Books, Uncategorized

On Hayek

“At first, I kept wondering how it could be possible that the educated, the cultured, the famous men of the world could make a mistake of this size and preach, as righteousness, this sort of abomination—when five minutes of thought should have told them what would happen if somebody tried to practice what they preached. Now I know that they didn’t do it by any kind of mistake. Mistakes of this size are never made innocently.”Ayn Rand

Unlike many Austro-libertarians, ideologically, I never felt conned by the “establishment libertarian” (Libertarians who love the establishment order) humbug. I have always known that it is a fraud of moderate cowardly libertarians. As a twenty year old, I read Hayek and Friedman. “The Road to Serfdom”, though far more readable than other works of Hayek, didn’t impress me much. I understood very little of Hayek. I can think of one thing I learned from him and not from the more impressive Austrians I have read: “Nor is there any reason why the state should not help to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance.” It made me feel terrible! My libertarian sensibilities were hurt by the innate collectivism of a Facebook friend of mine, who, after an extensive reading of the  Hayek was glancing through the pages of our Bible “Human Action” with condescending respect! “It is not boring”, he said, contemptuously! I heard him, like many Hayekians, utter nonsense like Hayek never advocated welfare but meekly conceded that it is acceptable. However, the sad fact remains that Hayek put across the idea of the welfare state as an unmistakable ideal. I kept wondering whether they have even read and understood as much! All my experiences and conversations confirm my adolescent hypothesis that many “Hayekians” haven’t really read him, yet want to praise him to the sky and are only slightly better than Hollywood Marxists!

When I read Hayek’s interview with Krueger and Merriam, like Walter Block, I too “felt sick to my stomach” . When Krueger posed a question on labor regulations: “Is a minimum-wage law permissible?” ,Hayek’s reply was : “A general, flat minimum-wage law for all industry is permissible”. Yes, he said it: Permissible.

I couldn’t believe what I was going through when I read communist traitor Hayek in my initial days. Many argue that I am exaggerating when I claim that he was a big time collectivist. I looked at the interventions he proposed at different points in his intellectual career and I wondered whether he had left out anything. If anything, I was grossly underestimating his credential to be a Big Time collectivist.

If one supports immigration restrictions, conscription, Social Insurance, Minimum wage laws, public work projects, moral policing, public parks, Government sanitation, government roads, coercion during emergencies, Government funded research, regulations on business, school vouchers, collective bargaining and tenure, I think he has supported everything that is immoral. It could be said that Hayek was not for Govt. manipulation of money. But this came in 1976, more than five decades after Hayek came across Mises’ works. In “The Constitution of Liberty” (1960), Hayek wrote that it is not only politically impractical, but undesirable to leave monetary affairs to the spontaneous forces of the market. I won’t believe that it took so long to get this obvious thing into his head.

We live in an age of euphemisms. When Dan Klein writes: “Hayek was aristocratic in upbringing and genteel in temperament, destined to make his thinking palatable, acceptable.”, it was a polite expression of the unpleasant reality: “He was an intellectual fraud willing to dilute his principles and oil his way into everything.

I immensely enjoyed the sections of “Murray Rothbard Vs the Philosophers” where he thoroughly debunks the social democrat Hayek. Murray Rothbard sees him for what he is. Rothbard can be such an intellectual bully. Robert Murphy must have been right when he wrote: “I think poor Hayek is still nursing a nosebleed from Murray the Big Bully.”

A tendency which marks many establishment libertarians is that they place the blame for the unpopularity of liberty, squarely on radical libertarians. “We were not good at reaching out to the masses”, they argue, with much humility. Any statement on the anti-intellectuality of dull masses will have the effect of a “red flag on a bull” on them. It is a horrible marketing strategy to underestimate ones audience, many of them patronizingly remind us. I hope to God they know what they are talking about. Now, it is a fact of reality that the political knowledge of the Average Joe is negative. Libertarians are not just out of the mainstream. It is a virtually unknown philosophy in countries like mine. There is also the empirical evidence that the economic way of thinking is highly correlated with ones IQ. Why not look at these facts objectively and conclude that the masses are dull and averse to ideas? Many of us acquired strong convictions after reading dozens, perhaps hundreds of books. I find it childish to assume that the masses are soon going to rouse from their slumbers and educate themselves, no matter how we present ourselves. I also wonder why many high IQ establishment types haven’t caught up to the instinctively shrewd, if often unsophisticated mass distrust of politicians!

Second, moderate cowardly libertarians like Hayek were far behind radical libertarians in expressing themselves well and reaching out to masses in any meaningful way. Same could be said of many big names in Economics including Smith, Marx and Keynes. Very few educated men haven’t’ heard of them. Unfortunately, few who praise them have read them, and not many of the ones who read them have understood them, and few who understood them can assess the merit, and few who can assess the merit would tell the truth! It is all part of an academic status game. Who would claim that Hayek came anywhere near Mises, Rothbard, Bastiat or Hazlitt in persuasiveness or writing skills?

Third, if they had such blind faith in the wisdom of the masses, why do they prefer ones who dilute their principles and write incoherently? Why do they think such chicanery can’t be conspicuous? Is there anyone who honestly thinks that we can spread non violence by telling people that a little force is acceptable? Now, they will come drooling, thinking that they have finally got the license to use force from the other side. The acceptance of the opponent feels good, and is far more valuable. In the long run, a lie is never pragmatic, in the sphere of ideas.

Hayek wrote long, confusing sentences, which would make any sane, serious person run for his life. He put me through a hell worse than anything I went through before. Consider this sentence from “Counter-Revolution of Science”: “It becomes necessary here to state explicitly a consideration which is implied in the whole of our argument on this point and which, though it seems to follow from the modern conception of the character of physical research, is yet still somewhat unfamiliar.” If you are able to extort any sense out of it, please let me know. I am all ears. I quit after reading six works of Hayek, from which I gained almost nothing.

As Bryan Caplan writes: “I’ve long since lost all patience with Hayek. His original, true ideas could have been five good blog posts, his errors and bizarre obsessions are numerous, and his writing style insults every person who ever tried to write a decent sentence. When I was first exposed to Hayek twenty years ago, I moderately revered him. After all, didn’t most of the smart people I knew say I should? Since then, I’ve read all of Hayek’s main works. I’ve listened to scores of his fans sing his praises. I was even the research assistant on his autobiography. Yet the more I learned, the more overrated he seemed. My question for Russ: Under the circumstances, how much more patience is it reasonable to expect of me?”

Hoppe was spot on when he said: “With the publication of Hayek’s Constitution of Liberty, Hayek himself was a proven interventionist. In the third part of this famous book, Hayek had laid out a plan for a “free” society so riddled with interventionist designs that every moderate social-democrat—of the Scandinavian-German variety—could easily subscribe. When, at the occasion of Hayek’s 80th birthday in 1979, the Social Democratic then-Chancellor of West Germany, Helmut Schmidt, sent Hayek a congratulatory note proclaiming “we are all Hayekians now”, this was not an empty phrase. It was true, and Schmidt meant it.”

Murray Rothbard anticipated the state of affairs several decades back: “For (1) Hayek attacks laissez-faire and attacks or ignores the true libertarians, thus setting up the “even Hayek admits . . .” line; and (2) His argument is based on a deprecation or dismissal of both reason and justice, so that anyone interested in reason or justice would tend to oppose the whole book.”

Robert Murphy thinks more highly of Hayek: “My verdict on the Road to Serfdom was that you can read it and agree passionately with it, and then when you’re all done all you remember is, ‘Why the worst get on top.’ ” What remains vividly in my mind is the same: “The probability of the people in power being individuals who would dislike the possession and exercise of power is on a level with the probability that an extremely tender-hearted person would get the job of whipping master in a slave plantation.” However, there is a problem. Hayek was simply quoting Professor Frank H. Knight, who had enough sense to come up with a witty analogy.