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The Intellectuals’ Hostility to the Market Economy

July 2, 2014 in Economics

By Matt McCaffrey

Further to Joe Salerno’s post on “Hayek and the Intellectuals,” it’s worth adding that Hayek was not alone in thinking of the intellectual class as naturally hostile to the market economy. In particular, there are many similarities between Hayek’s ideas and those found in Schumpeter’s “Sociology of the Intellectuals.”

Schumpeter famously argued in Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (1942; three years before Hayek’s essay) that the entrepreneurial economy creates wealth and improves social conditions to such an extent that it eventually undermines itself and is replaced with socialism. Entrepreneurs are so successful that people take them for granted; in fact, people resent entrepreneurship and innovation, because the constant transformation of the economy gives them feelings of instability and uncertainty.

[T]he ever-rising standards of life and particularly the leisure that modern capitalism provides for the fully employed workman…well, there is no need for me to finish the sentence or to elaborate one of the truest, oldest and most stodgy of all arguments which unfortunately is but too true. Secular improvement that is taken for granted and coupled with individual insecurity that is acutely resented is of course the best recipe for breeding social unrest.

However, this “hostility” to the market economy is insufficient to produce a full-blown transition to socialism. In addition, “For [a revolutionary] atmosphere to develop it is necessary that there be groups to whose interest it is to work up and organize resentment, to nurse it, to voice it and to lead it.” Enter the intellectuals.

The intellectuals are a paradoxical product of the market economy, because “unlike any other type of society, capitalism inevitably and by virtue of the very logic of its civilization creates, educates and subsidizes a vested interest in social unrest.” Like Hayek, Schumpeter described intellectuals broadly as “people who wield the power of the spoken and the written word.” More narrowly, “one of the touches that distinguish them from other people who do the same is the absence of direct responsibility for practical affairs.” That is, intellectuals do not participate in the market (at least not in the areas they write about), and do not generally rely on satisfying consumers to earn a living. Add to this their naturally critical attitude—which Schumpeter argues is the product of the essential rationality of the market economy—and it is easy to see why intellectuals would be hostile to the market.

In other words, intellectuals are often out …read more

Source: MISES INSTITUTE

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