Social Justice, Liberalism

F. A. Hayek: Enemy of Social Justice and Friend of a Universal Basic Income?

Until recently, I had only read the first two books of Hayek’s grand trilogy Law, Legislation and Liberty. People told me that the third book was the least interesting. The real action, they said, was in the first two books. I decided to see for myself whether they were right. After finishing the book, I admit that much of the analysis is straightforward public choice theory that others had already carried to a higher level of sophistication. Further, the conceptions of law, spontaneous order and the critique of social justice are best articulated in the first two books. However, Book III has a number of interesting elements. One of them is Hayek’s insistence on a universal basic income while vehemently rejecting the idea of social justice. On this blog, we sometimes tie the two together. So what gives?

Let’s consider the relevant passages:

The assurance of a certain minimum income for everyone, or a sort of floor below which nobody need fall even when he is unable to provide for himself, appears not only to be wholly legitimate protection against a risk common to all, but a necessary part of the Great Society in which the individual no longer has specific claims on the members of the particular small group into which he was born (55).*

So Hayek is for a minimum income. This much is clear. But notice the next passage:

It is unfortunate that the endeavor to secure a uniform minimum for all who cannot provide for themselves has become connected with the wholly different aims of securing a ‘just’ distribution of incomes (55).

What? Isn’t the point of the UBI to secure a just distribution of incomes? Isn’t the UBI legitimate because people it is owed to people in order to justify the social order as a whole?

I think Hayek’s critique of social justice does not apply to the evaluation of the rules that govern a society’s basic structure. Instead, Hayek meant to refute the idea that we can make specific claims about whether certain domains of goods and services are justly distributed. An example might be a claim that social justice requires a price floor for coal miner wages. Hayek claims that these practices cannot be evaluated as just or unjust because no one decides that miners should be paid a certain wage. Distributive justice can only apply if we have a decider. As a result, miner wages on the market cannot be the proper subject of evaluation.

But doesn’t Hayek’s argument against social justice therefore apply to evaluations of a society’s basic structure?

The answer seems to be no. Consider the following fascinating passage:

The basic conception of classical liberalism, which alone can make decent and impartial government possible, is that government must regard all people as equal, however unequal they may in fact be, and that in whatever manner the government restrains (or assists) the action of one, so it must, under the same abstract rules, restraint (or assist) the actions of all others. Nobody has special claims on government because he is either rich or poor, beyond the assurance of protection against all violence from anybody and the assurance of a certain flat minimum income if things go wholly wrong. Even to take notice of the factual inequality of individuals and to make this the excuse of any discriminating coercion, is a breach of the basic terms on which free man submits to government (143).

On Hayek’s view, the UBI is required as a condition of democratic legitimacy within the framework of a social contract. I’m not saying Hayek is a social contract theorist, but he sounds like one in this passage. In order for a democratic government to be legitimate it must treat people as equals by imposing only abstract rules on them. Government gives no one special privilege, and this requirement is compatible with providing them with means to secure basic goods and services.

Of course, there are severe limits on redistribution. Consider that

[A]ll use of coercion to assure a certain income to particular groups (beyond a flat minimum for all who cannot earn more in the market) be outlawed as immoral and strictly anti-social (150).

Despite these limits, Hayek supported a UBI as a condition of democratic legitimacy, which dovetails nicely with some of the conceptions of social justice defended here.


* Don’t think that Hayek’s support for the UBI makes him a squishy statist. A page later Hayek rejects the government’s monopoly on money production, putting him significantly to the right even of many libertarians. Towards the end of the book, Hayek even claims that the decay of democratic civilization cannot be stopped unless money is denationalized.

  • JenB

    Great post, thanks!

  • Yes, I think that is a good explanation of why Hayek’s rationale for a UBI does not interfere with his critique of social justice.

    It just always seemed to me that for all of Hayek’s public-choice-flavored leanings, he didn’t take very seriously the public choice critique that once you give government x power, it becomes difficult (if not impossible, if you read Antony de Jasay) to stop government from growing that power, owing to the forming of interest groups and rent seeking that arise around that power.

    [A]ll use of coercion to assure a certain income to particular groups (beyond a flat minimum for all who cannot earn more in the market) be outlawed as immoral and strictly anti-social (150).

    So, if I were looking at this statement through public choice goggles, I’d suggest that allowing government to redistribute wealth for a UBI will create interest-group problems. Maybe I am not clear on how the UBI would work, but it seems to me that those receiving it would have some interest in lobbying to see it expanded, and those making just above the UBI would have interest in lobbying to see it expanded to cover them. I’d also point out that giving the state the power to make law (legislative branch), and the power to redistribute income (executive), while demanding that the former NOT expand (or allow the expansion of) the powers of the latter is a bit unrealistic.
    I don’t reject Hayek’s (or others’) arguments that sometimes, the state providing certain positive liberties (subsidized housing, UBI) may enhance liberties. I just don’t see realistically how these things will be done without substantially risking the state expanding and expanding them (and maybe expanding the number of positive liberties they offer).

    • Damien S.

      The quoted text makes Hayek sound more like an income floor or minimum income guarantee, and isn’t specific about how it interacts with earned income; naively there’d be a 1 for 1 trade off, or 100% income tax bracket, and thus poverty trap, as with many benefits today.

      The classic basic income (or citizen’s dividend, or citizen’s wage), though, is simply giving $X to everyone. Any other income is on top of that. Everyone receives it, and there’s no sense of anyone being “just above it”, so the hazards you fear do not apply.

      Related is negative income tax, as if the standard deduction on US taxes were a refundable tax credit, so if you ha no other income the government would gives you $8000 or so. Here there’s often talk of on the order of a 50% tax bracket, to claw back the money from income earners while not totally removing the incentive to work.

    • Damien S.

      Replying twice because the new Disqus code doesn’t give me a resizing input box… With NIT, there’s a tradeoff: if the clawback rate is high, you’re hurting low income workers with a high tax on their labor; if it’s low, then most of the population is getting some money via NIT. E.g. if the basic money were $8000, and the tax rate on the first earned income were 25%, you’d have to earn $32,000 in market income before you paid back the basic income.

      Milton Friedman pushes NIT; Nixon signed the related EITC. Charles Murray has pushed basic income. It’s a common idea among conservatives or libertarians wanting to get rid of welfare state bureaucracy without letting people starve, as well as common on the left. Problem is, what you need to provide to an unfortunately unemployed able worker is less than you need to provide to someone permanently disabled. If you try to provide for everyone with basic income, you’re probably being overly generous; if you scale back, you leave people to suffer; if you give a small basic income to all and targeted aid for the “truly needy”, you’ve reinvented the welfare state bureaucracy scrutinizing classes of people.

      • Dale

        “those making just above the UBI would have interest in lobbying to see it expanded to cover them.”
        No one is “just above” the UBI. ‘U’ stands for universal. Everyone receives it. If you set a minimum income, and provide it through redistribution only for those who can’t earn at least that much on their own, it’s not really a UBI.

    • Keith Gardner

      Money can’t be fully privatized if the state is paying universal basic income or collecting any sort of tax since the state must select a currency to use (grant privilege). Granting privilege to the industry of usury is not wise. Money should be fully nationalized. The state should print it’s own notes rather than privatize a banking cartel to do it for them as interesting-bearing debt under a fractional reserve banking system. There is nothing wrong with private banks if they are reduced to that of a sound and honest business where they loan only what they have in reserves, whether it is the national currency, gold, silver, or diamond rings.

      The positions of Hayek are in contradiction. Hayek can’t be taken too seriously since some of his ideas are flawed. In this case, I don’t think the idea of UBI is flawed. I think his idea of privatized money is flawed. If the money is fully nationalized, there would be nothing wrong with his idea of a UBI. This is the position of the Chicao School of Milton Friedman and Irving Fisher, who support fully nationalized money and the UBI.

      • Francis Li Goodwins

        Bingo! You found the Answer. Just be sure that the basic income is not only universal, but unconditional (this is the flaw with Milton Friedman’s NIT). All that remains is to build the model, then implement it with the 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

  • 3cantuna

    Is democracy assumed to be legitimate by Hayek and BHLs? Should it be? Isn’t democracy, not the Soviet Eastern Bloc kind (easy to knock down logically), a form of socialism? Is there a definition of democracy that is agreed upon (I doubt it)?

    Hayek looks like he was arguing for a more liberal form of socialism. Mises had some effect on Hayek, but ultimately not enough to get him to disregard socialism completely. Hence, Hayek could argue for UBI and other JS Mill type government provisions.

    Why didn’t Hayek go further than denationalisation of money? It still leaves in place the unfair privileged fiat version. Not sure what to think of this. Rothbard says that since new issuances have no history of being money that people will be reluctant to accept them. He even calls Hayek’s plan “Utopian” and useless compared to merely putting the dollar back on gold. Even if independent (or pseudo-independent since the government is still the privileged entity) providers have gold backing.

    Government, even a classically liberal informed state espoused by Hayek, can achieve impartiality? Doesn’t sound reasonable. Political monopoly is achieved by what kind of action? Violence.

    State implies that there are those with political privilege and those without. A state form of government is inherently class based. The people with the power can use violence in ways that people without the power cannot– to enforce this “legitimacy”. Fox, please guard the chickens.

    No. More like…

    Fox: I guard the chickens for x number of chickens for my consumption per x days– where I set x. If you don’t like it, you will be the next chicken I feed to my pups.

    Chickens: Can we at least vote on which fox will guard the chickens?

    Fox: Yeah, sure… hehehe. Idiots. I don’t give a cluck. I run the election.

    • “Isn’t democracy, not the Soviet Eastern Bloc kind (easy to knock down logically), a form of socialism?”

      No. That’s a bit of a conflation. Democracy is probably best described as a method; in and of itself it has nothing to do with economic policy. And then democracy, as a political system, is a certain way of organizing state power.

      On the other hand, “Socialism” isn’t some simple thing that reduces to “whatever isn’t libertarianism” or “any degree of state power”. That’s just loaded fundamentalist ideological nonsense.

      “Socialism”, at much of any substantive level, has never systematically existed in the U.S. either in (too much of) state-socialist terms or libertarian socialist terms.

      All this said, I don’t take Hayek’s view, or favor liberal democracy. But liberal democracy doesn’t equal socialism. One surely has to account for more complexity than that, be more nuanced in one’s taxonomical understanding, in how one understands relationships between various kinds of political, economic, and social ideas and systems.

      • 3cantuna

        Voting puts property up for majoritarian (one def of democracy) decision– hence it is a vitiation of property. There are very serious coordination problems when capital is distributed by political means. Democracy is no substitute for market. Yes, it can have socialistic characteristics.

        Certainly there are gradations and ‘socialistic’ might be an apt descriptor. Complete socialism is not possible; and the closer the total abolishment of private property becomes a reality– the sooner humanity perishes. There is a reason why totalitarian regimes so oft, deliberately or no, result in mass murder by famine.

        Public schools are very much socialistic, btw. Totalitarian even. One way to look at is to see where prices might be found and identify their absence. How are schools funded: taxes. How are they populated: compulsory attendance. What are the power structures: school boards, bureaucratic socialism, Fed government enforcement (NCLB) and state wedded unions. You make the list where politics displaces market exchange. There is the socialism.

        • Silly Wabbit

          Mr. Tuna,
          That’s not a analytically useful or historically based definition of socialism. Maybe you could call that “statism” or “politicisism” or some other ism but your use of socialism for any time anyone does anything through any type of government at any level at any point in history is not very useful. By that standard nearly all societies at any time in any place have been socialist.

          In other words, everything is socialism.

          Terms and concepts exist to expedite communication between different people or groups of people. When you willfully create your own definitions of commonly used terms you put in a crack in the very foundation of human communication.

          As I have tried to point out to you in other places you do the same thing with the word “economics”.

          I’m not trying to be mean or anything but its almost impossible to make sense of what you are talking about. You like to speak in isms and highly abstract, conceptual language. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that. However, when you give terms a different meaning than those around you the conceptual verbiage you employ becomes an encumbrance. In other words, it has the opposite of the intended effect of conceptual or abstract language.

          I recognize that concepts have contested meanings. Indeed, a great deal of wonderful discussion occurs on this blog that involves deconstructing, reforming or unpacking concepts.

          But to use “socialism” in the manner that you do, just like the manner in which you use “economics”, is profoundly confusing, obfuscating and possibly, depending on your intention, dishonest.

          • 3cantuna

            Silly Wabbit,
            I am using, pretty clearly, one of the most basic definitions of socialism there is: the public ownership of the means of production. If you cannot see the nuances of this application– it might be because you are suffering from empiricism.
            Even the researcher applying statistical and hypothesis-testing methodology exemplifies human action. She makes a choice to research; uses scarce means- at least her time- to hopefully attain ends. Given the diversity of resources and the disutility of labor– one can deduce from the synthetic apriori economic terms of cost, value, preference, time, profit, loss, and so on. When other people are added into the framework, the Ricardian Law of Association, money, marginal utility and, fast forwarding a bit,— even the market emerges as understandable in logical propositions not open to falsification or testing.
            You say, “So What?
            The logic of human action states that the market is a necessity for production beyond primitive barter. Hampering or displacing the market, i.e. the state at work, is harmful to production. I think you fear this conclusion the most, because economics says: your god, the state, is a failure.

          • Silly Wabbit

            ugh it pointless….all I’m doing is trying to point out that you are incoherent…..

            Seriously 90% of your post has nothing to do with my original suggestion that maybe you cast the “socialist” net too broadly over too many things.
            I don’t think its very useful to call anything that governments at any level do anytime anywhere in any situation “socialism” even if you are going to say that some things are less “socialistic ” than another.

            It makes it almost extraordinarily difficult to have a conversation.

            “because economics says”- OMFG there it is again! Seriously this is utterly pointless………

          • 3cantuna

            Ah, i did mix your response with CFV’s cynical comments. there were so many. Nonetheless, if you had a question and not pre-judgement i am sure your opposition would be in the same ball park. Your original admonishment on the other post was aimed at gratifying your own ignorance.

          • CFV

             What “cynical” comments?

          • 3cantuna

            For those wathcing at home– this is a continuing argument from another BHL post. Silly Wabbit wants me to qualify my use of econ but not all others. It’s a highschool in-crowd out-crowd tactic. I suspect that Silly Wabbit cannot deal with the challenge of Austrian economics in a substantive manner.

          • No. You simply make no sense. And I suspect most people have quit reading your posts. I barely skim them anymore because there’s little point to it; you always just say the same thing over and over and it’s all pretty much babbling.

          • 3cantuna

            Actually, Rod. You reply in the same way over and over; with condescending insults that never actually get to addressing anything of substance. I even showed you an example of a deductive chain upon your demand– which was really like ‘There is no way this religious crap can actually work the way he says it does’ kind of closed-minded remark. You did not respond. Is it any wonder that people are being robbed left and right by the government and its connected elites? You have replaced the atavistic form of faith with belief in experiential science. This god of yours, does it have any limits?

          • Whatever. You just made my point.

            BTW, I didn’t respond to “deductive chain”, despite finding a couple of gaping holes in the logic for a simple reason. I work at least 80 hours a week and am away from home anywhere from two to five weeks at a time. I don’t always have decent Internet access. By the time I could review your post the site had gone on to other subjects.

            Frankly, I have better things to do. I won’t bother you in your delusions.

          • 3cantuna

            being productive and a contributing member of society is no excuse for thoughtlessness, Rod. hahha.  Before you press the “delusion” button at least note that developing economics from generally accepted basic principle was the reigning process for hundreds of years and used by many of the big names you might recognize. They did not use the term apriorism, of course.

          • shemsky

            3cantuna, perhaps saying collectivist instead of socialist would be a better way to term it.

          • 3cantuna

            Right– or interventionist. But in the case of public schooling socialism applies. Look at how many market exchanges by which a price ratio would appear cannot, or when it does it is hampered by exogenous government influence. Taxation, the gvt bureaucracy, compulsory laws, unionism, NCLB (testing, more bureaucracy…), and the corporatist mercantilist insider provision of services and books etc….

          • Silly Wabbit

            Mr. Tuna,
            My central point is that the way you use terms like “socialism” or “economics” is unnecessarily confusing and does not match more commonly accepted meanings of those terms. It makes it very difficult to follow your arguments.

            I’m not attacking your chosen worldview or the variant of Austrian Economics you prefer. You have strong and passionate opinions-and there is nothing wrong with that. You spend a lot of time on this blog attempting to explain your position but it comes off as poorly argued because of the way in which you use terms. Many times I found it almost impossible to follow what you are saying.

            I have almost no idea what the “challenge of Austrian economics is”…..all I hear is “axioms……empiricism…..economics says that the state is your god!” with some other psychological assessment of other posters thrown in for good measure.

            Its great that you are passionate but if you want people to change their minds to agree with you it behooves you to find a clearer way to articulate the points you are trying to make and the relative superiority of your theoretical framework. You can’t expect a paradigmatic shift towards the variant of Austrian Economics you subscribe to if you can’t compelling, coherently and concisely advocate for it.

          • 3cantuna

            The reason why you brought up the paradigm issue is because you disagreed with my presentation. Although it is true that clarity in perspective in the use of terms would be helpful– the fact that you did not apply your criticism to everybody using “economics” says more.  I will take note of your point, though.

            As a historical note– economic reasoning from general undisputed principle was the major guiding thought process for hundreds of years even though “apriorism” was not used.  It is empiricism that is popular but relatively new. Even Hayek accepted most Popperian falsificationism. Yet he was never Misesian anyway.

          • Silly Wabbit

            Empirical social science can be traced back to William Petty. That’s a pretty long history. 

            Who were the scholars that were using “economic reasoning from general undisputed principle”?  

            You might want to say “deductive logic” or “praxeology”-the latter term  ties your preferred social science methodology explicitly to Mises. 

            “the fact that you did not apply your criticism to everybody using “economics” says more.”

            I’ve not noticed anyone else on this blog using the term in such an odd, confusing and misleading manner. I think I have clearly articulated why calling your chosen ideology/ paradigm “economics” is enormously problematic as it stems from a few figures who very marginal in the history of economic thought (specifically Mises and Rothbard). 

            I’m also not sure how you arrive at some of your psychological diagnoses of other posters (e.g. “the state is your god!”). Does that come from Mises too (I really don’t know)? Did you apply deductive logic to their posts to conclude that the answer is clearly a problem of overt state-worship? Does your variant of AE also include a robust method of psychoanalysis? 

          • 3cantuna

            According to Prof. Hoppe: Jean Baptiste Say, Nassau Senior, and John E. Cairnes, as well as all of the early Austrian economists. Carl Menger, of the latter, was one of the early developers of marginal utility.Here is JB Say: “A treatise on political economy will . . . be confined to the enunciation of a few general principles, notrequiring even the support of proofs or illustrations; because these will be but the expression of what every one willknow, arranged in a form convenient for comprehending them, as well as in their whole scope as in their relation toeach other.” And “political economy . . . whenever the principles which constitute its basis are the rigorous deductionsof undeniable general facts, rests upon an immovable foundation.”I know what I say is rather simple to understand– so your dismissiveness is a sign of sheer… I won’t say it. “A treatise on political economy will . . . be confined to the enunciation of a few general principles, notrequiring even the support of proofs or illustrations; because these will be but the expression of what every one willknow, arranged in a form convenient for comprehending them, as well as in their whole scope as in their relation toeach other.” And “political economy . . . whenever the principles which constitute its basis are the rigorous deductionsof undeniable general facts, rests upon an immovable foundation.”I know what I say is rather simple to understand– so your dismissiveness is a sign of sheer… I won’t say it. 

          • 3cantuna

            sorry, spacing issues. still a mystery to me….
            I repost JB SAY quotation at bottom

      • Damien S.

        I’m reminded of speculation that crying “socialism” all the time, especially on universal health care, was just going to convince the post-Soviet generation that socialism was okay if not awesome.

        “Democracy, health care, public schools, the FDA, the Weather Service, and NASA are socialism!” “Wow, socialism’s pretty cool!”

        • 3cantuna

          The state is a religion for you and empiricism gives you intellectual cover.

  • Nick Kaplan

    “What? Isn’t the point of the UBI to secure a just distribution of incomes? Isn’t the UBI legitimate because people it is owed to people in order to justify the social order as a whole?”

    As I understand Hayek the whole notion of needing to ‘justify the social order as a whole’ is a piece of rationalist nonsense, part of what he termed the fatal conceit. I don’t think he believed it was possible (or even made sense to talk about) justify(ing) a social order as a whole, given that it is an emergent order; the product of long social and cultural evolution, which we have very little ability to rationally shape and direct in accordance with strict principle (such as some conception of ‘social justice’ which invariably means egalitarianism).

    Rather than trying to achieve a ‘just social order’ we can ask whether any individual policy is good or bad, wise or unwise, beneficial or harmful to specific individual or society as a whole. Thus a UBI may be justified on any number of grounds without the need to resort to any notion of social justice and its being necessary to ensure the ‘whole social order is justified’ (whatever that might mean or involve). Thus one may think (as I do) that UBI is justified on the basis of the desirability of not having people starving on the street outweighing the wrong of coercively taxing people to fund it. Alternatively one could take the classical liberal insight that social outcomes are typically the unintended consequence of intentional actions and recognize that from this it follows that numerous people in a society may end up in dire poverty through no fault of their own or anybody else and hence it is useful and morally beneficial to have some sort of protection for anyone who may be in such a position. 

    This, however, is all quite separate from any question whether there is a just distribution of goods. A question that cannot really be answered by looking at levels of equality or inequality, or whether the social order is prioritarian or even sufficientarian (all of these matters having nothing to do with justice properly concieved). Instead questions about the justice of a distribution (or more helpfully about people’s various holdings of property), must begin by looking at how people came into possession of what they have. For example in so far as person X came into possession of their holding by way of a contractual promise from Y, for which X gave good consideration there can be no question that his holding is just (I would maintain that this is so regardless of how Y came into possession of the property so long as X has no knowledge of any wrongdoing (if any) of Y). Whether any given society wide distribution is just is merely a question about whether generally speaking, people in that society have or get that to which they are justly entitled given the promises, contracts, undertakings and obligations they make between themselves. 

    The greatest triumph of socialists/ egalitarians in political philosophy seems to be to have been to persuade the mass of philosophers that the question of distributional justice is not a historical question involving an assessment of how people came to have what they have, but rather an ahistorical (indeed forward looking) question about how we can design institutions to ensure that they get what they ought to get in accordance with some abstract theory. The latter is of doubtful sense and inevitably inclines people towards a quasi-socialist viewpoint, by encouraging them to indulge in the fatal conceit that anyone could design a social order to meet such abstract end state principles. 

    • 3cantuna

      How much Popper did Hayek absorb, then? If Mises was a rationalist and could reply to the emergent order concept “From aprioristic deduction it is known that social order of a higher material magnitude depends on the market system”. And this statement is void of empiricism, not being open to falsification. Then to whom does the fatal conceit charge apply? On one hand, applying natural science methods, hypothesis-testing strategies, and statistical analysis to past data on human activity– which can never result in certainty- leaves room for spontaneous order. On the other hand, empiricist strategies allow for the primitive treatment of ‘society’ as a thing or living whole– just with the adornments of ‘science’. Where does Hayek really stand here?

  • martinbrock

    Why does rejecting a monopoly on money put someone to the “right” rather than the “left”? Proudhon was on the “right”?

    • zhinxy

      That jumped out at me as well. Kevin, can you elaborate?

  • martinbrock

    Do children receive Hayek’s UBI?

  • famadeo

    what sort of mobility did Hayek intend UBI to secure?

  • berserkrl

    I have nothing against a universal basic income so long as government isn’t involved and no force is used to provide it.

    • I am pretty sure that force would have to be used to provide it, unless one can figure out a way to provide the revenue for it by some sort of ‘sin tax,’ rather than an income tax or sales tax.

    • OK. I’ll bite. How would that work, even in theory?

      • zhinxy

        A group of anarchists could agree to exist in a Parecon-like system that guaranteed each of them a UBI.  A group of Georgists could single-tax each other and divide the profits. Etc. 

        • zhinxy

          erk, got cut off. But if you mean on a National level, than theoretically we could set up publically owned non-governmental entities, maybe even involved in oil sales, etc for the added Alaska/Georgistish touch and split the profits. 

    • BallsAndStrikes

      I have nothing against water so long as it is not wet no hydrogen or oxygen are used to make it.

  • TonyFressola1950

    Interestingly, Hayek thought that as a practical matter the uniform minimum would need to be country specific (since “for a long time to come it sill be wholly impossible to secure an adequate and uniform standard for all human beings everywhere”) and that this “necessitates certain limitations on the free movement of men across frontiers”. Hayek was not especially troubled by this need to limit immigration–but I find it quite troubling.

  • The passages quoted make it sound as though Hayek is moving from a premise like:

    In restraining or assisting people, governments must apply abstract rules that apply equally to all people

    to a conclusion like:

    In restraining or assisting people, governments must apply rules that apply equally to all people and abstract from all features of those people other than the fact that they are people.

    If that is the inference it is fallacious, and the conclusion is independently implausible, even I would think on libertarian grounds. Libertarians, I take it, almost all agree that governments are to protect property rights. But some people have much more property than others, and so the proportional outlay from the public treasury needed to protect those rights will differ from person to person. Is the government not permitted to take the relative size of the person’s property into account in determining how man of its resources should be devoted to protecting the rights to that property?

    Does the person therefore have a “special claim” if such differential treatment is permissible? Well yes and no. The actual monetary or material value of the proceeds of that claim is different than the value of the proceeds of the same claim delivered to others. But there is a single rule that is being applied impartially.

    Similarly, if there is a rule for income distribution from the public treasury that entails that people with less prior income are to be treated differently than people with more prior income, that doesn’t violate the condition that there should be a single rule that is applied impartially.

  • famadeo

    That third Hayek quote is very telling. Marcuse wrote about liberal democracies resting on abstract liberty. There’s a problem with this conception: it’s *abstract*. As in *not conrete*. It pays no attention to real-life dynamics wherein other forms (other than the state, that is) of power distribution occur. Theoretical freedom is an empty shell.

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  • Josh

    The purpose of a UBI is NOT necessarily to ensure a ‘just distribution’ of incomes.  It’s to ensure a minimum level of income.  While one might argue that ‘the necessary minimum to all, with no restriction on those who exceed the minimum’ IS a ‘just distribution’, this would not be a universally accepted argument.  But the point of the UBI is almost explicitly, from the quotes you cited, for the purpose of eliminating argument about what represents ‘just distribution’. 

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  • 3cantuna

    Jean Baptiste Say: “A treatise on political economy will . . . be confined to the enunciation of a few general principles, not requiring even the support of proofs or illustrations; because these will be but the expression of what every one will know, arranged in a form convenient for comprehending them, as well as in their whole scope as in their relation toeach other.” And, “political economy . . . whenever the principles which constitute its basis are the rigorous deductions of undeniable general facts, rests upon an immovable foundation.”

  • 3cantuna

    Here is Boettke and Leeson making a historical point on Mises’s apriorism v. his positivist and empiricist critics (from a working paper): 
    “Nonetheless, it is worth noting that for many years a more or less methodological apriorism as described by Mises was common among economists. In fact a deductive ‘common sense’ approach was the dominant way of doing economics for quite some time. As Mises put it, “We do not maintain that the theoretical science of human action should be aprioristic, but that it is and always has been so” (1949: 40). Nassau Senior, Destutt Tracey, J.B. Say, John Cairnes, Carl Menger, Lionel Robbins, Frank Knight, and many others were all apriorists of some sort or another. Economic theorems, these writers contended, were derived from ‘self-evident’ axioms. Far from out of step, this is the way that economic theorizing was done by classical and neoclassical economists for more than one hundred years.”

    I am sure they were all just delusional.

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