Hayek occupies London

Twitter is abuzz with Jodi Dean’s post on a depressing Financial Times column (which I can’t find on the FT site for some reason) from the Occupy London economics working group, which embraces Hayek:

Fans of Friedrich von Hayek may be surprised to learn that the Austrian economist is the talk of Occupy London. Hayek’s observation that distributed intelligence in a voluntary co-operative is a hallmark of real economy rings true beneath the bells of St Paul’s. Occupy is often criticised for not having a single message but that misses the point: we are committed to incorporating different preferences before coming up with policies. In this sense, it could be said we work more like a market than the corporate boardroom or lobbyist-loaded politics – our ideas are radical but also just and democratically decided.

The policy proposals that follow focus on reducing tax-avoidance, using monetary policy to boost the housing market, and changing the way executives are compensated — hardly revolutionary stuff, but probably beneficial. (I’m not sure, though, how the idea for the Bank of England to use “quantitative easing… to fund housebuilding” would work either logistically or in terms of getting the desired outcome.)

I understand that these kinds of demands are uninspiring for any number of reasons, above all because they embrace the logic of capitalism and implicitly legitimate the system by reference to a “better way” to execute it. At the same time, I don’t think there is widespread understanding of more radical alternatives, in large part because it’s not at all clear, objectively, what the desired answer would be. (In this respect, I’m reluctant to embrace the notion that the problem is the open-ended, anarchist nature of the Occupy movement — though I’m skeptical of that approach to some degree, I don’t think that having greater discipline and structure would be beneficial in the absence of an actual workable program. If an anarchistic/democratic form doesn’t automatically lead to good results, surely we can agree that a centralized “organized” form doesn’t either.)

Indeed, what’s most depressing isn’t that this group would cite Hayek, but that Hayek is objectively to the left of mainstream neoliberal economic ideology at this point — and of course Keynes counts as a radical leftist in this context. To put it another way: what’s most depressing is that drawing on Hayek genuinely counts as a step in the right direction compared to the idiocy that’s driving most policy makers.

3 thoughts on “Hayek occupies London

  1. It’s worth noting that most of the Austrian/Libertarian leaning people I know, including a much younger version of myself, came to embrace true left wing politics. So I think there is a well-travelled dialectical pathway forward from it. It’s difficult to really understand how insidious the logic of capitalism is until you’ve met its most “compelling” form.

  2. There are also close links between Hayek’s belief in spontaneous organisation and the roots of that same belief of the ecological anarchist movement (Adam Curtis deals with this rather well in his documentary ‘All watched over by machines of Loving Grace’)

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