The Pretence of Knowledge - Economics and Moral Courage

Posted by ProjectC 
(Nobel Prize Lecture) The Pretence of Knowledge - By Friedrich August von Hayek

<blockquote>It is interesting to read Hayek's acceptance speech, which the Mises Institute published this year. It is a tribute to a profession to which he wanted closer ties. But it was not a loving presentation of the glories of academia. In fact, it was the opposite. He said that the most dangerous person on earth is an arrogant intellectual who lacks the humility necessary to see that society needs no masters and cannot be planned from the top down. An intellectual lacking humility can become a tyrant — and an accomplice in the destruction of civilization itself.

It was an amazing speech for a Nobel Prize winner to give, an implicit condemnation of a century of intellectual and social trends, and a real tribute to Mises, who had stuck by his principles and never given in to the academic trends of his time.

A similar story could be told about the life of Murray N. Rothbard, who might have become a major star in an Ivy League department but instead decided to follow the lead of Mises in economic science. He taught for many years at a tiny Brooklyn college instead, at very low pay. But as with Mises, this element of Rothbard's life is largely forgotten. After their deaths, people have forgotten all the trials and difficulties these men faced in life. And what did these men earn for all their commitments? They earned for their ideas a certain kind of immortality.

What are those ideas? They said that freedom works and freedom is right, that government does not work and that it is the source of great evil in the world. They proved these propositions with thousands of applications. They wrote these truths in scholarly treatises and popular articles. And history has vindicated them again and again.

We are living now through another period of economic planning and we are seeing economists split on both sides. The overwhelming majority is saying what the regime wants them to say. To depart too much from the prevailing ideology of power is more of a risk than most want to take. A small minority, the same group that warned of the bubble, is again warning that the stimulus is a fake. And they are going against the grain in saying so.

I'm with Hayek on this point. To be an economist with integrity means having to say things that people don't want to hear and especially to say things that the regime does not want to hear. It takes more than technical knowledge to be a good economist. It takes moral courage, and that is in even shorter supply than economic logic.

Just as Mises needed Fertig and Hazlitt, economists with moral courage need supporters and institutions to back them up and give them voice. We must all bear this burden. As Mises said, the only way to fight bad ideas is with good ones. And in the end, no one is safe if civilization is sweeping to destruction.
- Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr., Economics and Moral Courage, October 23, 2009