Ask me Anything — the Hayek Edition

Gandhi First IgnoreHere’s the last bit from Hayek’s Dec 11 1974 Nobel Prize lecture:

If man is not to do more harm than good in his efforts to improve the social order, he will have to learn that in this, as in all other fields where essential complexity of an organized kind prevails, he cannot acquire the full knowledge which would make mastery of the events possible. He will therefore have to use what knowledge he can achieve, not to shape the results as the craftsman shapes his handiwork, but rather to cultivate a growth by providing the appropriate environment, in the manner in which the gardener does this for his plants. There is danger in the exuberant feeling of ever growing power which the advance of the physical sciences has engendered and which tempts man to try, “dizzy with success”, to use a characteristic phrase of early communism, to subject not only our natural but also our human environment to the control of a human will. The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson of humility which should guard him against becoming an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society – a striving which makes him not only a tyrant over his fellows, but which may well make him the destroyer of a civilization which no brain has designed but which has grown from the free efforts of millions of individuals.

One of the recurring themes of Hayek’s was the idea that social engineering is quite distinct from engineering of the natural world. With the appropriate technology and scientific knowledge it is possible to engineer machines and use them to control the world of objects, perhaps for the better, but human beings are not objects without volition. Humans have a will of their own and they pursue ends that are dictated by their desires and preferences which are neither fixed nor can be known by others. Social engineering always fails and makes a bad situation worse. Continue reading

The Tragedy of Collectivism

F A Hayek“The tragedy of collectivist thought is that while it starts out to make reason supreme, it ends by destroying reason because it misconceives the process on which the growth of reason depends. It may indeed be said that it is the paradox of all collectivist doctrine and its demand for the “conscious” control or “conscious” planning that they necessarily lead to the demand that the mind of some individual should rule supreme — while only the individualist approach to social phenomena makes us recognise the super-individual forces which guide the growth of reason. Individualism is thus an attitude of humility before this social process and of tolerance to other opinions, and is the exact opposite of that intellectual hubris which is at the root of the demand for comprehensive direction of the social process.”

The Road to Serfdom. Friedrich August von Hayek. He was born on this day in 1899. Happy birthday, dear Prof Hayek.

Margaret Thatcher’s Tribute to Friedrich von Hayek

To mark the 75th anniversary of the publication of Friedrich Hayek‘s The Road to Serfdom, several of Hayek’s personal items were auctioned at Sotheby’s in London on March 19th.

Hayek, together with Gunnar Myrdal (the economist from the opposing camp), was awarded the “Nobel Memorial Prize” (not really a Nobel prize) in 1974. At Sotheby’s auction, Hayek’s award citation and gold medal went for over $1.5 million.[1]

Although the Nobel prize[2] gave renewed vigor to the then 75-year old Hayek, he was absolutely clear that economists should not be honored with prestigious prizes. “Nobel Prize confers on an individual an authority which in economics no man ought to possess,” he said. Continue reading

Hayek on Liberty

18 Hayek Quotes That Show the Importance of Liberty

by Gary M. Galles

May 8th marked Friedrich Hayek’s birthday. Called “the most prodigious classical liberal scholar of the 20th century,” Milton Friedman explained his importance:

Over the years, I have again and again asked fellow believers in a free society how they managed to escape the contagion of their collectivist intellectual environment. No name has been mentioned more often as the source of enlightenment than Friedrich Hayek’s.” Continue reading

Hayek on Equality

A brief excerpt from Friedrich Hayek’s essay, “Equality, Value and Merit.”

From the fact that people are very different it follows that, if we treat them equally, the result must be inequality in their actual position, and that the only way to place them in an equal position would be to treat them differently. Equality before the law and material equality are therefore not only different but are in conflict with each other; and we can achieve either the one or the other, but not both at the same time. The equality before the law which freedom requires leads to material inequality. Our argument will be that, though where the state must use coercion for other reasons, it should treat all people alike, the desire of making people more alike in their condition cannot be accepted in a free society as a justification for further and discriminatory coercion.

A careful reading of that essay (link above) is guaranteed to lead to profit and enlightenment. Read it a few times.

Rating Achievements Through “Rate of Growth”

“. . . how absurd it is to judge relative performance by rate of growth, which is as often as not evidence of past neglect rather than of present achievement. In many respects it is easier and not more difficult for an undeveloped country to grow rapidly once an appropriate framework has been secured.”

Source: F. A Hayek. The Political Order of a Free People. 1979. Page 190. Volume 3 of Law, Legislation and Liberty.

The Iron Lady who Fought for Freedom

“Freedom, freedom, freedom . . . Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, A long way from my home,” sang Richie Havens at Woodstock. Lots of people struggle for freedom. What are they seeking freedom from? From other people. We have to remember this: People need to leave other people alone. Do what you will and don’t impose your will on others. That should be the totality of the law.

Below the fold, the text of my recent column at NitiCentral.com, “The Iron Lady who Fought for Freedom.” But first here’s Richie Havens in 2009 singing that song which he sang in the 1969 music festival held on Yasgur’s farm near Woodstock, NY.

After 40 years, the man still retains his voice. Watch him at Woodstock here.

Continue reading