Bruce Caldwell on The Road from Mont Pèlerin

2 September 2010 at 11:31 am 9 comments

| Peter Klein |

Don’t miss Bruce Caldwell’s review of Philip Mirowski and Dieter Plehwe, eds., The Road from Mont Pèlerin: The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective (Harvard, 2009). “Mont Pèlerin” refers, of course, to the Mont Pèlerin Society, the association of classical liberal academics and journalists founded by Hayek in 1947. Bruce finds the volume informative, despite its frequently disdainful tone toward its subjects. He also raises an important general point, one that I’ve wrestled with a lot since the financial crisis: does anybody listen to us?

The second question [raised  by the book] has to do with the potency of intellectuals to shape world events or, more narrowly, even economic and social policy. It is evident that members of the Mont Pèlerin Society, for all of their diversity, still preferred some form of liberalism . . . to other ways of organizing economic and political affairs.  But how important were they in the emerging global consensus that began in the 1980s in favor of trade liberalization and privatization?  Were not, for example, the dismal performance of Keynesian demand management policies in the United States, Britain, and elsewhere in the 1970s; the heavy-handed actions of the trade unions in Britain during the “Winter of Discontent”; the sclerotic performance of countries like India who had embraced a modified version of the planning model for their own; and, of course, the patent economic and political failures of the East Bloc, far more important in turning the tide, however briefly, towards globalization?  Was not George Stigler (himself a founding member of the Society) right in his comment about economists that “our influence appears to be powerful only when we support policies ripe for adoption” (Stigler 1987, p. 11)?

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Austrian Economics, Classical Liberalism, Institutions, People, Public Policy / Political Economy.

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Richard Ebeling  |  2 September 2010 at 5:53 pm

    I am in the process of reading “The Road from Mont Pelerin.”

    Bruce Caldwell is absoluately right that the authors have used a vast amount of archival material, and provide many new details and insights into the lives and activities of those connected with the revival of classical liberal and free market ideas in the post-World War II period.

    But even after only having read about two-thirds of the volume, I can confirm Bruce’s other observation that many (I would even say most) of the authors have social democratic and socialist-oriented axes to grind.

    They look for and attempt to paint many of the individuals they are writing about as apologists for greedy businessmen, “reactionaries” who just can’t accept the transfer of “real” democratic power to “the people” (read: government wealth transfer; regulation and intervention of private business into “socially desirable” and “socially justice” directions).

    Sections read like Marxist class analysis in shallow scholarly clothing. That is, what are the businesss interests or monetary gains behind the actions and words of these people? This, also, includes a contempt and ridicule for the ideas of self-organizing (spontaneous) order, or any recognition of the Smithian “invisible hand.”

    To be even more frank, much of the book is an intellectual embarressment. But it also shows how bankrupt those on the left, who comprise most of the authors, really are. This is the best they can do in response to the classical liberal and free market idea and system.

    A smear job of distortions and name-calling. This over powers all the useful historical details with which the chapters are filled.

    Richard Ebeling

  • 2. Richard Ebeling  |  2 September 2010 at 6:33 pm

    If I may add one more observation.

    “The Road from Mont Pelerin” confirms Hayek’s remarks in the introduction to “Capitalism and the Historians,” the the most influential intellectuals may very well be the historians.

    Their interpretations of “the facts” of the past color how others view the historical events and what they mean.

    Many who will never, perhaps, read Hayek, Mises, Friedman, Wilhem Roepke, Frank Knight, etc., will have their conception of them and their ideas influenced by the way the authors of this volume portray these individuals.

    These “second-handers of ideas” ( to use a phrase from Hayek’s “Intellectuals and Socialism”), therefore, will have distorted how others view these advocates of a freer society.

    As George Orwell emphasized, he who controls the past, controls the future. And that is clearly what the authors of “The Road from Mont Pelerin” trying to do with their twisted interpretations of this chapter in the history of classical liberalism.

    Richard Ebeling

  • 3. Richard Hammer  |  2 September 2010 at 8:56 pm

    PK: “does anybody listen to us?”

    I have much to say. My failures as an activist to convey unsolicited messages have driven my study. Communication should be modeled as economically motivated exchange. Get me a grant and I’ll model it up proper.

  • 4. Rafe  |  3 September 2010 at 3:10 am

    “One of the main impressions of the book is the way the authors wear their ideological orientations on their sleeves and it is clearly no part of the agenda to provide any deep analysis of neoliberal programs that could explain why apparently intelligent and reasonable people like the Petes and Steve and Dave have got involved in this movement.”

    From this review.

    http://catallaxyfiles.com/2010/02/12/a-leftie-look-at-the-mont-pelerin-society/

  • 5. Pietro M.  |  3 September 2010 at 3:51 am

    I generally dislike ad personam arguments, because they have little or no informational content. However, if Mirowski has troubles with neoclassical economy’s imperialism on his university, it doesn’t strike me as a surprise that he has fallen prey to some conspiracy theory against unorthodox thought. That’s something that also Austrians do, it’s in the human nature to blame others before ourselves. :-)

  • 6. Peter Klein  |  3 September 2010 at 8:39 am

    Rafe, thanks for the pointer. I had missed your earlier review.

  • 7. Rafe  |  3 September 2010 at 5:29 pm

    Pete Boettke linked and commented on the book as well.

    http://www.coordinationproblem.org/2010/02/callem-as-you-seeem.html

  • 8. srp  |  3 September 2010 at 7:31 pm

    Past brushes with Mirowski and his acolytes leave me unsurprised by the nature of this work. Remember “physics envy?”

  • 9. Rafe  |  4 September 2010 at 5:43 pm

    I am surprised that people are taking Mirowski so seriously, whenever he blunders into my area of competence he talks rubbish. That is a dangerous sign. Bertrand Russell did a gestalt switch and gave up on Hegel when he read Hegel on mathematics, hitherto he had given Hegel the benefit of the doubt in areas where Russell was not fully briefed.

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