Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hayek's Lost Legacy?

Adam Davidson writes in The New York Times HER Prime Time for Paul Ryan’s Guru (the One Who’s Not Ayn Rand)
The following caught my eye on Hayek and the Republican Candidates for the US Presidency and Vice Presidency which strike a chord.  However, I comment on Hayek’s ideas.  Please note that I will not breach my Cromwellian “Self-Denying Ordinance” not to comment on any country’s politics except of the country I vote in (i.e., Scotland):
“In actuality, Ryan is like a lot of politicians who merely cherry-pick Hayek to promote neoclassical policies, says Peter Boettke, an economist at George Mason University and editor of The Review of Austrian Economics. “What Hayek has become, to a lot of people, is an iconic figure representing something that he didn’t believe at all,” Boettke says. For example, despite his complete lack of faith in the ability of politicians to affect the economy, Hayek, who is frequently cited in attacks on entitlement programs, believed that the state should provide a base income to all poor citizens.
To be truly Hayekian, Boettke says, Ryan would need to embrace one of his central ideas, known as the “generality norm.” This is Hayek’s belief that any government program that helps one group must be available to all. If applied, Boettke says, a Hayekian government would eliminate all corporate and agricultural subsidies and government housing programs, and it would get rid of Medicare and Medicaid or expand them to cover all citizens. (Hayek had no problem with a national health care program.) Hayek also believed that the government should not have a monopoly on any service it provides; instead, private companies should compete by offering an alternative Postal Service, road system, even, perhaps, a private fire department.
…Bruce Caldwell, the author of the intellectual biography “Hayek’s Challenge,” said he hoped that we were experiencing, partly through Ryan’s ascendancy, the first stage of a slow but steady embrace of Hayek’s philosophy. …
Caldwell corrects people when they refer to Hayek as a conservative. Hayek didn’t want to conserve anything. And while that’s exactly what the most radical may want, it’s probably not the easiest policy to build a party around.”
Reading the excellent Peter Boettke, the sentence: “What Hayek has become, to a lot of people, is an iconic figure representing something that he didn’t believe at all”  struck me as similar to Adam Smith’s fate with regard to most things he actually believed and wrote about, in which modern representations of him are wildly at variance to his actual views.   That such a fate seems to have caught Hayek, as well, a much more recent figure in the 20th century than Adam Smith.
If Hayek is to become a 21st icon of US politics, for and against, we are about to be treated to wildly variant views of his works.    I have a collection of volumes of Hayek’s writings in my French library from Routledge.   On my next visit in a couple of months, all being well on the health front, I shall bring them back to Edinburgh for comparison with what both Left and Right (and the SM -sensible middle) say about Hayek on this and that.
Bruce Caldwell’s comment on Hayek’s so-called conservatism looks  a prime candidate for the usual distortions.  I remember reading in the 1970s an essay in the Hayek Collection entitled: “Why I am not a conservative”.  Might be worth looking up again.
PS.  I have little time for the odious ideas on selfishness of Ayn Rand, whom I read in my mid-20s.


Blogger SM said...

I believe Boettke and Caldwell's comments on Hayek are accurate.

To start you can get Hayek's whole essay "Why I am not a conservative" at

2:21 pm  
Blogger SM said...

I believe the comments by Boettke and Caldwell are accurate.

To start you can get Hayek's essay "Why I am not a conservative" at

2:23 pm  

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