Would Hayek Have Approved Obamacare?

George Mason's Erik Angner on the libertarian economist's mostly unacknowledged support for redistribution.


Would Friedrich Hayek—the Nobel-winning economist who inspired Margaret Thatcher's free-market reforms and is a hero to libertarians everywhere—have supported Obamacare?

"He would have been in favor of mandates," George Mason University philosophy professor Erik Angner tells Reason's Nick Gillespie. "The first thing to know about Hayek is that he was actually for redistribution," continues the author of 2007's Hayek and Natural Law.

While stressing Hayek's aversion to top-down economic planning and governmental interference with the price system, the Swedish-born scholar nonetheless points to works such as The Road to Serfdom and The Constitution of Liberty in which Hayek flatly endorses a publicly provided social safety net and, like another free-market intellectual giant, Milton Friedman, discusses a guaranteed minimum income.

In a controversial Politco op-ed published in 2012, Angner wrote that while Britain's National Health System and the price-rigging elements of Obamacare violate Hayekian principles, creating an individual mandate and giving poor Americans some amount of money to spend on health care as they see fit does not. To Angner, vouchers for health care would function similarly to vouchers for education, helping to create stronger market forces and spurring the sort of competition that would lead to a more efficient and robust system.

"You can be for markets without being against redistribution," says Angner, who argues that Hayek thus offers a true alternative to contemporary liberals and leftists on the one hand and libertarians and conservatives on the other.

Produced by Amanda Winkler. Camera by Meredith Bragg and Amanda Winkler. 

About 8 minutes.

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