Sunday, August 28, 2011

Week 35: The Fatal Conceit

The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism, by F. A. Hayek

This is one of Hayek's last books; in it, he tries to refute the philosophical underpinnings of socialism (more what we would call communism, really). Hayek wishes to prove that socialism is based on a "fatal conceit:" the false premise that a group of people can gather enough information to plan an economic system that will work better than the unplanned, spontaneous economic activities of an entire population. (Note that he is using the term 'fatal conceit' to mean an idea that doesn't work, not a condition of arrogance.) In other words, a million ordinary people, making decisions just for themselves, will accidentally produce an economy that works better than one the 100 smartest people in the whole world can plan, because the million people know more.

Hayek always writes very abstractly and densely. So if you want to read the material without having to struggle with Hayek himself, you might like to read The Rational Optimist, which I reviewed a few months ago. It covers pretty much the same material, but it's much easier to read even though it's about four times as long. But Hayek does address certain problems of language, which I found very interesting, and he has a short final chapter on the benefits of religion (entirely from a practical standpoint; he was an agnostic himself).

I'm glad I read the book, but it sure was difficult to get through.

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