Monday, 12 December 2011

On the gist of "The Road to Serfdom"

It is usual to summarise the gist of “The Road to Serfdom” as the thesis of that an increasing level of government intervention in markets inevitably leads to further interventions. A commonplace and an even more common error of interpretation. That thesis is not Friedrich Hayek’s, but Ludwig v. Mises’.

What is pointed out in “The Road to Serfdom” is that dirigisme requires quick and pragmatic solutions to problems arisen by the unintended consequences of its own interventions. In this scenario, the constitutional system of checks and balances appears as an obstacle to achieve an expedient solution to such problems –and this is indeed its proper function.

Thus, the constitutional requirement of passing a law by the Congress or Parliament is considered as too slow a process for dirigisme. In the road to serfdom, disregarding the constitutional proceedings to pass a law, both formal and substantial, the executive branch receives, increasingly, extraordinary faculties to legislate in order to solve the maladies that previous policies had engendered. That is how matters of expedience subdue reasons based on principles.

One could agree or not on the possibility or probability of that process to take place. Notwithstanding, that is the “road to serfdom” as Hayek stated it, not the misleading formulation that we usually find in several discussions related to him.

Friday, 16 September 2011

A Perennial Conflict

Contrary to a warning recently heard, the present importance of “The Road to Serfdom” does not come from any current menace to Western democracy. Actually, the interest of the book emerges from the perennial conflict between rule of law and expediency.

The burden of duties placed on contemporary governments makes them divert from constitutional principles into matters of expedience. Since those legal principles condense a large amount of data concerning human affairs, fed into by different sources, the public policy arisen from matters of expediency, disregarding the whole picture and focused on the poor amount of data at hand for the policy maker, has a higher probability to fail than administration subject to the law.

Afterwards, the disarray thrown into by bad policy will lead to further anomalies and further public policies purely based on expediency, a sort of positive feedback system –and in that process consists the road to serfdom.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

On Francis Fukuyama's coda to his article on Hayek in The New York Times

Hayek did not actually criticise Cartesianism in itself, but rather “Cartesian Dualism”. In “Law, Legislation and Liberty”, Chapter I, paragraph “Reason and abstraction”, he explained his position on rationality, abstraction and evolutionism: abstraction is not a conscious operation of the agent upon reality, but it is what constitutes his perceptions of it –and what is subject to blind evolution. So, I do not see such contradiction in Hayek’s thought as Fukuyama does.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Competitive Order

Following the advice of a friend of mine, I have just discovered the value of “ ‘Free’ Enterprise and Competitive Order”, the speech Friedrich Hayek had delivered in occasion of 1947’s Mont Pellerin Society meeting. I found it as a sort of piece of philosophy of public policy, very appropriate for the present years.

In that paper, Hayek states that the “continued movement toward more government control” is mostly due to the lack of “a consistent philosophy of the groups which wish to oppose it”, groups that advocate free enterprise but not a competitive order.

Hayek qualifies “the impression that abandonment of all harmful of unnecessary activity” is “the consummation of all political wisdom” as a “fatal tactical mistake”. In this sense, he calls for assuming that “demands for greater security and greater equality” will “determine action for a long time to come and carefully to consider how far a place can be found for them in a free society”.

Hayek presents the concept of competitive order as the political programme of making competition work, not by mere absence of intervention on free enterprise, but by an active prevention of monopolies. He also points out that the “preconditions of a competitive order” require a monetary and financial policy and some sort of provision to “be made for the unemployed and the unemployable poor”.

To summarize, Hayek claims to “pay deliberate attention to the moral temper of the contemporary man”, trying to canalize his “energies from the harmful policies to which they are now devoted to a new effort on behalf of individual freedom”.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

A question open to a far reaching misinterpretation

Most advocates of individual liberty who are fond of Hayek`s work usually show disregard for the value of written bodies of laws and praise the judge-made law systems. In fact, Hayek, at the beginning of chapter 5 of Law, Legislation and Liberty, stated that “the ideal of individual liberty seems to have flourished chiefly among people where, at least for long periods, judge-made law predominated.”

But this citation is moderated by the whole book which it is taken from. What Hayek posited was a matter subject to probability. Laws emerging from judiciary precedent are more likely to be purposeless and oriented to fulfill expectations of what is to be regarded as just conduct. Since the written law is sanctioned by a legislator, the temptation to provide the law with a certain purpose and a social design is hard to be resisted.

Nevertheless, Hayek admitted that the legislation must act in order to prevent judges from obeying certain interests of a particular group or class –in which case a judge-made law would be purpose-oriented and a menace to individual liberty. Furthermore, Hayek stated that it is possible for codified system of law to articulate a set of norms of just conduct so long as they were not orientated themselves towards any particular aim.

As we have said, this is not a problem of essences but of probabilities.