the several roads available a few, under some conditions, may lead in the general direction of what some might call serfdom.


chris 05.12.12 at 3:02 am

Is it too pessimistic to fear that a generation grown up under these conditions is unlikely to throw off the fetters to which it has grown used?

To give Hayek his due, in a way, I do think the British population, having grown up under the existence of, say, the NHS, is unlikely to throw off the fetters forcing them to receive whatever health care they medically need at little to no cost to the individual.

The thing about roads that I’m not sure Hayek sufficiently pondered before using them in an analogy is that just because the road goes to X, doesn’t mean you HAVE to go to X. You can stop halfway, if you like. In fact, you can stop at literally any point along the way. You can even turn around and go back.

In my town there is a road that leads, if you follow it far enough, to Washington, D.C. I quite often drive on “the road to Washington” on days when I have no intention whatsoever of going to Washington. I don’t think that this would genuinely astonish Hayek, but he really doesn’t seem to have thought it through.


John Quiggin 05.12.12 at 3:35 am

I also wanted to recommend Farrant and McPhail, unfortunately paywalled.


William Timberman 05.12.12 at 3:49 am

Russell L. Carter @ 36

I need to thank you for the link to the Holbo post. (It was written before I had any inkling of the existence of CT, let alone of JH.) How much more satisfying the world would be if such excellence were more common, or at least more visible through the smog of everyday punditry. We should be content, I suppose, that we’re allowed the occasional bit. It at least gives us something of a context for our aspirations, and some encouragement that what we’re after needn’t remain eternally out of our reach.


Jim Rose 05.12.12 at 5:13 am

Would Singapore be an example of central planning leading to a one-party state?
• The state controls and owns firms that comprise at least 60% of the GDP through government entities such as the sovereign wealth fund Temasek;
• The vast majority (more than 80%) of Singaporeans live in public housing;
• Two government linked companies own all general circulation newspapers, all broadcast television channels and almost all radio stations.

Although initially styling itself an anti-Communist and Social Democratic, the People Action Party (PAP) was expelled from the Socialist International in 1976 because it suppressed dissent and jailed opposition leaders. Hayek would be vindicated?!

The index of economic freedom says that Singapore is a nominally democratic state that has been ruled by the PAP since the country became independent in 1965. Certain rights, such as freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, remain restricted

Freedom house notes that Singapore is not an electoral democracy despite elections free of irregularities and mentions that all domestic newspapers, radio stations, and television channels are owned by government-linked companies, which limits


John Quiggin 05.12.12 at 6:07 am

Regarding Jim Rose I suggest DNFTT applies here

@TomSlee This is John H’s Two-Step of Terrific Triviality

On Hayek, the problem with the reading “comprehensive central planning, if persisted with, creates contradictions that can only be resolved by dictatorship” is that, while defensible, it’s of no current interest, since almost no-one today advocates comprehensive central planning. It’s not even of much historical interest since, despite some talk of planning, the British Labour Party made no serious attempt to introduce it, and neither did any other social democratic government.


Nine 05.12.12 at 6:11 am

“Would Singapore be an example of central planning leading to a one-party state?”

No, it would not. Singapore was a soft dictatorship at inception, & Premier Lee Kuan Yew has not ever been shy about saying as much though such talk usually comes swaddled in the tartuffery of “asian values” rhetoric. See Kishore Mahbubani. It didn’t transition from an initial state of Hayekian freedom ( whatever that is) to wherever on the path to serfdom it is now.

BTW, Singapore as proof by construction for the correctness of RTF is genuinely surprising for yet another reason. Libertarians (Tyler Cowen no less) often adduce Singapore and Dubai as evidence for this or that facet of the libertarian ideal – iirc, last time it was the provision of social insurance. Which is always a major surprise to my Singaporean friends. I don’t know what the citizens of Dubai feel about being living proof of libertarian axioms.


Nine 05.12.12 at 6:14 am

Whoops, cross posted with Quiggen. In my defence, this the first I have seen of Jim Rose.


Jim Rose 05.12.12 at 7:26 am

In the final part of The Constitution of Liberty, Hayek examines many areas of contemporary policy concern – social security, taxation, healthcare, housing, urban planning, natural resources and education.

Hayek wanted government to provide a broad range of social and other services. The list of government services and interventions he favoured is too long for a blog post.

then there is Richard Epstein’s law review article, “Hayekian Socialism” – which is one of the better critiques of Hayek’s willingness to defer to government intervention. Epstein has criticized Hayek for “unwise concessions to the benevolent use of state power”.


david 05.12.12 at 9:00 am

The “Asian values” rhetoric is domestic revisionism, part of a late-1980s reaction to local right-wing ethnic opposition leaders starting to be “more Chinese than the PAP” and part of a regional movement along with Mahathir Muhammad to justify strongmanship ideologically. It was not part of the party at its genesis. The PAP began as Fabian socialist and very heavily British-influenced, which is precisely why it had so much trouble gaining traction with the Singaporean Chinese-educated Chinese back in the 1950s and had to pact with the communists. Lee and company were the English-educated Chinese who expelled the Chinese-educated Chinese majority from the PAP after victory and then used British aid to jail the Chinese-educated Chinese leaders, bluntly speaking, don’t let this get whitewashed.

Singapore’s “soft dictatorship” nature grew more or less directly out of late colonial government practice. No need to invoke “Asian values”. Labour Front’s Marshall refused to restrain the communists and resigned, his Labour Front successor Lim Yew Hock restrained the communists through force but couldn’t resolve the endemic corruption that gave the communists fuel, the PAP took advantage of the unpopularity of restraining the communists to (1) win in a landslide, which it then used to (2) restrain the communists through even more force, but (3) reduce corruption, which enabled it to entrench itself over the next decade. Economic miracles buy you grudging toleration, just ask China today or Korea under Park. Regardless, if you need to blame someone, blame Lim Yew Hock plus the Foreign Office. Not very Asian-values there, honestly.

As for Jim Rose’ thesis, it is certainly true that the PAP used its powers of central planning to entrench its political power (suppressing the politically-active bus and shipping companies by repeatedly merging and then splitting them, for example. And of course the newspaper companies). It is however the case that the PAP ‘planned’ in a historically more fortuitous direction, favoring foreign direct investment or nationalized quasi-competitive operation precisely because of its (English-speaking, etc., UK-friendly) relative isolation from domestic (Chinese-speaking, etc.) businesses and labour. This turned out to be the better way to do things. It wasn’t a Hayekian slide from liberal democracy to dictatorship, however, precisely because it started as a colony with all the implied powers of dictatorial central planning, with markets always existing at the government’s discretion. The notion of “what powers don’t you have” was never a coherent one.


Daniel 05.12.12 at 9:09 am

“if you begin with welfare policies of any sort — directing individuals, taxing for social ends, engineering the outcomes of market relationships — you will end up with Hitler.” – I think that is a very polemical and slightly sarcastic summary of Hayeks argument, but not a misrepresentation. As I read Hayek this is exactly the point – the welfare state is not serfdom, but the first step on the “road to serfdom”, and once you start threading that road it is a downhill slope hard to stop on.


Jim Rose 05.12.12 at 10:02 am

thanks david, Daron Acemoglu has written on institutions and post-colonial development:
• In Africa, Central America, the Caribbean and South Asia, European powers set up extractive states. These institutions did not introduce much protection for private property nor did they provide checks and balances against government expropriation. The explicit goal of the Europeans was the extraction of resources from these colonies.

• This colonization strategy contrasts with the institutions that the Europeans set up in colonies in which they settled in large numbers, e.g., the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. In these colonies, life was modelled after that in the home country; the emphasis was on the enforcement of property rights for a broad cross-section of society, especially smallholders, merchants and entrepreneurs. those nations wanted to be magnets for migrants from the home country.

The same British colonists established different institutions in very different parts of the world:
• If Europeans settled in a colony, institutions were developed for their own future benefits.
• If Europeans did not settle in a colony, they set up a highly centralized state apparatus and other similar institutions to oppress the native population and to facilitate the extraction of resources in the short run

Acemoglu has written on Singapore as a stable non-democracy that can persist without significant repression. the PAP quickly established a one party state.

Singapore was able through industrialization in the post-colonial period to ease social tensions and eliminate the need for a democratic consolidation and also the need for repression. (China’s ruling elite has the same current goal).

Why has Singapore not democratized? Acemoglu suggests is it is because Singapore is a very equal society. There was no traditional wealthy landed elite and the economy relies on external capital and businesses.

Most people appear to be relatively happy with the status-quo, at least not so unhappy that they want to engage in serious, and potentially costly, collective action to induce a major change in political institutions. the ruling elite is middle class too so they do not have much to lose from social change so no need for brutality.

All and all, political economy has come on in leaps and bounds since 1944. Hayek should be judged against the other grand predictions of his times.


Jim Rose 05.12.12 at 10:43 am

I must say that Judt writing that “The three quarters of century that followed Austria’s collapse in the 1930s can be seen as a duel between Keynes and Hayek” is a puzzle.

Hayek was largely forgotten by the 1950s. His writings on the constitution of liberty and later were for niche audiences in the 1960s and 1970s.

Milton Friedman was more influential but this was in the 1970s and 1980s and was an effect of the rising costs of the growth of government spending, not a cause.
– Friedman has Newsweek columns, TV programmes and countless interviews.
– Hayek was struggling to find a job, much less one with a pension, so he moved back to Europe to keep working.

As George Stigler noted, the ideas behind reform had been around for a long time. To affect the making of public policy, ideas must find a market among those influencing change.

Stigler contended that economists exert a minor and scarcely detectable influence on the societies in which they live.

Sstigler said that if Richard Cobden had spoken only Yiddish, and with a stammer, and Robert Peel had been a narrow, stupid man, England would have still moved toward free trade in grain as its agricultural classes declined and its manufacturing and commercial classes grew in the 1840s onwards

As Stigler noted, when their day comes, economists seem to have become the leaders of public opinion. But when the views of economists are not so congenial to the current requirements of special interest groups, such economists are the writers of letters to the editor in provincial newspapers. These days, they would run a blog. In the 1990s, would a still alive Keynes have needed to start his own blog too?

Face up to it: Hayek was an obscure figure from 1950 to the late 1990s. The 1974 Nobel Prize was a huge but still limited comeback in profile.

my googling for obituaries for Hayek is very unrewarding and got short obits like this at http://www.nytimes.com/1992/03/24/world/friedrich-von-hayek-dies-at-92-an-early-free-market-economist.html which notes that “he was all but ignored by other economists for 30 years after World War II, although he was respected for early contributions to monetary theory”. Hayek’s son got a longer obituary in the London Independent.


Shane Taylor 05.12.12 at 1:11 pm

How is a “psychological change, an alteration in the character of the people” which leads a country into serfdom any different from Paul Ryan’s safety-net-as-hammock argument against social insurance? Although Hayek made an exemption for some social insurance, it seems fairly easy for his contemporary admirers to rescind. It has never been clear to me why it would be inconsistent to for a Hayekian to say, “Well, yes, Hayek himself spoke in favor of social insurance. But the master was mistaken. Perhaps he could not fully escape the corrupt norms of the era in which he worked, but no matter. The greater truths of his philosophy are best served by removing this little inconsistency.”


Tim Worstall 05.12.12 at 2:06 pm

“You can even turn around and go back.”

And don’t people whine when you try? For example, the current attempt to move the NHS (which was, after all, one of Hayek’s examples) from a tax financed and centralised state provision to a tax financed and (somewhat) market led provision like many other European states is causing a certain furore.

Further, it’s not actually unusual to see arguments along the lines of “people must stop doing x because it costs the NHS money”. Where x might be drinking, smoking or gorging to obesity. An excess of any of those three is indeed deleterious to peoples’ health and there are reasonable arguments to advise, even nudge, people into doing less of them. Possibly even tax them. But that argument “you mustn’t do x because it costs the State money” has a whiff of, perhaps not of serfdom, but something a little stronger than paternalism to it. It’s difficult to read some of the briefings that come out of ASH, or some of the current anti-booze campaigners, without thinking that Hayek did have something of a point even if it were overstated.

“On Hayek, the problem with the reading “comprehensive central planning, if persisted with, creates contradictions that can only be resolved by dictatorship” is that, while defensible, it’s of no current interest, since almost no-one today advocates comprehensive central planning.”

You’re obviously not reading some of the things coming out of the UK Green Party and such places. The reason why it’s all necessary has changed but that the people proposing it get to tell us all what to do and when seems to remain. What does amuse is that historically (ie, early Fabians, the Webbs etc) all though that such comprehensive planning would be more efficient and increase production. The green argument now seems to be that we need exactly the same planning in order to reduce production.


otto 05.12.12 at 2:26 pm

I myself will gladly settle for the “huge but limited comeback in profile” associated with winning a Nobel prize.


Emily 05.12.12 at 4:45 pm

@Jim Rose @63
I think a great difference between Singapore and China is land size and built space density and approaches to sustainability.

China, I’m aware, has plans for a circular economy based on Buckminster Fullers ideas (not technology minded myself so no idea how this works in practice).

Whereas a prominent ex-govt Minister in Singapore has publicly said that resources will keep being used til they run out. Don’t know about current Ministerial beliefs.


Metatone 05.12.12 at 4:55 pm

@Tim W

Perhaps the furore about NHS reform is because it shows every sign of costing a lot of money and reducing quality. Combine that with the fact that it contradicts the manifesto promises of both governing parties, it seems like it should cause a furore in a democracy.


Metatone 05.12.12 at 5:00 pm

@William Timberman

Possibly too late to catch you, but you say “I’m not sure it’s as simple as that.”
What I say is – you’re right, I’m glossing over the huge amount of work necessary to:
a) Get democracy back in good shape in a lot of countries
b) Keep it in good shape

However, I do think this is possible and that complex systems analysis doesn’t raise any fundamental objections to democracy that are not also present for all the other forms of government or governance proposed so far. Of course, possible is not the same as likely or inevitable…


dsquared 05.12.12 at 6:30 pm

really, the only sensible thing for Hayekians to do with “Road to Serfdom” is to treat it like Marx and “the tendency of the rate of profit to fall”, or Einstein and “god doesn’t play dice”, or Keynes and eugenics or Heidegger and “more or less everything” and just say that it was a clear error but obviously doesn’t invalidate the whole rest of his work.


Roger Gathman 05.12.12 at 6:37 pm

I think Hayek’s logic takes from a Marxist tradition, interestingly enough. Mill claimed that economics was a deductive science that could not accomodate experiments. The moral implication was that economics, as a science, was, like any science, just tracing the consequences of some given set of axioms in economic space. From which we go to Walras.

But the Marxist view has always been that capitalism changes the character of a people. It is not that people naturally truck, barter and exchange, and have a sense of themselves as self-advantaging individuals -it is that the system creates the conditions in which people take on the capitalist character.

Hayek seems to concede this point: “that the most important change which extensive government control produces is a psychological change, an alteration in the character of the people.”

Hayek’s logic would tend to rip away the mask of neutrality under which economists like to ‘debate’ the issues. Because it is not neutral efficiency, or the logical consequences of axioms that is in play in an economy, but the alterations in the character of a people. I think Hayek is right on this point. I have read somewhere (maddeningly, I can’t find the study) that surveys of the Thatcher generation showed responses to questions about the economy and society that were much more self-interested than the pre-Thatcher generation. I can’t vouch for a study I can’t even find, but it would seem to me that economists and policy makers definitely think this. Hayek evidently did not like the culture of the socialist tending 40s through the 70s. I don’t think the dislike was that it was all going Nazi or Communist, and there I’d have to say that Judt was caricaturing Hayek’s view, if not his logic. Rather, Hayek did not like a working class that could demand and get higher wages, or generations that grew up with a lack of respect for businessmen and the people on the top of the capitalist hierarchy. He was defending the spirit of the positional economy of classical liberalism.


Barry 05.12.12 at 7:12 pm

Jim Rose:”The index of economic freedom says that Singapore is a nominally democratic state that has been ruled by the PAP since the country became independent in 1965. Certain rights, such as freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, remain restricted”


‘*the* index of economic freedom’? Who is this god-like being who can issue *the* index? I believe that you are talking about a particular organization – Freedom House?


Barry 05.12.12 at 7:15 pm

JQ – sorry; I replied before your warning.


Shatterface 05.12.12 at 8:34 pm

One of New Labour’s excuses for attempting to bring in the National Register and its attendant ID Cards was that it was ‘necessary’ to prevent benefit fraud (it wasn’t, because benefit fraud is caused by lying about your circumstances, not your identity) so there is a link between welfare and authoritarianism.

If you sign on 15 minutes late you can loose a week’s benefit; do it twice and you loose a fortnight. That’s a fine for being administratively inconvenient.

Fail to apply to a job they submit you to and you’ll loose months or – soon – years of benefits.

You will loose ESA if you fail to attend an intrusive medical.

So there is a direct link between state benefits and state power .


John Quiggin 05.12.12 at 8:49 pm

@Tim W. I’ve now visited the Greens Web page. Item 1 is about bank reform and supports credit unions and community banks. So I think you must have a different party in mind. I’ve heard UKIP is pretty crazy. Maybe it’s them.


Colin Danby 05.12.12 at 10:44 pm

Interesting to see how arguments move around, picking up on #45 and#73. The 19th-British romantics (Southey, Coleridge, Carlyle, Ruskin) argued that political economists (Malthus, Bentham, the Mills) were not pursuing a neutral science but actively working to turn people into irresponsible hedonists neglectful of their social duties. While the education debates of that century have faded from view, they were closely bound up with this fight. And it’s more generally a romantic trope to regard character, individually or collectively, as in play.

This is also a theme in _Red Plenty_, and the Mirowski essay adds a fascinating dimension there. Gotta go read Michael Polanyi now.

In its simplest form “character of the people” is the last-ditch argument of almost any anti-reformism: once you abandon “reform will be ineffective” you retreat to “reform will be effective, and therefore make popular the principles of the reformers, which are abhorrent to me.”


Gene O'Grady 05.12.12 at 11:01 pm

In a number of the posts it has struck me that what is missing is how something, which may be political economy, has changed, not the “Character of the people,” but the character of the economically powerful, the elite, and what were once known as learned professions. I remember twenty-five years or more ago driving with my dad and we passed the offices of a quite prominent law firm of a generation after his and he said, “Shit, Gene, (hope the first word doesn’t trigger sensors, it’s what he said) Berlin (Sid Berlin, his long time law partner) and I thought we were out to make a buck but we wouldn’t have dreamed of doing some of the things these young guys do.”


Jim Rose 05.13.12 at 1:10 am

What did Hayek do in 1944? He made a warning as a public intellectual: Hayek offered a prediction which turned out to be false.

As Popper understood, bold, risky hypotheses are at the heart of great advances in the sciences and scholarship generally.

Richard Posner has pointed out that bold and risky propositions are not something that usually has much merit in the realm of the social and the political. It is the more frequently the reverse: the best public-intellectual work in the past “has consisted in seeing through the big new economic and political nostrums.”

Hayek’s warning, by a man who was a leading critic of the making of detailed predictions, was against a background where democracy was still young and insecure in Europe and peacetime democratic governments were, up until then, not much bigger than a post office and a military. The big governments were not democratic.

As Mises put it “trends can change”


Keith 05.13.12 at 1:59 am

Road to serfdom makes no sense unless you actually think the state can be and should be abolished: since no one really does think that the state can and should be abolished it is irrelevant to actual political debate. The real issue is what should the state do and what are reasonable methods to achieve the reasonable end the state should aim for. That is the subject of politics and policy and political parties and people disagree about that.

I agree that the road to reaction is a great book in reply to Hayek. While any discussion of threats to freedom which obsesses about economics and ignores the role of extreme nationalism and racism as fundamental causes of the abuse of state power in twentieth century Europe is pretty useless. As is a simplistic theory that all human rights or Liberties depend on a very right wing interpretation of private property rights.


js. 05.13.12 at 2:02 am

The important point is that the political ideals of a people and its attitude toward authority are as much the effect as the cause of the political institutions under which it lives.

But, surely, this of all things is true. (N.B.: I mean for the quote to be read as is, and out of context. So, among other things, no reference is made to anything approaching “national character”. If you feel more comfortable, replace “a people” with “people”, and “it” with “they”.)

Who, actually, disagrees with this? Surely not JS Mill–several of his key arguments in all of his best-known works turn on precisely this point. The Crazy is Hayek’s argument is not this, but that he thinks unemployment benefits will make you wanna go Heil! So to speak.


Jim Rose 05.13.12 at 2:16 am

otto, the 1974 nobel prize was not so big back then because those prizes started in 1969 or so. these days, the winners become minor media gods.

back then, it brought hayek back into the public eye – a trip to Australia even – and revitalised his intellectual energies after an extended period of depression and illness. He was a skeleton of a man for the last decades of his life.

when hayek won the prize, his colleagues at his german univeristy hardly knew who he was or that he was Keynes’ principal rival in the 1930s, as I recall.


david 05.13.12 at 5:43 am

Jim Rose @64

“Why has Singapore not democratized? Acemoglu suggests is it is because Singapore is a very equal society. There was no traditional wealthy landed elite and the economy relies on external capital and businesses.”

Doesn’t pass the laugh test, Singapore has Kenya levels of wealth inequality (and this is an improvement starting from the Goh administration). There is no traditional landed elite because there’s no land to speak of, but there was a traditional wealthy elite that, as it turned out, did manage to form the government, namely the British-favoured English-educated minorities of the population.

It is true that the economy relies on foreign capital, but plenty of countries are very small open economies that are nonetheless democratic.

It is worth noting that Singapore (and Hong Kong) fall into neither of the two categories you identify; it was not intended to be an European magnet nor an extractive state. Free ports have a different political dynamic (mostly: leave local power arrangements alone, import enough labour to operate the port). This generalizes to Malaya, in fact.

It is nonetheless the case that Singapore is de facto liberal for the non-politically-active section of the population, and social mobility is reasonably high. Emigration and immigration are both very high. That is probably where Acemoglu’s intuition is most relevant, I think. But all that this should tell you that the experience of civil-social life for most of the population is not the same as a country’s democracy index score, and inequality is a poor measure of wealth entrenchment – be cautious about waving indexes around.


maidhc 05.13.12 at 6:41 am

Tim Worstall @67. The argument “people must stop doing x because it costs the NHS money” is, of course, based on having an NHS. But a similar argument exists even in a fully privatized system, e.g., “The government should force motorcyclists to wear helmets because providing health care for people with serious head injuries will cause everybody’s insurance premiums to go up”. Similarly zoning regulations are coercive restrictions on people’s freedom of action for the purpose of maintaining the value of private property.


Jim Rose 05.13.12 at 6:55 am

david, I found a web site that compares Kenya to singapore!

If Singapore were your home instead of Kenya you would:
• make 31.4 times more money
• spend 22.9 times more money on health care
• be 97.01% less likely to have HIV/AIDS
• live 23.24 years longer
• have 95.66% less chance of dying in infancy
• have 92.5% more chance at being employed
• have 75.38% less babies
• experience 13.18% more of a class divide

If Hong Kong were your home instead of Kenya you would:
• make 26.7 times more money
• be 98.51% less likely to have HIV/AIDS
• live 23.14 years longer
• have 94.56% less chance of dying in infancy
• have 86.75% more chance at being employed
• have 78.8% less babies
• experience 25.41% more of a class divide

Give me Kenyan equality and give me death.

HT: http://www.ifitweremyhome.com/compare/KE/SG


david 05.13.12 at 7:55 am

You misread me. Singapore is as unequal as Kenya, it is not making a trade-off between less equality and more wealth. It is as unequal but far wealthier.


Jim Rose 05.13.12 at 8:27 am

thanks david, the radical economist Joan Robinson’s in her Essay on Marxian Economics first published in 1942 noted that when the communist manifesto was published in 1848, its battle cry ‘Rise up ye workers, rise up, for you have nothing to lose but your chains’ would have had some currency.

Alas 90 years later, Robinson suggested that this battle cry would have to be ‘Rise up ye workers, rise up, for you have nothing to lose but your suburban home and motor car.’

they do not have many cars in singapore, but they will lose their government flat if they do not keep their noses out of politics.

when I visited singapore for a holiday, the politics-free straits times was about as interesting to read as those free suburban newspapers we get in our mail-box.


rf 05.13.12 at 11:46 am

I don’t see how Tim’s point makes any sense. The Greens have, I think, one Member of Parliament. That’s not just at the moment, but ever, in the history of British democracy. There are also unlimited opportunities to drink, smoke and drug yourself into an early grave in the UK if that’s your life’s goal, and rather than being publicly shunned you’d probably end up celebrated by all, perhaps bar the ten people Tim W obsesses over. In fact if you wanted to mainline an eight ball of coke on the central line at 8.30 on a Monday morning you’d probably get away with it

I wouldn’t pay much heed to Tim Worstall. His observations are about as relevant as a troll ranting on a dead thread at NRO about Malmo’s Muslim population.


Jim Rose 05.13.12 at 1:06 pm

rf, there are green EuroMPs and green MPs in the scottish parliament and Northern Island assembly.

green party candidates in first past the post elections for the house of commons change the identity of the median voter, and thereby influence party platforms of the larger parties. the greens would take votes from Labor, the LDP and even the Tories.

house of lords reform will see more Greens in the Lords.


Plume 05.13.12 at 9:29 pm

I think there is more than enough evidence to suggest that most right wing “thought” on these matters boils down to a defense of hierarchy, inequality and the ruling class. Different times, different vehicles, but it amounts to the same. If king and crown are the best champions of Privilege, then the right sides with them. If the Church is the best champion, the right sides with it. If Business Interests are the best champions, the right sides with them, and so on. If they’re all on the same team of champions, the right sides with all of them, etc. etc. Most recently, Corey Robin has put this succinctly in his book, The Reactionary Mind, where he talks about the right’s fear of any movement that helps lift up the so-called “lower orders.”

Most of Hayek boils down to that. Tons of verbiage amounting to a sophistic, sometimes hidden defense of existing privilege. Any movement, institution or type of government with a chance of equalizing inequality must be crushed. Hayek was a champion for what we now call the 1%, as all right wing intellectuals were and are.

We know this because of their emphasis on “freedom and liberty” for the rich, for business owners, for the leaders of the dominant religious order. We know this because they never call for “freedom and liberty” for workers, women, religious and ethnic minorities. We know this because when they talk about “serfdom”, it’s only in relationship to government, never the church, never business, never corporations or capitalism more generally. And we know they favor extremes of hierarchy and despise democracy because their current best vehicles are business and the church, both of which are anti-democratic and obviously severely hierarchical.

The road to serfdom? In the 21st century, that’s neoliberalism and its offshoots. That’s the privatization of the commons, which removes democracy from the equation. Democracy, if it’s a reality instead of an abstraction, presents the greatest possible equalizer in history, which is why the right must fight it tooth and nail. For no real democracy would ever allow CEOs to make 400 times as much as rank and file employees. No real democracy would ever allow corporations to pollute at will and write legislation hiding that pollution. No real democracy would ever allow 400 Americans to hold as much wealth as the bottom 50% of the country and so on. And no real democracy would bail out billionaires while letting the people “eat cake.”

IMO, the left spends far too much time trying to “understand” the sociopathologies of the right, and far too little time actually fighting them head-on. They aren’t difficult to understand in the slightest. Theirs is a simplistic view of the world, a black and white view, with little subtlety, and that’s their great advantage. They act, while the left writes dissertations. It’s long past time to put down the pen and pick up the sword.


dictateursanguinaire 05.14.12 at 3:34 pm

I personally think that Welfare is bad for people, and State Welfare is the worst kind

Huh. So State Welfare (protip, randomly capitalizing words does not add to your post) is bad but so is…regular ‘Welfare’? And what do you mean by plain ol’ welfare? Surely not the actually meaning of the term, in which case you are literally saying that ‘the wellbeing of people is bad for people’ — which, I guess, is the libertarian troll statement par excellence. We must make people miserable so that they will produce! So they will be happy at some never-to-arrive point in the future.

. I have yet to discover a bright line in principle between necessary Welfare and soul-destroying, life-crushing, civilization-annihilating Welfare.

Well, as the saying goes, I think that says more about you than the question you pose (and praytell, what kind of ‘Welfare’ constitutes the latter sort? which social insurance program did Hitler and Stalin use in order to annihilate people).


ajay 05.16.12 at 1:48 pm

Hayek’s warning, by a man who was a leading critic of the making of detailed predictions, was against a background where democracy was still young and insecure in Europe and peacetime democratic governments were, up until then, not much bigger than a post office and a military.

That really isn’t true. Hayek was writing in the UK, of course, and UK government spending never dropped below 25% of GDP between the wars. For almost all of that time (except for the immediate aftermath of the Great War), welfare spending was significantly higher than defence spending.


ajay 05.16.12 at 1:57 pm

People tend to forget, you see, that the welfare state didn’t just spring into being from the forehead of William Beveridge. The post-war reforms were terrific, but they were building on provisions – old age pensions, unemployment insurance, state schools – that already existed before the war, through a combination of national and local schemes. Before Beveridge, a Briton could have been born under the care of a doctor paid through the National Insurance scheme, gone to a state-funded primary and secondary school (keeping himself fed the while on state-funded free school meals), passed his free time in the state-funded public library or the state-funded art gallery, found a job thanks to state-funded vocational guidance, got through occasional periods of unemployment thanks to his state-funded unemployment benefit, lived in a state-built council house, and finally retired on his state-funded old age pension.


Emily 05.16.12 at 6:50 pm

Re: @20
The reference is “The Parliamentary History of England from the Earliest Period to the Year 1803:1737-1739” mobi edition


Peter Whiteford 05.17.12 at 1:54 am

“Why has Singapore not democratized? Acemoglu suggests is it is because Singapore is a very equal society. There was no traditional wealthy landed elite and the economy relies on external capital and businesses.”

As has been pointed out – if Acemoglu suggests this he would be deeply mistaken. You don’t need comparisons with Kenya to show this. Singapore is considerably more unequal than any OECD country – and this doesn’t take into account the fact that many (lower income) people who work in Singapore are not counted in household income surveys.


John Quiggin 05.17.12 at 3:26 am

Again, re Jim Rose DNFTT. From long experience, he offers a combination of concern trolling and deliberate, though relatively subtle, misrepresention. This lengthy comments thread shows plenty of examples of both


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