Challenge 692 Response
The Hayek Manifesto
with Bill Kowaleski
Living Standards, chapter 8, appears in issue 692.
Marco tells Mira that the name of the author of the Hayek Manifesto is an inside joke that has long been forgotten. What might the joke be?
[Bill K.] While the reader only sees snippets of the Hayek Manifesto throughout Living Standards, these should be enough to make it clear that the Manifesto is a mash-up of Marxist, Leninist, and Maoist thought. The central concepts seem to be forced wealth redistribution and class struggle.
Friedrich August von Hayek was an Austrian economist of the early and mid-twentieth century. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics in 1974. Hayek’s work was the antithesis of socialist thought. He was a believer in individual freedom and the power of market forces as opposed to centralized state planning. Everything the reader sees in the Hayek Manifesto is the complete opposite of Hayek’s economic philosophy.
Hayek is today revered especially by the Libertarian movement in the United States. He is part of a group that is known as the Austrian Economists. These economists comprise a pantheon worshiped almost like minor gods by proponents of individual liberty and minimal government interference in economic affairs. In contrast, the Hayek Manifesto advocates the seizure of wealth by the poor.
Readers must surely have inferred by the time they reach chapter 8 and, hopefully, long before then, that Living Standards is a warning to the wealthy. It can be summed up as: “Don’t forget that you are a small minority. Don’t forget that wealth is not always power. Don’t forget that you are always vulnerable to the organized actions of those much more numerous than you. Don’t forget that the people you hire to protect you are themselves the people you fear.”
However, Living Standards is also a warning to the poor. But that part will become clear as further chapters appear.
[Don Webb] Thank you, Bill, for the explanation! Readers do not need to know who the “real” Hayek was in order to appreciate the story, and that’s all to the good. However, readers who do know or who research the name and gather the information you supply here, will begin to see what the joke is: the “clavie” resistance movement has appropriated the name “Hayek” and is using it almost sarcastically.
If I understand correctly, the Hayek Manifesto says, in effect, “Does the ungoverned accumulation of wealth entitle you ‘wealthies’ to live like kings with unbridled power and even in decadence? Don’t look now, but we clavies can do that, too.” The result may invite readers to inquire into the causes of the French Revolution, among others.
In Dark Age Ahead, Jane Jacobs points to historical strains in American society caused by unbridled self-aggrandizement: concentrations of wealth and political power. The consequences are depicted graphically in the chapters of Living Standards we have so far: inequality, injustice, and exploitation.
Jane Jacobs’ solution is almost taboo in American politics and economics. Societies have two separate institutions: the “guardians” and the “traders.” The “trader” instition is the commercial class; the “guardian” institution is government. And the structure has corollaries:
A society that has only the “guardian” institution, such as a communist state, will inevitably become stagnant and impoverished. It will also become thoroughly corrupt because, as I like to say, ”Wherever there’s money, there are people trying to get their hands on it.” And that’s true even when there isn’t much money to be had.
A society that has only the “trader” institution was characterized by Adam Smith himself: a government run by businessmen would be the worst imaginable. Jane Jacobs puts it more bluntly: it would amount to government by organized crime. Therefore, whenever we hear that government should be run “like a business,” we should look for ulterior motives and ask, “Whose business?”
[Gary Inbinder] It’s the time of year for Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Scrooge to the charitable businessmen: Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses? My taxes pay for those institutions. If the poor won’t go to the workhouse, let them die and decrease the surplus population. Bah, humbug!” etc.
Dickens went after the late 18th, early 19th-century economist Malthus and the “Greatest good for the greatest number” Utilitarians. Malthus warned of overpopulation producing a “surplus population.” What to do? The ultimate logic of Utilitarianism: If killing off the surplus population results in the “Greatest good for the greatest number,” start killing.
Remember also the scene with the Spirit of Christmas Present and the two starving children, Ignorance and Want. The early Victorians were reminded of the lessons of the French Revolution. If you can’t bring yourself to help the poor for charity’s sake, at least do it to avoid a bloody revolution and a terror that consumes rich and poor alike.
[Bill K.] Well said, Gary, but I think every generation has to be reminded of these fundamental truths in a new way, or else they can wave off the warning by saying, “That was a long time ago, and things are different now.” Thus, I felt the need to write this in a future context.
[Don W.] And well said, Gary and Bill.
In light of Bill’s reminder and, especially, Gary’s seasonal precedent, I recall a Biblical passage: “For the poor you have with you always” (Mk 14:7). The words are often quoted out of context by Satanist wannabes to prove that the poor are a historical constant and, therefore, like Malthus and Scrooge, nobody need have any concern for their plight.
Rather, Jesus says the opposite: “And whensoever ye will, ye may do them good. But me ye have not always” (loc. cit.). He is reminding his Disciples of the priorities of the moment and, at the same time, of what he has called them to do.
Like many in Jesus’ own time and ever since, Albert Schweitzer misunderstood what Jesus was doing. And yet he was inspired to draw the correct conclusion: all generations are called to continue the work, whatever sectarian flag they may fly.
Related story: “Don’t Get Noticed.”