Friday, September 30, 2011

The offending passage

After accusing me of making things up because I quoted him verbatim and accurately portrayed the content of his post, Greg Ransom's real concern came to light: I was not aware of the real intent of his post, which he never bothered to tell anyone about. Now, I never attributed any particular intent to him in anything I wrote - but since I now know his intent now, we can move forward.

The real offending passage for Greg is this one:

"Hayek, a founder of that school of thought, is primarily known for two major works. The first, The Road to Serfdom (1944), grudgingly accepts the possibility that some “free” countries might find it necessary to set up a bare-minimum catastrophic social insurance program limited to the very neediest, so long as the benefits do not incentivize productive members of society to abandon free-market retirement savings or medical insurance.

Hayek’s comparatively liberal attitude toward social insurance hardened considerably by the time he published his 1960 opus, The Constitution of Liberty. Despite privately spending the intervening years paying into Social Security, Hayek devoted an entire chapter—titled “Social Security”—to denouncing the modern welfare state as a gateway to tyranny and moral decay. Ironically, one of Hayek’s main objections to government programs like Social Security was the “fundamental absurdity” of using tax dollars to promote their benefits. In other words, Hayek publicly objected to the kind of brochure that Charles Koch sent him. In their private correspondence, however, we could find no objection to this “fundamental absurdity.”

By the mid-1970s, Hayek had fully distanced himself from the modest benefits he’d originally conceded to in The Road to Serfdom. In his preface to the 1976 edition, he explained his “error”: “I had not wholly freed myself from all the current interventionist superstitions, and in consequence still made various concessions which I now think unwarranted
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"

Nobody reading Greg's blog who didn't realize this should feel that bad. He never told you he had a problem with this particular passage and he refused to quote or link to any particular passage. You should not feel bad that you can't read his mind.

But this does clarify the issue at hand. Greg has no reason to believe that the Koch letter to Hayek is in any way a fabrication. So when he calls Zernike "incompetent", "intentionally deceptive", and the two authors "reeking sewer rats from the bowels of Russia", I want to make it clear that he does not think that they are "reeking sewer rats from the bowels of Russia" because they brought to light this interesting information about Koch, Hayek, and the human resources policies of the IHS. Rather, Greg Ransom thinks that these journalists are "reeking sewer rats from the bowels of Russia" because they misrepresent Hayek's views in the Constitution of Liberty.

Greg Ransom thinks Hayek was pro-Social Security, in other words. And he's mad at these people for suggesting otherwise.

I haven't read The Constitution of Liberty, but I'm checking it out today to take a look. Needless to say, I'm not taking Greg's word for any of this. If anyone else is familiar with it, or wants to read on it too I encourage them to and to report back here. Is Greg right that these two journalists are "reeking sewer rats from the bowels of Russia" for this? And even if they do misrepresent Hayek's views, that seems to a large extent secondary. This seems like an important statement about Koch and the IHS too.

Anyway - it would have been much clearer from the outset if Greg had just written a post that said "I want to congratulate Levine and Zernike on the work they did to uncover this evidence of Hayek's genuine support for a social safety net" The whole "reeking sewer rats from the bowels of Russia" thing was a little vague, but now we are clear.

Let me know what you all think of Constitution of Liberty, if you get a chance to look at it.

14 comments:

  1. Its good to know this Greg has a high opinion of Slavs like me. He should write a book about how much he loves us or something.

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  2. I called Levine & Ames sewer rats for Russia because of their sewer rat Russian publication noteworthy for National Enquirer "stories", yellow journalism & pornography, as recounted in the Wikipedia entry on the publication.

    You are hopeless Daniel.

    You continue to suggest that I implied that the Koch letter posted on the letter was a fabricated letter -- I made not such suggestion.

    I am done interacting with you.

    This is too pathetic to waste my time upon.

    And I'm happy to hear that you -- only now -- plan to read The Constitution of Liberty.

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  3. Greg,

    Your comment is the reason people do not like engaging with Austrians.

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  4. Far worse in their mischaracterization of Hayek's work than their Nation article was Levine & Ames yesterday on MSNBC, which they've posted on their lovely little web site.

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  5. These guys aren't "engaging" with anyone. They are smearing Hayek.

    And Daniel is putting words in my mouth that I didn't say.

    Sorry, but I won't stand for people putting false words in my mouth.

    The key thing that Levine & Ames are saying is that Hayek was bought by Big Money and said whatever they paid him to say, and that they paid him to come to America to "destroy" Social Security, just has Hayek had "destroyed" the idea of a social safety net in his TCofL.

    It's silly nonsense - falsehoods spread for a reason.

    And these guys do have a completely disreputable history in "journalism".

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  6. Daniel, read the book -- including the referenced chapter -- and the get back to us on this:

    "Hayek devoted an entire chapter—titled “Social Security”—to denouncing the modern welfare state as a gateway to tyranny and moral decay."

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  7. Hayek changed his views at various points so it can be tricky to know exactly what he did and didn't advocate - I don't think the confusion over that is necessarily a smear.

    As for Hayek and big money: I don't know. The MP society was funded by Swiss banks and insurance companies. Deregulatory ideas tend to resonate well with big business, so they sponsor events, think tanks and so forth. This is an empirical fact.

    Was Hayek himself corrupt? I highly doubt it - he had his values and he stuck to them. But there is quite a lot of money lurking behind the libertarian movement; it's impossible to deny that.

    P.S. As for smears, how do you think it feels being a Keynesian? Keynes has been a victim of more sustained intellectual and personal attacks than any economist in history, even Kalr Marx.

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  8. Hey guys, like I said in the previous post, the priestesses will cut Ransom's throat if they think he's making an inadequate defense of Hayek's legacy.

    Keep this in mind; his life is at stake with every article or blog post misrepresenting Hayek.

    Nobody speak of H-y-k for a while so he can get some sleep.

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  9. In the age of the Internet academics & lefty journalists can't get away with making stuff up without getting called on it.

    Boo hoo.

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  10. Anon,

    You have read right wing papers and blogs, right? Glass houses etc.

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  11. Would you actually use the term sewer-rat to describe a writer for a cruddy publication to the west of Poland, Greg?

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  12. All the way to Godwin's Law in 11 quick comments.

    Beautiful audience you have, Daniel ...

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  13. Nice Strawman Anon.

    I never accused anyone of being a Nazi. Try again.

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  14. "The first, The Road to Serfdom (1944), grudgingly accepts the possibility that some “free” countries might find it necessary to set up a bare-minimum catastrophic social insurance program limited to the very neediest, so long as the benefits do not incentivize productive members of society to abandon free-market retirement savings or medical insurance."

    There is even a grudging acknowledgement of the use of fiscal polcy via public works in downturns:

    “in experimenting in this direction we shall have carefully to watch our step if we are to avoid making all economic activity progressively more dependent on the direction and volume of government expenditure” (Hayek 2001 [1944]: 126).

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