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Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, Augusto Pinochet, and Hu Jintao: Authoritarian Liberalism vs. Liberal Authoritarianism

Jamie K. at Blood and Treasure writes:

Blood & Treasure: Hayekian dictatorship: Greg Grandin in Counterpunch sings of Friedman, Hayek, Pinochet, and someone closer to home:

Friedrich von Hayek, the Austrian émigré and University of Chicago professor whose 1944 Road to Serfdom dared to suggest that state planning would produce not "freedom and prosperity" but "bondage and misery," visited Pinochet's Chile a number of times. He was so impressed that he held a meeting of his famed Société Mont Pélérin there. He even recommended Chile to Thatcher as a model to complete her free-market revolution. The Prime Minister, at the nadir of Chile's 1982 financial collapse, agreed that Chile represented a "remarkable success" but believed that Britain's "democratic institutions and the need for a high degree of consent" make "some of the measures" taken by Pinochet "quite unacceptable."

Well, the left in Britain fought and lost in the 1980’s. But just think what might have happened if it hadn’t fought at all. Anyway:

Like Friedman, Hayek glimpsed in Pinochet the avatar of true freedom, who would rule as a dictator only for a "transitional period," only as long as needed to reverse decades of state regulation. "My personal preference," he told a Chilean interviewer, "leans toward a liberal dictatorship rather than toward a democratic government devoid of liberalism." In a letter to the London Times he defended the junta, reporting that he had "not been able to find a single person even in much maligned Chile who did not agree that personal freedom was much greater under Pinochet than it had been under Allende." Of course, the thousands executed and tens of thousands tortured by Pinochet's regime weren't talking.

Hayek's University of Chicago colleague Milton Friedman got the grief, but it was Hayek who served as the true inspiration for Chile's capitalist crusaders. It was Hayek who depicted Allende's regime as a way station between Chile's postwar welfare state and a hypothetical totalitarian future. Accordingly, the Junta justified its terror as needed not only to prevent Chile from turning into a Stalinist gulag but to sweep away fifty years of tariffs, subsidies, capital controls, labor legislation, and social welfare provisions -- a "half century of errors," according to finance minister Sergio De Castro, that was leading Chile down its own road to serfdom.

I think that there is an important difference between Friedman and Hayek. Hayek is an economic (classical) liberal but a social conservative: a believer in respect for throne and altar. Social conservative Hayek can see Pinochet as a good thing: far better to have an authoritarian state that maintains the conservative moral order, if it can be persuaded to adopt laissez-faire economics, than it is to have a democracy that regulates the economy. Friedman, by contrast, hates and fears a government that prohibits use of recreational drugs in your home almost as much as he hates and fears a government that won't let you undersell your politically-powerful competitors. For Friedman, Pinochet is a bad--an aggressive, powerful military dictator--whose evil the Chicago Boys can curb by persuading him to adopt laissez-faire policies. (And, Friedman would say, Pinochet is vastly better than that communist Allende--consider, Friedman would say, that Castro's regime in Cuba is the zenith of what Communist rule can accomplish.)

Jamie K. goes on:

Now, the position of many mainstream intellectuals and economists in China, especially during the mid to late 1990’s was summed up at the time as “liberty before participation”, ie “capitalism now, democracy sometime, maybe.” And there’s still a powerful school of thought in China to the effect that the advantage of CPC rule is that it enables China to establish a full market economy without the kind of “historic mistakes” like the welfare state or the New Deal that you get when the public is allowed to vote itself the keys to the bank. People who call themselves libertarians in China are likely to be strong supporters of the Communist Party, at least on instrumental grounds.

I’ve argued before that many of China’s anti subversion laws – like those against “causing turmoil” or “disturbing social order” - have a Hayekian feel to them. They’re essentially designed as measures to stop people exercising the conceit of reason. If Hayek’s preference was for a liberal dictatorship, China is still the country that best meets that description, despite the recent leftish turn in official policy.