Tag: Russell Roberts

More Hayek Sightings

The long Hayek Week continues, a full two weeks after Cato’s all-star panel on The Constitution of Liberty. The Washington Post today features George Mason University professor Russell Roberts and his Hayek-Keynes rap videos.

And by reading the actual print edition of the New York Times Book Review, I discovered that the same issue that included Francis Fukuyama’s review of the The Constitution of Liberty last Sunday also included a letter from one David Beffert of Washington, D.C., coincidentally responding to a review of Fukuyama’s own new book. Beffert wrote:

I enjoyed Michael Lind’s April 17 review of Francis Fukuyama’s important new book, “The Origins of Political Order.” But even as someone who prefers John Maynard Keynes and Karl Polanyi to F. A. Hayek, I still feel compelled to defend Hayek from Lind’s mischaracterization. While I agree with Fukuyama’s argument that, as Lind puts it, “a strong and capable state has always been a precondition for a flourishing capitalist economy,” Hayek can hardly be accused of trying “to explain society in terms of Homo economicus.” A doctor of law and political science, Hayek afforded the state a central role in his philosophy — specifically, he saw the Rechtsstaat, constitutional government enforcing the rule of law, as a guarantor of liberty and a functioning capitalist order. In that sense he, like Fukuyama, is closer to the 19th-century sociological tradition than to neoclassical economists, who would appear to be Lind’s real target.

Speaking of misconceptions about Hayek, if you Google “soros hayek,” the first item that comes up is a page of letters in the Atlantic Monthly taking Soros to task for misunderstanding Hayek – in 1997. Tadd Wilson argues:

Soros cites Hayek as an advocate of laissez-faire and then goes on to reject laissez-faire economics on the grounds that it is a dogmatic system at once claiming and demanding perfect knowledge and equilibrium. Of course, Hayek’s major contribution to economics was his critique of scientific assumptions in equilibrium-based economics. In a nutshell, Hayek argues that the market process relies on contextual, personal knowledge to coordinate the activities of millions of individual participants – a vaguely Popperian notion. Soros misses Hayek’s crucial point.

This is much the same criticism that Bruce Caldwell made of Soros’s understanding of Hayek two weeks ago. Considering the many complaints that were raised about Fukuyama’s understanding of Hayek, we can only ask: Why can’t the Times get someone like, say, David Beffert or Tadd Wilson to review Hayek?

By the way, if you Google Hayek, you’ll discover that it’s a big week for Salma Hayek, too. They’re not related, but you can find a slightly dated comparison here.

Clinton, Obama, and Hayek

President Obama has been saying that if the United States government can find and eliminate Osama bin Laden after ten years of searching, it can do anything:

Already, in several appearances since the raid, Obama has described it as a reminder that “as a nation there is nothing that we can’t do,” as he put it during an unrelated White House ceremony Monday. On Sunday night, during his first comments about the operation, he linked it to American values, saying the country is “once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to.”

This is, of course, nonsense. Finding bin Laden, difficult as it proved to be, was an incomparably simple task compared to using coercion and central planning to bring about desired results in defiance of economic reality. You can’t deliver better health care to more people for less money by reducing the role of incentives and markets, even if you set your mind to it. As Russell Roberts said about a similar concept, “If we can put a man on the moon, then…”:

Putting a man on the moon is an engineering problem. It yields to a sufficient application of reason and resources. Eliminating poverty is an economic problem (and by the word “economic” I do not mean financial or related to money), a challenge that involves emergent results. In such a setting, money alone—in the amounts that a non-economic approach might suggest, one that ignores the impact of incentives and markets—is unlikely to be successful.

Obama should listen to Bill Clinton, who last fall seemed to be channeling Hayek:

Friedrich Hayek, The Fatal Conceit: “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”

Bill Clinton, 9/21: “Do you know how many political and economic decisions are made in this world by people who don’t know what in the living daylights they are talking about?”

Austrian Economics in the News

The financial crisis of 2008 led to a lot of unfortunate Keynesian and corporatist policymaking, but also to a renewed interest in Austrian economics and particularly to the Austrian theory of the business cycle and the role of the Federal Reserve in creating bubbles and busts. Austrian ideas are most recently examined on BBC and in the Washington Post.

Sales of F. A. Hayek’s book The Road to Serfdom have soared in the past three years, actually hitting no. 1 on Amazon last summer. The New York Times complained that Tea Party activists had “reached back to dusty bookshelves for long-dormant ideas [in] once-obscure texts by dead writers” such as Hayek, even as its reporters continually urged policymakers to Read. More. Keynes. A rap video on the intellectual battle between Hayek and Keynes, created by economist Russell Roberts and filmmaker John Papola, has been viewed almost 2 million times. A YouTube cartoon video on “quantitative easing” has done even better, with more than 4 million views.

And now Rep. Ron Paul’s appointment as chairman of the House subcommittee on monetary policy has brought new attention to the Austrian critique of orthodox economics and economic policy. A long article on Paul’s ideas and his plans for the committee by Annie Lowrey filled a full page of the Sunday Washington Post:

But Paul’s adversary is not only the Federal Reserve. It is also mainstream monetary economics itself. As a devotee of the Austrian school, whose luminaries include Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, Paul stands firmly outside policymaking and academic circles, a point he enthusiastically admits. (The Austrian economists also often quibble with other libertarians, such as those at Cato.) His beef is not with how central bankers do their jobs; it’s with central banking itself.

“The Fed, rightly so, criticizes Congress for spending too much - but they make the money available to us!” he said. “It buys debt, keeps interest rates low, and sticks it to the people who want to save and make money. It is so unfair. And I think it is the first time in the history of the Fed that people realize it is not their friend. It just gives us booms and busts.”

The line about Cato is a little misleading. At our 28 annual monetary conferences and in our publications, we’ve presented the ideas of many Austrian economists, from our 1979 publication of two classic manuscripts by Hayek, A Tiger by the Tail: The Keynesian Legacy of Inflation and Unemployment and Monetary Policy: Government as Generator of the “Business Cycle” and our first monetary conference in 1982 featuring Fritz Machlup and Gottfried Haberler, to a 1999 issue of the Cato Journal featuring studies of Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, to a new Working Paper, “Has the Fed Been a Failure?” by George Selgin, William Lastrapes, and Lawrence H. White.

And don’t miss a recent BBC program, “Radical Economics: Yo Hayek!” Jamie Whyte spends 30 thoughtful minutes looking at Austrian views of boom and bust, with such guests as White, Papola, Steven Horwitz, Robert Higgs, and Robert Skidelsky.

It took the biggest bubble and crash since 1929 to revive the interest in Austrian economics, but at least now more people are studying the real problems with central planning, government intervention, and money manipulation.

ObamaCare’s Threat to Free Speech

On Friday, I blogged about HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ letter to the health insurance lobby, in which she attempts to stifle political speech by using the new powers that ObamaCare grants her to threaten health insurance companies that claim ObamaCare’s coverage mandates are one cause behind rising premiums.  (Never mind that the insurers’ estimates – which project that ObamaCare will increase premiums in 2011 by as much as 9 percent – are in line with those put forward by HHS.)

Here’s a smattering of reactions from others.

  • The Wall Street Journal: “The Health and Human Services secretary…warned that ‘there will be zero tolerance for this type of misinformation and unjustified rate increases.’   Zero tolerance for expressing an opinion, or offering an explanation to policyholders? They’re more subtle than this in Caracas.”
  • Chicago Tribune: “President Obama’s health care reform plan, enacted in March, is not terribly popular with the American people…The administration can’t tell the public to stop grousing. It can, however, try to silence health insurers who have the nerve to say out loud what basic economic theory indicates…Apparently, harsh punishment is in store for anyone who refuses to parrot the administration line. But there is every reason to think this alleged libel is true.”
  • Tyler Cowen: “Nowhere is it stated that these rate hikes are against the law (even if you think they should be), nor can this ‘misinformation’ be against the law…[The letter] is worse than I had been expecting.”
  • Ed Morrissey: “Rarely have we heard a Cabinet official tell Americans to stay out of political debates at the risk of losing their businesses. It points out the danger in having government run industries and holding a position where politicians can actually destroy a business out of spite.”
  • Michael Barone: “Sebelius is threatening to put health insurers out of business in a substantial portion of the market if they state that Obamacare is boosting their costs…The threat to use government regulation to destroy or harm someone’s business because they disagree with government officials is thuggery. Like the Obama administration’s transfer of money from Chrysler bondholders to its political allies in the United Auto Workers, it is a form of gangster government.”
  • Eugene Volokh: “even if such action would be constitutionally permissible, it would be quite troubling, as would threats that seem to hint as such action: It would involve the Administration’s deliberately trying to suppress criticism of its policies, under a ‘misinformation’ standard that sounds highly subjective and politically contestable. (Consider [Sebelius’] reference ‘to our analysis and those of some industry and academic experts’ — what about the analysis of other industry and academic experts?) Perhaps I’m missing some important context here. But my first reaction is that this is ominous behavior on the Administration’s part, and seems to have both the intent and effect of suppressing criticism of the Administration’s policies — including criticism that simply expresses opinions the Administration dislikes, and makes estimates that it disagrees with, and not just criticism that contains objectively demonstrable ‘misinformation.’”

In The Wall Street Journal, economist Russ Roberts recently explained one of the main themes of Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom:

When the state has the final say on the economy, the political opposition needs the permission of the state to act, speak, and write. Economic control becomes political control.

One need not agree with all of Hayek’s conclusions to see how ObamaCare is threatening political freedom.