Friday, July 13, 2007

Socialism after Hayek

Is a great idea

For a year or so now people who think about this kind of thing are talking about Ted Burczak's book. For good reason. In less than 200 pages Burczak thoughtfully articulately and insightfully summarized Hayek's (the 20th century's greatest economist according to some) work and ideas on economics, sociology, law and methodology as well as the left-right didactic in contemporay thought including Marxism.

Ok, the point is is that the book is great.

Basically Burczak says that yes Hayek won the socialist calculation debate and thus no no central planner can efficiently distribute the scarce resources in an economy. However Burczak states that no, court systems are not neutral (viz legal positivism) therefore the idea that there can be distributive justice - an oxymoron for classical liberals - through property rights and courts only is a falsity.

Like a good leftist (is he, I don't know ?) Burczak wants more, and like humanists who are we not to listen? Burzczak then uses the Amatrya Sen and Martha Nussbaum (viz Aristotle) concept of capabilities (eg what good are rights if you are not healthy or wealthy enough to use them?) to argue for a one-time wealth transfer in order for people to develop these capabilities.

This is a great idea. But like of course all Utopian projects how do you go from here to there. Perhaps one way would be to get rid of all government programs (i.e. e.g. remove positive rights and have negative rights only) and then, there would be the funds to pay for this transfer. I think perhaps that this might be something we could all agree on, why not.

Where Burzcak has it incorrect on Hayek though is his proposal that wage labor be abolished. This removes one of the fundamental notions of Hayek's vision of a free (and therefore limitless) society which is the right to freely contract with those you wish. A law against contract labor removes this right.

Burzcak wants the workers to own all the means of production, eg to remove the exploitation of labor in the Marxian sense, and require ownership by workers. This is of course counter to the notion of a free society. Some people want to fish and others want to drink beer in the boat. The young want to party the old want to earn money to leave to their children. Burzcak's idea here removes this "life-cycle analysis" from his model. Plus some people just dont want the responsbility of ownership.

All in all a highly recommended book to those interested in who we are and why and the intellectual (not that that is a bad thing) groundings of this thought.

It should be noted too of course that we are already moving in the direction of self-ownership of the means of production through Employee Stock Ownership Plans. So yes cut the government and give a chunk of cash for capabilties. It is alot better than the tens of thousands of dollars in government debt that our most capable are accruing through government-sponsored loan programs, which is, perhaps, is worst kind of exploitation there is.