F.A. Hayek

Barney Frank: Even Hayek Agrees With Me! (That Only Increasing Federal Spending by 35 Percent Over A Decade Means the State Is "Just Doing Nothing")


It has long been an inside-libertarian-baseball joke when contemplating the rhetorical uses of F.A. Hayek--firmly identified with the libertarian movement and libertarian thought yet accepting the necessity of many government activity that other libertarians don't--that his first name might as well be "Even."

That's as in, "Even Hayek agrees with [whatever government program]…." used as a rhetorical trope to quiet more radically antistate libe


Barney Frank in a recent interview with New York provides an amazing example of this:

You were talking about the Republicans and not being able to work with them. But isn't your ultimate beef with the voters, since it's the voters who reward that behavior?

I'm glad you said that, you're very smart. These days, in developed countries, everybody says you need a private sector to create wealth, you need a public sector to create rules by which wealth is created. Sensible people understand that. The tension between left and right has been where you draw that line, but it's been a contest between people who see maybe a 20 percent overlap. Let me read this to you. [Picks up copy of Friedrich von Hayek's The Road to Serfdom.] "In no system that could be rationally defended would the state just do nothing." ­[Closes book.]

Do you read Hayek a lot?

For these purposes. For the first time in American history, we have people in power now who reject that idea. If they knew it was Hayek, they might think, Well, maybe. But they reject the public sector. That's why we can't work together.

Frank reads Hayek--explicitly to use him to bash anyone he thinks is more anti-government than Hayek. It's Murray Rothbard's world now, we're just suffering under a staggeringly large government in it, apparently. (Frank also once used Hayek and Mises to shame Republicans for not being sufficiently anti-government--the proper use of the great Austrian economists!--when it comes to agricultural subsidies.)

Yes, F.A. Hayek is not an anarchist. To imply, however, that that anti-Hayekian anarchist position is so dominant in policy or political discourse that it's time to bring out the big gun of Hayek (really, Frank carries around a copy of Road to Serfdom to make this point? This sounds like an alt-world sketch comedy bit) to combat it is wildly delusional. Yes, Frank's Republican foes, who can't name a single function of modern government they'd actually end, who offer up a budget plan that will not reduce government spending, either in whole numbers or as percentage of GDP, and will not eliminate the debt or balance the budget--those dangerous loons are anarchists who believe the state should just "do nothing." Except for everything, and at continuously crippling expense.

It warms my heart, a bit, that anarcho-libertarianism idea is now so feared after being so long ignored. But to use fear of anarchy as a weapon against any attempt to keep this insanely overspending overreaching federal government from going over a cliff is delusional and just plain wrong. Apparently anything short of increasing government spending even more than Paul Ryan's GOP budget will over the coming decades is tantamount to the state doing nothing.

For a long essay on the distinctions and conflicts between Hayek's brand of libertarianism and the anarchistic strain represented by Murray Rothbard, see my essay "A Tale of Two Libertarianisms." Indeed, Rothbard feared hyping Hayek as the king of libertarianism would lead to exactly the result we see in Frank's comment: Hayek being used as the sine qua non of libertarian thought to bash any more highly refined or anti-state brand.

Google "Even Hayek admits…."!

Ayn Rand on Hayek, as quoted from my book Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement, from handwritten margin notes in her copy of his books:

She thinks Hayek's definition of a person's "own sphere" in which his views are suprrme could be narrowed down to "mere breathing…; Hayek's rejection of "dogmatic laissez-faire attitude" gets him called "The God Damned abysmal fool."… When Hayek accepts that certain goods, like roads and pollution abatement, need to be supplied by government, he is "so saturated with the bromides of collectivism that it is terrifying."…When Hayek talks of the "very defined limits" in which individualism "allows" people to follow "their own values and preferences rather than somebody else's," Rand thunders, "Oh God damn the total, complete, vicious bastard! This means that man does exist for others, but since he doesn't know how to do it, the masters will give him some 'defined limits' for himself."