Hayek versus Habermas: Round 3
There are several aspects of this argument that need to be dealt with. First is the failure to recognise that far from ‘distorting’ social communication some inequalities (though not all) may actually aid the process of communication. As Hayek noted in The Constitution of Liberty, ‘if the results of individual liberty did not demonstrate that some manners of living were more successful than others then much of the case for it would vanish’ (p.85). In markets, for example, it is precisely the unequal discovery of profit opportunities by more alert actors that facilitates the spread of the most successful production and consumption models via a process of imitative learning. Habermasians themselves seem to acknowledge the inevitability of unequal influence by suggesting that those who give better arguments should exercise greater influence over the allocation of resources. If inequalities resulting from the exercise of the ‘better argument’ are acceptable, however, then it is not clear why inequalities which result from persuading others to purchase goods are not. Indeed, as noted in my first post there is a strong case that markets may be more egalitarian than deliberative democratic processes precisely because they do not rely exclusively on formal argumentation. Procedures that privilege the use of explicit reasoning systematically exclude those who are less able to engage in articulate persuasion but who may still possess valuable knowledge embodied in the exercise of entrepreneurship or a practical skill.
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Mark Pennington is the author of Robust Political Economy: Classical Liberalism and the Future of Public Policy