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Monday, May 20, 2013

'Liberty for Whom?'

James Kwak:

Liberty for Whom?, by James Kwak: ...Corey Robin's fascinating article on nineteenth-century European culture, Nietzsche, and the economic philosophy of Friedrich Hayek..., in very simplified form, goes like this. For Nietzsche, and for other cultural elitists of late-nineteenth-century Europe, both the rise of the bourgeoisie and the specter of the working class were bad things—the former for its mindless materialism, the latter  for its egalitarian ideals, which threatened to drown the exceptional man among the masses. One set of Nietzsche’s descendants..., which Robin focuses on in this article, is the “Austrian” school of economics led by Friedrich Hayek.
People often like to think of the Austrians as advocates of liberty, both for its Economics 101 properties (free choice in free markets, under certain assumptions, maximizes societal welfare) and its moral properties. Robin ties Hayek’s conception of liberty, however, back to Nietzche’s. Hayek cared about liberty for ultimately elitist reasons: liberty is not an end in itself, but a condition that enables the select few to make the world a better place... And those select few are likely to be the rich, for only they have the requisite time and freedom from material concerns...
This idea is obviously echoed in Ayn Rand’s novels... It has also trickled into the contemporary conservative worship of the ultra-rich. The phrase today is “job creators” (whatever that means), but it has the same moralistic overtones as in Nietzsche and Hayek—a class of people who are better than the rest of us, on whom we depend for our salvation and prosperity, and whom we should not presume to question or constrain through, say, safety regulation or higher taxes (“penalizing success,” in the jargon).
I used to say that most Americans voted against their class interests because they thought they would one day be in the upper class... But today, five years after the financial crisis, with median income below where it was fifteen years ago and social mobility at developing-world levels, I can’t imagine many people really believe that vast riches are in their future. An alternative explanation is that many Americans just think the rich are better than they are and that it’s wrong to question your betters. ...

I think we sometimes forget that voting is multidimensional -- it depends upon more than economic interests (e.g. it's partly about choosing an identity and the other non-economic factors can dominate). In any case, not sure I buy that people "just think the rich are better than they are" argument. It didn't, for example, propel Romney to the presidency.

    Posted by on Monday, May 20, 2013 at 11:20 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  Comments (50)


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