I have enormous respect for Hayek because he has an interesting methodological take on economics and because he supports evolutionary methods in economics. First, he takes a methodological position opposing the position taken by most economists because he often advocates a non-mathematical approach. Second, he argues for strongly for an evolutionary perspective on economics, which results in him advancing a theory of group selection. But I do not agree with the conclusions he draws from the positions he takes, namely that of high libertarianism, or a state that exists purely to uphold laws and to act as defence against outside forces and not to 'interfere' in other ways. Nevertheless, I believe that many of his arguments against socialism are accurate and should be better recognised and negotiated by socialists and statists alike. But Hayek also makes several errors, some of which I will bring up in this review, mainly those conceived by academics I have read, but about which you may not know.
First, he conflates a notion of a firm as actor and an individual as actor when firms are not individuals and markets often do not operate with an internal market structure, i.e., people are not priced within firms, they are managed. The problem with this is that corporatism and competition are often incompatible, or, at least, firms that have obtained substantial market share will spend substantial amounts of money to maintain that market share (see Herbert Simon on this). Second, he does not discuss the benefits of monopolies, and neither does he do much to consider Schumpeter's arguments about the roles of monopolies and entrepreneurs as innovators (maybe I've missed something), nor does he consider the extent to which markets facilitate lock-in and monopolization and which, if harmful, cannot be undone without suitable government intervention. Third, he articulates how human society needs both filial ties and commercial ties for it to function well, but he does not accurately specify the exact limits of each, and when he tries to make some arguments as to some limits (i.e. market interactions are 'commercial' family interactions not), they often seem forced rather than well-argued or evidence-based, that is what about gift exchange, or charitable giving, or helping a neighbour, doing volunteer work? Where exactly does the boundary lie and why? Does the boundary exist at all, or is it a hangover of Adam's Fallacy (as Duncan Foley might put it). Fourth, and probably most importantly, Hayek does not speak about power and the market - not market power, but how individuals with amassed market share have political power outside of the market and in the political sphere. They can, and do, exert power over others in a way that is anti-democratic and anti-liberty (Gerry Cohen wrote about this in his critique of Nozick Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality). There are several other problems with the book, but these are the ones that leapt out at me.
That said, Hayek commands his territory well. He bulwarks private (several) property with many strong arguments, defends an epistemology based on evolutionary arguments for economies and group selection in particular, marshals an attack on more mainstream economic thinking (his famed 'Fatal Conceit' chapter) and socialistic thinking in particular, and continues onward to garner a position that stands for both a minimal state, yet with specific liberties. But when reading the book, I got the sense, disturbingly, that Hayek would rather live in an authoritarian state that defends private property than a democracy that does not, would this be to prevent the slide down the The Road to Serfdom (Routledge Classics)? This jars with my senses of liberty and democracy. Nonetheless, the book is a landmark of libertarian philosophy and must be read by any ambitious scholar of the institutions and mechanisms of capitalism and human cooperation.
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For those who wonder why the promised utopia of state intervention never seems to work out as planned, this book provides the answer. Hayek addresses a much ignored theme, namely how institutions like money, markets and trade developed spontaneously and flourished because they were superior to any alternatives, not because they were consciously designed. He makes a powerful argument for tampering with these at our peril, and does so in a style that is not beyond the scope of a reader not familiar with economic theory. This book would represent excellent value were it ten times the actual price.
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