Tuesday, 15 May 2012

"Means-connected" and not "ends-connected"

Steven Horwitz writes on Hayek’s Tolerant and Pluralistic Liberal Vision.
Here’s the important thing: Once we agree on the rules, we need not agree on the ends to live peacefully with one another. The liberal society is “means-connected” and not “ends-connected.” Markets enable us to disagree peacefully while each pursues his or her own way.

But notice that to sustain this kind of society, we must be willing to tolerate differences with others. We have to recognize that our freedom to achieve our ends comes at the cost of allowing others the same, even if we find those ends distasteful. In the words of FEE’s founder, Leonard Read, we must be willing to accept “anything that’s peaceful.” This is what Hayek means when he says a free society is a “pluralistic society.

Compare this to socialism or fascism. These systems require a single hierarchy of ends; according to the theory, the collective decides which ends will be pursued and which not. When resources are allocated centrally, pursuing our own individual ends is impossible. Our particular ends must be subordinated to the priorities of the State or collective. The result is not the peaceful disagreement and tolerance of the liberal order, but constant fighting over the reins of power in order to achieve one’s ends at the expense of others. We turn the positive-sum game of the market into the zero or negative-sum game of State power.
So no matter what particular ends we seek, we can all use the market process to achieve them. If I want a microeconomics book to read and you want a macro book, we can both achieve our different ends via the market. We do no have to make one decision about what we both will read.

1 comment:

Mike Giberson said...

Yes, that is a good thing about markets (and a liberal society more generally).

Which is why this new study frustrates me: http://phys.org/news/2012-05-americans-national-clean-energy-standard.html

In it, the authors survey US adults to establish how much extra people report being willing to pay for clean energy (more specifically, to attain a particular clean energy standard by 2035) - so far, so good - and then they parcel up the data by state and congressional district to see what the median voter in each voting area would support.

I propose instead that we abolish any regulation that stands in the way of consumers buying just the amount of clean energy they desire, then let consumers pay whatever amount they like and can find a willing supplier. Texas has such an approach, and perhaps a few other states in the U.S., but mostly consumers are tied to local monopolies which are making clean energy related decisions under influence of state regulators and legislators.