Does Capitalism Lead to New Age Thinking?

Apropos my previous post on Tony Woodlief’s conviction that a bit of Hayek will shake the economic leftism out of most people, I want to return to the quote that he used to make this point:

“Though a man’s conviction that all he achieves is due solely to his exertions, skill, and intelligence may be largely false, it is apt to have the most beneficial effects on his energy and circumspection. And if the smug pride of the successful is often intolerable and offensive, the belief that success depends wholly on him is probably the pragmatictically most effective incentive to successful action; whereas the more a man indulges in the propensity to blame others or circumstances for his failures, the more disgruntled and ineffective he tends to become.”  (Friedrich Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty)

So if you believe – even falsely – that your own efforts and abilities are the fount of your economic success, then you’re well on the road to being a good little capitalist. How little of a leap is it from this to Norman Vincent Peale? Just think the right thing about your economic position and your ability to act in the market and you’ll be a success, right? Next stop: the masturbatory banality of The Secret’s law of attraction tripe. Don’t stop and read a book that’s actually about economics or ponder if this was what Marx meant by false consciousness – instead just imagine that you too can be a big success.

Does this conform with anyone’s lived experience? At all? Most people I know find work or business opportunities through their social network and/or sheer dumb luck. Conversely, a lot of people have lost their jobs and their savings in the past year because of a bad interaction between government regulations (or the lack thereof) and the risk-tolerance of Wall St. bankers. Don’t worry, the bankers and politicians are still okay, it’s just ordinary people who are queuing up for unemployment cheques or planning to retire on the freedom 155 plan.

In Hayek’s view though, my fairly uncontroversial observations about the state of our macroeconomic situation make me a bad player in the capitalist system. Ignore facts, pretend that it’s all about having the right attitude. Of course again, apparently in Hayek’s world, this is what successful people are supposed to think – and perhaps to certain extent some of them do believe this. The truth does not, apparently, set you free in capitalism, instead it makes you aware of stubborn facts that hinder your ability to pretend that if you just have the right attitude you’ll be a winner.

This wishful belief in the self has to be contorted by someone like Joel Osteen to fit into the gospel – and even then it ends up being an awkward fit. Rather, it’s much better situated in the fantasy world of new age positive thinking.