bs: Hayek on John Kenneth Galbraith, Journalism & B*llsh*t

Hayek spent some time thinking about the role of intellectuals and other “second hand dealers in ideas” (see, for example, Hayek’s essay “The Intellectuals and Socialism” (pdf)).  Here from the 1978 UCLA oral history, Hayek discusses the problem of b*llsh*t in the context of journalism and the work of economic popularizers like John Kenneth Galbraith.  (Note well when reading the following that Hayek was John Kenneth Galbraith’s teacher at the London School of Economics).

CHITESTER: Changing to a somewhat different approach, what kinds of people — How would you describe an individual whom you have the greatest difficulty dealing with, in terms of personality or attitude?

HAYEK: May I give a personal example?

CHITESTER: Please do.

HAYEK: I don’t think there could ever be any communication between Mr. [John Kenneth] Galbraith and myself. I don’t know why, but it’s a way of thinking which I think is wholly irresponsible and which he thinks is the supreme height of intellectual effort. I think it’s extremely shallow. I go so far as that when in this recent plan, which had to be postponed, of challenging an opposite group of socialist intellectuals, he was one of three whom I would exclude. I won’t use the exact phrase, which would be libelous and which I don’t want to be recorded, but he and two others I on principle excuse because they think in a way with which I could not communicate.

CHITESTER: Can you give us a better sense of what the characteristics of this are?

HAYEK: I don’t want to be offensive, but it’s a certain attribute which is common to journalists of judging opinions by their likely appeal to the public.

CHITESTER: In other words, you in this instance, would feel that Galbraith is more of a journalistic type.

HAYEK: Yes, very much so.

CHITESTER: Do you find journalism generally to be superficial?

HAYEK: It’s always dangerous to generalize because there are some exceedingly good men among them to whom it does not apply. But in terms of numbers, yes.

CHITESTER: And the basic corrupting element is, as you said, the desire to appeal, to try to second-guess what’s going to be accepted or not.

HAYEK: And it’s a necessity to pretend to be competent on every subject, some of which they really do not understand. They are under that necessity, I regret; I’m sorry for them. But to pretend to understand all the things you write about, and habitually to write about things you do not understand, is a very corrupting thing.

Philosopher Harry Frankfurt’s account of the modern impetus for b*llsh*t in the marketplace of ideas and information closely tracks Hayek’s.

Also of interest — Hayek’s takedown of Galbraith in the widely republished essay, “The Non-Sequitor of the ‘Dependence Effect’.” (pdf)

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