Rejoinder on Hayek
By Bryan Caplan
Five blog posts, huh? I guess that’s something like saying Coase only wrote a few good articles. Or only had a few good ideas.
Russ then lists some simple ideas – like spontaneous order – that fascinate him, and observes:
These are pretty simple ideas. When you give people the one sentence
version or paragraph version they nod and tell you they agree with the
essence of the idea. But I find these ideas to be quite deep. They are
easy to understand but very difficult to absorb. The more I think about
them, the deeper is my understanding. I give Hayek credit for [spontaneous order]. He didn’t invent the idea. But he made me think about it
This sounds wise, but I’m not buying it. Yes, Coase and Hayek are both famous for a few big but simple ideas. So far, so good. Yet there are crucial differences in Coase’s favor:
1. Coase did invent his main ideas.
2. Coase got to the point instead of rambling on for thousands of pages.
3. Coase explained his ideas with memorable, persuasive examples. If a few simple ideas are your claim to fame, this is a must. Where in Hayek can you find any example that compares with Coase’s classic farmer/railroad story? Or Coase’s lighthouse?
When I was first exposed to Hayek twenty years ago, I moderately revered him. After all, didn’t most of the smart people I knew say I should? Since then, I’ve read all of Hayek’s main works. I’ve listened to scores of his fans sing his praises. I was even the research assistant on his autobiography. Yet the more I learned, the more overrated he seemed.
My question for Russ: Under the circumstances, how much more patience is it reasonable to expect of me?