Review of Austrian Economics, 12: 257–263 (1999)
1999 Kluwer Academic Publishers
(1998) The Market: Ethics, Knowledge and Politics, London: Routledge,
pp. 228 + x.
Since ‘[m]uch of this book ‘is a conversation with Hayek,’ it is curious that ‘Hayek’ should
not feature in the title. Although the issues are bigger than the man, the book engages with the
man to produce (according to one commentary) a critique of the triumphalism of the right.
Yet, those who regard Friedrich Hayek as the right-wing apostle of laissez-faire economics
might reﬂect upon the following citations taken over many years: ‘While the presumption
must favour the free market, laissez-faire is not the ultimate and only conclusion’ (Hayek
1933:134); ‘Probably nothing has done so much harm to the liberal cause as the wooden
insistence of some liberals on certain rules of thumb, above all the principle of laissez-
faire’ (Hayek 1944:13); ‘Our main problems begin when we ask what ought to be the
contents of property rights, what contracts should be enforceable, and how contracts should
be interpreted or, rather, what standard forms of contract should be read into the informal
agreements of everyday transactions’ (Hayek 1949:113); ‘Laissez-faire was never more
than rule of thumb. It indeed expressed protest against abuses of governmental power, but
never provided a criterion by which one could decide what were the proper functions of
government’ (Hayek 1973:61–62). Enough, surely, to invite closer attention to the work of
possibly the greatest social theorist of the twentieth century.
Notwithstanding the criticisms below, John O’Neill’s book ranks highly among those
which seek to provide an intellectual basis for post Reagan/Thatcher/Berlin Wall poli-
tics. Currently in Britain the main propagator of Clinton/Blair/Prodi ‘third way’ politics
is Anthony Giddens, whose recruitment of John Gray from Oxford and whose desire (as
Director) to raise the status of the London School of Economics is reminiscent of Lionel
Robbins’s desire to counter the inﬂuence of Keynes and Cambridge in the 1930s.
Although he believes that ‘distributional consequences’ are ‘the most pressing failures
of market economies,’ O’Neill’s objective is more modest than to elucidate the operation
of ‘international functional units of planning’ that are capable of using global resources in
‘an ecologically rational way.’ Indeed, that would have been bold! Instead, he sets out
‘to defend non-market associations’ and ‘to puncture the intellectual case for the market
economy.’ His inspiration is ‘Otto Neurath’s strong form of associational socialism,’ which
is his guide to a ‘non-market associational order.’ It does not escape notice that the latter has
strong afﬁnities with the communitarian socialism that is the focus of John Gray’s recent
endeavours (see Gray 1997, 1998a, 1998b).