From the monthly archives:

May 2012

Hayek and the Welfare State, Yet Again

by Henry Farrell on May 21, 2012

In lieu, I presume, of a reply to my previous posts disagreeing with him on Hayek and Judt, Tyler Cowen links to “this post”: by Kevin Vallier on _Bleeding Heart Libertarians_ which frames the debate thusly:

bq. Every once in a while folks in the political corner of the blogosphere start talking about Hayek’s argument in The Road to Serfdom. As Matt Yglesias said Monday, lots of people, conservatives and liberals alike, say that Hayek believed that any welfare state inevitably leads to totalitarianism. Then some people who have actually _read_ Hayek reply that he always supported social insurance, safety nets, public goods provision and many forms of regulation. Then confusion ensues.

bq. … Obviously Farrell and Judt’s claims are over the top due to their use of various “of any sort” “unequivocally” “at all” and “Hitler” modifiers … instead of beating up on them, let’s use our collective annoyed-by-someone-on-the-internet energy in a constructive fashion: to see what we can learn about Hayek’s real arguments against socialism and the welfare state. … Caldwell concludes, rightly, that Hayek was right about this. But he points out that Hayek’s criticism of the welfare state is subtler and involves two claims. The first problem with the welfare state is that it is a philosophically slippery target. … when Farrell reads this, he concludes that Hayek basically made the same claims about the welfare state and socialism, namely that both institutions will lead, eventually, to totalitarianism, even if the socialism gets us there sooner than the welfare state. … In my last post, I pointed out that _even the later Hayek_ defended a universal basic income … Thus, Hayek supported what we typically call a welfare state throughout his career. … In my view, then, Hayek’s target is not “the welfare state” as such, that is, not a social insurance or safety net state, but rather a _state based on a robust conception of distributive justice applied to its economic components_ … Hayek’s critique of the welfare state simply falls out of his broader conception of the legal order of a free people. … So let’s distinguish between two kinds of welfare states: the welfare state of law and the welfare state of administration. Hayek’s preferred welfare state is limited by his insistence that the law be regulated by clear, public, general principles rather than administrative bodies.

bq. Hayek opposes the welfare state of administration. … But the second problem with the welfare state of administration is that it contains an internal dynamic that pushes in a socialist direction. … Of course, this is not totalitarianism by any means. For one thing, if citizens affirm even modest economic freedoms (as most members of liberal democracies do), then they will resist this accretion effect before things get too bad. And that’s the pattern we see: even in Scandinavian countries, people resist regulation due to their concerns about efficiency and, yes, concerns about property rights (sometimes more effectively than we supposedly libertarian Americans). …

bq. Hayek overplayed his hand by arguing that the tinkerer’s welfare state will inevitably lead to totalitarianism, but not by much. The most free and economically successful liberal democracies hybridize welfare states of law and welfare states of administration. They’re hybrids largely due to the fact that most citizens of liberal democracies endorse elements of both liberalism and socialism. But if citizens of liberal democracies gave up liberalism entirely and stopped minding regulation so much, then I think the dynamic of the administrator’s welfare state would lead to significant authoritarianism that, while not totalitarian, would be uncomfortably close.

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Madeleine L’Engle is weirder than I remembered

by John Holbo on May 19, 2012

My books-for-kids threads have been good conversation starters so let’s keep it up. Zoe (age 10) and I have been listening to Madeleine L’Engle on audiobook. Listening to an audiobook while drawing is an excellent use of a Saturday afternoon. I remember reading The Time Quintet [amazon], I think when I was in 7th grade or so, and getting moderately tripped out. Then I got into Stephen King. Rereading – re-listening, whatever – I’m amazed by how weird they really are, as kid fare. How much weird religious-scientific exposition there is. Cherubim and mitochondria, making a sort of Episcopalian-psychedelic (Episcodelic? Psychopalian?) mélange. It’s like a cross between Harry Potter and Dante’s Purgatorio (no infernos, please, we’re universal salvationists.) Gifted kids of absent/highly-abstracted parents start out bewildered but get enlightened/spiritually-uplifted by weird alien/angels on the way to saving the world/universe.

We’re part way through A Wind In The Door, having finished A Wrinkle In Time last Saturday. Then last Sunday we went to see The Avengers – which was great! (did you hear?) – and Zoe was very excited that the plot was sort of similar. US government meddling with tesseract opens doorway to creepy alien forces beyond our comprehension across the universe, etc. Film was a bit more action-packed than the book.

Anyway, any Madeleine L’Engle thoughts? Religious sf (like C.S. Lewis.) Kid lit that bucks genre conventions, but that kids really like, proving that the conventions can be broken?

Good lines

by Henry Farrell on May 19, 2012

From Curtis White’s article on philanthropy in the current issue of Jacobin:

bq. In the United States, everyone may enjoy freedom of speech so long as it doesn’t matter. For those who would like what they say to matter, freedom of speech is very expensive.

It goes on:

bq. It is for this reason that organizations with a strong sense of public mission but not much money are dependent on the “blonde child of capitalism,” private philanthropy. This dependence is true for both conservative and progressive causes, but there is an important difference in the philanthropic culture that they appeal to. The conservative foundations happily fund “big picture” work. … On the other hand, progressive foundations may understand that the organizations they fund have visions, but it’s not the vision that they will give money to. … If there is need for a vision, the foundation itself will provide this. Unfortunately, according to one source, the foundation’s vision too often amounts to this: “If we had enough money, and access to enough markets, and enough technological expertise, we could solve all the problems.”

Have I mentioned recently how happily superannuated “Jacobin magazine”: makes me feel? You should all be subscribing.

The death of Flickr?

by Chris Bertram on May 16, 2012

Gizmodo has a piece “proclaiming the death of Flickr”: at the hands of the hateful and incompetent Yahoo. In many ways, Flickr has been the most important site on the internet to “me”: (after CT of course) for the past five years. There isn’t another site that allows people who are serious about photography (including film) to display and talk about their work with others who feel the same way, that also includes a social media component. True, there are other sites that are good display vehicles (zenfolio or smugmug) but that’s like opening your shop down a dusty side-street: random traffic. And there are other sites that do the social media thing and carry photos (Facebook, Google+) but where you are showing your stuff not to _photographers_ but to your “friends” who may or may not care. No one else does the combination. The other thing about Flickr is the crossover from online social groups to real-world friendships. In Bristol we have monthly pub meets and various other events; through other Flickr projects I’ve met and hung out with photographers in other places, notably San Francisco. I’d never have met those people on Facebook. But Flickr does look tired and Yahoo has starved it of support. It is not dead yet, but it will be a tragedy if it goes, since nothing else does the same job.

Pretender, in the non-pejorative sense (and à propos of nothing in particular). Wikpedia’s definition will do: “A pretender is one who claims entitlement to an unavailable position of honour or rank. Most often it refers to a former monarch, or descendant thereof, whose throne is occupied or claimed by a rival, or has been abolished.” So, for example, Plato was pretender to the Philosopher King’s throne in a perfectly respectable sense. He wasn’t an imposter. It was his proper title. This seems to me a concept deserving of wider application and all-around democritization. When you write up your resume or CV, why list only the position you’ve got? That’s an extremely random sort of fact about yourself, on average. If we must be defined by our jobs or stations, most of us are much better defined by the offices or stations we should have – but that someone else is squatting on, through no merit of their own; or that, through no fault of our own, just don’t happen to exist. I’d be perfect for a lot of way cool jobs that don’t happen to exist. And if being perfect for the job isn’t some sort of entitlement, I don’t know how anyone can be entitled to any job. (Not that I don’t have a good job now. I do. And I’m lucky to have it.) Pretending, in this sense, is the highest form of ethical authenticity. “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. Those who think themselves the masters of others are indeed greater slaves than they.” That is, you ought to put ‘pretender to freedom’ on your business card. If you put ‘accounts executive’ or ‘associate professor’ you are selling yourself short. Think about that kid in “The Squid and the Whale” who pretends he wrote “Hey You”. He’s not trying to fool anyone. He just thinks he should have written it. It was only a sort of accident that Roger Waters got there first. Makes a certain amount of sense.

What should your business card say?

Take it away, Platters!

Upgrade To Lion? Wait For Mountain Lion?

by John Holbo on May 14, 2012

A tech question for the CT commentariat. I’m a mac user, still using Snow Leopard but being pressured by Apple to upgrade to Lion – because I use MobileMe, which has become iCloud, which is no longer compatible with Snow Leopard after next month. (Except, apparently, they are relenting a bit about that. See below.)

The question: should I upgrade to Lion? [click to continue…]

Hayek and the Welfare State

by Henry Farrell on May 13, 2012

Two references worth reading in light of the last post.
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Judt and Hayek

by Henry Farrell on May 11, 2012

A few months ago, Tyler Cowen “argued”: 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”:

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.

The Toolitzers

by Henry Farrell on May 9, 2012

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a publicist at Penguin Books:

bq. In 2008, columnist Jonah Goldberg triggered a firestorm of controversy with his first book, LIBERAL FASCISM, a #1 New York Times bestseller. Now, he’s about to unleash another bold, funny, and thoughtful argument in his new book, THE TYRANNY OF CLICHÉS: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas (Sentinel, May 1). … Please let me know if you’d like a copy of THE TYRANNY OF CLICHÉS.

I responded by saying that I was grateful for the offer, but that I’d rather slice my eyeballs open with a rusty can-opener. I also gave them permission to use this quote as a back-cover blurb if they liked. They never got back to me (I thought it was _at least_ as good as Brad Thor’s “In the P.C. prison yard of accepted political thought, Jonah Goldberg has just shivved progressivism,” but I’m probably just biased). Now, fate has given me (and Penguin Books) a second chance.

bq. On the dust jacket of his new book, “The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas,” best-selling conservative author and commentator Jonah Goldberg is described as having “twice been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.” In fact, as Goldberg acknowledged on Tuesday, he has never been a Pulitzer nominee, but merely one of thousands of entrants. … His publisher, Penguin Group (USA), said the error was unintentional and it would remove the Pulitzer word from his book jacket when it’s time for the first reprint, “just like any other innocent mistake brought to our attention.”

It’s time to fill that gap on the back cover of the first reprint. So let me simultaneously (a) announce the creation of the Toolitzer Prizes, with myself as sole judge and executive chairman of the nominating committee, and (b) nominate _The Tyranny of Cliches_, and (retroactively), _Liberal Fascism_ for the award, so that our Jonah will have two new nominations to take the place of the old ones. Should the necessary conditions of the competition be fulfilled (see below), the prize will be awarded to the book with the most serious, thoughtful, argument that has never before been made in such detail or with such care. Of course, deciding this would actually require me to _read_ the books: hence the nomination process will have two steps.

If readers want to simply nominate books, they may do so by simply leaving a comment to this post, describing the book, and making a brief statement about its merits for the award. Books so nominated will have _full and explicit permission_ to describe themselves as Toolitzer nominees in publicity materials, on the author’s website and so on, regardless of whether an actual award is made in the calendar year 2012.

If readers actually want _an award to be made,_ they will need to both nominate a book and provide evidence of having made a minimum $500 donation in honor of the award to an organization which, in the opinion of the executive chairman, exemplifies the ideals of Liberal Fascism (examples might include _The Baffler_, _Planned Parenthood_, _The American Prospect_ etc). Should readers so do, the sole judge will undertake to read the nominated book (as long as it is under 600 pages), and write a detailed blogpost evaluating its worthiness for the award (the sole judge quietly and selfishly hopes that no-one actually takes this second step, but will take his lumps if someone does).

Misanthropic Principle

by John Holbo on May 9, 2012

My old poker buddy Eric Schwitzgebel needs a new, snappier title for this post because obviously what we have here is a straightforward application of what physicists refer to as the ‘misanthropic principle‘. Really, just an application of the mediocrity principle. What are the odds that we aren’t a bunch of jerks, to a first approximation? Low, right? From which it follows that any inference about the nature of the universe proceeding from the assumption that we, the observers, are not a bunch of jerks is probably invalid. (Don’t believe me? Then consider Anselm’s famous ontological proof. P1: Haters gonna hate. P2: Hate is a property. P3: Anything exhibiting a property must exist. P4: Necessarily existent entities are more likely to exist than other sorts. C1: Haters must exist. C2: Haters must exist in greater numbers than non-haters. C3: We are probably haters.) Bonus style points for applying the misanthropic principle to string theory and issues concerning the density of ice. Also, comment sections. Take it away!

The Return of the Baffler

by Henry Farrell on May 8, 2012

The Baffler, one of the great little magazines, is back again in a new print incarnation. And, for the first time (I think), it has a “proper website”: The US Intellectual History blog has run a short round table on the issue – contributions, in order are “here”:, “here”:, and “here”:, with a reply from the new editor, John Summers, “here”: George Scialabba is an associate editor, and Aaron Swartz a contributing editor (both, of course, are long time members of the CT community). Readers are warmly encouraged to “subscribe”: and/or to “donate”: to the magazine’s Kickstarter campaign, which ends in only a couple of days.

The theme of the new issue is capitalist innovation and its problems. Quoting the framing piece by John Summers:

bq. The fable that we are living through a time of head-snapping innovation in technology drives American thought these days – dystopian and utopian alike. But if you look past both the hysteria and the hype, and place the achievements of technology in historical perspective, then you may recall how business leaders promised not long ago to usher us into a glorious new time of abundance that stood beyond history. And then you may wonder if their control over technology hasn’t excelled mainly at producing dazzling new ways to package and distribute consumer products (like television) that have been kicking around history for quite some time. The salvos in this issue chronicle America’s trajectory from megamachines to minimachines, from prosthetic gods to prosthetic pals, and raise a corollary question from amid all these strangely unimaginative innovation: how much of our collective awe rests on low expectations?

There are some startlingly close parallels to the aspirations of the USSR, as described in Red Plenty, which I’ll be talking about at greater length in my contribution to the forthcoming seminar. There are also some claims that I disagree with. I’m not at all sure that this introduction has the diagnosis right. Much like the old Baffler, there are some good and excellently entertaining criticisms of specific elements of techno-boosterism, but also a little too much emphasis on the cultural rather than the political dimensions of techology.

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Maurice Sendak has died

by Henry Farrell on May 8, 2012

“NYT article here”:

Red Plenty Seminar

by Henry Farrell on May 7, 2012

All going well, our seminar on Francis Spufford’s _Red Plenty_ will be ready in the next few weeks. However, there’s still time to read it if you want to be able to participate fully in the discussion. If you want to read a review before deciding whether to buy, this New York Times review is a good one. The book itself is available from Powells, Barnes and Noble, and “Amazon”: as well as local booksellers.

Academic spousal accommodation in Europe

by Ingrid Robeyns on May 7, 2012

An American friend asked me recently whether Dutch universities have a practice of accommodating spouses when they offer an academic a job. Spousal accommodation could take many forms – either offering a job to the spouse, or making a serious effort in finding a job for the spouse, or supporting the spouse in his or her own job search. Yet I have never heard that there is a practice of spousal accommodation at European universities — whereas it does happen in the US.

Is the impression I have correct? Are there any signs this is changing in Europe? And is it in the US only a matter for certain academic jobs – say: you want to make an offer s/he can’t refuse to a brilliant established professor, or does it also occur at entry-level positions? I’d love to read your views and experiences.

As to the desirability of the practice of spousal accommodation, I have not made up my mind yet. One the one hand, I see around me excellent young academics who are virtually unemployed because their spouse is in a place where there is no job for them, and they don’t want to be living far away from their family; on the other hand we tend to think that jobs should be allocated on a fair equality of opportunities principle — and it is unclear whether spousal accommodation meets this principle. It probably depends on the exact nature of the spousal accommodation: if it merely entails supporting one’s job search on the existing job market, then it seems fine; if it is the actual creation of a job for a spouse, or the striking of a deal with another department that they hire the spouse for a vacancy that is about to be opened, it seems more problematic.

Zombies re-reanimated

by John Q on May 6, 2012

The Australian edition of Zombie Economics, updated and with an additional chapter on Economic Rationalism, is about to go on sale. I’ll be appearing at a launch event at Gleebooks in Sydney on Wednesday (9 May) talking with Jessica Irvine of the SMH.

The launch coincides with the US publication of a paperback edition, with a new chapter on Austerity. Thanks to readers here at CT who read drafts of this and made lots of helpful comments.

The Italian translation also came out recently, and there are versions coming in French, Greek, Portuguese, Korean and Simplified Chinese. Collect them all!