Sunday, January 30, 2011

La libertad

Hayek won my interest within the first paragraph of this book. We too often forget that ideas are dynamic, based on the particular setting of debate, and not necessarily fixed to the response of an economist (or any specialist). I don't know how I thought the book would have opened, but I cannot adequately express my satisfaction with Hayek's simultaneous assertion of authority and acknowledgment of limitations. One especially poetic statement caught my eye:
"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 all the other specialists. What he may claim is that his professional occupation with the prevailing conflicts of aims has made him more aware than others of the fact that no human mind can comprehend all the knowledge which guides the actions of society and of the consequent need for an impersonal mechanism, not dependent on individual human judgments, which will co-ordinate the individual efforts." Or more concisely, a short while later: "It would be contrary to the whole spirit of this book if I were to consider myself competent to design a comprehensive program of policy."

I believe that intelligent decisions can be made by individuals with an open view of the system. I further believe that non-interference is most often the intelligent decision to be made, precisely because no amount of knowledge presents an adequate view of the full system. It is simple to believe one can learn everything; Hayek is bold enough to admit this is not possible. The fool in a discussion refuses to see the limits of their abilities.

Hayek dives into liberty, the first of his critical freedoms and apparently an idea which demands interference to maintain. Apparently, liberty is a complicated idea. We have a word that flows well from the tongue (in several languages) and elicits generally positive feelings. This means the word will be misused and abused. We are presented with several definitions of liberty. I found the liberty:wealth/power discussion most fascinating. Hayek asks us to recognize that "we may be free and yet miserable." This is critical! We are better off flirting with missed opportunities than mandating actions. Intentions might be great, but it is too easy to take away freedom in attempts to increase wealth.

These questions call to the point in the introduction that no individual is best suited to prescribe what is best. Attempts to spread wealth can directly contradict efforts to spread freedoms. This is made convoluted when the word "liberty" is used to describe both conditions!

1 comment:

  1. I have found that Hayek has always set himself apart from Mises and Rothbard with his lack of apparent hubris and academic disposition.
    I can read the text with great ease knowing that he basically told people who are reading the book not to be stupid. Accepting ones limitations is very important in the growth of an idea. Or in this case, ideal. His extra effort to reduce confusion about terminology is tedious to read but academically praiseworthy. The amount of information he is synthesizing in this work great. I only hope that once given the tools to understand him. We can treat his ideas with critical respect.