Monday, September 9, 2013

Hayek on Coercion

Hey, there, euvoluntarists!  A quiz.  Which of the following did Hayek claim in "Constitution of Liberty"?

According to Hayek, which of the following constitutes coercion
a) morose husband
b) nagging wife
c) hysterical mother
d) constant threat of arrest resorted to by arbitrary power

As Hayek puts it: “While we may pity the weak or the very sensitive person whom a mere frown may “compel” to do what he would not do otherwise, we are concerned with coercion that is likely to affect the normal, average person...A morose husband, a nagging wife, or a hysterical mother may make life intolerable unless their every mood is obeyed. But here society can do little to protect the individual beyond making such associations with others truly voluntary.”  (p. 138)

The reason?  "[W]e are tempted to define “coercion” by the use of such terms as “the interference with legitimate expectations,” or “infringement of rights,” or “arbitrary interference”. But in defining coercion we cannot take for granted the arrangements intended to prevent it. . . . Coercion not only would exist, but would be much more common if no such protected sphere existed [i.e. if there were no rights]. Only in a society that has already attempted to prevent coercion by some demarcation of a protected sphere can a concept like “arbitrary interference” have any meaning." p. 139.   

So, a, b, or c may be miserable, but you can leave.  (Of course, there is the hold-up problem, and the transactions cost of leaving).

Only d is "coercion," for Hayek.  Lacking the will to stand up to b, or leave c, doesn't make those scary things coercive.  What he leaves out, of course, is the physically abusive husband.  Presumably beating your wife and essentially enslaving her are coercive.  But even then, she could leave, unless literally chained or physically prevented, in most cases.  Hayek is ruling out psychological constraint, which makes sense in the abstract, but.... I don't know.

For a really great discussion of coercion and (truly) voluntary action, go here.  Interesting. 

A grateful nod to DB.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting to apply this logic to what I think of as the application of "soft power" by the state, i.e. bullying, threatening, cajoling, all on an informal basis and with no certainty that there will be actual follow-through if the private entity decides to tell the official to buzz off. There were many such examples during the financial crisis: accept TARP money or else, but it's hard to say whether that was just a bluff. Can we look back on that and call it "coercion"? A very tough call.


Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?