This is a collection of my favorite quotes.
Curious Task. The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design. F.A. Hayek, The Fatal Conceit
Russ Roberts provides this quote and then follows it with a nice one of his own: “So many things the government does are attempts to circumvent the bad things caused by something else they already do.” Cafe Hayek, October 6, 2009.
Hayek quoting Smith in The Road To Serfdom at the start of Chapter 5, Planning and Democracy. “The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals, would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted to no council and senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it.” Adam Smith. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, ed. R. H. Campbell and A. S. Skinner, vol. 1 of The Glasgow Edition of the Works and Correspondence of Adam Smith, book 4, chapter 2, p. 456.
Individualism and Economic Order
Page 11. in the essay “Individualism: True and False” 1948. The University of Chicago Press.
However that may be, the main point about which there can be little doubt is that Smith’s chief concern was not so much with what man might occasionally achieve when he was at his best but that he should have as little opportunity as possible to do harm when he was at his worst. It would scarcely be too much to claim that the main merit of the individualism which he and his contemporaries advocated is that it is a system under which bad men can do least harm. It is a social system which does not depend for its functioning on our finding good men for running it, or on all men becoming better than they now are, but which makes use of men in all their given variety and complexity, sometimes good and sometimes bad, sometimes intelligent and more often stupid. Their aim was a system under which it should be possible to grant freedom to all, instead of restricting it, as their French contemporaries wished, to “the good and the wise.”
Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek
[Note: I read this on a Kindle and thus can only cite location numbers but not page numbers in my citations.]
In the preface the editor, Bruce Caldwell, quotes John Maynard Keynes from The General Theory
“The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas.”
John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money , reprinted as vol. 7 (1973) of The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes, p.383.
“Lord Acton truly said of liberty, that it ‘is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end. It is not for the sake of a good public administration that it is required, but for the security in the pursuit of the highest objects of civil society, and of private life.’ Democracy is essentially a means, a utilitarian device for safeguarding internal peace and individual freedom. As such it is by no means infallible or certain.” Road to Serfdom Location 2694. Lord Acton, “The History of Freedom in Antiquity,” p. 22.
“Anyone who has observed how aspiring monopolists regularly seek and frequently obtain the assistance of the power of the state to make their control effective can have little doubt that there is nothing inevitable about this development.” Location 2329
That hodgepodge of ill-assembled and often inconsistent ideals which under the name of the Welfare State has largely replaced socialism as the goal of the reformers needs very careful sorting out if its results are not to be very similar to those of full-fledged socialism. This is not to say that some of its aims are not both practicable and laudable. But there are many ways in which we can work toward the same goal, and in the present state of opinion there is some danger that our impatience for quick results may lead us to choose instruments which, though perhaps more efficient for achieving the particular ends, are not compatible with the preservation of a free society. The increasing tendency to rely on administrative coercion and discrimination where a modification of the general rules of law might, perhaps more slowly, achieve the same object, and to resort to direct state controls or to the creation of monopolistic institutions where judicious use of financial inducements might evoke spontaneous efforts, is still a powerful legacy of the socialist period which is likely to influence policy for a long time to come. Location 1199.
John Stuart Mill
In the first chapter of On Liberty
The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right… The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.
John Stuart Mill (1859). On Liberty. Oxford University. pp. 21–22.