Roger Kimball on Hayek:

Roger Kimball has an interesting and perceptive look at Hayek, inspired by the release of the new scholarly edition of The Road to Serfdom, edited by Bruce Caldwell:

Hayek’s fundamental insight, enlarging Smith’s thought, is that the spontaneous order created and maintained by competitive market forces leads to greater prosperity than a planned economy.

The sentimentalist cannot wrap his mind, or his heart, around that datum. He cannot understand why we shouldn’t favor “co- operation” (a pleasing-sounding arrangement) over “competition” (much harsher), since in any competition there are losers, which is bad, and winners, which may be even worse. Socialism is a version of sentimentality.


The socialist, the sentimentalist, cannot understand why, if people have been able to “generate some system of rules coordinating their efforts,” they cannot also consciously “design an even better and more gratifying system.” Central to Hayek’s teaching is the unyielding fact that human ingenuity is limited, that the elasticity of freedom requires the agency of forces beyond our supervision, that, finally, the ambitions of socialism are an expression of rationalistic hubris. A spontaneous order generated by market forces may be as beneficial to humanity as you like; it may have greatly extended life and produced wealth so staggering that, only a few generations ago, it was unimaginable. Still, it is not perfect. The poor are still with us. Not every social problem has been solved. In the end, though, the really galling thing about the spontaneous order that free markets produce is not its imperfection but its spontaneity: the fact that it is a creation not our own. It transcends the conscious direction of human will and is therefore an affront to human pride.

Those interested in my latest take on Hayek (which reasons along similar lines) can download "Posner, Hayek, and the Economic Analysis of Law" here.


Oops, a commenter noted that I forgot to link Kimball's article, which I have now corrected.