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...

Posted by DeLong at 11:54 AM

March 20, 2003
On Tribe on Wilentz on Scalia

Now comes the estimable and sharp-witted James Glass before the bar of logic and argument, bringing forward Larry Tribe as a witness to defend Antonin Scalia against my bill of indictment accusing him of being a theocratic intellectual zombie--that is, somebody who belongs in the court of a medieval Pope like Innocent III, and not on the Supreme Court of Thomas Jefferson's and Abraham Lincoln's United States of America. Tribe's witness for Scalia takes the form of a critique of a New York Times commentary by Sean Wilentz, who also attacked Antonin Scalia for being, well, a theocratic intellectual zombie. I confess I am not convinced by Tribe's argument and prefer my own conclusions (surprise! surprise!). Let me try to indicate why: In his critique of Wilentz, Tribe makes four substantive points: It is simply wrong for Wilentz to say that Scalia blames the emergence of democracy for the breakdown of that consensus that held that state power was to be obeyed because it was in some sense special and holy, for Scalia is "[f]ar from holding democracy’s emergence responsible for what he laments as the breakdown of that consensus." It is simply wrong for Wilentz to describe Scalia's desired...

Posted by DeLong at 06:37 PM

March 12, 2003
Waiting in Line: How Economists Think

What sort of "property" is your position at the head of a line? Is it something that you can sell--or should be able to sell? If it's yours, you should be able to sell it, right? Suppose somebody comes up to the first person in line--you are number five--and offers a fistfull of dollars for his or her place. Do you have a right to object? Does the person "buying" the first place have to also reach an agreement with you? Lawyers and political scientists think there are interesting and important issues at stake. And perhaps there are. But their discussions are a little bit... unstructured: The Volokh Conspiracy:[Jacob Levy, 12:30 PM] CHRIS BERTRAM ON COMMODIFICATION: Chris writes: One such question is the following: "Is it morally ok for someone to march to the head of a long queue (for tickets for the theatre or football or whatever) and offer to buy another person's place in that queue?" Since the purchaser buys the place and the person they displace goes away or to the back of the line, the exchange isn't worsening any one's position. Respondents seem to break down into three categories: people who think it is just obviously...

Posted by DeLong at 05:55 PM

February 11, 2003
Broadband Is an Inalienable Right

Speak of the devil department: The State of Kentucky will provide broadband Internet access in low-income housing projects: Taking an aggressive stance on the issue of the digital divide, the Kentucky Housing Corporation, or KHC, has listed broadband Internet access among the inalienable rights of its low-income housing residents. As part of an effort to enact universal design standards for public housing, the KHC passed a mandate (PDF) stating that all new housing units funded more than 50 percent by the KHC must be equipped with access to high-speed Internet service... [Link to Full Story] [From Boing Boing]...

Posted by DeLong at 08:47 PM

Life, Liberty, and a Linen Shirt

Take it for granted (as I do) that a good society offers everyone the opportunity to make a decent living without undue toil (and without selling one's internal organs for transplants either). What is a "decent living"? Daniel Davies worries this problem like a moral philosopher, and comes up with three conclusions: In late eighteenth-century England, a good society would have offered everyone the right to earn enough to comfortably buy a linen shirt. In early twenty-first century America, a good society does not yet require that one have the right to earn enough to comfortably afford a cable mode. But just you wait: by 2010 (if Kim Jong Il does not blow the place up) in South Korea anyone who does not earn enough to comfortably afford DSL will be indecently poor. D-squared Digest -- A fat young man without a good word for anyone: ...My view on the subject of what constitutes a decent living goes right back to Adam Smith, whose views on the subject are not so well known, but exemplify the strand of humanity and sound common sense which has been so thoroughly ignored in his writing ever since he coined that phrase about the...

Posted by DeLong at 06:33 PM