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Friedrich Hayek on why freedom does it better

Have any of us mentioned here that Friedrich Hayek died exactly twenty years plus one week ago, i.e. on Friday March 23rd 1992? I believe not.

Sam Bowman, in a posting on March 23rd 2012, ensured that the ASI Blog was responsible for no such omission. He marked the occasion with a couple of Hayek quotes, from The Constitution of Liberty.

I particularly liked the second one:

It is because freedom means the renunciation of direct control of individual efforts that a free society can make use of so much more knowledge than the mind of the wisest ruler could comprehend.

One of the contrasts in the contemporary world that I keep banging on about here is how different the designing and making of high tech gadgetry (which still benefits – and almost miraculously so – from exactly the sort of dispersed knowledge and dispersed intelligence that Hayek was talking about) is from the management of the world’s financial system (the higher reaches of which are notorious for depending on the good judgement of a tiny few supposedly wise but actually all too fallible political appointees).

As Sam Bowman said, a week ago:

Hayek died twenty years ago today. His profound insights into economics and social philosophy might be more important than ever.

Indeed they might.

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7 comments to Friedrich Hayek on why freedom does it better

  • Paul Marks

    A good post on Hayek – his line of arguing should be remembered.

  • Lee Moore


    I was startled to read this the other day – Greg Mankiw (apparently a right wing economist and adviser to Republican Presidents and candidates.

    He remarks that Austrian economics is not exactly required reading in the US’s “top” universities (that’s not the startling bit) :

    “Second, at the mainstream schools where I have spent my education and career (Princeton, MIT, and Harvard), the economists of the Austrian school like Mises are often viewed as fringe figures. Rightly or wrongly, they rarely show up on reading lists. I am confident that while I was a student at Princeton and MIT, I was assigned not a single article by an economist in the Austrian tradition.”

    He continues (this is the startling bit) :

    “That judgment might well be unfair. Another prominent Austrian economist is Friedrich Hayek, who won the Nobel prize in economics. Cognizant of my ignorance of his work, a few years ago I read (and assigned in a Harvard freshman seminar) his classic book The Road to Serfdom. I thought it was terrific.”

    So a well known right wing economist hadn’t read the Road to Serfdom until he was already a Harvard Professor. And he thinks the idea that Austrian economists are fringe figures “might well be unfair.”

    And he tops it off with

    “Two of the great economists of the 20th century were John Kenneth Galbraith and Friedrich Hayek”

    That would be the John Kenneth Galbraith of whom the well known right wing rabble rouser Paul Krugman said :

    “Now it is not very hard to find out, if you spend a little while reading in evolution, that Gould is the John Kenneth Galbraith of his subject. That is, he is a wonderful writer who is beloved by literary intellectuals and lionized by the media because he does not use algebra or difficult jargon. Unfortunately, it appears that he avoids these sins not because he has transcended his colleagues but because he does not seem to understand what they have to say; and his own descriptions of what the field is about – not just the answers, but even the questions – are consistently misleading. His impressive literary and historical erudition makes his work seem profound to most readers, but informed readers eventually conclude that there’s no there there.”

  • Lee Moore,

    You found it startling, but my eyebrows remained seated throughout the quotation.

    Danni Rodrik is a more perfectly empurpled Harvard donkey.

  • Paul Marks

    Lee Moore – which Republican Presidential candidates has this…… interesting person, Greg Mankiw advised?

    Sadly I suspect I already know….

    All the recent ones.

    And I bet he is advising Mitt right now.

    Oh well it could be worse…..

    The could be being adviced by the ghost of Galbraith.

  • Lee Moore

    As you suspected – Bush and Romney.


    Though it looks like his students at Harvard (and the rest of the faculty no doubt) seem to regard him as a right wing extremist. I wonder what they’d make of Hayek, never mind von Mises.

  • Paul Marks

    Now you remind me (I confess I would not have thought of it without you reminding me) I have come upon this student campaign against Mankiu.

    In the name of academic freedom and diversity they want to prevent him teaching his class his way (of course the leftist definition of “freedom” is the same as that of Rousseau – to be “free” is to follow the “General Will” and they decide what the “General Will” is, and if anyone does not agree they are just slaves to their own “pride” part of the evil “will of all”).

    His crime?

    Basing his introduction class on economics on people on like Adam Smith. I have my own problems with Adam Smith – but I doubt they are the same ones as these students have. And I do not tell other people what to teach in a private university (although all the taxpayer funded student loans and what not, do complicate that with modern universities).

    Generally the leftist definition of freedom (freedom as doing what they tell you to do, and thinking what they tell you to think) is irritating.

    For example, if one tries to counter balance a leftist attack on something (Paul picks an example – say the Manchester Union Leader newspaper) in “wikipedia” one’s words will be deleted. Even if one had deleted not one word of the original attack (just tried to balance it with an attack the other way). And one will get a message saying one’s words have been deleted because they are not “constructive”.

    Being “constructive” means agreeing with the left.

    And they are quite sincere – they really do believe that.

    Just as they really believe that academic freedom means teaching what they tell you to teach.

    And the really believe that diversity means driving out of organization anyone who does not agree with them.

    “Correct” thinking is the only “free” thinking.

    Which is why the leftists can say (with total sincerity) that, for example, “anyone can edit wikipedia”.

    This is because non leftists are not “anyone” – we are non-persons.

    After all we do not source our statements to mainstream media reports, or to government reports (or to the parts of academia, most of it, that the left control).

    All the above is why I smile when people say “the internet, the internet” is an alternative to the mainstream media and academia.

    Yes there are non-leftist places on the internet (I am writing on one right now – but please note the NAME of this place).

    The places where Joe Average will go for information (such as Wikipedia) are under the control of the same ideology as the one that has such power in the schools, the universities, the mainstream media (and so much else).

    It would be very strange if this were not so.

    Of course, this is not true of every branch of knowledge.

    For example I rather doubt that the people in charge of spreading knowledge about mathematics are leftists obsessed with the final triumph of the General Will and the termination of all non-persons (although, weirdly enough, there is a “politically correct math” – all about taking examples of inequality and using mathematics to expose them to young children, in order to stimulate hatred in the young children of……..), however anything political – and the left will take control of it.

    Sadly the only way to counter this is to be a political as them – but not in the same way.

    Pretences at being “objective” do not fit pro freedom people. When we used phony “scientific” language the strain is too great.

    For example, I would never say someone’s “contribution” was “not constructive”.

    I would say “what you wrote was wrong”. Or “this is my site – and I do not like what you are saying, so fuck off”.

    That is why setting up “unbiased” websites (or universities or….) is no good for us.

    We can not lie with a straight face (as I mention above I suspect that the left believe their own lies – which, technically, means they are not lying).

    We do not believe that “freedom” means other people doing what we tell them to do (and so on) – so the methods of the left will not work for us.

    So we have to be open – blatant.

    State our beliefs openly – and argue for them.

    A bit like American newspapers used to do (before they started the grand nonsense of “objective, scientific, journalism”).

    Sadly this American nonsense has long spread into Britain (indeed it is just as old in the BBC as it is in American outlets) – even in newspapers (who used to stand against it).

    That is what the L. enquiry is really about – imposing “proper journalism” on the remaining wild men (and wild women) of Fleet Street.

    The proper journalism of copying out press releases from the powerful (as long as they are on the “correct” side) and expressing the “correct” thoughts as the unbiased, scientific truth.

  • Lee Moore

    Paul Marks : “I rather doubt that the people in charge of spreading knowledge about mathematics are leftists obsessed with the final triumph of the General Will….”

    Your paranoia about lefties politicising everything cannot keep pace with reality. It might amuse you to glance at this magnificently demented excerpt from an academic piece on quantum mechanics :


    “These mathematical developments culminated in the early 1960s with Gelfand and Vilenkin’s characterization of a structure that they referred to as a rigged Hilbert space (Gelfand and Vilenkin 1964, pp. 103-127). It is unfortunate that their chosen name for this mathematical structure is doubly misleading. First, there is a natural inclination is to regard it as denoting a type of Hilbert space, one that is rigged in some sense, but this inclination must be resisted. Second, the term rigged has an unfortunate connotation of illegitimacy, as in the terms rigged election (such as the Florida election in November 2000)”