- Editorial Staff
- Readers’ Forum: Order Defined In the Process of Its Emergence. a Note Stimulated By Reading Norman Barry, “the Tradition of Spontaneous Order”
- Bibliographical Essay: John Gray, F. A. Hayek and the Rebirth of Classical Liberalism
- Introduction: the Revival of Interest In Hayek—a Unified Research Program In Hayek's Writings?
- The Unity and Coherence of Hayek's Writings: Conception of Mind & Unity of Knowledge
- Overview of Topics Covered In This Essay
- Hayek's General Philosophy—the Kantian Heritage
- Hayek As a Skeptical Kantian
- Three Influences On Hayek's Skeptical Kantianism: Mach, Popper, and Wittgenstein
- 1. Ernst Mach and Metaphysical Neutrality
- 2. Karl Popper: the Growth of Knowledge
- 3. Wittgenstein & Hayek
- Hayek On Knowledge and Mind: Implications For Social Theory
- Hayek's Kantian Philosophy of Mind
- Hayek's Philosophy of Mind & His Social Theory: Beyond Kantianism
- The Idea of a Spontaneous Social Order
- The Application of Spontaneous Order In Economic Life: the Catallaxy
- The Catallactic Order, Practical Knowledge, and the Calculation Debate
- Hayek's Refinements of the Misesian Calculation Debate
- Theory and Method In Economic Science
- Prediction Vs. ‘complex Phenomena’
- Hayek's Opposition to Apriori Science
- Popperian ‘conjectures & Refutations’
- Some Applications of Hayek's Methodological Views: Keynes, Friedman, and Shackle On Economic Policy
- Hayek Contra Constructivism & Social Engineering
- Hayek Contra Keynes
- Hayek Contra Friedman
- Hayek and Shackle
- Hayek's Constitution of Liberty: Ethical Basis of the Juridical Framework of Individual Liberty
- Clarifying Hayek's Moral Theory
- Hume's Influence On Hayek's Social Philosophy
- Hayek's Utilitarianism & Liberty
- Justice, Liberty, and the Rule of Law In Hayek's Constitution of Liberty
- Criticisms of Hayek's Universalizable ‘rule of Law’
- Meeting Objections to the Universalizability Test
- Kantian Universalizability & Liberal Justice
- Some Criticism of Hayek's System of Ideas: Buchanan and Oakeshott
- James Buchanan On Hayek
- Michael Oakeshott On Hayek
- Hayek's Variant of Classical Liberalism: a Fusing of Libertarian & Traditionalistic Ideals?
- Hayek's Voluntaristic Traditionalism: a Market In Traditions
- Conclusion: Hayek's Research Program & Classical Liberalism
- Bibliography of Friedrich A. Hayek
- Books Edited Or Introduced
- Articles In Journals, Newspapers, Or Collections of Essays
- Works About Or Relevant to Friedrich A. Hayek
Some Applications of Hayek's Methodological Views:
Keynes, Friedman, and Shackle on Economic Policy
Hayek's view that we can at best attain abstract models of social processes, whereas the concrete details of social life will always largely elude theoretical formulation, has large and radical implications in the field of public policy. In brief, it entails that the object of public policy should be confined to the design or reform of institutions within which unknown individuals make and execute their own, largely unpredictable plans of life. In a free society, in fact, whereas there may be a legal policy in respect of economic institutions, there cannot be such a thing as economic policy as it is presently understood, for adherence to the rule of law precludes anything resembling macroeconomic management. Here I do not wish to take up this point, which I will consider later, but rather to spell out the connection between Hayek's methodological views and his belief that most, if not all economic policy as practiced in the postwar world has had a self-defeating effect.
Hayek contra Constructivism & Social Engineering
We have seen that, for Hayek, the most we can hope for in understanding social life is that we will recognize recurring patterns. Hayek goes on to observe:
Predictions of a pattern are...both testable and valuable. Since the theory tells us under which general conditions a pattern of this sort will form itself, it will enable us to create such conditions and to observe whether a pattern of the kind predicted will appear. And since the theory tells us that this pattern assures a maximisation of output in a certain sense, it also enables us to create the general conditions which will assure such a maximisation, though we are ignorant of many of the particular circumstances which will determine the pattern that will appear.62
Hayek's view stands in sharp opposition to any idea of a policy science or a political technology aimed at producing specific desired effects. Such a policy science demands the impossible of its practitioners, a detailed knowledge of a changing and complex order in society. Even Popper's conception of “piecemeal social engineering,” Hayek tells us, “suggests to me too much a technological problem of reconstruction on the basis of the total knowledge of the physical facts, while the essential point about the practical improvement is an experimental attempt to improve the functioning of some part without a full comprehension of the structure of the whole.”63 Indeed Hayek's central point is that understanding the primacy of the abstract in human knowledge means that we must altogether renounce the modern ideal of consciously controlling social life: a better ideal is that of cultivating the general conditions in which beneficial results may be expected to emerge.
Hayek's critique of the constructivistic or engineering approach to social life parallels in an intriguing way that of Michael Oakeshott and of the Wittgensteinian philosopher Rush Rhees. Consider Oakeshott's statement: “The assimilation of politics to engineering is, indeed, what may be called the myth of rationalist politics.”64 Or Rhee's observation (made in criticism of Popper): “There is nothing about human societies which makes it reasonable to speak of the application of engineering to them. Even the most important ‘problems of production’ are not problems in engineering.”65 The conception of social life which talk of social engineering expresses is at fault not only because it presupposes an agreement on goals or ends which nowhere exists but also because it promotes the illusion that political life may become subject to a sort of technical or theoretical control.
Hayek contra Keynes
These general views illuminate much of the rationale of Hayek's opposition not only to Keynesian policies of macroeconomic demand management but also to Friedmanite monetarism. Of course, in the great debates of the Thirties, Hayek had argued forcefully that Keynes in no way provided a general theory of economic discoordination. Again, Hayek always argued that the policies Keynes suggested, depending as they did for their success upon institutional and psychological irrationalities which their very operation would undermine, were bound over the longer run to be self-defeating. In particular, Hayek maintained that Keynesian policies of deficit financing depended for their success upon a widespread money illusion which the policies themselves could not help but erode. Hayek's further objection to Keynesian policies is that, in part because they depend on a defective understanding of the business cycle (which is seen as expressing itself in aggregative variations in total economic activity rather than in a discoordination of relative price structures brought about by a governmental distortion of the structure of interest rates) Keynesian policy-makers, because of their holistic and aggregative bias, find it hard to avoid committing a sort of fallacy of conceptual realism: statistical artefacts or logical fictions are allowed to blot out the subtle and complex relationships which make up the real economy.
Now there is plainly much in Hayek's subtle account of the business cycle, and in his contributions to capital theory, which is difficult and disputable, and to comment on such questions is in any case beyond my expertise. Quite apart from its technical details, however, it is clear that Hayek's critique of Keynesian policies is of a piece with his emphasis on the primacy of the abstract and with his insight into the indispensability of conventions for the orderly conduct of social life. Policies of macroeconomic demand management ask more in the way of concrete knowledge of the real relationships which govern the economy than any administrator could conceivably acquire, and their operation is in the longer run self-defeating. More generally, Hayek's challenge to Keynesian theory is a demand that Keynesians specify in detail the mechanisms whereby an unhampered market could be expected to develop severe discoordination. Only if such mechanisms could be clearly described and (crucially) given a plausible historical application, would a serious challenge to Hayek's own Austrian view—in which it is governmental intervention in the economy which is principally responsible for discoordination—enter the realm of critical debate.
Hayek contra Friedman
In respect to Friedman's proposals for monetary regulation by a fixed rule, Hayek has argued that in a modern democracy no governmental or quasi-governmental agency can preserve the independence of action essential if such a monetary rule is to be operated consistently. More fundamentally, such a policy of adopting a fixed rule in the supply of money is opposed by Hayek on methodological grounds. Such a policy calls for an exactitude in modeling and measuring economic life, and an unambiguity in the definition of money, which it is beyond our powers to attain. Hayek's own objection to Friedman's monetarist proposals is, then, most substantially that money is not the sort of social object that we can define precisely or control comprehensively; Hayek has even suggested that, in recognition of the elusiveness of the monetary phenomenon, we should treat “money” as an adjectival expression,66 applicable to indefinitely many distinct and disparate instruments. Hayek's proposals in this area clearly open up technical questions in monetary theory which I am unqualified to adjudicate. It seems clear, though, that Hayek's proposal favoring currency competition by the private issuance of money would be found objectionable by Friedmanites (who would argue that Hayek exaggerates the effect such competition would have in preventing currency debasement) and by advocates of the classical gold standard. It is clear, nonetheless, that in arguing for the establishment of a monetary catallaxy Hayek has illuminated questions both in monetary theory and in political economy which had hitherto gone largely neglected, but which it is critical that supporters of the market order now examine.
Hayek and Shackle
One objection to Hayek's view may be worth addressing at this point. There is much in Hayek's account of the business cycle, as in his more general account of spontaneous social order, to suggest that he believes economic discoordination results always from institutional factors, so that at any rate large-scale disequilibrium would be impossible in a catallaxy of wholly unhampered markets. Against this view, Hayek's brilliant and largely neglected pupil, G.L.S. Shackle, has argued67 that the subjectivity of expectations must infect the market process with an ineradicable tendency to disequilibrium. It must be allowed that, if we accept Hayek's view of equilibrium as a process in which men's plans are coordinated by trial and error over time, there can be nothing apodictically certain about this process: conceivably, under some conditions of uncertainty in which hither to reliable expectations are repeatedly confounded, large scale discoordination could occur in the market process.
Three counter-observations are in order, however. First, nothing in Shackle's argument tells against the point, defensible both on theoretical grounds and as an historical interpretation, that in practice by far the most destabilizing factor in the market process is provided by governmental intervention. Secondly, and relatedly, it is unclear that the kind of disequilibrium of which Shackle speaks—disequilibrium generated by divergency in subjective expectations—could amount to anything resembling the classical business cycle, which is more plausibly accounted for in Austrian and Hayekian terms as a consequence of governmental intervention in the interest rate structure.
And thirdly, it is unclear that Shackle's argument shows the presence in the market process of any tendency to disequilibrium. What we have in the market process is admittedly a ‘kaleidic’ world, in which expectations, tastes, and beliefs constantly and unpredictably mutate. Yet, providing market adaptation is unhampered, what we can expect from the market process is an uninterrupted series of monetary equilibrium tendencies, each of them asymptotic—never quite reaching equilibrium—and each of them soon overtaken by its successor. In this kaleidic world there may well be no apodictic certainty that we shall never face large-scale, endogenous discoordination, but we are nevertheless on safe ground in preferring that the self-regulating tendencies of the process be accorded unhampered freedom and that governmental intervention be recognized as the major disruptive factor in the market process. We are on safe ground, then, in discerning in the tendency to equilibrium in the market process the formation of spontaneous order in the economic realm.