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The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism (The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek) Paperback – October 4, 1991
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Adopting an economic and evolutionary approach throughout, Hayak examines the nature, origin, selection and development of the differing moralities of socialism and the market order; he recounts the extraordinary powers that 'the extended order' of the market, as he calls it, bestows on mankind, constituting and enabling the development of civilization.
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Economics might be described as the study of how humans behave when changes happen to things they value and trade: changes in quality, availability, demand, or price. It might more accurately be described as the study of the effects of all the humans behaving, as and after they behave, and the effort to model and predict these effects. Actual human behavior can be inferred but is less important than the aggregate effects. Economics is less concerned with how people react when the price of steel goes up than in what changes in the quantity of steel purchased, the quantity of steel produced and the effects on price and demand for aluminium and other substitutes for steel.
Hayek’s The Fatal Conceit takes a step back farther still, examining aggregate human nature and what happens to those things we value and exchange (buy and sell) when humans have liberty to make their own decisions and security in their persons and their property. The result of this liberty and security is what Hayek calls “the extended order” (or more precisely, the extended order of voluntary human interaction, aka the free market), a self-organizing ecosystem that automatically provides more of something when need or demand goes up and, overall, has advanced our standard of living (wealth) beyond that of the hunter-gatherer societies of the first 90% of our species existence.
No charts, no graphs, no equations, no tables of numbers. Easily read prose that explains Hayek’s conclusions about how human wealth is created and how the extended order operates. In the process Hayek explores our instinctive responses, the communal “micro morality” that enabled small troops of hunter-gatherers to survive, and how these instincts gave way to a “macro morality” based not on instincts but on traditions – the learned results of trial-and-error – as humans began to trade and increase our wealth over the last 10,000 years or so. Though guided by instincts and reason, this macro-morality exists between instinct and reason as the evolving form of what humans have discovered works.
The “Fatal Conceit” is the ancient belief that reason, particularly the reasoning of powerful or educated elites, can manage and operate the human economy (and the creation of wealth and wellbeing) more efficiently and more effectively than the extended order will operate on its own. Much like the discredited idea that modern biological and agricultural expertise can be utilized to manage the Serengeti better than it operates, and has operated for perhaps millions of years, on its own, progressivism and modern socialism update this millennia-old conceit by asserting that modern science and the rationality of the Enlightenment enable humans to intentionally control the details of creation, production, and distribution of human goods and services better than the self-organizing and self-regulating extended order of the free market. In the 1960s, the Ecology Movement explained that natural ecosystems were far too complex for human science and reason to control and that any artificial actions should be undertaken with humility, the expectation of unforeseeable consequences, and the very likely possibilities that those actions would have to be reversed. Hayek asserts that the ecology of human economics, the extended order, is vastly more complex, more dynamic, and more changeable than any natural ecosystem, hence even less amenable to rational control than nature. Limits and boundary conditions, yes, but control no.
Whether you agree or disagree with Hayek’s conclusions, this is an excellent summary of the overall thinking of the leading free-market economists.
This work also displays what I consider some of the more troubling aspects of Hayek's thought in Ch 8 under such headings as "Life has no purpose but itself" and "The calculus of lives." Essentially Hayek argues that because life has no purpose but itself, and capitalism leads to massive population growth, we must conclude that capitalism succeeds by the only criterion of success -- regardless of the degree of misery or suffering displayed by the poor. Hayek is very far from his Smithian roots here and, I think, open to some of the leftist critiques of "biopolitics". (P.s. He is vaguely aware of Foucault here...a connection that deserves more exploration.)
Read this book before you make an idiot of yourself by espousing and supporting Bernie Sanders. .