Life or death?

Rodney Hide


Friedrich Hayek’s Fatal Conceit is one of those books you can read and read and then read again and still learn from.

It carries in its title a truly shocking and powerful truth. The conceit is “that man is able to shape the world around him according to his wishes”. 

That’s the conceit of socialists and utopians everywhere. They wish always to displace the market system with their “rational” and planned system of production and distribution.

It’s the conceit of the university professor, the opinion writer, the Hollywood star, the UN head honcho and the council town planner.

They can in their minds think of a better world and believe thinking of a better place, plus government power, plus well-meaning people make it possible.

For them the market system with each and everyone going about their own business is chaotic and shambolic. They fail to grasp the order that the market system engenders all around them.

The conceit is fatal because to displace the market system would inevitably mean that a great proportion of the human population now alive must suffer and die.

It’s the market system’s global co-operation and co-ordination that has enabled the human population to prosper and to expand.

A question of science

The very marvel of the market system is that the human mind only has to grasp just the tiniest bit of the vast interconnected web of the world’s production system that enables us to survive and to prosper.

And, of course, that tiny bit is precisely the bit that we are each responsible for in our day job.

Moreover, our minds simply can’t grasp the totality of the productive system. That’s why central planning must inevitably fail.

For Hayek the choice between central planning and the market order is not one of morality or competing values but instead a question of science.

It’s the proper understanding of social science, economics and anthropology that enables us to grasp the limit of our reason and of our thinking and likewise to grasp that the human population can only be sustained through the extended order that the market system enables.

The genetic instinct within us is that of the small band of hunter-gatherers. That’s the world of our genetic inheritance. In the small band we know one another. Our goals are the group’s goals.

Each can be treated as a neighbour. The life is collectivist and the rule of life is to share and share alike. That sharing extends only within the group: outsiders are feared and fought. That’s our history.

New rules prospered

But, amazingly, across tribes new rules of behaviour developed and the rules prospered. These are rules that counter human instinct. They are the “shall nots.”

They cut across intra-group altruism and solidarity. They are the rules that enabled private property to be recognised and contracts to be honoured.

Interestingly, primitive tribes in Australia and New Guinea have been observed honouring the rules necessary for the intertribal trade that they had come to depend on even amid the warring of the tribes.

The rules on which the peace and prosperity of the extended market order depends were neither conceived nor designed. They were rather stumbled on and the very success that they enabled ensured their survival and spread.

The intellectual’s desire for the plan, for the rational process, for the resource sharing and for the solidarity of the group, is a primitive desire from deep within our DNA.

It harkens back to the rules that applied when we lived in roving bands thinly dispersed across the planet always on the edge of survival and very much within the ecological limits that the present-day Greens so earnestly desire for us to return to.

To adopt those rules, to accept those limits, would be to condemn millions to die. That’s the Fatal Conceit.

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Yes, but you left politicians out of the list of those infected.


Perhaps all politicians !


surely then the very concept of a politician is indeed fatal conceit?




Yes, Mr Hide, socialists and leftists think they could and should shape the world according to their wishes - a fatal human fallacy.

Capitalists and rightists think the free market should shape the world - but only if it suits their purpose.

Witness the carnage exacted on NZ and ordinary citizens from the free market experiment which led to the 1987 share market crash and in recent times, the $7 billion finance companies disaster.

There are many like the Michael Fay and Alan Gibbs of the world chuckling in the background of how they grew super wealthy from harnessing the power of the free market.

All to their wishes, of course.

What rubbish you write.


I was going to reply to this nonsense but on reflection there is no need.

The author will reap the unfortunate rewards of his ignorance without my assistance and no doubt will continue to wonder why the world is so unfair to him..


Second to last para highlights what a preposterous view of things Hide has.


Spoken like the man who converted One Tree Hill into No Tree Hill.


And justice for all: I think you miss the point that business doesn't shape the world in a market --- customers do, i.e. you and I.


Business doesn't shape the world? Try telling that to Apple and Google!

No, try telling that to Alan Gibbs who successfully made millions by lobbying the government on Telecom - a monopolistic we know what you want and you will pay.


The market provides problems and needs. Business provides solutions from which the markets (you and I) choose the best.

Monopolies are most often created and maintained by Government interference in the market. For very many examples see the Muldoon import licensing and Government agency economy prior to the free market reforms you deplore and malign.


Mike Smith: which part of the second to last paragraph is wrong? That humans lived for millenia in hunter gatherer bands or that the greens want us to live within natural ecological limits? I believe both prpositions are absolutely correct.


Do us all a favour and put Mr Hide's doggerel behind the NBR paywall please!


Liberalism is fatally conceited too Rodney, but blinder than a blind dog in the dark.


I love the way all contributors express their views based on what they have selectively read in the past but without reading opposing views. Therein lies the political chasm.


Generally speaking I think that's only true of one side of the debate which generally has no substance to offer and immediately resorts to personal attacks.

Most classic liberals have indeed read widely and come to their deeper understanding via that slower route rather than the simplistic, instinctive tribal beliefs that Rodney described.


Very good article by Mr Hide in that I'm reading The Road To Serfdom (dedicated to all socialists) at the moment.

What the critics are doing here by attacking Hide is that they have missed the point. Rather than defend central planning they have had a crack at capitalism and free markets and the messenger, Hide.

They are doing this because they can't defend the indefensible, socialism or as Hayak calls it collectivism.

Free markets offer everyone choice and freedom which socilasism and progressivisim do not or curtail significantly. Last week was a good example with the drug testing of beneficiaries. The benefit offers security however the freedom of the individual is hit. One leftist commented that everyone working and or getting Welfare for Families should also be tested. Workers already are being tested in a variety of workplaces and the difference is that they can choose to resign and go work somewhere else if they don't like the conditions.

Central planners must eventually control production and the people that are required to work there. Socialists know this and don't like the idea but they don't have the courage to follow through. Thats' where facsists and communists come in.

Socialists or Planners also tend to be nationalists too hence the tribal reference in Hides article where the tribes don't interact with each other and fail. Think about the Greens and Labour on asset sales: "we don't want foriegn owners".

In short, the rights of the individual and free markets have been the best way for humanity to progress and centralised planning has been the worst. Do your own homework and you'll find this out too.


It is erroneous to suggest that all that oppose liberals are socialist, there are more advanced idealogies than those two


Classic liberals are opposed by socialists on economic freedom and by conservatives on social freedom.

If there are more advanced ideologies let's hope they can spell properly as well as identify themselves.


Easy to attack, but show me where the socialist approach has served people well. Try Cuba, or Venuzuela for starters. So to those who have attacked, give it a go, or keep missing the point.
In the meantime Rodney, keep showing them up for what they are.


I was brought up believing there were 2 types of people, capitalists, and those who wished they were. Give a socialist power and access to create incredible personal wealth and he quickly changes his spots. Nothing has changed.


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