Hayek vs liberty 2

In a previous post, I pointed out that Hayek wasn’t in favour of free markets because he explicitly said it might sometime be good for a government to stop competition. Hayek was also in favour of the welfare state in this quote from The Road to Serfdom, Chapter 9, pp. 124-125 of the Routledge Classics edition:

There is no reason why in a society that has reached the general level of wealth which ours has attained, the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom. There are difficult questions about the precise standard which should thus be assured; there is particularly the important question whether those who thus rely on the community should indefinitely enjoy all the same liberties as the rest. An incautious handling of these questions might well cause serious and perhaps even dangerous political problems; but there can be no doubt that some minimum of food, shelter, and clothing, sufficient to preserve health and the capacity to work, can be assured to everybody. Indeed, for a considerable part of the population of this country this sort of security has long been achieved.

Nor is there any reason why the state should not assist the individuals in providing for those common hazards of life against which, because of their uncertainty, few individuals can make adequate provision. Where, as in the case of sickness and accident, neither the desire to avoid such calamities nor the efforts to overcome their consequences are as a rule weakened by the provision of assistance, where, in short, we deal with genuinely insurable risks, the case for the state helping to organise a comprehensive system of social insurance is very strong. There are many points of detail where those wishing to preserve the competitive system and those wishing to supersede it by something different will disagree on the details of such schemes; and it is possible under the name of social insurance to introduce measures which tend to make competition more or less ineffective. But there is no incompatibility in principle between the state providing greater security in this way and the preservation of individual freedom. To the same category belongs also the increase of security through the state rendering assistance to the victims of such “acts of God” as earthquakes and floods. Wherever communal action can mitigate disasters against which the individual can neither attempt to guard himself, nor make provision for the consequences, such communal action should undoubtedly be taken.

There are some interesting things to note about this quote. The first paragraph doesn’t clearly state that the government should provide food, clothing and shelter. Hayek just states they “can be assured to everyone”. Somebody has to produce this food, clothing and shelter. If everyone can be assured access to those goods, then the people who produce them must hand them over regardless of whether they consent. The phrase “can be assured to everyone” is a promise that can be delivered only by coercion.

The second paragraph explicitly claims that the government should provide insurance for health and unemployment. Hayek’s position is that these goods should be provided at the point of a gun. Hayek was in favour of the welfare state, not against it. He has provided an excuse for people on the right to continue to back the welfare state while claiming to be capitalists.

People claiming to be capitalists have claimed that Hayek was in favour of free markets. Hayek’s actual position is that the free market can provide stuff as long as it isn’t anything important like food, clothing, shelter, medical care or provision for periods of unemployment. According to Hayek, the free market can produce novelty figurines and chewing gum, but nothing that is required for survival. That’s why conservatives like Hayek so much, he doesn’t ask them to make any important or difficult choices. They can just continue to back the present system with minor modifications. If the present system collapses because the government has run out of people to tax, and they have finally destroyed the value of money through inflation and there are riots and bloodshed on the streets, conservatives will say they followed the advice of a Nobel prize winning free market economist. That’s why Ayn Rand was correct to describe Hayek as “real poison” (Letters of Ayn Rand, p. 308).

About conjecturesandrefutations
My name is Alan Forrester. I am interested in science and philosophy: especially David Deutsch, Ayn Rand, Karl Popper and William Godwin.

One Response to Hayek vs liberty 2

  1. N says:

    > People claiming to be capitalists have claimed that Hayek was in favour of free markets. Hayek’s actual position is that the free market can provide stuff as long as it isn’t anything important like food, clothing, shelter, medical care or provision for periods of unemployment. According to Hayek, the free market can produce novelty figurines and chewing gum, but nothing that is required for survival. That’s why conservatives like Hayek so much, he doesn’t ask them to make any important or difficult choices. They can just continue to back the present system with minor modifications. If the present system collapses because the government has run out of people to tax, and they have finally destroyed the value of money through inflation and there are riots and bloodshed on the streets, conservatives will say they followed the advice of a Nobel prize winning free market economist. That’s why Ayn Rand was correct to describe Hayek as “real poison” (Letters of Ayn Rand, p. 308).

    Well put, Alan.
    If Hayek was one of the one’s claiming to be the most for freedom and liberalism in Mont Pelerin, SUI, back in 1947, your criticism above shows what lead Mises to utter: “You’re all a bunch of socialists!” at that meeting.

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