At first glance, it would seem fanciful that the theories of Karl Marx and Friedrich Hayek could be drawn on together to explain economic crises, or cycles, booms and busts. Certainly, the two men’s politics could not have been more different: Marx predicted (and hoped for) either the collapse or the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement by socialism and communism. Hayek thought that most kinds of state intervention in the market were the thin end of the authoritarian wedge.
The ideas of John Maynard Keynes and Hyman Minsky are more compatible, and both have many disciples in the post-Keynesian school. Minsky developed Keynes’ theory of investment and its role in instability under capitalism. For Keynes and Minsky then, capitalism is inherently unstable, money and finance play a large role in this instability and it is the job of government to save the system from itself.
On economic policy, these four influential thinkers part ways. Marx offered little theory of policy; Hayek, like others in the Austrian school, rejected it as damaging and favoured a laissez-faire approach; Keynes and Minsky were interventionists. Continue reading →
Following videos on Marx, Keynes, Adam Smith and Capitalism, and in the interests of some kind of balance, here is a brief video introduction from The School of Life on Austrian School economist Friedrich Hayek. His thinking influenced the political programmes of Reagan and Thatcher in the 1980s and, many years before, he was involved in some great intellectual debates with Keynes.
I found the video useful, as I have not read any of Hayek’s work, though I have read other writer’s critiques of him. One of the points in the video that stood out for me was Keynes’ questioning of Hayek as to where the line should be drawn between government intervention and the private sector, given the inevitability of some state planning. Of course, private firms make plans as much as governments, but the balance between the public and private will surely vary over time in any country depending on a range of factors.
I would also make the point that Thatcherism has been described by one academic as ‘the free economy and the strong state’. If this is an accurate characterisation, it illustrates the inevitable and shifting relationship between the market and the state, and a range of other institutions. Like it or not, modern capitalist economies are all mixed economies with interventionist states. There will always be room for debate over the balance between the various and evolving institutions that comprise such a system.
“It is strange that two authors that have provided us with the deepest understanding of the workings of modern capitalism, Marx and Hayek, have little to say about specific economic policies. Marx advocates the broad but undetailed policy of central or collective planning and public ownership. Hayek’s policy stance is diametrically opposed to that of Marx but is hardly less bland: we are offered the generalities of more market competition and extended private ownership. Hayek, like Marx and his followers, has very little to say in detailed, policy terms. The common blindness to varieties of capitalism disables their theoretical systems in policy terms.
The way out of this difficulty is to place the detailed analysis of capitalist institutions and of national and corporate cultures at the centre of the stage. Institutional economics thus provides a fruitful approach to the formulation of relevant and operational economic policies. With the notable exception of Veblen, many leading institutionalists in the past have been deeply involved in the development of economic policy. Much of this work was based on empirical study, but there is no reason why work in the future should not be guided by the deepest theoretical and methodological insights. Instead of empty formalism there is the possibility that economics may thus be capable of providing inspiration and sagacious guidance for those in government, finance and business.”
Geoffrey M. Hodgson (1999), Economics and Utopia, p.148
There is much to admire and draw on in Hodgson’s reboot of ‘old institutionalist’ economics, Continue reading →