Individualism & Collectivism

Hayek

 

The concept of socialism must be defined it its aims and the actions it proposes to take in order to achieve them. He recognises that its general use is to describe the ideals of social justice, equality, and security. However it becomes more specific in the way that this is brought about such as the abolition of private enterprise, private ownership of the means of production, and the use of central planning.

Hayek laments that many proclaimed socialists are only looking at the first aim of social justice or equality but “neither care nor understand how they can be achieved”. Therefore he understands that there is dispute in that some people support the ends but not the means, and it also raises the question of whether socialisms ultimate aims can be achieved simultaneously.

Here he begins to breakdown the problem that socialism proposes, first by noting that central planning can result in two separate ends in regards to distribution of income, where one use of it may result in equal distribution, similar use of it may result in income reaching the hands of few. Thus, he states that socialism must be approached as a species of collectivism. As collectivism claims that we are interdependent which conflicts with Hayek’s libertarian outlook in that each individual is sovereign of his/hers decisions. So this conflict also applies to socialism, in that there is a loss of an individual’s sovereignty. However, he does mention that the root support of planning comes from rational thought. In that we plan our own decisions, and governments before putting through policy plan in considering bad or good action, or wise or short-sighted action. However he argues that modern socialism does not take the stance of liberal planning in that a framework should be erected in order to achieve this aims, he states that socialism looks to establish is a central direction for all economic action, where all resources are consciously directed. He summarises the dispute in the question:

“For this purpose is it better that the holder of coercive power should confine himself in general to creating conditions under which the knowledge and initiative of individuals is given the best scope so that they can plan most successfully; or whether a rational utilisation of our resources requires central direction and organisation of all our activities according to some consciously constructed “blueprint”

In order to argue his point he clarifies that a libertarian approach must be accompanied with the correct infrastructure and institutions in order to make competition and the benefits of market forces actually work and to not simply leave things be. I believe that it is here that Hayek begins to develop the point where a system must travel down one road completely or risk failure. In that he expands upon his point citing that legal framework is one example of ensuring competition achieves its purpose. Furthermore, competition should not be supplemented by conscious direction as it is a method in itself which provides the adjustments to our behaviour without the intervention of authority. Then he delivers an integral point: “any attempt to control prices or quantities [he previously mentions how competition solves this problem, e.g. market forces creating price signalling] of particular commodities deprives competition of its power of bringing about an effective co-ordination of individual efforts, because price changes then cease to register all the relevant changes in circumstances and no longer provide a reliable guide for the individual’s actions.”

I think that at points like these it seems that Hayek portrays himself against any form of corrective intervention, however he fully realises the existence of negative externalities or factors that may corrupt competition’s benefits. He simply asks the question “are the advantages gained greater than the social costs which they impose” as a condition in which intervention is decided. Hayek considers both the existence of negative and positive externalities, and where price signalling through competition seems to have failed. He argues that the fact we may bring in direct regulation through authority where it is difficult or impossible to develop regulation for competition is not proof to suppress competition where it may function. Here he states that in “no system that could be rationally defended would the state just do nothing”, for the system to be effective however the need for state activity needs to be realised but also stress the creation of effective competitive system by “continuously adjusting legal framework” (alongside the already well-established institutions) thus reducing the occurrence of fraud, deception, exploitation, etc. as the existence of asymmetric information, moral hazards, adverse selection are all realised, and can be acted against appropriately.

Finally, Hayek states the point that not only is complete centralisation an unbelievably difficult task, but more so the sheer loss of freedom in that one single centre decides everything. He argues that there is no middle position, that by going down one path you must commit to it consistently he states that:

“Both competition and central direction become poor and inefficient tools if they are incomplete, they are alternative principles used to solve the same problem.”

“Planning and competition can be combined only by planning for competition, but not by planning against competition.”

It is determined that planning is inevitable, a necessity in ensuring that competition works well, Hayek only critiques the planning that is working against competition, as he has stated before not only due to economic outcomes, but on the fundamental principle of maintain political freedom.

 

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