Shorter Kevin Vallier

by Henry Farrell on July 9, 2013

Is there anything more to this “post”: of epic, indeed Den Bestian length than the claim that if you define the term ‘elite’ in an arbitrary and weirdly narrow way, then Hayek is not an elitist (and btw Corey Robin eats his own boogers!)? I’ve read the piece through a couple of times and not found it, if it’s there. I’ll say that this is all especially annoying coming from Kevin Vallier, who was lecturing me last year for failing to demonstrate “sufficient intellectual charity”:”: to Hayek (when I took Hayek’s words to mean what they would appear, quite literally, to mean). This year, he’s telling us instead how Corey’s purported errors allow “people who aren’t already Robin fans how to distinguish him from a responsible intellectual historian.” I’m more in favor of vigorous argument than starting from charitable assumptions myself, but the inconsistency is rather startling …



P O'Neill 07.09.13 at 3:56 pm

It’s great to have some classic CT riffs so soon after Chris’s CT anniversary post.


Rakesh Bhandari 07.09.13 at 4:30 pm

Is this the shorter CR, Henry or Corey–is this fair?

We give value to things not because labor was expended on them but in terms of the preferences expressed by elite tastemakers? Profit does not result from unpaid labor time but from entrepreneurial ingenuity? The masses whether as workers or consumers are not the ones bestowing value or creating surplus. Hayek sees value and surplus value formation as resulting from elite activity. This is the hidden message of Hayekianism, a self-serving ideology; it is a critique of the philosophy that as man’s essence is self-creation through labor, all conditions that dehumanize the laborer, the true creative source of value, are a scandal. But given their actual role in value formation, workers are not being mistreated.

Hayekianism should not be understood as a social theory but an ideological weapon for one side in what is a class war.

By the way, some worry that human enhancement technologies will be made available to the rich first and widen their advantages, creating a new super race; others argue in a more Hayekian fashion that while the rich do have the resources to experiment with human enhancement before anyone else and likely derive immediate relative advantage, that experimentation will result in the improvement and cheapening of human enhancement technologies to the point that they will serve to equalize opportunity for broad swathes of the population.


Robin Marie 07.09.13 at 4:55 pm

Watching libertarians — particularly of the bleeding heart variety — trying to wash their heroes clean of every trait they do not identify with is like watching liberal Christians trying to interpret any violence, homicidal tribalism, and sexism out of the Bible. I’m really not sure which of the two are more delusional.

So I agree. Vallier’s post, as far as I can tell, basically boils down to this: “Hayek wasn’t an elitist! Nothing he ever did, said, or mumbled under his breath was elitist! All these quotes that suggest he was elitist are just taken out of context; let me twist and turn and slant things this way and that until I’ve shown just what a good democrat Hayek was!”

That’s pretty much all there is.


Rakesh Bhandari 07.09.13 at 5:00 pm

Except that he has a more convincing interpretation of some of the quotes. I also don’t think it adds much to note that Hayek valued liberty not for what the mass would do with it but for the uses to which it would be put by creative minorities. Acemoglu and Robinson love to tell stories of Kings and Emperors throughout history squashing new technologies and even imprisoning technological entrepreneurs due to fears of the disruption and social unrest that they would create. So Hayek was for the freedom for creative minorities? In fact Hayek is going to come out ahead if this is seen as his major problem.


Henry 07.09.13 at 5:08 pm

Rakesh – I’ll leave Corey to respond to your attempted summary of his views, if he cares to. But on my own account, as I’ve already argued at length the question isn’t whether Hayek wants to come up with some dynamic account of entrepreneurialism. It is why he comes up with such a frankly aristocratic account of where this entrepreneurialism comes from.


Rakesh Bhandari 07.09.13 at 5:15 pm

I don’t understand what is aristocratic in anything but a metaphorical sense of the entrepreneur who breaks through static equilibrium. I have known many successful entrepreneurs; they are not aristocrats, by common measures. At any rate, do note that Schumpeter worried that the entrepreneurial function was being endogeneized by large firms, depriving capitalism of the kind of heroic leaders who would command the respect of the masses.


MPAVictoria 07.09.13 at 5:34 pm

“I have known many successful entrepreneurs”

How many?


Rakesh Bhandari 07.09.13 at 5:43 pm

TiE has gone global.


MPAVictoria 07.09.13 at 5:48 pm

“TiE has gone global.”
And you know many of these people?


Rakesh Bhandari 07.09.13 at 5:52 pm

Why do you ask?


MPAVictoria 07.09.13 at 5:58 pm

“Why do you ask?”

Well I was curious what you meant when you said that you knew “many successful entrepreneurs”. What is many? How successful?

Your impressions about how aristocratic they can be differ from mine. I have sat in on dinner parties where every single person there (besides me) arrived in an expensive German vehicle and listened to them complain about the gall of cashiers asking for 12 dollars an hour. So naturally your impressions made me curious.


Rakesh Bhandari 07.09.13 at 6:06 pm

Well that complaining does not seem very aristocratic to me, more petit-bourgeois.


Henry 07.09.13 at 6:09 pm

Rakesh – look up the etymology of the word aristocrat (‘aristoi’+’kratein’= …)


Consumatopia 07.09.13 at 6:52 pm

I’m just amazed that Vallier is courageous enough to cite Hayek’s wealth-concentration-by-lottery thought experiment as evidence against Hayek’s elitism.

I guess if someone were accusing Hayek of believing in genetic elitism, i.e. racism, that defense might work better.


John Quiggin 07.09.13 at 7:14 pm

On my reading, Vallier’s complaint is that Corey accuses Hayek of having a “full-blown” elitist theory, whereas on Vallier’s account, it’s only a few pages here and there. So, Hayek is only a part-time elitist, I guess.

On charitable readings, I think there’s a general policy of not extending them to CTers


Consumatopia 07.09.13 at 8:03 pm


Hayek’s primary aim in this chapter is to show that the liberal principles developed in the previous chapters are still applicable in a modern industrial society that consists mostly of workers in large industry and service firms. Hayek is worried that the employed, as a majority of the electorate, will use democratic legislation to make the economy look more like them, eliminating other forms of economic life. The problem is that many uses of economic liberty are of little interest to people who work all the time. They have little time to read or write or engage in big creative projects. As a result, their voting preferences sometimes threaten freedom because they’re not going to preserve economic liberties they don’t directly use. In particular, they’re going to legislate in ways that restrict the liberty of people with greater risk appetites, like artists and entrepreneurs. Most of the time the employed want to avoid risk, so they vote for social programs that insulate everyone from risk.

Yeah, where the heck would somebody get the idea that Hayek is elitist or anti-democratic?

If the argument is that the most radical experiments will come from the richest people, that seems to assume that

A) the richest people will not use their power to insulate themselves from risk

B) that, as you move up the wealth ladder, people become more diverse. Workers are an undifferentiated herd of Sheeple, only inherited wealth lets you become unique. Never mind marginalized cultures and races forced into poverty because of their differences–of course radical innovation could never come from them, it can only come from children who are skilled at kissing up to their wealthy parents.


jonnybutter 07.09.13 at 8:07 pm

My favorite line is in the first graph (emphasis mine):

My general point is this: the basis for Robin’s entire thesis (whatever it is) is incredibly narrow.

Inspires confidence that the next 2000 words are going to be worth reading, no?


PatrickinIowa 07.09.13 at 8:31 pm

As I understand it, one way to shorten it is this:

If a rich kid, one of the Kennedies or Bushes, snorts a lot of cocaine, he/she is conducting a lifestyle experiment which will ultimately benefit the rest of us, either by making cocaine more desirable and cheaper, or by becoming a horrible warning.

If a poor kid snorts (or, OMG, smokes!) a bunch of cocaine, he/she is a criminal, and should be locked up before she/he steals property from someone.

Have I got it? It seems to nicely explain US drug laws as they’re actually enforced.

Not elitist, though, uh-uh.


Rakesh Bhandari 07.10.13 at 12:58 am

So if you don’t think Vallier is competent, when why try to organize a discussion around his criticism of Robin’s ideas? What’s the point? Nothing better to do. Why not blog on Plant’s critique of neo-liberalism and compare it to Robin’s. Or since Skousen has thought it urgent to consider Hayek’s triangles again by republishing what I think is Prices and Production under a new title, why not talk about Hayek’s radical deflationist? Is that irrelevant today? Why are we talking about Vallier whom you seem to have no respect for?
OK we get it. Hayek wanted more legal freedom and more after-tax income for entrepreneurs. He thought this followed as a matter of the rule of law, and he found interventionist ideas to be based on dubious theories of justice. True, he probably believed entrepreneurs could rise from any rank and over the long term would raise the general welfare, but he still believed in the leading role of only a few great men to bring change. So that makes him a Nietzschean elitist, a devotee of Grosse Politik applied to the economic realism. Can we move on?
Others may be convinced that an important blow has been dealt to our Austrian overlords. I am not.


John Quiggin 07.10.13 at 2:05 am

@Rakesh As a general point, comments saying “Why this post and not another one” are usually unhelpful. No one is forcing you to read this, and we’re obviously under no obligation to write about anything.

In this specific case, given that Vallier has attacked a CT post, it seems reasonable to respond, even if the attack is incompetent. A quick look at the BHL comments thread suggests that the weakness of his post is not apparent to all.


Rakesh Bhandari 07.10.13 at 2:11 am

No one would have known or carried about that the attack unless CT decided to feature it. No one is forcing me to do anything, yes, but the there should be serious engagement with Austrian calls for deflation, Austrian political theoretic arguments against social democratic programs, Austrian propaganda that any kind of institutional experimentation is rationalist and collectivist and will result in hell on earth.
Calling them elitists does not get us very far, in my opinion.
What do you think?
Are we making progress?


John Quiggin 07.10.13 at 2:11 am

Responding to your suggestions, I don’t think anyone other than a historian of thought or a member of the Hayek fan club would be interested in most of the topics you mention. Hayek’s political philosophy is obviously important, and his business cycle theory is at least worth refuting, but his triangles are best forgotten.


John Quiggin 07.10.13 at 2:13 am

As regards deflationism, it seems more urgent to deal with the deflationary bias of the ECB and the Bank of England than to worry about the Austrians.


Rakesh Bhandari 07.10.13 at 2:13 am

What is very important are Hayekian ideas about deflation. Those policy recommendation follow from the triangles. If people are not interested in why some conservatives welcome deflation, then the bloggers should lay out whatever case they have and engage it. Perhaps you could clone yourself. But that would be serious engagement.


Rakesh Bhandari 07.10.13 at 2:41 am

I am obviously frustrated participating on this list and to some extent the blogosphere. I have a whole pile of books that I am excited to read this summer. As you say, no is forcing me to comment. I’ll be gone in a while.


reason 07.10.13 at 1:10 pm

I wouldn’t have thought it was very hard to argue against Heyekian ideas about deflation without referring to triangles. The argument would be based on perceived risk in investments. Austrian arguments always seem remarkably unconcerned with risk and uncertainty.


truck 07.10.13 at 4:17 pm

@Rakesh: CT has been overloaded with Hayek/libertarianism/BHL stuff in recent times. (Maybe longer – it would be interesting to read some stats on topics and names references over time over the 10 year period.) I hope for a full week without any Hayek stuff at all.


David Margolies 07.10.13 at 4:52 pm

The link labeled “sufficient intellectual charity”, supposedly to Kevin Vallier lecturing you last year (or perhaps to you remarking on that) is actually to this article (and thus goes nowhere). Could you fix it if you get a chance as I am interested in following it.


Hazel Meade 07.11.13 at 2:42 pm

The essensce of Hayek’s entire body of work is that no one person or group of people can hope to organize an economy, it must arise spontaneously from the distributed actions and knowledge of individuals at every level. To find elitism in the passages cited you have to essentially ignore all of that and pretend Hayek never said anything about the knowledge problem. The whole point of it is that elites can’t know what is good for others and thus shouldn’t be allowed to control their choices.

Now if you want to define a systme in which some people have more money than others, but otherwise have no political or legal authority over them as “elitism” then that’s a rather weak definition of elitism.
Hayek says it’s ok that some people have more money than others, and maybe sometimes that’s good for progress. But Hayek never said those people should control other people’s lives or determine what choices they are allowed to make, only that they should be left alone along with everyone else. That’s a pretty wierd concept of “elitism” to me.


bianca steele 07.11.13 at 3:03 pm

no one person or group of people can hope to organize an economy, it must arise spontaneously from the distributed actions and knowledge of individuals at every level

That can be said in a tweet. Why should people be told they have to study Hayek (I’m not talking about in universities, I mean by the likes of Fox News and self-declared Internet pundits) if they can pick up everything they need to know in 140 lines?


banned troll 07.11.13 at 4:24 pm

herp. derp. DERP! HERP! HERP!


PatrickfromIowa 07.11.13 at 5:55 pm

“no one person or group of people can hope to organize an economy, it must arise spontaneously from the distributed actions and knowledge of individuals at every level”

Unless those individuals get it wrong and a military dictatorship is necessary for a while.

That’s, presumably, how it gets longer than 140 words.


bianca steele 07.11.13 at 6:19 pm

Heck, if Hayek’s works amounted to 140 words, 140 lines, or even 140 pages (maybe), they might be worth the time it took to read them.

Seriously, haven’t you heard of Twitter^2?

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