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Is there a Paradox of a Hayekian Paternalist?

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  • Michael Wohlgemuth

Abstract

Is Friedrich von Hayek in some specific, perhaps paradoxical, way a "classical liberal paternalist"? My answer will be an unsatisfying "yes and no" depending not only on my interpretation of Hayek, but also on the manifold interpretations one can give to the concepts of paternalism and classical liberalism (or, indeed: liberty). I start with an interpretation of Hayek’s account of "modernity". Here, I hint at a first potential paradox in the form of a "magic triangle" composed of (a) Hayek’s praise and explanation of the evolutionary emergence of the spontaneous order of the market and civil society, (b) Hayek’s fierce opposition to modernist thinking and the fatal conceit of rationalist constructivism and (c) Hayek’s gloomy visions of politics, legislation, or public choice. Next, I shortly distinguish various dimensions of paternalism and confront these with Hayek’s classical liberalism. In the following parts, I offer a brief account of behavioral "anomalies" of public choices that are analogous to, and even more harmful than, those used as legitimizations of "libertarian paternalism" in the private realm. I end up with a qualified claim that at least in the realm of potentially self-damaging collective choices, Hayek might be called a (classical liberal) "paternalist".

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  • Michael Wohlgemuth, 2011. "Is there a Paradox of a Hayekian Paternalist?," Papers on Economics and Evolution 2011-22, Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography.
  • Handle: RePEc:esi:evopap:2011-22
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    1. Smith, Vernon L, 1985. "Experimental Economics: Reply," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(1), pages 264-272, March.
    2. George A. Akerlof, 1989. "The Economics Of Illusion," Economics and Politics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 1(1), pages 1-15, March.
    3. Michael Wohlgemuth, 2002. "Democracy and Opinion Falsification: Towards a New Austrian Political Economy," Constitutional Political Economy, Springer, vol. 13(3), pages 223-246, September.
    4. Richard H. Thaler & Cass R. Sunstein, 2003. "Libertarian Paternalism," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(2), pages 175-179, May.
    5. Kirchgassner, Gebhard & Pommerehne, Werner W, 1993. "Low-Cost Decisions as a Challenge to Public Choice," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 77(1), pages 107-115, September.
    6. Michael Wohlgemuth, 2000. "Political entrepreneurship and bidding for political monopoly," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 10(3), pages 273-295.
    7. Andy Denis, 2002. "Was Hayek a Panglossian Evolutionary Theorist? A Reply to Whitman," Constitutional Political Economy, Springer, vol. 13(3), pages 275-285, September.
    8. Mozaffar Qizilbash, 2009. "Well-Being, Preference Formation and the Danger of Paternalism," Papers on Economics and Evolution 2009-18, Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography.
    9. Andreas Bergh & Rolf Höijer (ed.), 2008. "Institutional Competition," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 12989, December.
    10. Caplan, Bryan, 2001. "Rational Ignorance versus Rational Irrationality," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 54(1), pages 3-26.
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