Ming Jie (chasingred) wrote in moderate,
Ming Jie


It seems to me that one of the most powerful arguments against Bush's foreign policy doctrine (in all of its mutations and adjustments) can be found in Hayek's contribution to economics (I'm speaking of Frederick Hayek, not Salma Hayek).

Frederick Hayek is one of the most eminent Austrian economists who followed after Ludwig Von Mises. Without Mises and Hayek, neoliberal theories on the benefits of capitalism and decentralized market economies may be quite different, if not non-existent.

Some of the best articles I read by Hayek were "Economics and Knowledge" (1937) and "The Use of Knowledge in Society" (1945). The Mises Institute summarizes some of Hayek's thoughts here:
Much of the knowledge necessary for running the economic system, Hayek contended, is in the form not of "scientific" or technical knowledge--the conscious awareness of the rules governing natural and social phenomena--but of " knowledge, the idiosyncratic, dispersed bits of understanding of "circumstances of time and place." This tacit knowledge is often not consciously known even to those who possess it and can never be communicated to a central authority. The market tends to use this tacit knowledge through a type of "discovery procedure" (Hayek, 1968a), by which this information is unknowingly transmitted throughout the economy as an unintended consequence of individuals' pursuing their own ends.
The writings really should be viewed in their totality, not as summarized by secondary sources (I highly recommend them if you’re interested in economics). Nonetheless, I shall summarize that Hayek essentially observed that economies only successfully work when the system taps into the environment of diffused knowledge, not by trying to aggregate information into a central authority.

He was both right and wrong though. The Soviet Union, however much a miserable failure it turned out to be, was actually successful at certain economic tasks. For example, while the Soviet economy couldn't innovate (let alone have central planners dictate how many toothbrushes to make that year), it was quite efficient and effective at accomplishing directed and simple goals. If you wanted a steel mill with these specifications built at this place by this time, the Soviet planners could do it. It was a simple goal. However, in the long run, economics is more than accomplishing simple goals, so the Soviet system failed.

There seems to be Hayekian lessons to be drawn here in regards to the Bush Doctrine. For whichever form you take the Doctrine to be in, it is quite measurable to Reagan's Doctrine. While there is room for controversy about the wisdom of Reagan's Doctrine, given the simple environment of dealing with Soviet foreign policy, it worked to a certain extent because the goals were relatively simple. Soviet Union is in Latin America. We go to Latin America with these goals and these strategies. Soviets place missiles here, we place missiles there. The centralized, top-down, secretive nature of the Reagan Doctrine worked (arguably) because of the simplicity of the foreign policy goals (relatively).

With the new "war on terror," goals are much more complicated. Strategies are even more clouded. In this environment, there are no simple missions and calculable results. The calculable nature of the Cold War was much higher than the current situation where enemies are in decentralized, unrelated cells, operate incoherently, and ferment their power through international recruitment. Thus, it seems that Hayek's emphasis on utilizing decentralized knowledge is much more pertinent in today’s international relations.

Bush's reliance on American intelligence, forgoing of international cooperation (to whatever extent you want to measure it, there is some dismissal), and insistence on treating this as a "foreign policy war," instead of a "global police problem," is characteristic of what I'm terming as a "centralized structure." This alienates us from other possible sources of information. Either by losing allies, failing to build up stronger international police communication structures, or handing the "war on terror" to more decentralized levels, we are losing out on a wealth of knowledge that should be used against terrorists. The culmination of this centralized structure’s ineffectiveness was evident when it turned out that our own intelligence failed through either 1) insufficient information at different times pre-9/11 and after, 2) poor communication at different times pre-9/11 and after, and 3) reliance on information from misleading informants such as the one who called himself “Curveball.” I think both pre-9/11 and post 9/11 international relation strategies could have been more successful if they were built on a decentralized structure. Nation-state and international organization actors would pursue their own interests by networking information and cooperating in a similar way that the global economy works. A set of incentives could be built through international organizations too, however, I think many nations would cooperate for the sake of their own safety and in order to earn diplomatic brownie points. Dealing with this as an international police problem, even at the threat of exposing our intelligence system to other nations, seems to be more sensible given that international nation-state threats (for now) seem to be dampened through the ever tightening interdependency effect of the global economy.

Kerry has called the current terrorist threat one of a "police problem" while Bush calls it a "war." Kerry, in effect, is advocating for a more decentralized strategy while Bush is vying for a more centralized one. How has our classical liberal/ neoliberal intellectual, Hayek, somehow landed in the camp of Kerry?

Thoughts on this transplanting of neoliberal/ classical liberal/ truly conservative economic theory to international relations?
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