mag: Hayek on Responsibility


“About a half century ago Friedrich Hayek, in The Constitution of Liberty, wrote that a free society depends more than any other on people being held responsible for their actions. In a free society individuals act according to their own plan — making their own decision about what they are going to produce, how much they will consume of items, whether to get married, or how many children to have.

There are two primary reasons that individuals who are free to make these choices must be held responsible for their action. The first is that being responsible will affect individual behavior in a positive fashion. If you are rewarded for making efficient use of resources and suffer the consequences of making bad choices, you are more likely to behave in a way that creates efficiencies and benefits society. If you don’t suffer the ill effects of wasting resources or making bad decisions, then you are more likely to behave in ways that result in a loss to society.

Second, if you are not responsible for your action, whoever is responsible will limit your freedom. If I am paying for my son’s car insurance, and am responsible for any damage he causes with his driving, I am going to limit when and where he can drive, and otherwise set conditions that he would rather not comply with. If the government is responsible for flood damage to your home, it will limit where you can build.”

Gary Wolfram, “Recalling Hayek on Responsibility”, American Spectator, Jan. 8, 2009.

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