Liberty vs. Leviathan

Chronicling Liberty's battle against Leviathan

Prize and Pretence

I can’t help myself so back just for a moment.

Granted, the president can’t help that he won.  Granted, his prize is the Nobel Peace Prize, not the Prize in Economics.  And, granted, under the circumstances, he handled the situation well.  Here’s hoping though,  he’ll use this occasion to learn about past recipients of the Nobel prize and take to heart Friedrich A. Hayek’s lecture, The “Pretence of Knowledge”, and his acceptance speech, delivered, almost 35 years ago, upon his receipt of the 1974 Nobel Prize in Economics.

An expressed apprehension from his acceptance speech:

…is that the Nobel Prize [in Economics] confers on an individual an authority which in economics no man ought to possess.

This does not matter in the natural sciences. Here the influence exercised by an individual is chiefly an influence on his fellow experts; and they will soon cut him down to size if he exceeds his competence.

But the influence of the economist that mainly matters is an influence over laymen: politicians, journalists, civil servants and the public generally.

And a few nuggets from his lecture:

…I confess that I prefer true but imperfect knowledge, even if it leaves much indetermined and unpredictable, to a pretence of exact knowledge that is likely to be false…

…In fact, in the case discussed, the very measures which the dominant “macroeconomic” theory has recommended as a remedy for unemployment — namely, the increase of aggregate demand — have become a cause of a very extensive misallocation of resources which is likely to make later large-scale unemployment inevitable. The continuous injection of additional amounts of money at points of the economic system where it creates a temporary demand which must cease when the increase of the quantity of money stops or slows down, together with the expectation of a continuing rise of prices, draws labor and other resources into employments which can last only so long as the increase of the quantity of money continues at the same rate — or perhaps even only so long as it continues to accelerate at a given rate. What this policy has produced is not so much a level of employment that could not have been brought about in other ways, as a distribution of employment which cannot be indefinitely maintained and which after some time can be maintained only by a rate of inflation which would rapidly lead to a disorganization of all economic activity. The fact is that by a mistaken theoretical view we have been led into a precarious position in which we cannot prevent substantial unemployment from reappearing; not because, as this view is sometimes misrepresented, this unemployment is deliberately brought about as a means to combat inflation, but because it is now bound to occur as a deeply regrettable but inescapable consequence of the mistaken policies of the past as soon as inflation ceases to accelerate…

…To act on the belief that we possess the knowledge and the power which enable us to shape the processes of society entirely to our liking, knowledge which in fact we do not possess, is likely to make us do much harm.

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