Corey Robin is very insightful about a lot of things. I think his take on conservatism, that the thread running through it is opposition to attempts to demolish pre-existing hierarchies, explains ideological twists and turns that would otherwise remain mysterious. Don’t take this post as an expression of anti-Robinism.
But CR seriously misreads economic texts that abut political theory. I felt this way about his analysis of Hayek, which simply ignores the centrality of his lifelong revulsion at Vienna-school-style positivism, with its echoes in a certain style of economic formalism. (Yeah, Hayek bought into a lot of the elitism of the right, but so did nearly every other conservative; that’s not what made him consequential.) And now he gives us a terrible interpretation of Coase.
According to CR, “Coase divides the economic world into two modes of action: deal-making, which happens between firms, and giving orders, which happens within firms.” He then goes on to paint Trump as an über-Coasian, at least in his own self-presentation, since these are the only types of action he recognizes. I won’t dispute the portrait of Trump, but Coase? Not a chance.
Coase is proposing a theory of the make-or-buy decision which faces every firm. (This is the case even for firms in a socialist economy, assuming they can transact in some way with other enterprises.) What goods does a firm produce internally, and what do they acquire from the outside? Do you hire your own accountant, or do you buy the services of some accounting firm? Does Toyota make its own seat cushions for its cars, or does it get them from a supplier (or group of suppliers)?