Posts tagged with: Friedrich von Hayek

Pope Francis' trip to the US

“Supporting markets as the economic arrangements most likely to help promote human flourishing doesn’t necessarily mean you accept libertarian philosophical premises” says Acton Institute Director of Research Samuel Gregg in an essay published today at Public Discourse.  This comes in response to “Koch Brothers Latest Target: Pope Francis,” an Oct. 14  article written by John Gehring at the American Prospect that claims the Acton Institute is part of a larger network of organizations behind “a decidedly different message than Pope Francis does when it comes to the economy and climate change.”  Gehring, Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, labels various free-market organizations as “libertarian” and asserts that “libertarian thought … is the exact opposite of Catholic teaching.”

Gregg begins his response by noting some of the contributions that great libertarian thinkers such as Hayek and Mises have made to economics:

Libertarianism’s great strength lies in economics. Prominent twentieth-century libertarian economists, such as Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek, made major contributions to the critique of socialist economics. While ridiculed by some at the time, their criticisms turned out to be spot-on.

In Socialism (1922), for example, Mises illustrated that socialist economies can’t replicate the market price system’s ability to signal the supply and demand status for countless goods and services to consumers and producers at any one point in time. However intelligent and statistically equipped the top-down planners might be (whether they take the form of a Communist politburo, a Fascist dictator, or a 1970s British government), they simply cannot know the optimal price for any good or service at any point in time. Any attempt to dictate prices from the top-down will lead, paradoxically, to economic disorder and dysfunction.

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Blog author: jcouretas
Friday, October 29, 2010
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As America and Europe continue to wrestle with the question of how best to address their respective economic crises, many are looking back to the lessons of history and how they might be applicable to today. Scholars, public intellectuals, and policy analysts are paying particular attention to the economic debates of the 1930s, during which much intellectual wrestling — not all of it pretty — occurred over the causes of the Great Depression and how to best alleviate its destructive effects. Not surprisingly, the writings of John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich von Hayek are among the most heavily referenced by contemporary figures.

Another scholar who wrote extensively on the causes of, and possible solutions to, protected recessions was the German economist Wilhelm Röpke. His thinking was shaped not only by his lengthy formal studies of business cycles, but also the fact that he was extensively consulted by German governments in the late 1920s and early 1930s as the Weimar Republic struggled to stave off political and economic disaster amidst the collapse of banks and skyrocketing unemployment that fed the extremes of left and right. These consultations came to an end in 1933 after the fiercely anti-Nazi (and anti-Communist) Röpke became of the first academics to be purged from the universities by the new National Socialist government.

In his 2010 book, Wilhelm Röpke’s Political Economy (described by one reviewer in Economic Affairs as “the most comprehensive in its analysis of this important thinker’s political economy” and another reviewer in The American Spectator as “mandatory reading for every student of political economy”) Acton’s Research Director Samuel Gregg included an analysis of Röpke’s thinking about business cycles and recessions as the world remained stuck in an economic quagmire throughout the 1930s. Gregg compares Röpke’s position to that of Hayek and Keynes, illustrating how Röpke moved ever closer to Hayek’s analysis and prescriptions and ever more skeptical (and outspokenly so) of Keynes’s views.

Those interested in this subject, but who also wonder what Röpke might have thought of our current economic predicaments might be interested in an address delivered by Dr. Gregg in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in March 2010. The English-language lecture—“Wilhelm Röpke, The Depression and the 2008 Crisis: Reflections from the Past, Lessons for Today”—has just been published in the May 2010 edition of the Argentine journal Revista de Instituciones, Ideas y Mercados, the flagship journal of ESEADE, one of Argentina’s leading market-oriented universities.

It’s especially interesting to observe that while Röpke was initially willing to contemplate some mild interventions (mainly of the type that removed obstacles to a market-driven recovery), Gregg shows that Röpke soon concluded that most interventionist programs were counterproductive and/or ineffectual. Here Röpke was especially influenced by what he regarded as the failure of the New Deal (a failure beautifully documented by the economic historian Amity Shlaes in her 2008 book, The Forgotten Man) to reignite the American economy. As Röpke wrote in 1942:

It turned out that the original calculation that the Government’s boost of purchasing power would set off the private investment drive that was due, was wrong. Every time the Government’s injections were withheld, it was as if there was no private initiative which could take the place of public initiative.

Sound familiar? In his lecture, Gregg notes:

Most interwar active business-cycle policies aimed at combating the Depression, Röpke argued, had failed . . . . Instead [citing Röpke] ‘only an artificially continued prosperity developed which was bound to come to an end the moment the state injections of purchasing power upon which it depended, ceased.’ Bad investments had driven out good investments, meaning that governments were not only bound to keep injecting purchasing power, but to increase them. Such, Röpke wrote, was ‘the slippery slope of collectivism.’

How little we have learned from the past.