Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Condensed Hayek

I recently read my review copy of The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets since the Depression, by Angus Burgin. Very interesting, as I expected it to be, though I had expected the story to carry through more to the present. Instead, it's basically an overview of the careers of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, with much focus on their work organizing the Mont Pelerin Society.

But it does have current-day relevance, and here's an example that has a bit of irony. One theme is how Hayek was less of a free-market purist than he came to be perceived to be, and one reason for that was the way The Road to Serfdom was condensed for Reader's Digest by the magazine's ideologically conservative editors, while Hayek was not in the country. Burgin:
In their reworking of The Road to Serfdom Hayek's style was simplified and dramatized, his observations were reordered and reconnected, and new sentences were written to impart an appearance of seamlessness to disconnected snippets. As a result, many of Hayek's qualifications were lost. As one critic observed, the text itself had become an enactment of readers' tendencies to take sentences out of context to support their own point of view. Hayek told his audiences that the Digest's editor had performed a difficult task remarkably well, but he also warned that its "faulty editing" posed a "particular danger." He was acutely aware that only a slim proportion of the readers of The Road to Serfdom experienced the book through his own prose. No author can control readers' interpretations of his or her published texts, but Hayek had lost control of the words themselves.
Me: Well, these things happen. But the funny thing is that they can keep happening decades later. Here's Glenn Reynolds today pointing readers to the Reader's Digest condensation, after Richard Epstein has done the same.

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