In 1960 famous Austrian economist and political philosopher Friedrich Hayek wrote an essay entitled ‘Why I Am Not a Conservative’ explaining that a fundamental trait of the conservative attitude is a fear of change while the liberal position is based on courage and confidence, on a preparedness to let change run its course.
In the same essay he wrote that conservatives are inclined to use the powers of government to prevent change or to limit its rate. Of course the Left also known as the Social Liberal, or simply Liberal in the US, is also inclined to use the powers of government, but to instigate change. An obvious manifestation of this today is the various rules, regulations and regulated trading systems being imposed by governments across the world with the aim of stopping climate change – something any empiricists (but particularly evolutionary biologists) recognise as impossible.
In the essay Hayek went on to explain that the correct name for his ideas was Whiggism, because it was the ideas of the seventeenth century English Whigs that inspired what later came to be known as the liberal movement in Europe that provided the conceptions that the American colonists took with them but which was later altered by the French Revolution, with its “totalitarian democracy and socialist leanings”. Hayek ends his essay by coming to an unsatisfactory conclusion as to what any new movement based on his political philosophy might be best called, but this has not stopped many labelling him, incorrectly a Libertarian.
Libertarians believe in freedom as long as the person and property of others is not harmed and that a combination of personal and economic freedom will inevitably produce creativity, abundance and peace.
But in a world of increasingly rapid technological change and increasing concern about the impact of development on the state of the world’s environment and increasing competition for limited resources (including water) there will always be impacts on person and property (particularly if you live downstream). Change brings winners and losers and Libertarianism is not a realistic or sophisticated enough political philosophy to deal with this.
In 1998 Virginia Postrel, the editor of Reason magazine, introduced a new label for a new political philosophy, a philosophy that she explained has given us greater wealth, opportunity and choice than at any time in history. In ‘The Future and Its Enemies – The Growing Conflict over Creativity, Enterprise and Progress’ Postrel suggests, like Hayek, that conservatives and social liberals have much in common and as a consequence the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ are of little relevance. Instead she suggests we use the terms ‘stasis’ versus ‘dynamism’ to describe the chasm between those who want to control the future (conservatives and social liberals) and those who believe in the capacity of human beings to improve their lives through trial and error, spontaneous adjustment, adaptation and evolution (dynamists).
Postrel explains that dynamists keep the underlying rules neutral and transparent – a flat tax, for instance – and they stigmatize changes designed to favour particular groups. They believe in free markets but they are not just libertarians with a new name, as they include people with a more expansive view of public goods. So some dynamists support forms of paternalism including seat belt laws, antismoking regulations and a safety net for the poor. But instead of grand plans or ad hoc solutions they have the patience to let trial and error work within well-established and understood rules.
In short, the dynamist recognises that change is real and that our values are not things that have always existed, and will always exist. The future will be a consequence of the legacy of past generations and our own activities and should not be left to chance but neither should we seek to specify in advance exactly what the future will look like.
Louis Hissink says
In other words a concise description of capitalism.
A practical person should always be concerned about rates of change.
On the “winners and losers” theme, dynamic change could lead to “chaos”.
“The future will be a consequence of the legacy of past generations and our own activities and should not be left to chance”
Good reason for taking AGW seriously.
Louis Hissink says
Missing from the summary above is the understanding of who, actually, makes the decisions in day-to-day life.
Hayek undestood that but not many of his readers do.
Louis, individuals exercising individual choice in a free market … anything else?
Ian Mott says
Hayek had a head full of simplistic crap. A fundamental trait of human kind, and indeed, of the most rudimentary of less sentient species, is a fear of ADVERSE change. A cow, donkey or duck does not fear an improvement in the quality or quantity of food supply. They just don’t appreciate being eaten, by either predators or parasites.
And poor old Hayek may be surprised to learn that there are no hordes of conservatives out there quaking in fear at the prospect of higher income, better education for their children, or a really good nights sleep. Indeed, they embrace such change with gusto.
So to suggest that a particular cohort of humanity has a fear of all, or any, change tells us more about the intellectual limitations, or ideological baggage, of those making the suggestion than it does of those to whom this bogus fear is being projected.
It was Aldous Huxley who said, “to believe some things, one must be an intellectual. Ordinary men would never be so silly”.
Here in the real world, reasonable men and women embrace beneficial change and avoid adverse change. And the easiest way to avoid adverse change is to be very sceptical of change being promoted by spivs, plodders and nutters, even if they do have a temporary electoral majority.
Essentially the whigs supported a system of rule under a constitutional monarchy (with a dominant parliament as opposed to a monarchy with absolute rule) and courted big business and big wigs. The king supported the American Revolution and when the war was lost the King lost power. The French Revolution further weakened the monarchs power and moves to reform government stopped the french disease crossing the Channel.
Business is chaotic; ideas are tossed around and the losers disappear making the process appear seamless. Drive thru any small town, see the boarded up shops, the old disused dairy factory, the satellite dish on the RSL. Polaroid has just announced they are folding up – the digital camera has wiped them out.
Will the cell phone be a camera or will a camera be a mp3 player that sends emails? Nobody really knows, its Darwinian evolution.
Capitalists and entrepreneurs enjoy a symbiotic relationship as does John Holland or NAB or Lexus with the opera.
Labelism, its the new fad?
Hayek successfully argued that the central control of resources was a waste of resources and a loss of freedom. His book on conservatism relies on the proper definition of conservatism, it may have been the conservatives in Vienna he was referring to. An American liberal is not the same as one in the UK or Australia.
Todays subprime fiasco owes a lot to Govt tinkering with the financial system for political gain; they are now having to pay (with taxpayers money) for the loss.
Jen, this has to be one of the most extraordinary and desperate pleas I have ever seen to invoke some arbitary philosophical principle to try to trump a simple evidence based approach. We do science to stop us looking stupid. First see where your not entirely unreasonable dynamics might take us, then use various values to decide the best option. Why limit yourself first. I now realise that this blog has reached the limits of exploiting scientific uncertainty as a political tactic. It is now resorting to arbitary initial positions to filter the possibilities. The only card left to play is the Fairness Doctrine.
There is nothing in the above post to suggest I don’t still believe in the importance of an evidence-based approach to science (and everything else). But the post is more about political philosophy than science. I have been asked to review the book and so I thought I would put some words down at the blog to see what useful feedback I might get… before writing the review.
PS I am often incorrectly labelled ‘right wing’ or ‘libertarian’ so I thought I might try out the label ‘dynamist’. 😉
PSS Ofcourse I consider myself more an empiricist than a rationalist … but I might leave that for another thread.
Exactly and absolutely Jen, I say again you are trying desperately to advance some primacy of political philosophy over evidence-based science. Political philosophy is not value free. Science can be on a good day. Your airy fairy position is just riddled with so many practical uncertainties as to be useless.
rog, you are way off on the subprime being ‘a lot to Govt tinkering with the financial system for political gain’. The sub prime cowboys spent millions lobbying GeorgeB to prevent government regulation, and their top guy is now an ambassador. So as the dynamists would say, ‘what the hell if the global economy gets a little shock. Only risk-blind dummies over borrow’. And as for goddam global warming, the dynamists ‘ instead of grand plans or ad hoc solutions they have the patience to let trial and error work within well-established and understood rules. ‘ But we clearly have overborrowed on the capacity of the globe to absorb our environmental collaterals. Any significant uncertainty on that is manufactured.
Evidence can only inform public policy it can not judge whether, for example, something is good or bad.
In the end political decisions must be made, and yes they will not be value free.
You seem to be confusing the two (politics and science), and ignoring the title of this blog.
Bazza, if you are interested in “an evidence-based approach” look up the Community Reinvestment Act and in particular the changes made to that Act in 1995.
Thanks Jen for clarifying the roles of science and politics. Perhaps the confusion began with your title ‘why I am a dynamist’ and then you tell us later you are not really, you are just having a bit of a lend of your readers to see what comes in so you can do your review. Call that ethical?
rog, other side of the story is winner take all Arnall et al. ‘In Georgia, state legislators who received hefty political donations helped overturn a fair lending law. “Ameriquest was very, very engaged,” says a state senator. Ameriquest founder Roland Arnall, a major contributor to President Bush, was named ambassador to the Netherlands last year. Also in 2006, Ameriquest paid $325 million to settle claims it cheated customers, and the company remains a target of hundreds of lawsuits.’
Source: Wall Street Journal
Bazza. I think I fit the Dynamist label.
So what Bazza, the govt distorted the market and market distortions prevailed.
Human history over the last 5000 years, say, has had its ups and downs, but the general trend has been up, accelerating in the last 300 years or so and culminating (IMHO) with Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969.
Sure, there are environmental concerns associated with rapid development.
Sure, the majority of humanity still live (not quite) Hobbesian lives.
But these concerns can only be overcome by economic development under democratic law.
I’m getting on now, but when I was a kid, T.V. was an exciting prospect and space travel was the subject of science fiction http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0042393/.
I worry about the current generation, who are robbed of the prospect of an exciting future by the miserabilists, so prevalent in the schools and media.
Chrisgo, you must stop having these senior moments! Move on, go forward in hope, you poor melancholy sad old bastard. But never assume happy or sad trends can be extrapolated out the window.If you fell for that you would miss all the turning points in history. ( not to mention some anthropogenic stuff that is not in history). Get a life, get a wife, or a therapist ( but go for a sober one, not one half snakes-hissed) discover laughter , or whatever it takes, and just occasionally ponder the ambiguity of ‘this is as good as it gets’.
WOW, Rog rhetoric ‘So what Bazza, the govt distorted the market and market distortions prevailed’. Name a market the government does not distort! Your brand of logic is a recipe for a life of abject dillusion. Maybe one day you could stop leaping from the particular to the general, and then using the general to justify the particular. It is called logic and it imposes useful disciplines on random or self serving thought processes!
Here’s a couple of guys doing a recent economic doodle on where we might be and where we might be headed.
Gold bugs are not economists they are sensationalists who thrive on imaginative scenarios involving secret meetings, coded messages, magic numbers and “the men in black” who contribute to the collapse of western economies – all just to raise the price of the wretched yellow stuff.
Bazza is right: “Get a life, get a wife, or a therapist”. It’s sure interesting when she is all in one and NOT your SOUL mate. I must be a slow learner but ever the opportunist while winding down.
Wjp: great links, luv “Goldilocks” also –
“You don’t get richer because of Free Enterprise. Indeed, as the economic history of the last quarter century shows, you can get poorer”…
“They had a beautiful 3,000 sq ft home with a pool, built in cherry wood finishes and top- of-the-line vehicles. After they sold their home to move to an ocean view, 1 bedroom property (that they gutted down to nothing and put in over $150,000), they realized that they owed more than the current house was worth”
Must have another chat, yes the landlocked one with the day job
Bazza (10 posts in 24 hrs here alone) helpfully suggests that I “get a life”.
His little mate and fellow habitué, gavin, parrots in agreement.
They might take their own advice or, at least, get real jobs.
Having a good laugh at yourself, they say, can help.
The ugly sisters are finding it hard to come to terms with the fact that their ‘turning point in history’, the transformation of society that they have predicted and yearned for, seems to be as far off as ever.
The lack of warming over the last 7 years despite a 15-20% increase in CO2 has made them very cross, which can be detected by their posts here.
Well don’t pick on li’l ole me – it’s not my fault.
I’m doing all I can to boost atmospheric CO2 and CH4.
rog Here is where some sensationalists lurk
http://www.mineweb.com/mineweb/view/mineweb/en/page3 And this is how much they’ve p*&%$#d up the proverbial wall for starters http://www.dailyreckoning.com.au/bear-market/2008/02/11/ Further to the Goldilocks scenario when the bears came home Goldilocks had to run for her life!
Something went awry http://www.mineweb.com/mineweb/view/mineweb/en/page33?oid=46583&sn=Detail