Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Glenn Beck and F.A. Hayek

As of the time of this posting, Hayek's the Road to Serfdom was at the top of the bestselling list. Apparently this is all because of a Glenn Beck show, wherein he says it's the best book you can read, a "Mike Tyson right hook to socialism."

I'm not sure what I think about this. On the obvious hand, it's awesome Hayek is selling like hotcakes. At least some Beck fans will read it and gain enough sophistication points to level up.

But I'm guessing most Beck viewers will buy it, page through it, and let it collect dust thereafter, expecting that Glenn Beck has already told them everything they need to know about it (take home message: the folks in Washington are planning to enslave you!).

Worse, the few liberals curious enough to give Hayek a fair shake will have second thoughts after associating him with Glenn Beck. And it doesn't help that, in at least the first ten minutes of the show (all I watched) he kept waving around Atlas Shrugged, implicitly comparing Hayek to Rand the Reviled.

This is unfortunate because Hayek was quite a bit more nuanced than Rand (she thought he was a statist of the most dangerous kind) and quite a bit more liberal than most conservatives and liberals probably realize. I'm guessing, for instance, this passage out of the Road to Serfdom (chapter 9) will surprise recent buyers:
There is no reason why in a society which has reached the general level of wealth which ours has attained [the certainty of a given minimum of sustenance] should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom ... An incautious handling of these questions might well cause serious and perhaps even dangerous political problems; but there can be no doubt that some minimum of food, shelter, and clothing, sufficient to preserve health and the capacity to work, can be assured to everybody.
Nor is there any reason why the state should not assist the individuals in providing for those common hazards of life against which, because of their uncertainty, few individuals can make adequate provision. Where, as in the case of sickness and accident, neither the desire to avoid such calamities nor the efforts to overcome their consequences are as a rule weakened by the provision of assistance--where, in short, we deal with genuinely insurable risks--the case for the state's helping to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance is very strong.
I doubt Hayek would have had anything kind to say about recent health care legislation. But his objections would not have been motivated by knee-jerk opposition to government spending for social insurance.

1 comment:

  1. Although a fair observation, your point about Hayek is a little bit of a red herring because it's not as if Beck and his fellow travelers are in favor of eliminating the social safety net, which is after all what Hayek was writing about in the quoted passage.