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Hayek was a brilliant thinker; though I have been fortunate to encounter some works that have succeeded in challenging a lot of his views (see Ted Burczak and Greg Hill). This attitude, which is a result of "open-mindedness" in my reading habits, has given me the confidence to raise objections to this quote which are similar in nature to the Sautet post on historical determinism. Again, where Sautet expressed pessimism, Hayek finds cause for optimism, believing that his scientific method is the correct one, and thus will eventually succeed in the intellectual battles, NO MATTER WHAT. Let me counter this false optimistic attitude with a more realistic one written by the great historiographer Keith Jenkins:

"historical study should show people how the past can be used to effect an ethically responsible transition from the present to the future in ways which prioritise the responsibilities of the individual by inducing in them an awareness that any given 'present' condition is always, in part, a product of specifically human choices which can therefore be changed by further human action in precisely that degree ... [f]or life is lived all the better if history is read as having NO SINGLE MEANING (succumbs to no single narrative) but many different ones, a history that keeps on the agenda a future-directed utopianism that will help people be released from 'the burden of history' as construed as a single 'closure'".

The differences are not just intellectual, unless that includes the critical and self-critical attitude, the willingness to take criticism seriously in case we can learn something from our critics. Bill Hutt was good on some of these issues, like the responsibility of economists to inform the public on the likely outcomes of various policy options. He also noted in the preface to his second book on Keynes that there had been an almost total failure of debate on Keynes, with critical views being hard to publish and then being ignored by the supporters of Keynes.

The quote makes me wonder: What would happen in a society where incentives were totally aligned and no externalities existed? Would we continue to value idealized selfless behavior over self-interest?

It seems to me that in most of today's business world (baring rent-seeking, lobbying for anti-trust measures, frivolous lawsuits, excessive pollution, etc), incentives are aligned. Most businessmen aid others when they pursue their own self-interest, and have done so for a long, long time. Despite that, people still distrust them.

I would say the intellectual battle has been mostly won in the minds of those really care to understand the issues. How many pro-state Austrians are there? Or pro-state public choicers? It seems to me that those economists who have labored to compare and contrast the outcomes of political processes with those of market processes have almost always come out in favor of the later.

I think Hayek was being overly-optimistic if he suggested that the intellectual battle could even be won in the minds of laymen, because for most people the battle isn't intellectual at all. You're average person has no incentive to devote his scarce cognitive resources to understanding economics. He has much larger incentives to accept political beliefs not on the basis of truth, but on the basis of what he gains by accepting them. In my opinion it is a failure of democracy that such things are demanded of him. I don't think any system which requires the masses to hold specialized, non-intuitive knowledge is a very good system at all.

Prof. Horwitz,

Is it just the progressives who refuse to avail themselves of economic knowledge?

Isn’t the “stability only for reasons of selfishness” that Hayek refers to the right of private property and freedom from plunder and redistribution?

But wasn't that my "pet issue," that you couldn't be bothered with?

So, isn’t your isolation your own doing?

My thoughts exactly. I tell to my liberal blog mates all the time. They just don't get it. But I'll keep trying.

BTW, Bryan Caplan is right and this paragraph just reminds me and reaffirms it:

Hayek can't write clearly to save his life. I think there's money to be made in re-writing Hayek's work in plain, readable, flowing English.

Call it "The Readable Hayek Series"....condensed and paraphrased for clarity and ease on the eyes and mind. :)

Anyone up for it? Are there legal restrictions?

The problem with Hayek's writing is that English is his second (or maybe third) language and he could never find a way to write English sentences that didn't have the "German diseases" of excessive length and nouns at the end.

But if you want to do "Hayek for Dummies" go right ahead. ;)

You people are going to improve on Hayek' writing?

Better his "disease" than yours, and "excessive length and nouns at the end" than curves,angles, and tangents.

His isolation was nothing compared to what it would be when you got through with him.

For what it's worth Lesvic, I don't have a big problem with Hayek's style. It's sometimes tough to follow, but good ideas require work sometimes too.

Prof. Horwitz,

As Mises put it:

"What could easily be explained in a few sentences of mundane speech was expressed in a terminology...unfamiliar to the immense majority and therefore regarded with reverential awe."

There is nothing in economics that could not be explained in mundane speech. For even the most complex theorems are comprised of simple elements, which can be explained in simple terms. And, if they aren't worth the bother of explaining them, they're hardly worth the bother of trying to understand them.

Good ideas in economics may indeed require work, but never circumlocution, curves, angles, or tangents.

Confusion is complicated, economics simple; and if it isn't simple, it isn't economics.


The use of language to communicate ideas is not as simple as you suggest. Even when the same terminology is being used by different economists, the meanings they attach to the words will differ, causing confusion in debate even when the langauge is concise and simple. Recent thinkers in the philosophy of science have made this argument, notably Paul Feyerabend and Thomas Kuhn. Feyerabend has taken an extreme view on this point and argues that all the terms we use (both in theoretical and observational discussion) are completely dependent on the theory we have adopted (unconsciously or not). This argument implies that competing theories cannot be collated because they have different meanings. What are we supposed to use as our standard or criterion in measuring the relative strenghts of one theory against another?

Your demand for "mundane speech" misses the point entirely.

Mr Mueller,

If the problem is amiguity, how does needless complication make it better?

Classical liberals don't understand that there is an ideological war being waged and that the arms being used by the Left are intellectual dishonesty, ommission and outright lies. I'm not talking about the Ministry of Truth: I'm talking about Paul Krugman. A brilliant article by Dan Klein on Econjournalwatch.org ("Left out: a critique...") shows how Krugman uses some of these very tactics. Dan, unfortunately, reaches but a timid conclusion:

"I find especially telling the enmity he holds toward Republicans in power. He seems to resent not being among ... the people at the top."

That is the key: the Left will never give up trying to gain, regain or stay in POWER and will do so unscrupulously, even though their ideas are historical trash. It is rather unwise, as Prof. Horwitz suggests, to adopt an attitude of "confidence" in relationship to people who still support, in a disguised way, the ideas which engendered genocidal maniacs who in turn killed over a 100 million people in the past century alone. You can't chalk that one up on a "fatal conceit", people. Stop being so naive: Hayek should have come to this conclusion and written a book called "infinite maliciousness".

This is why more and more I am turning to conservatives, who seem to have a better grasp of the epic battle being waged under our very eyes. Here is Russell Kirk:

"The ideologues who promise the perfection of man and society have converted a great part of the twentieth-century world into a terrestrial hell."

Mr Franco,

You're forgetting that "Classical liberals" once won that war. So the problem is not with classical liberalism itself but the bastardization of it, particularly the mystification and alienation of economics.

Bring plain English back to it, and you'll win the war again.

Perhaps we need to read Hayek in the original German?

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