Boettke on Hayek. Misconceptions

This is the second in a series of slow readings of Peter Boettke’s book on Hayek. The first was a sketch of the Pete’s mission to show how the institutional analysis of social and economic processes charted by Hayek can contribute to a world of peace, freedom and prosperity.

Chapter 1 is “Clarifying Some Misconceptions About Hayek”. The comprehension of significant thinkers is constantly dogged by two things, one is the failure to grasp the leading features or the key themes of their work and the other is the wide circulation of misconceptions, especially by hostile opponents.

Hayek worked over so many fields that several key themes can be found and they are spelled out in various chapters in the book. Possibly the special key theme that Boettke wants us to explore is the potential for institutional studies to advance programs of political economy and political reform that are sensitive to cultural factors and the moral framework of society.

Turning to the major misconceptions Boettke is most concerned with the intellectual content of Hayek’s arguments and it is not part of his brief to engage with critics who have disparaged him for his relationship to the Pinochet administration in Chile and “Thatcher’s Britain”. He refers to the relevant literature on those topics for those who are interested.

On the topic of misconceptions it is illuminating to consider the use and abuse of Margaret Thatcher’s often-repeated words “There is no such thing as society”. Looking at the sentences fore and aft of those fateful seven words it turns out that she was dismissing the idea of society as a big person who is supposed to pick up everyone who falls over. She suggested that the first line resort for people in any kind of trouble is the immediate network of their families and friends. So much for Maggie as an “atomistic individualist”. The same applies to Hayek. Abusive use of those seven words to disparage Thatcher is a sure sign of fool or a victim of a derangement syndrome.

Boettke listed ten main misconceptions. Among them (1) his individualism is based on atomistic (isolated) individuals who are perfectly rational,(2) he saw the price system as perfectly efficient, (3) he was categorically opposed to government action, (5) he thought that anything that emerged spontaneously was good and right, (7) late in his career he gave up methodological individualism in favour of group selection, (8) his ideas on monetary theory and the price system never evolved through his career, (9) he lost the debate with Keynes, (10) he gave away economics circa 1940 and retired to social theory and public intellectual work.

A reminder that people at universities where the library subscribes to Palgrave/Macmillan catalogue might be able to order a version of MyCopy for $US25 rather than the arm and leg that other people have to exchange.

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3 Responses to Boettke on Hayek. Misconceptions

  1. Warty

    Jees, no comments!!
    Not even a squirrel about the source of Maggie’s ‘no such thing as society’ statement!
    Whatever happened to the once extensive fan club of the wondrous Edmund Burke, so desperately needed today?
    I guess we’ve all become supporters of ‘big government’.

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