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Most Libertarians Don't Understand Friedrich Hayek, Says Peter Boettke: Podcast

In a bold new book about Hayek, the George Mason economist says "too much time and effort has been put into repackaging and marketing a fixed doctrine of eternal truths."

With populism on the rise, capitalism under attack, and socialism back in vogue, the work of Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek (1899–1992) is more relevant than ever. Hayek started his career as a wunderkind professor, joining the faculty of the London School of Economics in his early 30s, and was a central figure in the debates that consumed the profession during the Great Depression. He would go on to spend most of his seven-decade-long career as an outsider, his work diverging from the mainstream following the Keynesian revolution of the 1930s and '40s. Eventually the world circled back to Hayek's ideas, and he was one of two recipients of the 1974 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics.

Today, Hayek is best known for his enduring insights on emergent order, for his critique of central planning, and for his argument that all knowledge in society is decentralized and that a modern economy thus relies on the coordinating role of prices and private property. In his final book, The Fatal Conceit, Hayek wrote that "the curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design."

Hayek's enormous body of work is the subject of a new book by the George Mason University economist Peter Boettke, which takes a deep dive into Hayek's writing and serves as a rousing call for a serious rethinking of libertarian and classical liberal thought.

"Liberalism is in need of renewal," writes Boettke, who started his career as an expert on post-communist economics in the former Soviet Union. "Too much time and effort has been put into repackaging and marketing a fixed doctrine of eternal truths, rather than rethinking and evolving to meet the new challenges." Even Hayek, Boettke notes, made mistakes late in his career, such as his kind words for the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Hayek's great legacy is his understanding of economics and liberal political theory as a process for creating a world in which individuals and society could become more free, equal, and prosperous over time.

In this Reason Podcast, I talk with Boettke about the historical and intellectual context of Hayek's thought, the influence of Hayek's mentor Ludwig von Mises on his work, and how libertarians can follow Hayek's dictum that "we must make the building of a free society once more an intellectual adventure, a deed of courage."

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Audio production by Ian Keyser.

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Photo Credit: Adam Smith Institute

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  • HenryC||

    Pinochet does deserve some kind words. Chile is much better off for his rule despite its totalitarian and murderous nature. He also gave up that power to free elections when he did not have to. The contrast between Chile and Venezuela today could not be greater in both wealth and freedom. Of the right wing totalitarian military junta's he led by far the most successful one in South American history, and there have been many.

  • Uncle Adolf's Gas and Grill||

    Giving leftist agitators free helicopter rides probably did as much, if not more, to improve Chile's fortunes as his market reforms did.

  • Mickey Rat||

    It is damning Hayek for making the best of what was happening instead holding out for what ought to have happened. There was not a third choice that was morally purer available at the time.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    Even if there is no better third option, it doesn't mean one has to praise either of the two other crappy options.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    What did he say about Pinochet?

  • DRM||

    Given the events in Venezuela, the great tragedy of that country is that they had no Pinochet to overthrow the democratically-elected socialist president in his third year of rule. Insofar as refusing to praise Pinochet allows more Chavezes to wreak destruction, it is immoral to withhold praise for Pinochet.

  • ||

    At least Italians made Mussolini account for his actions.

    Will Venezuelans have the same balls with Maduro and the socialists who destroyed their lives?

  • ||

    It is damning Hayek for making the best of what was happening instead holding out for what ought to have happened. There was not a third choice that was morally purer available at the time.

    I believe Milton Friedman's line was something to the effect of "if Hitler asked you for advice on how to run his government, would you turn him down?"

  • sharmota4zeb||

    That reminds me, I'm thinking of applying to be an adviser for Ocasio-Cortez so I can encourage her to endorse the settlement of Orange County, NY. Should I?

  • vek||

    That's the thing a lot of idiots don't get... In some situations a perfectly moral, elected government, being nice to everybody just isn't on the table. When people are being violent extremists you must respond in kind. If you don't, you will lose. That's why every democracy/republic I know of from Rome to the USA had martial law provisions of some sort.

    Pinochet saved his country from far greater harm. I'm not going to fault him for killing commies when those commies needed to be killed!

    I think the USA is a lot closer to needing our own Pinochet than a lot of libertarians like to admit too.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    Chile is much better off for his rule despite its totalitarian and murderous nature.

    Right, that's generally what people have a problem with.

    He also gave up that power to free elections when he did not have to.

    lol, "did not have to"

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    ...how libertarians can follow Hayek's dictum that "we must make the building of a free society once more an intellectual adventure, a deed of courage."

    No one can make change that way. It's populism, not high-minded lecturing. That's not today's world. It's like Hayek never even heard of social media.

  • TLBD||

    Honestly, the problem starts with education in the first place. Something like 70% of the population is financially illiterate in regards to even basic finances. It is no wonder socialism sounds so great to people who hear all of the supposed benefits while the costs are hidden or unrecognizable to them.

  • esteve7||

  • esteve7||

    there's so much in there to take in. I love how at the end, all the 'elites' flock to Keynes and all the normal people flock to Hayek

  • AlmightyJB||

    That was awesome:)

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Love, love, love that video. The first one is also great.

  • Les||

    People who bother to give Pinochet kind words are living with a pre-20th century moral code, no different than religious fundamentalists. If Hayek had lived long enough, I hope he would have realized and admitted his mistake.

    As the world continues to improve in most every measurable way, the folks who point out the silver linings of tyrants and mass-murderers will continue to become increasingly irrelevant in any practical way, and as worthy of mocking scorn as they have been through the ages.

    Results are irrelevant if the means to achieve them are primitive, murderous, amoral, and antithetical to a free society.

  • Mickey Rat||

    The option that is the opposite of those things is not always on the table.

  • Uncle Adolf's Gas and Grill||

    Given that primitive, murderous and amoral is pretty much a capsule description of human history, presumably we'll never achieve a free society. Should we just say fuck it and head back to the caves?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I don't know if we'll ever get a way that man is perfect though. Which is, best I can see, what you're saying. Your idea is that society will reach a point where no one will ever advocate, or say something, that is later deemed immoral. That man will reach a point where all politics will be so good that horrible compromise won't be made.

    Beyond your point that a man's work, his entire life, is null because of one minor aspect of it.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    I dunno, BUCS. Pinochet executed thousands of people. That's not a small thing.

  • vek||

    You do know that in Pinochet's case almost every single person he executed was an actual radical communist right? He wasn't just rounding up random people off of street corners because he didn't like the look of them or something. That was the kind of thing Stalin did.

    It's like the equivalent of rounding up every member of the Taliban or something and whacking them. Not exactly an unreasonable thing to do if you don't want the Taliban to take over your country!

  • DRM||

    An example of the "irrelevant" results:

    Under-5 mortality rates per 1,000 live births by country, 1973:
    Chile: 75.0
    Venezuela: 56.9

    Under-5 mortality rates per 1,000 live births by country, 1990:
    Chile: 19.1
    Venezuela: 29.6

    Every one of those years, Venezuela was rated 1 or 2 in Political Rights by Freedom House. With the exception of the last two years in Chile, it was rated 7 or 6 in Political Rights by Freedom House.

  • vek||

    Les, you live in a fantasy world that will never exist. Violence is sometimes the only way to deal with certain bad people. If you're too cowardly to do what needs to be done, an even greater evil will take place. That's all there is to it. People are fucked, and that will never change.

    See the rise of ANTIFA in recent years if you think we're past bad people pushing politics with violence. Frankly we'd be better off if people on the right had curb stomped every one of those people to death the first time they went violent. It will probably come to that eventually the way things are going...

  • Old Mexican - Mostly Harmless||

    Meanwhile, in Trumpista-land,

    The tariffs imposed by President Trump have reportedly cost Ford $1 billion, reports Fortune. Now, the company is announcing layoffs.


    Making America Grating again, one destroyed job at a time...

  • sharmota4zeb||

    Glad you brought it up, Old Mexican - Mostly Harmless. The forces of creative destruction are redirecting the Chinese resources that had been going towards making cheap holiday toys for American kids. They are replacing substandard housing in China now. I hope the tariffs decline again on general principle, but I'm not going to freak out over them. The trade war is a continuation of Obama's rhetoric. It's a problem we'll fight with calm explanations to our neighbors.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    We're not talking about a general tariff to protect American industries. We're talking about a trade war with China, the EU, Canada, and Mexico. Vietnam stocks are rallying as people expect USA firms to buy products from Vietnam suppliers.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    "we must make the building of a free society once more an intellectual adventure, a deed of courage."

    There are people doing this right now and they're almost universally dismissed as problematic by chattering classes.

  • ||

    And when they're not being dismissed as "problematic by chattering classes" they're being dismissed as "leftists" and "proggies" by the far right.

  • ThomasD||

    A free society can only be built by free peoples.

    Permission ain't freedom.

  • vek||

    When exactly did illegalizing speech you don't like, banning straws, and taking 3/4s of someone's income become "freedom?"

  • sharmota4zeb||

    It's been that way ever since the progs decided that their perspective is the only one that will survive the war. The progs see themselves as free to ban other people's speech, free to save the oceans by banning straws, and free to end poverty by taking 3/4 of someone's income. The problem with replacement theology is the way it deafens believers to opinions of unbelievers.

  • ||

    It hasn't and nobody that I was referring to has advocated that.

  • Weigel's Cock Ring||

    I'm surprised Dipshit Dave Weigel hasn't shown up here yet. He loves pretending to be an expert on Hayek almost as much as he loves pretending to be an expert on financial investing.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    "Dipshit"!? You might want to pick a new handle. In my experience, a cock ring makes the night more enjoyable. Your crude words give the impression that you think a cock ring is annoying. Did you ever try the vibrating variety? My local CVS sells them next to the condoms and dildos.

  • ThomasD||

    Liberalism isn't so much in need of renewal as is in need of a serious delousing in order to drive out the progressive infestation.

  • ThomasD||

    Liberalism isn't so much in need of renewal as is in need of a serious delousing in order to drive out the progressive infestation.

  • vek||

    Pretty much. The policy positions overlap sometimes, but the thought process to arrive at them is completely different. Too many so called libertarians arrive at their opinions through the proggie mindset, and not for libertarian reasons.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    Progs are like the survivors from a terrorist hostage situation. They attended government run schools. We need a system to wean them off the insanity. Maybe we should start by reminding them who ran their schools and asking them to describe the high school teachers they liked. The first step in recovery could be making the victim realize he was a hostage in the first place.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    Sometimes, circumstances justify libertarians introducing topics to progs in a concrete Socratic way. For example, 10 libertarians can show up to a communist meeting, refuse to sit down when the meeting starts, and then ask the communists to explain why they have a right to expel them from the meeting. Anything sort of citing John Locke's "A Letter Concerning Toleration" just won't do.

  • Bob Mitchell||

    That article didn't make me want to read more.

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