Hayek and Genetic Engineering

Friedrich Hayek commented that central planning meant a loss of crucial information about the market that only a free market could determine. How many cars, for instance, should be built? And how much should they cost? Command economies are notorious for not being able to answer that question. East Germans had a waiting list of around thirteen years for one of the crappiest cars ever produced; the Trabant. Its main body panels were consisted of Duroplast, made from recycled cotton and phenol resins from the East German dye industry which would offer very little protection in the event of a crash. The engine was loud, low powered and performing, and polluting.

Only supply and demand can determine the quality, cost, and number of such products that should be made. Your house is worth nothing in dollar terms if nobody will buy it. And a hovel could be worth hundreds of thousands if the supply is poor enough. Just ask a New Zealander or Brit. For instance, a married couple in Wellington with a child bought a house on a cliff with no garden to play in, with a long commute from any place of employment, with no local amenities, and two bedrooms for $850,000 NZD. Before you Google how much New Zealand Dollars are worth on an exchange, New Zealanders, surprisingly enough, are paid in NZD and their numerical amount is no higher and often lower than those in the US paid in USD. Once external forces come in to determine prices, no one knows the cost of anything.

Similarly, evolution has determined the characteristics of human beings. It has “decided” that around 5’10” is a good height for men, depending on the population under consideration, not seven feet. That an average IQ is generally to be preferred. 140 is all very well, but if it truly conferred some huge evolutionary advantage, we could expect the average to be 140 savants. For some dumb ideas, like determinism, G factor of intelligence confers no immunity.

Why don’t we all have 140 IQ? It is simply not optimal, it seems. Instinct says to have sex and not worry too terribly much about the consequences. Once the children are there, hopefully, instinct will kick in and people will parent on a par with a lioness, rat, or any other mammal; loving, protective, and devoted to your offspring. Instinct gives a belief in God, eternity, and in hunter gatherer conditions, animism. We theists are apparently, on average, dumber than atheists. More fool atheists! Churchgoing theists are some of the happiest people on the planet with the best longevity. A lot of that is the fact that being an atheist is currently the done thing. If you want a good career where theism could possibly come up, opt for its negation. You better believe that those who wanted to get ahead in the Middle Ages would be holier than thou in a more literal sense. Women, being, on average, more agreeable, are also more conformist. So, when conservatism was the norm, they were more conservative than men. Now, they are the die-hard progressives willing to vote whomever into office regardless of their cognitive capacity – think Joseph Biden and John Fetterman.

Jean-Francois Gariepy points out in The Revolutionary Phenotype that genetic engineering means eliminating sexual selection and natural selection. Whatever made us human, with the complicated interplay of reason, emotion, will, desire, humor, imagination, intuition, and creativity, will be gone. With evolution, whatever does not match the environment is selected out. With genetic engineering many will opt for intelligence, possibly at the expense of health. And, almost certainly, at the expense of genetic fit. We humans have evolved to find nature, trees, landscapes, beautiful and comforting. We like them so much we put them on our walls in the form of paintings; to believe in God, to be agreeable and prosocial and to be ethnocentric. Human engineered humans will have no such predilections. How many parents will select embryos evolved to be a good genetic match for the environment? They would not know how, just as command economy dictators cannot predict the market. If that is what a parent wanted, he or she would have children the old-fashioned way and eschew genetic engineering. Parents want children with a competitive advantage vis-à-vis other children, and later when they become adults.

If you really want your children to succeed, as Gariepy notes, why inflict upon them your own genetic limitations? You should find the perfect sperm and egg donor and make your designer baby. The downside? The child will not be yours in any meaningful sense whatsoever. How could you take pride in his or her accomplishments? You will have sacrificed your own genetic interests for those of strangers. Viva L’Étranger! You could not say, “Meet Grandma!” Unless, she were some old lady who you also were meeting for the first time with relatives who are not remotely your own kin.

5 thoughts on “Hayek and Genetic Engineering

  1. [A] hovel could be worth hundreds of thousands if the supply is poor enough

    There are two components to house prices: the building and the land. Houses in London’s Cheyne Walk, Chelsea typically sell for £17 m. They are insured for around £300K, the cost of reinstatement.

    The site, unlike the building, is, in its nature, unique, which is why the law gives an action ad factum præstandum to enforce a contract for the sale and purchase of land; like a horse or a painting, no real equivalent can be purchased elsewhere at any price. The only effective remedy is a decree for implement.

    In some cases, the value of the building is negative. A rather ugly Victorian villa in Ealing, West London, worth around £3 m, burned to the ground. The site, which retained its Planning Consent for residential use, sold for re-development for around £3.4 m. The new building was about twice the size; much more commodious for the Emir who built it, his large family and numerous retinue.

    The “market value” of agricultural land is purely notional, for, in practice, there is no open market; it invariably depends on what a contiguous occupier is prepared to pay. Where I live (Ayrshire, Scotland) the average is £7K an acre. With Planning Consent for 5 dwellings, this rises to £30K – £40K an acre; something that lies in the sole and unfettered discretion of the local authority.

    • Yes. Local authorities artificially restrict supply supported by current owners who of course enjoy inflated house prices.

      • And by voters anxious to preserve the character and amenity of the area by excluding incomers.

        I recall a dispute in a village pub, as to who was the oldest inhabitant in the village. “He’s not a Dalry man,” claimed one, “his mother came from Beith.” (another village, five-and-a-half miles away). Imagine their reaction to a new housing estate for commuters to Paisley or Glasgow and the chances of re-election of the Councillors who sanctioned it

        Even when parcels of farm land is sold off, there are invariably prohibitions, fortified by resolutive conditions and irritancy clauses, to prevent development. I have seen dispositions that forbade ploughing up ancient pastures, felling timber trees, or digging out sand, gravel or other minerals. (Some years back, a requirement “to cultivate the same by the ordinary labour of plough and spade” was held to include machinery, but it required an action to decide the point.)

  2. Someone not from the UK may find the power wielded by local authorities in housing, for example, to be baffling. There may be a status quo aspect that hides or minimizes the status of just who and what may be preserved.
    In other countries and times, people facing restrictions had little choice but to accept or relocate, if they could afford that. Consider those Swiss villages where the same handful of families owned most property and the rest were permanent tenants.

    • Consider those Swiss villages where the same handful of families owned most property and the rest were permanent tenants.

      This tends t be the Emphyteusis of Roman Law, adopted in the Civil Codes

      Often enough, such tenancies are heritable and irredeemable and the rent nominal; the object being to ensure real burdens (to maintain fences, to maintain rights of way, to cultivate) bind singular successors, which a mere contract would not

      Where I live in Scotland, of the neighbouring 10 farms, 7 have descended in the same family since at least 1617, when the Registration Act was passed.

      My own property was held of the Crown, per servitia debita et consueta – by the services due and wont – which included castle-guard in Ardrossan castle, now in ruins. Forfeited during the War of the Three Kingdoms, aka the English Civil War, it was restored to my ancestor at the Restoration of his most gracious majesty, King Chas II in 1661, by a charter of Novodamus (We grant of new). This time the services were commuted to an annual payment of “one penny usual money of our said kingdom of Scotland at the term of Whitsunday, payable upon the ground of the land, if asked only ( si petatur tantum)


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