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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Hayek Earns the Right to Be SoftCore; Will Wilkinson, Eh, Not So Much

Tyler Cowen has a crush on Will Wilkinson, whom by the way I only know via Tyler. Anyway, the latest lovefest is over Wilkinson's take on wuss, I mean, Liberaltarianism:

Here are the sort of political/economic thinkers whose substantive views I find most congenial: Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, James M. Buchanan. If I tell most highly-educated people that these are the thinkers whose views of desirable institutions are most like mine, they might infer that I am some kind of rabid libertarian ideologue. But when I actually defend something like the arguments for an economic safety net each of these giants of libertarian thought actually set forth, lots of libertarians accuse me of not really being libertarian at all. And many liberals act surprised, as if I’m being saucily iconoclastic by wandering so far off the reservation. I can tell them that Hayek was actually in favor of a guaranteed minimum income and that Friedman basically invented the idea behind the EITC, but they’ll still think I’m some kind of congenial squish. But what I am is a market liberal just like Hayek, Friedman, and Buchanan — the same intellectual role models who make me a rabid libertarian ideologue. So, which is it?

Well Mr. Wilkinson, there's no easy way to put this, so I'll just lay it on ya. Hayek, Friedman, and Buchanan are SO RIDICULOUSLY INCONSISTENT that's it's not even funny. I am simply stunned at how much they concede to government prerogatives, after their trenchant analyses.

But it's like getting mad at Einstein for his cosmological constant wuss sell-out. Because he came up with special and general relativity--oh do I hear, everything you wanted to learn about Brownian motion but were afraid to ask?--then we cut him some slack. It's charming.

Same with Hayek. Aww, he writes "The Use of Knowledge in Society" and yet doesn't the next day understand the virtues of mercenary armies. How quaint. His taste in music is even weirder.

So they get a pass. But for people growing up on Rothbard, how can you possibly justify the State, if you think Friedman et al. are right about everything else? Why is it that law and defense are immune from all of the scathing, irredeemable critiques leveled by Hayek, Buchanan, Mises, etc.?

In conclusion I just want to again stress that I have read something like 4 Will Wilkinson blog posts in my life, all linked from MR. So if he's like a really cool guy who juggles and plays chess with homeless kids every Tuesday, then I totally retract this post.

3 comments:

  1. Bob,

    I interned for Will at Cato a few summers ago, and can testify that he truly is a really cool guy who juggles and plays chess with homeless kids every Tuesday.

    But I also agree with your criticism; I've found Hayek pretty much worthless outside of the Use of Knowledge essay.

    Anthony De Jasay has the wittiest take on Hayek, in a webjournal edited by Will no less!

    Equally quaint and droll, but in a way also rather ominous, is a remark Hayek makes about taxation in one of his essays, quoted verbatim in my 1989 article “Is Limited Government Possible”. The gist of Hayek‘s astonishing statement is that while government may use coercion to enforce the rules of just conduct, it may also provide many useful services that do not involve “coercion except for raising the necessary means.”[3] Is one to take it that the usefulness of the services it renders is a warrant for the government to “raise the means”? If this were a clause in a constitution, government would only be limited by physical feasibility, for its useful services are potentially no doubt unlimited.

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