Right-wing hypocrisy

Posted: 30 September 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

Yasha Levine and Mark Ames have uncovered a particularly egregious example of right-wing hypocrisy:

Charles Koch, billionaire patron of free-market libertarianism, privately championed the benefits of Social Security to Friedrich Hayek, the leading laissez-faire economist of the twentieth century. Koch even sent Hayek a government pamphlet to help him take advantage of America’s federal retirement insurance and healthcare programs.

But there’s also a second example of right-wing hypocrisy buried in this example: right-wingers have attacked Obama’s Affordable Care Act on the grounds that mandatory health insurance undermines individual rights. However, their own champion, Hayek, in his 1960 opus, The Constitution of Liberty, actually defended the idea of compulsory insurance:

There is little doubt that the growth of health insurance is a desirable development. And perhaps there is also a case for making it compulsory since many who could thus provide for themselves might otherwise become a public charge. (p. 298)

Hayek did, in fact, criticize Social Security and national health schemes, mostly on the grounds that they were based on a single government institution (rather than various private schemes), the government entity charged with the responsibility of funding retirement benefits and healthcare services advertised its benefits through pamphlets and other schemes (of the sort Koch sent to Hayek), and of course they became the means for redistributing income. But Hayek did think a case could be made for the very idea attacked by contemporary conservatives, that health insurance of the sort proposed within “Obamacare” should be compulsory.

When Texas Governor Rick Perry, a front-runner in the Republican primary for president, derides Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme” or a “monstrous lie,” that rhetoric can be traced back to the work of Hayek and Koch. And yet we now know that in private practice, Hayek was perfectly content to pay into Social Security and that Koch encouraged him to draw upon both Social Security and Medicare. Did they really believe what they wrote? Or were these attacks just scare-talk meant for the rubes, for you and us, “the public”?

And do right-wingers today actually read the basic texts they cite and claim to be guided by or do they simply oppose, in the name of something called freedom, any and all forms of government intervention, even those programs their intellectual mentors supported?

  1. Magpie says:

    Dear Prof.

    This piece about mail exchange and people quoting authors in support of their points of view, without bothering to actually read them, is quite opportune (as was your comment about people actually reading Marx, some days ago).

    I’ve been recently interested in Keynes’ attitude towards Marx, which strikes me as particularly odd, considering the underconsumptionist view of Marx’s crisis theory.

    Anyway, in “Joan Robinson’s economics – A centennial celebration”, Bill Gibson (ed.) there is a chapter by Claudio Sardoni where, commenting on Robinson’s interest in Marx, it says that Robinson considered that Keynes had very little first-hand knowledge about Marx:

    “Keynes was not a scholar of Marx. He probably ‘looked into’ Marx’s
    Capital only once [fn3] and his knowledge of Marx’s economics was mainly
    based on secondary literature. This, however, did not prevent him from
    issuing trenchant judgments on Marx’s economics both in The General
    Theory and before and after its publication.”

    fn “3 See Keynes’s letter to George Bernard Shaw of 2 December 1934 (Keynes, 1982, p. 38). For a more extensive analysis of the analytical relationship between Keynes and Marx, see Sardoni (1997)”.

    [The reference in the footnote is to the 1982 book “Social, Political and Literary Writings in The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes, vol. 28”, London: Macmillan.]

    In other words, if Sardoni is correct, Keynes did not really bother that much about reading Marx, before lambasting him and might have candidly said so in the letter to GBS.

    I’ve tried to get this letter, without success. The local libraries don’t seem to have it and I am not affiliated to any university.

    I was wondering if you had easy access to this particular letter, perhaps it would be an interesting topic for one of your comments.

    And if the comment included the whole text of the letter, it would also be very welcome, from my perspective.

  2. David F. Ruccio says:

    We’ve known for a long time that Keynes didn’t read much of Marx, and he included scant references to Marx in the General Theory and his other writings. Thanks for the reference to letter, though. I’ll see if I can track it down. (If in the meantime someone else finds it for you, please send it to me as a pdf.)

  3. Magpie says:

    This reminds me of a recent email discussion (my counterpart shall remain unnamed, although he authorised me to divulge his identity).

    After arguing that the labour theory of value was useless because, among other things, it could not account for his tastes in women (I kid you not!), he proposed a kind of thought experiment with a commodity without exchange value…

    I remarked that a commodity by definition must have exchange value and that his hypothetical non-exchange-value commodity is a contradiction (I said it was like an even number that is not divisible by 2), revealing that he doesn’t know what a commodity is.

    To his credit, he did not deny that he had no clue about what he was talking about (which, here between us, I thank him wholeheartedly: at least he did not insult my limited intelligence and destroys my all-too precarious sanity).

    Instead, he argued that Marx’s results may or may not hold on the basis of Marx’s definition of commodity; but if it does it only means that his reasoning is circular.

    So, there you have it: no need to read the old guy. QED.

    It would seem that Keynes set the example for our very own Keynesians.

  4. […] It remains to be seen whether the new Hayekians like Paul Ryan actually read the work of their guru, especially on issues like healthcare. […]

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