Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hayek's Disclaimers

Overall, so far I’m liking “The Constitution of Liberty.” Hayek’s introduction successfully gives a conceptual framework for both what he is to be discussing and in what manner he is going use to tackle the topic of Liberty, while using the tool kit of not only economics, but of other social sciences such as philosophy and political science.
I found though, that in his introduction two of what I’ll call his disclaimers has really sparked an interest in me. These disclaimers are specific approaches that Hayek notes he is to use throughout the work. Both of these points have multiple reasons as to why they capture my attention. It may simply be that I don’t really understand why Hayek wants to take, that particular approach or that it is an approach in itself sounds very difficult to use.
1.) The answers to the “pressing social questions of our times…are to be found ultimately in principles that lie outside the scope of technical economics or any other discipline.” For this reasoning Hayek apologizes for not venturing deeply in economics in his journey to define and explore liberty. I find his statements about the idea of our personal willingness to accept a specialist’s view without question as threat to freedom, most interesting. He states that this is one of the most important lessons had he had learned in his work on this book (pp4). Perhaps I am taking this the wrong way, but my mind found itself ultimately going to the idea of specialization. Specialization, though, I thought was one of the few ideas that economists typically agree on and you know….really like. I don’t know if any of you guys took the passage differently. I was thinking that it would be very interesting to elaborate on this point.
2.) The statements regarding that this entire work will be completed with an approach, which is to cut out emotions when dealing with the ideas of freedom and liberty. I find this a very interesting disclaimer for Hayek to make. I understand that it might be an effort to make sure this work is not to be labeled as propaganda and looked at in an academic manner. However, for me I think it will be interesting to see how Hayek or anyone in particular could ever possibly do this. I mean liberty is an emotionally charged topic. The word alone is filled with strong connotations for anyone who sets their eyes upon it. I was thinking about all the quotes that are used at the beginning of each chapter of the work and how these are in themselves filled with emotions. I will have to keep reading and see how the heck Hayek achieves this approach, as I would think that it is impossible not to bring emotion into the picture of liberty.

5 comments:

  1. Reply to 1. You make the point that in general economists view specialization as favorable yet you interpret Hayek to argue against this. I do not think that is Hayek's intent. I believe what he is referring to is specialists in government. For example experts who have determined that it is in my best interest to purchase health insurance, because surely I am not wise enough to decide for myself. Experts who have decided I may not consume adult beverages until I am 21 because surely they are more wise than me. He is referring to experts using their knowledge to justice tyranny.

    Think back to the pre-holocaust eugenics programs both in the US and Europe. These were run by experts in an effort to upgrade the human genome. If you where selected you would be sterilized against your will for the so called betterment of man kind. He is speaking out against the experts that tell you that you cant use recreational drugs, the experts who tell you you must pay in to social security, the experts who say, etc.

    He is arguing we need to have more faith in our own decisions and not submit and not allow this government tyranny of the experts.

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  3. Thanks for the comment. I see how this interpretation makes a lot more sense and is in line with the way that economists typically view the manner of how choices should be made. However, due to the vagueness in which Hayek refers to other specialists and experts I made judgments about the work which lie outside his main point.
    At the same time I wonder though if we can possibly draw this thick line between this way of thinking and all other schools of thought. I guess to me there seems to be some sort of paradox in this reasoning at some point. "The ever recurring conflict between the economist and other specialists will repeatedly come up in this book...I want to make it quite clear here that the economist can not claim special knowledge which qualifies him to co-ordinate the efforts of other specialists" Hayek then notes economists are the only ones who deeply understand that a society knows more than any person or group of persons and how due to this reasoning Economics or any one single area of specialty can't not define what choices should be made because they don't fully know the answers. However, to me in the economic way of thinking the absence of interfering with humans choices and that this in itself is still a choice (choosing to let others have liberty is still using your specialty school of thought to change how efforts can be coordinated).
    In this work Hayek will not just use economic lens. Granted this follows on the point that all of these experts don't know what society does, if economists know this well wouldn't you want to use economics to show this rather than diving into other "specialties" when these other disciplines are coined to not understand?...At the same time this makes sense though since no one discipline should force a position. ok, ok, I'm just going to stop be because I'm over analyzing this and making no coherent sense at this point.

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  4. "However, to me in the economic way of thinking the absence of interfering with humans choices..."

    Indeed. However, humans interfere with each other all the time, and it often becomes a choice of who to restrict.

    You may be familiar with Coase and his theorem: that when transaction costs are low, you (i.e. the government) can pretty much assign property rights to either party, walk away, and the efficient use of the resource will be the outcome.

    Assuming for a moment that we are in one of those low transaction moments, we still have to decide who assign property rights to. Do we flip a coin? No, as moral persons, we have the obligation to take into account other, more normative, economic factors into account. What particular set of ethics and values inform us at that point is an individual question, but it is a question an economist making recommendations must ask if he is to do his job well. Economics gives us tools of analysis, but to only look at one toolbox leaves the job half-done.

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  5. "So, while specialization does work in specific areas of human activity (division of labor, comparative advantage!), beware the specialist who tells you how to live your life and how to organize society in its last detail of engineering." - Nikolai G. Wenzel

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