July 08, 2003

Notes: Hayek and Democracy

I have long been of the opinion that Friedrich Hayek saw more deeply into why the market economy is so productive--the use of knowledge in society, competition as a discovery procedure, et cetera--than neoclassical economics, with its Welfare Theorems that under appropriate conditions the competitive market equilibrium (a) is Pareto-Optimal or (b) maximizes a social welfare function that is the sum of individual utilities in which each individual's weight is the inverse of their marginal utility of income.

I have also long been of the opinion that Karl Polanyi saw more deeply than Hayek into what the necessary foundations for a well-functioning and durable market economy--and good society--were.

But last night I ran into a passage that makes me wonder whether Hayek in his inner core believed that democracy had any value--even any institutional value--at all. It came on pp. 171-2 of Friedrich Hayek (1979), Law, Legislation and Liberty: The Political Order of a Free People vol. III (Chicago, Il.: University of Chicago Press: 0226320901):

Egalitarianism is of course not a majority view but a product of the necessity under unlimited democracy to solicit the support even of the worst.… It is by the slogan that 'it is not your fault' that the demagoguery of unlimited democracy, assisted by a scientistic psychology, has come to the support of those who claim a share in the wealth of our society without submitting to the discipline to which it is due. It is not by conceding 'a right to equal concern and respect’ to those who break the code that civilization is maintained…

Now it is certainly true that of the trio "Prosperity, Liberty, Democracy," Hayek puts prosperity first and liberty second--or, rather, that freedom of contract needs to be more closely safeguarded than freedom of speech, for if there is freedom of contract then freedom of speech will quickly reappear, but if there is no freedom of contract than freedom of speech will not long survive. But the passage above makes me wonder whether democracy has any place in Hayek's hierarchy of good things at all.

Sam Brittan wrote somewhere that Hayek is an odd combination of market libertarian and social conservative--that his "free people" are always "submitting to the discipline" required by society's current moral conventions. Indeed, there are places where Hayek goes further and limits what a "free people" can do even more--where his idea of "freedom" seems to be freedom to (a) transact at the market's current prices, and (b) shut up and be grateful. Witness Friedrich Hayek (1976), Law, Legislation and Liberty: The Mirage of Social Justice vol. II (Chicago, Il.: University of Chicago Press: 0226320839), p. 93:

While in a market order it may be a misfortune to have been born and bred in a village where…the only chance of making a living is fishing… it does not make sense to decribe this as unjust. Who is supposed to have been unjust?--especially… if these local opportunities had not existed, the people in question would probably never have been born at all… [for lack of] the opportunities which enabled their ancestors to produce and rear children...

It seems to me that this "shut up and be grateful you were ever born" proves far too much, and is far too powerful an argument to be true, for it can be used in defense of any imaginable social order:

  • While in a feudal order it may be a misfortune to have been born and bred a serf owing three days a week of labor on the lord's demesne… it does not make sense to decribe this as unjust... if feudalism had not existed, the people in question would probably never have been born at all...
  • While under the Roman Imperium it may be a misfortune to have been born a slave to Marcus Porcius Cato… it does not make sense to decribe this as unjust... if the Roman Imperium had not existed, the people in question would probably never have been born at all...
  • While in the American colonies it may be a misfortune to have been born a slave to Thomas Jefferson… it does not make sense to decribe this as unjust... if the American colonies had not existed, the people in question would probably never have been born at all...

Posted by DeLong at July 8, 2003 11:54 AM | TrackBack

Comments

Fine post.

Israel Scheffler argued with philosophy students that Hayek had a definite indifference if not a disdain for democracy. Aristocracy was Hayek's cup. I agreed with Scheffler.

Posted by: anne on July 8, 2003 12:40 PM

Brad,

Even though I am more sympathetic to your viewpoint than I am to Hayek's, I must say that your three examples are grievoously flawed, and do him an injustice, going by the excerpts you've provided.

The difference between Hayek's fisherman and the examples you give is that there is no human party actively forcing the fisherman to stay at his job. The mere absence of other opportunities, which seems to be what Hayek is going on about, is in no way equivalent to being wilfully deprived of the chance to avail oneself of opportunities that do in fact exist, as is the case with serfdom and slavery.

I have to say that this sort of error is uncharacteristic of you. It provides much too big a target for your opponents to shoot at.

Posted by: Abiola Lapite on July 8, 2003 01:12 PM

I claim no expertise regarding Hayek's view of democracy, except to note that any view which doesn't fully conform to the now-common fetishization of democracy, in which the majority is thought to be able to self-legitimate whatever acts it undertakes, particularly regarding restrictions on the freedom of contract, is often now seen as disdain for democracy.

Posted by: Will Allen on July 8, 2003 01:15 PM

I agree with everybody. On the one hand, Hayek sure seems to be expressing a certain preference for a social order that doesn't move around too much. On the other hand, I think you mistake a certain cold-eyed realism (ie, everybody's born into something they wouldn't have chosen-- now get over it, kid) for wanting to actively keep the lower orders down.

Mainly it just shows that the thinker doing the heavy work, and the man slipping his (not uncommon European) prejudices in unnoticed, were both present at the writing desk. America's social fluidity, not to mention the wider upheavals of the 20th century, unnerved more folks than just Hayek.

Posted by: Mike G on July 8, 2003 01:22 PM

Abiola, what do you imagine keeps the fisherman's opportunities limited if not human agency? The fisherman remains a fisherman because in the absence of other opportunities, he will starve if he does not fish. He cannot have the opportunities offered to others because there are very human agencies to prevent him from doing so, firstly the police, and second the courts. If I decide I want the opportunities available to, for example, Bill Gates, I imagine the police will do a very thorough job of preventing me from doing so.

The slaveowner no doubt made the same argument. What's mine is mine, and if I own a man's labour, why should I allow the slave to live if he doesn't give me what is mine? Someone with few opportunities is held in place just as much by threats of force as the slave is. That doesn't mean that it is necessarily as bad to be a wage slave as a chattel slave, but you can't make the argument that one is the product of compulsion and the other isn't.

You're making Ayn Rand's argument - and it isn't a very good one - not Hayek's.

No, Hayek missed the entire point about democracy, a point that really should have followed logically from everything else he wrote: elections function as a heuristic that, when it works, keeps institutions in service to the well-being of indivduals. You can make a case that partisan parliaments do not serve as the best possible heuristic, but you can't claim that institutions will serve public well-being in the absense of some heuristic to compel them to do so, because they never have in the past.

Posted by: Scott Martens on July 8, 2003 01:34 PM

>>The difference between Hayek's fisherman and the examples you give is that there is no human party actively forcing the fisherman to stay at his job.<<

Ah. But that's not what Hayek says. He doesn't say, "No injustice is done because nobody is forcing the fisherman to stay in the village--he could move to the city and starve (because he has no other skills)."

What Hayek says is: "if... [the fishery] had not existed, the people in question would probably never have been born at all..."

Your argument is a better one than Hayek's, but it is not the one Hayek makes.

Posted by: Brad DeLong on July 8, 2003 01:34 PM

It is virtually certain that Hayek did not hold democracy in particularly high regard. The Austrian school of "economics" has produced many members hostile to democracy, in particular Hans-Herman Hoppe (who I believe was a student of Hayek's).

Hoppe wrote a book with the hopeful title of "Democracy: the God that Failed". The central argument seems to be that some kind of anarcho-capitalism is the best possible system.

In other words -

(1) Brad, you are right that Hayek's own thoughts led him to believe that democracy and capitalism were on some level in conflict.

and

(2) This thesis is nonsense.

One can read Zakaria's latest book and recognize many necessary pre-conditions to democracy, but that hardly supports Hayek and Hoppe's suspicion any more than recognizing that a certain level of development and education are necessary to have a functioning industrial economy.

Posted by: SZ on July 8, 2003 01:39 PM

Scott, there is no legal agency which will physically prevent you from buying the copyright on valuable software from a small, unwise, seller, and, in turn, liscensing it to a very large, unwise, hardware manufacturer, which is how pretty much how Bill Gates was able to put himself in a position of great leverage in an exponentially expanding industry.

The fisherman remains a fisherman because the risks in stopping fishing are too great. Now, to the extent that those risks exist becasue he is illegitimately prevented from contracting with others, like a chattel slave is prevented from contracting with plantation owners, his situation is the same as the chattel slave's. If he chooses to remain a fisherman not because others are preventing his seeking other opportunities, but due to his risk aversion, which may or may not be entirely rational, depending on the general wealth of a society, his situtation is not akin to a chattel slave.

Posted by: WIll Allen on July 8, 2003 01:57 PM

Dr. DeLong finds this statement by Hayek remarkable, "While in a market order it may be a misfortune to have been born and bred in a village where…the only chance of making a living is fishing… it does not make sense to decribe this as unjust. Who is supposed to have been unjust?--"

Once again, I'm wondering if Dr. DeLong has read Thomas Sowell's "The Quest for Cosmic Justice?" This statement by Hayek is essentially what Sowell's whole book is about.

But Sowell provides an answer to Hayek's question, "Who is supposed to have been unjust?": it's G@d. G@d has been unjust, in that situation.

Similarly, there is no just reason why some kids are born to parents who can't afford music lessons, or perhaps even to buy a used musical instrument.

But Sowell's follow-up question is, "OK, so what do we do about that fundamental injustice (caused by G@d)?"

If the answer is that the government adjusts its standards for getting into the city orchestra to take into account the wealth of the applicants, rather than simply taking the best musicians (from behind a curtain :-)), Dr. Sowell says that a SECOND injustice has been committed, in an attempt to "fix" the first injustice (caused by G@d).

Dr. DeLong continues, "While in the American colonies it may be a misfortune to have been born a slave to Thomas Jefferson… it does not make sense to decribe this as unjust... if the American colonies had not existed, the people in question would probably never have been born at all..."

That's right, it doesn't make sense to call being born to a slave of Thomas Jefferson "unjust"...unless you are blaming G@d for being unjust. But from the very first breath taken by that slave baby, you *can* blame Thomas Jefferson, the government of Virginia, and the government of the United States for the injustice of keeping that baby and his parents slaves.

But this raises another question: what about the great-great-great-great-great grandchild of the slave baby? That person being born into freedom...but who perhaps is born to parents less well off than others?

G@d is being unjust in that situation, too. ALL children should be born to parents who are average or above in wealth. ;-) (And in Lake Wobegon, where G@d is kinder and gentler, that happy situation occurs. ;-))

But the follow-up question is, "What do we do about that injustice?"

If the answer is that we find some (white) great-great-great-great-great grandchild of Jefferson's, and the government forces that person to give money to the (black) great-great-great-great-great grandchild of the slave baby, we may have achieved "cosmic justice." But here on earth, we've essentially committed a SECOND injustice, in an attempt to fix G@d's (and Jefferson's, and the previous governments') injustices.

That, says Thomas Sowell, just ain't right. And I agree. Don't you, too? :-)

Posted by: Mark Bahner on July 8, 2003 02:16 PM


Mark:

If I understand your paraphrase of Sowell's argument, it is essentially that the world is an unfair place, due to no one in particular (unless you posit some supreme entity that set the whole system up). Then, if we try to solve those problems, we can only do so my giving the agrieved party something that belongs to a more prosperous party. But this is unjust because the more propserous party has done nothing to deserve having his or her property comphiscated. A long way of saying that two wrongs don't make a right.

It is a tempting argument, but I think it fails for three reasons:

(1) When humans come together and form a social contract, they stipulate the rules via which we will all live under this contract. In the case of the United States, our current social contract calls for free public education from k-12. Well, the education isn't "free" in the economic sense because someone has to pay those teachers and buy the pencils. By "free" we mean even those unlucky enough to be born in a family without the independent means of paying for education will still recieve this good.

Enlightened self-interest will lead most people to realize that the U.S. is better off today with 80+ graduation rates from high school than we were prior to 1840 when only about 30 percent of Americans could read. Why? Because those people, who otherwise might not be educated, build the public resources. Its the same reason companies send their employees to get training. Yes, training is expensive, but having well-trained employees benefits the company in the long run.

If someone REALLY hates paying for public education, they can either lobby their fellow citizens for a change to the social contract, or they can leave and become a citizen of another country that doesn't provide public education.

So you see - there is no "injustice" being committed. The citizens are part of the social contract, have the political means with which to lobby for change, and in extreme circumstances can leave it.

(2) Humans are somewhat unique among animals in that we can set independent ends for ourselves. By this, I mean that I can have an idea in my head of what I'd like to do with my life, and act in such a way to bring that about. This feature is what Kant called "the Kingdom of Ends". Kant argued that because we are capable of setting our own ends, we are owed a certain amount of respect from our fellow humans, and we owe them a certain amount of respect. In this case, we owe them the ability to pursue their ends provided they do no limit others' ability to do the same.

There can be to aspects to this - one is procedural (there are no legal reasons I can't pursue my dream of, say, being a writer) and others are substantive (in that I won't be denied the opportunity to be a writer because I'm black). As a society, we in general agree of the procedural autonomy, but disagree of substantive autonomy. At bottom, we argue what is the minimum necessary sustantive autonomy to fulfill our social commitment to allowing people to pursue the kind of life they want to lead. Once again, this is not an injustice, but a conversation within the social contract.

(3) In order for there to be even a concept of "property right", we need to have something that will secure those rights. Without the concept, it makes no sense to say something was "stolen". The first part of property rights is conceptual (such as Locke's concept that "ownership" occured when I took something from the natural world and mixed it with my own labor) and the second is practical (some authority must be in place to enforce the rights - particularly as they get more complicated like intellectual property). This can only de done by a government or government-like entity. Why? Because property rights only exist if we all play by the same set of rules. Suppose I play by a set of rules that says my videotapes are my property, but you play by a set of rules that says all videotapes are public property. We'll have a war on our hands unless we have an agreed-upon definition of what constitutes property rights.

-----

To make a long story short - Sowell's argument sneaks in a hidden premise - An external definition of "property rights", and he ignores its logical precondition - a social contract.

sz

Posted by: SZ on July 8, 2003 02:40 PM

Hayek's problems with democracy are contained in the essay Prof. DeLong refers to, "The Use of Knowledge in Society". Simply, that articulated rationality is a very poor method of transmitting useful information to decision makers. And articulated rationality is the essence of democracy.

That doesn't mean that in some limited circumstances democracy isn't the least bad decision making mechanism. Just that in most areas of life there are better mechanisms.

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on July 8, 2003 02:41 PM

sz, does not telling a person that 39 (or 25, or 70, or 90) cents of the next dollar they earn will be taken from them limit their ability to pursue their own ends? Don't be mistaken, I am not arguing against progressive taxation, but merely recognizing that ANY action of the state entails limiting people's ability to pursue their own ends, even when such pursuit does not limit other's ability to do the same. That this limiting takes place under a social contract merely means that whatever means are employed to create the social contract will be the mechanism by which the limiting is chosen. In other words, if the social contract has decided by democratic means that black people can't sell the books they have written, then as long as prospective black writers are allowed to leave the country, this is a legitimate action, since the social contract has deemed it so. Thus, the social contact merely becomes a means by which a majority is allowed to self-legitimate any action it prefers, as long as the minority that disagrees is free to choose exile.

Posted by: Will Allen on July 8, 2003 03:05 PM

Will, do you really think that the thing that differentiates the rich from the poor is risk aversion? Come on! In the US it's safer to take up heroin than to be poor. It's riskier to move across the street when you're broke than it is to invest a billion dollars in a failing company if you have several billion. Poor people are far less risk averse than the rich when it comes to risking their livelihoods. They have to be.

A man with a lot of money in the bank faces fewer risks of starvation even if he takes enormous risks with his capital than a poor man with very little capital even when he takes small risks. If the poor fisherman could lay claim to even a small part of the resources available to the billionaire, he would be far freer to take risk and improve his lot, and the nature of the power that prevents him from making such a claim is little different from the power that keeps a chattel slave working: someone will harm or kill him if he tries to claim the things that would free him. You may believe that some system of ethics or economics makes the rich man's wealth his by right, but I imagine that the owner of chattel slaves felt exactly the same way about his property. Regardless, it is not your belief in a right that makes it so. In both cases there is ultimately someone prepared to use violence to make it so.

The protection of wealth in such a way that it leaves some with little freedom and some with a lot may be justified, but that is not the argument being made here. The forces that protect wealth are also the forces that ensure poverty, and it no less compulsion because it may be necessary.

Posted by: Scott Martens on July 8, 2003 03:12 PM

When there is freedom to contract, there are no forces that "ensure" poverty, for free people have at their disposal the means to create wealth. This is why you and I have the great fortune of not wearing animal skins and living in caves. This doesn't mean, of course, that people won't suffer poverty, but it is simply in error to argue that the recognition of property rights "ensures poverty". Quite the opposite; the non-recognition of property rights is history's greatest guarantor of poverty.

The free fisherman is quite capable of offering something of value to the billionaire that provides a more rewarding life than fishing, just as Microsoft was able to offer something of value to the vastly more wealthy IBM, which in turn eventually made Microsoft more wealthy than IBM. Now, when a society doesn't have many rich people, or even middle class people, the fisherman's options are much more limited, and fishing may be the best course of action for now. To say however, that the fisherman is in the same situation as the slave kept in the billionaire's basement in chains, fails to recognize that a society with freedom to contract and recognition of property rights is a dynamic society, where relationships are in flux, while the slave-holding society is far more static. Examine the history of free states and slave states prior to Emancipation. Finally, any who believe that being a poor adult in this society entails a measurable risk of starvation has become completely divorced from reality, and ignorant of the opportunities for wealth creation, or just getting by, that exist in it's nearly unfathomably wealthy (historically speaking) condition.

Posted by: Will Allen on July 8, 2003 03:42 PM

I've long suspected that the Austrian school's commitment to democracy was far less than its commitment to property. This reflects there origens in 19th century political thought. The great fear in Europe, where there were vast concentrations of wealth, was that democacy would vote the wealth away. This fear also arose in the United States in the latter part of the 19th century as income inequaltiy and vast concentrations of wealth arose.

One should remember that the Austrian school also produced Bukharin-the architect of Lenin's new economic policy. And one of the Bolshevick "triumvirs."

Posted by: Lawrence on July 8, 2003 03:47 PM

Will, I have gone hungry, as an adult with a university diploma, because of insufficient funds to buy food. If you believe that there is no measurable risk of starvation in modern society, I invite you to live in San Francisco on $20 a day, the wage I earned at my first job in California and the only job I could find at the time. Try deciding if being hungry is worse than being homeless in a city where summer nights are awfully cold and there are no safe places to sleep.

I invite you to look past platitudes about the ability to create wealth and attempt to do so when the only capital you possess is unskilled labour. I suspect you have very little conception of real life under those conditions, at least not in any recent decade. I'm fairly certain you have no idea what it means to be stuck in a dead-end job where you have enough difficulty paying your own bills to save anything that might even pay the deposit on a new apartment, much less enable you to invest in an education or a business. If you did, you might well know what it means to face the real risks poverty entails, or how little the protection of property serves those who have none. You would not likely spout tales about being "quite capable of offering something of value to the billionaire that provides a more rewarding life than fishing." An example of how that might work would be appreciated, because in my experience manual labour doesn't pay much.

My claim was that it is still compulsion at work when ownership of property creates inequality of opportunity, just as it was for chattel slaves. I did not claim that the current arrangement is identical in any other sense to chattel slavery, just that lack of compulsion is an inadequate defence of it.

The only defence of private property you've made is a dubious historical one. Taiwan had remarakably little respect for private property in the aftermath of WWII and yet has done quite well for itself. You can make a case that some property rights have nonetheless proven quite useful and that it is difficult to see how they might be replaced, but note how such a concession changes the nature of the argument. It ceases to be an argument about right and becomes one about what makes people's lives better. There are plenty of instances of protection of property leading to misery. The Scottish heath used to be forests once. It became wasteland because of the excessive protection of the rights of property owners over tenants, destroying the land and impoverishing its former occupants at the same time. The history of Central America is one of the defence of absentee landlords' property rights against tenants held effectively in serfdom by the combination of lack of opportunity and the inability to obtain land of their own. Those are quite clear instances of private property being defended by violent compulsion and producing situations quite akin to chattel slavery.

Your case against slavery is even worse: the claim that slavery is inherently static while protecting all property rights except the right to own other people is not. That's not much of a defence. You might have tried claiming that the direct compulsion of slavery is more demeaning and dehumanising than compulsion through fear of starvation. If you had, I would have agreed with you. But dynamic versus static? I'd rather live in a static heaven than a dynamic hell.

Posted by: Scott Martens on July 8, 2003 04:52 PM

Uh, Scott, you don't know anything about me, and to make assumptions regarding my experiences merely reveals the possibility that you have a predilection for ignorant bloviations. Gee whiz, if staying in San Francisco meant a real possibility of starvation, then it would have been wise to scrounge the money for a bus ticket, or stick one's thumb out (I've crossed the country a couple of times using this method) and get to a place where one's skills were in sufficient demand to allow one to obtain sufficient calories. Now, I can't say that I've ever done the most hellish labor available in this country, which I've heard described as harvesting sugar cane, but I have spent non-negligible time performing such highly skilled tasks as stoop labor on vegetable and fruit crops, for total strangers at less than minimum wage, and no, I was never in danger of starvation. Tell 'ya what; if you ever come across an adult who is in danger of starvation, send'em to me (I'll spring for the bus ticket) and I'll ensure that they have a job, or obtain the social services, that ensures that it doesn't happen. That you raise the completely fatuous possibility of starvation in a society in which the major health issue among the poor is morbid obesity really calls into question whether you wish to have an intellectually honest discussion.

For the record, I also have several acquaintances and friends who at one time were considered mired in poverty, in "dead-end" jobs, without widely valued skills, within the past 20 or even 10 years, some of them as single parents, who have managed to achieve a middle class living. Some of them have become wealthy. They figured out ways to make themselves unusually useful to others, by a variety of means. This is what chattel slaves are unable to do, which is why it is utterly, ridiculously, fatuous to claim that, "Someone with few opportunities is held in place just as much by threats of force as the slave is.", in the context of a society as wealthy as this one.

Posted by: Will Allen on July 8, 2003 05:20 PM

Notice that in each of Prof. DeLong's supposed parallels, a Dowd-like ellipsis takes the place of Hayek's key question: "Who is supposed to have been unjust?" And for good reason: including the question would have made it obvious that there's an answer to it in each of DeLong's cases (the feudal lord, Marcius Porcius Cato, and Thomas Jefferson, respectively)-- and that they are therefore not parallel at all, as the question does *not* have an answer in Hayek's example.

Posted by: Paul Zrimsek on July 8, 2003 06:03 PM

What do you mean Marcus Porcius Cato or Thomas Jefferson has been unjust? They've paid good money for their slaves, and bought (or inherited) them from people with good, clear title. And the feudal lord--Reynaud of Chatillion, say--has put his life on the line defending the people of Moab from Bedouin raiders.

Posted by: Brad DeLong on July 8, 2003 07:54 PM

Brad,

While I agree with your criticism of the second quote of Friedrich
Hayek -- the one that implies that people should be grateful to be
alive and shouldn't expect more -- I think it can easily be made too
much of. Sometimes when writing people, or at least this is true of
me, follow a line of thinking that on the surface seems reasonable
but on later reflection isn't so hot.

If this idea appeared over and over in his writing we'd know that
it was consistently his thinking.

Since Hayek clearly placed value on democracy at other times and
places -- for instance putting it third on his list of desirables
-- then there is at minimum a contradiction. Not having him here
to question I think we should put the greater weight on what he
spent the most time articulating and said over and over in different
ways.

As for the first quote of Hayek, what I find I even more interesting
is that so many people today seem to be opposed to "unlimited democracy."
Some years back I wrote how easy it would be, given the internet,
to construct a direct representative democracy. No new laws are
needed and basically all that is required is that a majority, within
some district, wants it.

Yet the reaction to this proposal was almost entirely dismay.

Posted by: Mark Amerman on July 8, 2003 09:40 PM

Balderdash. This is ridiculous Brad, and shame on you for pretending otherwise. If you want to know what purposes Hayek finds for democracy he tells you -- repeatedly in many places. But I'm not sure that is your interest or your purpose. If it were you would start at by pointing out up front that Hayek make a big deal of a distinction between liberal democracy bound by the rule of law and unlimited democracy bound by nothing. I can't believe that you've read what you claim to have read and still somehow you failed to absorb this rather simple distinction, which Hayek hammers home again and again in his work. Hayek values liberal democracy most highly and has little use for unlimited democracy -- a position shared by Madison, Jefferson, Adams, and the other folks who created America. This is fairly commonplace stuff. Why pretend otherwise -- and why smear Hayek in such a blantantly unscholarly fashion -- and in a way that mimics the worst of the worst far left false carnards against Hayek coming from the far left on the fringes of the Internet. What web sites have you been reading to get this stuff?

Greg Ransom, editor, http://www.hayekcenter.org

Posted by: PrestoPundit on July 8, 2003 10:29 PM

Ok. I'll bite. Who is supposed to have been unjust in the case of these slaves -- well, the folks who own the slaves, the folks who put them in slavery, the folks who won't let them out of slavery. But that is only a start on the many ways in which your analogies don't past muster as counter-examples.

False analogies are hard to spot -- when you don't understand the ideas you are attacking.

Posted by: PrestoPundit on July 8, 2003 10:54 PM

anne writes:

"Israel Scheffler argued with philosophy students that Hayek had a definite indifference if not a disdain for democracy. Aristocracy was Hayek's cup. I agreed with Scheffler."

If Scheffler actually said this -- which I doubt -- he's a completely misinformed boob with a proclivity for talking out of his behind. He may for all I know be the former, but I doubt he is the latter. Again, Hayek is more than clear in his support for liberal democracy -- crystal clear. He liked living in liberal democratic Britian -- felt right at home there. No where does Hayek argue for aristocracy. As a young man Hayek actively worked in a liberal democratic political club -- he was one of the leaders of the group. His own liberal organization -- the Mont Pelerin Society was democratically organized.

Greg Ransom, editor, http://www.hayekcenter.org

Posted by: PrestoPundit on July 8, 2003 11:10 PM

Will, you do realise you have just confirmed my suspicions about your background? I mean, black people don't usually say that some of their best friends are black. I'm glad some of your friends have managed to get by despite poverty of skills, but I suspect a good deal of luck played a role for them. The rather broad admonition "make yourself useful to people with more money than you" does not substitute for actual advice. If it is so easy to pull yourself up in America, I'm sure many millions of Americans would like to hear the Will Allen plan for personal success.

As for scrounging a bus ticket to somewhere else, I remind you of the nature of risk when you are poor, when saving money means choosing to live on the street or choosing not to eat. But, since you asked, San Francisco was for me the endpoint of exactly such a bus trip. Moving somewhere else means taking the risk that things aren't any better there and facing that risk without any of the support networks you might have built up wherever you were before and without the savings that got you there.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to get a job - even in good times - when you have no fixed address and very little employment history? There are a lot of skills I learned the hard way in that position. One of them is that a Mailboxes, etc. address is difficult to distinguish from an appartment number and costs a lot less. Another is that appearances are everything. Without the ability to fake being a scion of the middle class, there is little chance of decent employment in the post-industrial world. And lastly, I learned to never, ever to tell the truth when you want a job.

And let me ask you, where do you imagine my skills might have been useful? I had pretty much two: a degree in physics and fluent French. I came to San Francisco in the hope that those skills might have proven more useful in Silicon Valley than elsewhere. They weren't. I only escaped homelessness through two strokes of luck and a great deal of lying at job interviews. Where could I have reduced my risk of failing to find work that met minimal living standards, considering that it was 1994 and the recession had not yet led to meaningfully lower unemployment?

Will, you have still not touched my core claim: In a land of abundant resources, poverty is every bit as much caused by coercively preventing people from simply taking the resources they need as slavery was caused by coercively preventing slaves from leaving their plantations. I conceded that the coercion used today is usually less degrading than that used to sustain chattel slavery. But you have not argued in any way that the contemporary misery, even in America, isn't sustained by coercion. The existence of opportunities that enable some to escape doesn't mean that opportunity is equal for all. Some people don't have to try in order to live decently, and some people try desperately and still fail. It is no less coercion that sustains this difference in chances just because some succeed. Even in chattel slavery, some slaves lived better than others, and some were even freed, and I'm sure that slave owners told themselves that they offered their property plenty of opportunities to "make themselves useful" and earn rewards.

Posted by: Scott Martens on July 9, 2003 01:17 AM

If the good professor can save his argument only by assuming that Hayek saw nothing wrong with slavery, he'd be better off giving it up gracefully.

Posted by: Paul Zrimsek on July 9, 2003 05:21 AM

The problem with Brad's analogies, I suppose, is that each example would, for Hayek, constitute a clear violation of the rights and freedoms of the individuals born into (a) feudalism, (b) Roman slavery, and (c) American slavery. That's fair. But what about the other half of the equation? Why assume that the presence of the fisherman in the village is the result of free decision-making and opportunities in the past, and not, say, feudalism, theft (they got run of their property) or slavery? What then?

Posted by: dhn on July 9, 2003 06:34 AM

" 'make yourself useful to people with more money than you' does not substitute for actual advice."

It does to people whose minds aren't hopelessly closed to it. "Gettiing a job" is not synonomous with earning a living.

" poverty is every bit as much caused by coercively preventing people from simply taking the resources they need "

Oh, you mean poverty is caused by laws against stealing! Actually, the opposite is true.

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on July 9, 2003 07:17 AM

No, Scott, your core claim is ""Someone with few opportunities is held in place just as much by threats of force as the slave is.", which is utter nonsense in a society such as this, empirically disproven by literally millions of people who have come from poor backgrounds and achieved middle class existence. If you can find a similar situation in which literally millions of chattel slaves had similar success, you might have a case. You can't, which renders your point ridiculous. The fatuity is compunded by the nonsensical proposition that you were actually confronted with the realistic possibility of starvation when you decided to move to San Francisco. I challenge you: name one person who has starved in the city of San Francisco in the past 50 years. That you even raise this idiocy is indicative of the fantasy world that you apparently prefer to live in. Finally, as far as the continuing preference of making ignorant assumptions regarding topics that you have exactly zero informtion on, it really does nothing to strengthen your argument. so it is best avoided.

Posted by: Will Allen on July 9, 2003 07:20 AM

I challenge you: name one person who has starved in the city of San Francisco in the past 50 years."

Chattel slaves don't starve either. In societies with chattel slavery, they often live in more material comfort than many freemen. Parents have been known to sell their children into chattel slavery for this exact reason.

No, Scott, your core claim is ""Someone with few opportunities is held in place just as much by threats of force as the slave is.", which is utter nonsense in a society such as this, empirically disproven by literally millions of people who have come from poor backgrounds and achieved middle class existence

This is a statement on that ever interesting topic, income mobility. Income mobility in the US being among the highest in the world, your statement holds much merit; however Scott's core claim is not "utter nonsense" because (1) economic freedom is the most highly prized human freedom [*], and is directly proportional to income, and (2) the current snapshot of US culture vis-a-vis income mobility is certainly not a universal given.

[*] Look up the astounding immigration rates to the ultrafundamentalist Gulf States some time.

Posted by: Elliott Oti on July 9, 2003 07:51 AM

No, Elliott, chattel slaves don't starve either. However, the following assertion was made:

"A man with a lot of money in the bank faces fewer risks of starvation even if he takes enormous risks with his capital than a poor man with very little capital even when he takes small risks."

Such a statement, in the context of current U.S. society, is emotion-laden nonsense, given that the risks of starvation are practically nil, regardless of Scott's decision to move to San Francisco.

Again, if one can establish that chattel slaves experience anywhere close to the degree of mobility that millions of people in the U.S. experience, then the statement, "Someone with few opportunities is held in place just as much by threats of force as the slave is" might have some meaning in the context of U.S. society. Since it cannot be established, the statement doesn't have merit.

Posted by: Will Allen on July 9, 2003 08:10 AM

Greg: Brad's argument is substantially the same as the one which John Gray made in "Hayek On Liberty". So you are laying it on a bit thick by accusing him of a "smear", particularly as Gray's book gets quite a favourable review on your website.

Posted by: dsquared on July 9, 2003 08:55 AM

I would really like a response from you on this. Partly because I would like to clear this up for myself.

You're being a little silly, and needless to say, unfair to Hayek. I agree with Greg Ransom, but don’t agree with his insinuation that perhaps you are less than sincere about this. But I do think you are guilty of lazy thinking here – understandable on a blog, I guess.

I personally think Hayek was a little incoherent on democracy. But two points:

1. I agree with Greg Ransom that you miss Hayek’s point about “liberal” (that is, limited) democracy as opposed to ‘majoritarian/egalitarian’ democracy – a la Dahl, etc. I don’t think you would find him ever criticizing democracy, but always ‘unlimited democracy’ and ‘extreme democracy’.

See Gus diZerega, “"Equality, Self-Government, and Democracy" Western Political Quarterly, now The Political Research Quarterly, Summer, 1987. (http://www.dizerega.com/equal.htm)

This is a critique of Dahl that is remarkably close to Hayek’s own critique. Gus’ critique has been acknowledged by Dahl’s own students as one of the best available. But Dahl has refused to respond to it.

In fact, it’s ironic that you cite slavery against Hayek. His main point is to argue that something like slavery can come about if democracy is not limited by liberalism.

This is Hayek’s point about democracy (The Constitution of Liberty, pp.107-108):

"Democracy is, above all, a process of forming opinion. Its chief advantage
lies not in its method of selecting those who govern but in the fact that,
because a great part of the population takes an active part in the formation
of opinion, a correspondingly wide range of persons is available from which
to select... It is in its dynamic, rather than in its static, aspects that
the value of democracy proves itself... The ideal of democracy rests on the
belief that the view which will direct government emerges from an
independent and spontaneous process. It requires, therefore, the existence
of a large sphere independent of majority control in which the opinions of
the individuals are formed."


2. It’s remarkable that you say this: “Ah. But that's not what Hayek says. He doesn't say, ‘No injustice is done because nobody is forcing the fisherman to stay in the village...’”

But this is his whole argument in the book you find this quote in. For example, p. 31: “Strictly speaking, only human conduct can be called just or unjust. If we apply the terms to a state of affairs, they have meaning only so far as we hold someone responsible for bringing it about or allowing it come about. A bare fact, or a state of affairs which nobody can change, may be good or bad, but not just or unjust. To apply the term ‘just’ to circumstances other than human actions or the rules governing them is a category mistake.”

It is more remarkable because only if you grasp this point can you make a more proper critique of Hayek on social justice – that if the wider community doesn’t do anything to change such circumstances to the extent it can, you could perhaps consider it ‘socially’ unjust for several reasons.

Posted by: Chirag Kasbekar on July 9, 2003 10:33 AM

"I don’t think you would find him ever criticizing democracy..."

Ok, that was not quite right. Of course he did have criticisms of democracy -- who doesn't? But I think he reserved his most passionate criticism for 'unlimited democracy'.

Also, there are several things he says which are counter-examples to your insinuation that Hayek wanted the poor to be grateful that they were even born. This, for example:

In the same volume of LLL (vol II -- the mirage of Social Justice) he says (p. 87):

"There is no reason why in a free society government should not assure to all protection against severe deprivation in the form of an assured minimum income, or a floor below which nobody need descend. To enter into such an insurance may well be in the interest of all; or it may be felt to be a clear moral duty of all to assist, within the organized community, those who cannot help themselves. So long as such a uniform minimum income is provided outside the market . . . this need not lead to a restriction of freedom, or conflict with the Rule of Law.”

Note that he says, "a clear moral duty."

Regards,
Chirag

Posted by: Chirag Kasbekar on July 9, 2003 10:53 AM

Patrick, let me point to the analogy I have made repeatedly: I'm sure that slave owners felt the same way about their property. Theft is very much a socially defined crime and it is enforced in every bit as coercive a manner as slavery was. That the defense of private property may have virtues was not something I contested, as I have now said, I think, three times and am about to say again. All I said is that lack of coercion doesn't cut as an argument in its favour.

Will - I didn't say I was threatened with starvation. I said I had been hungry due to a lack of money more significant than not being able to find an ATM machine at dinner time. You would be quite surprised at how uncomfortable that situation is and how desperate it can make you. Had my situation remained as it was for much longer than it did, I would likely have ended up at homeless shelters and soup kitchens, but you see, I've seen those places, and once you are in them it's a lot harder to get out.

As for the rest of your remarks - you have systematically not responded to my claim, which I will now repeat for the last time: There may well be a justification for private property and the inequalities it leads to - I can think of several - but lack of coercion is not one of them. You have not denied - and I imagine you won't - that where there is plenty to eat and some people are still hungry, it is exactly the threat of violence that keeps the hungry from eating.

And I doubt quite strongly that Elliot Oti can produce numbers to back up the assertion that income mobility is greater in America than anywhere else in the world, even though it is quite beside the point about coercion. Honestly, I realise that poor people don't much hang around academic blogs, but have you all been born with silver spoons up your asses? Is it so terribly difficult to recognise that opportunities are not handed out even dimly equally, even in America, and that inequities tend to be self-reinforcing these days? That's pretty obvious even in the middle classes.

Let me quote myself making the same really very narrow claim, over and over, which has only a little to do with income mobility and even less to do with the nonsense I've been getting in response:

-- He cannot have the opportunities offered to others because there are very human agencies to prevent him from doing so, firstly the police, and second the courts. If I decide I want the opportunities available to, for example, Bill Gates, I imagine the police will do a very thorough job of preventing me from doing so.

-- The protection of wealth in such a way that it leaves some with little freedom and some with a lot may be justified, but that is not the argument being made here. The forces that protect wealth are also the forces that ensure poverty, and it no less compulsion because it may be necessary.

-- My claim was that it is still compulsion at work when ownership of property creates inequality of opportunity, just as it was for chattel slaves. I did not claim that the current arrangement is identical in any other sense to chattel slavery, just that lack of compulsion is an inadequate defence of it.

-- In a land of abundant resources, poverty is every bit as much caused by coercively preventing people from simply taking the resources they need as slavery was caused by coercively preventing slaves from leaving their plantations. I conceded that the coercion used today is usually less degrading than that used to sustain chattel slavery. But you have not argued in any way that the contemporary misery, even in America, isn't sustained by coercion.

Now, I have to assume that people who can use the web can read although that belief is pretty difficult to sustain sometimes. My claim is that current inequality is no less the product of compulsion than the inequality of slavery. It is nonetheless better than slavery, but it is not enforced by any less violent or compulsory mechanisms. In response, I have heard absolutely nothing but - as Will so charmingly puts it - fatulity and ignorant bloviations.

Posted by: Scott Martens on July 9, 2003 11:14 AM

Scott, I have quoted you precisely and have shown why these quotes are empirically nonsensical. Let us examine yet another nonsensical statement:

"If you believe that there is no measurable risk of starvation in modern society, I invite you to live in San Francisco on $20 a day, the wage I earned at my first job in California and the only job I could find at the time."

This statement is nonsensical because you cannot produce ONE SINGLE PERSON who has starved in San Francisco in modern times. It simply does not happen. Given that not one single person in San Franciso has succumbed to starvation in modern times, to use the conditions existant in S.F. as a refutation to the proposition that there is not measurable risk of starvation in modern society is itself, simply as a matter of logic, quite ridiculous. If one doesn't wish to have one's statements characterized as ridiculous, then one should refrain from making logically ridiculous statements.

Finally, once and for all, why on earth do you pretend to be in possession of facts that you have no possible way of having? What possible purpose does this serve, other than to allow you to engage in some sort of vague and stupid ad hominem rhetoric?

Posted by: Will Allen on July 9, 2003 12:07 PM

Sorry. Couldn't resist one more response.

Again, I find your sneering at his views on convention to be a little annoying -- even childish. It is quite obvious from reading Hayek -- do read, for example, the, in many ways, remarkable chapter "Freedom, Reason and Tradition" (chapter four, pp. 70) Constitution of Liberty, 1960) -- that his views on tradition are a product of his conviction that social progress happens best when there is an "emergence of order as the result of adaptive evolution" (p. 59, CL). There is also his conviction that institutions can embody greater knowledge than any one person's mind -- he thought of civilization as a kind of collective mind.

I don't understand why you're surprised that a libertarian can believe that 'esteem' for tradition is good for freedom. Hayek, of course, believed that since there had to be some sort of selection process working, it would be better for freedom if social pressure through conventions was used rather than governmental coercion. I think he understood quite well that unjust social conventions sometimes needed to be superceded by governmental coercion. Nor was he completely against deliberate construction of institutions.

Of course, that is not to say there aren't problems with his approach. He lives things incomplete.

Some quotes:

(CL, p. 62): "There is an advantage in obedience to such rules not being coerced, not only because coercion as such is bad, but because it is, infact often desirable that rules should be observed only in most instances and that the individual should be able to transgress them when it seems to him worthwhile to incur the odium which this will cause. It is also important that the strength of the social pressure is variable. It is this flexibility of voluntary rules which in the field of morals makes gradual evolution and spontaneous growth possible, which allows further experience to lead to modifications and improvements. Such an evolution is possible only with rules which are neither coercive not deliberately imposed -- rules which, though observing them is regarded as merit and though they will be observed by a majority, can be broken by individuals who feel they have strong enough reasons to brave the censure of their fellows... the existence of individuals and gropus simultaneously observing partially different rules provided the opportunity for the selection of the more effective ones."

(CL, p. 67): These considerations, of ocurse, do not prove that all sets of moral beliefs which have grown in a society will be beneficial. Just as a group its rise to the morals which its members obey, and their values in consequence be ultimately imitated by the whole nation which the successful group has come to lead, so may a group or nation destroy itself by the moral beliefs to which it adheres. Only the eventual results can show whether the ideals which giude a group are beneficial or destructive. There would be little danger of this in a society whose members were still free to choose their way of practical life, because in such a society such tendencies would be self-corrective: only groups guided by the 'impractical' ideals would decline, and others, less moral by current standards, would take their place. But this would only happen in a free society in which such ideals are not enforced on all."

(CL, p.69): "The first condition for such an intelligent use of reason in the ordering of human affairs is that we learn to understand what role it does in fact play and can play in the working of any society based on the cooperation of many separate minds. This means that, before we can try to remold society intelligently, we must understand its functioning; we must realise that, even when we believe that we understand it, we may be mistaken. What we must learn to understand is that human civilisation has a life of its own, that all our efforts to improve things must operate within a working whole which we cannot entirely control, and the
operation whose forces we can hope merely to facilitate and assist so far as we understand them. Our attitude ought to be similar to that of the physician toward a living organism: like him we have to deal with a self-maintaining whole which is kept going by forces which we cannot replace and which we must therefore use in all we try to achieve. What can be done to improve it must done by working with these forces rather than against them. In all our endeavour at improvement we must work inside the given whole, aim at piecemeal, rather than total, construction, and use at each stage the historical material at jand and improve details step by step rather than attempt to redesign the whole."

(CL, p. 62): We understand one another and get along with one another, are able to act successfully on our plans because, most of the time, members of our civilisation conform to unconscious patterns of conduct, show a regularity in their actions that is not the result of commands or coercion, often not even of any conscious adherence to known rules, but of firmly establshed habits and traditions. The general observance of these conventions is a necessary condition of the orderliness of the world in which we live, of our being able to find our way in it, though we do not know their significance and may not even be consciously aware of their existence.... It is indeed a truth, which all the great apostles of freedom outside the rationalistic school have never tired of emphasising, that freedom has never worked without deeply ingrained moral beliefs and that coercion can only be reduced to a minimum only where individuals can be expected as a rule to conform voluntarily to certain principles."

Warm regards,
Chirag

Posted by: Chirag Kasbekar on July 9, 2003 01:38 PM

Brad DeLong writes, "What do you mean Marcus Porcius Cato or Thomas Jefferson has been unjust? They've paid good money for their slaves, and bought (or inherited) them from people with good, clear title."

:-) ??!!!

Doc, you crack me up! Surely this is some sort of Devil's Advocate position, merely for the sake of argument? (And don't get me wrong, I love that type of position. :-))

Less than a week ago, you published the frickin' Declaration of Independence! (With a nice little waving flag, too. :-)) I was sure, at the time, that it meant something to you!

In JEFFERSON'S OWN WORDS, "all men are created equal," and endowed "by their Creator" with "unalienable right to liberty." Therefore, BY JEFFERSON'S OWN WORDS, Jefferson was being unjust.

And he knew it. All his life, he made rationalizations why black men weren't really men. But he *knew* they were. That can be seen from his OWN WORDS, regarding slavery:

"I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice can not sleep forever . . ."

http://afgen.com/slavery3.html

(Editorial Note: Well, Tommy boy, you ought to have done some trembling for yourself, as well as your country! Hate to think that you might be spending Eternity in chains...but maybe that's what you deserve, for owning slaves.)

So of course Jefferson was being unjust. And hypocritical (which is unjust, because it involves disparaging others, using a standard that one also can't meet).

You really ought to put a header that says, "Devil's Advocate Position: I don't really believe this, but..."

Alternatively, if you really believe that Jefferson was NOT being unjust by owning slaves, you should stop pretending that your personal ranking goes, "liberty, democracy, prosperity," and switch to, "prosperity, democracy...I can't think of anything else." ;-)

Posted by: Mark Bahner on July 9, 2003 04:47 PM

"If the good professor can save his argument only by assuming that Hayek saw nothing wrong with slavery, he'd be better off giving it up gracefully."

It's even worse than that. The good (??? ;-)) professor can "save" his argument only by writing that HE sees nothing wrong with slavery:

"What do you mean Marcus Porcius Cato or Thomas Jefferson has been unjust? They've paid good money for their slaves, and bought (or inherited) them from people with good, clear title."

Mind-boggling!

Posted by: Mark Bahner on July 9, 2003 04:59 PM
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