The Hand Behind the Invisible Hand: Reflections on a Recurring Theme in Classical Liberal Political Economy

Originally published in Contributions to Political Economy

This article is a review essay of Karl Mittermaier’s The Hand Behind the Invisible Hand, first written as a PhD thesis that was submitted in 1987 and finally published in 2020. The essay examines the main question upon which Mittermaier focuses, namely whether the institutional framework required for spontaneous market order to arise itself also arises spontaneously, via an invisible hand process, or whether it must instead be deliberately created by the visible hand of the state. The essay considers Mittermaier’s analysis of how this issue is addressed in the work of Adam Smith, James Buchanan, Walter Eucken. Friedrich Hayek, and Henry Simons. It also adds some reflections about how the issue arising from the work of Elinor Ostrom.

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