The Road to Serfdom

Tuesday, November 17, AD 2009

I do not endorse some of the overheated added commentary, but I believe Friedrich von Hayek’s warnings of the long terms dangers of a planned economy are just as prescient today as when the book The Road to Serfdom was published in 1944.  It is a short book and well worth the time it takes to read it. Some memorable quotes of von Hayek:

1.    The power which a multiple millionaire, who may be my neighbour and perhaps my employer, has over me is very much less that which the smallest functionaire possess who wield the coercive power of the state, and on whose discretion it depends whether and how I am able to be allowed to live or work.

2.    The system of private property is the most important guarantee of freedom, not only for those who own property, but scarcely less for those who do not.

3.    I am certain nothing has done so much to destroy the juridical safeguards of individual freedom as the striving after the mirage of social justice.

4.    The manufacturer does not produce shoes because he knows that Jones needs them. He produces because he knows that dozens of traders will buy certain numbers at various prices because they (or rather the retailer they serve) know that thousands of Joneses, whom the manufacturer does not know, want to buy them.

5.    …inflation is probably the most important single factor in that vicious circle wherein one kind of government action makes more and more government control necessary. For this reason all those who wish to stop the drift toward increasing government control should concentrate their effort on monetary policy.

6.   That democratic socialism, the great utopia of the last few generations, is not only unachievable, but that to strive for it produces something so utterly different that few of those who wish it would be prepared to accept the consequences, many will not believe until the connection has been laid bare in all its aspects.

7.   Is it really likely that a national planning officer would have a better judgement of ‘the number of cars, the number of generators, and the quantities of frozen foods we are likely to require in, say, five years,’ than Ford or General Motors etc., and, even more important, would it even be desirable that various companies in an industry all act on the same guess?

8.    Economic control is not merely control of a sector of human life which can be separated from the rest; it is the control of the means for all our ends. And whoever has sole control of the means must also determine which ends are to be served, which values are to be rates higher and which lower, in short, what men should believe and strive for.

9.    The conception that government should be guided by majority opinion makes sense only if that opinion is independent of government. The ideal of democracy rests on the belief that the view which will direct government emerges from an independent and spontaneous process. It requires, therefore, the existence of a large sphere independent of majority control in which the opinions of the individuals are formed.

10.  Is there a greater tragedy imaginable than that, in our endeavour consciously to shape our future in accordance with high ideals, we should in fact unwittingly produce the very opposite of what we have been striving.

Von Hayek was ever the foe of government enforced collectivism.  After the current administration I suspect his ideas will be enjoying a comeback.  Government is a necessary evil and ever a potential danger to individual liberty.  Give the government control of the economy and you can scratch the word potential from the equation.



5 Responses to The Road to Serfdom

  • Hilaire Belloc in THE SERVILE STATE anticipated Hayek by several decades.

  • Interesting that GM’s several billion loss this quarter indicates that it is on the road to recovery. It will be able to repay part of the government loans from government money.
    Creative Accounting it is called.

  • Or you could call it a lie. Maybe theft. Perhaps B.S.

    I wonder if I can convince my mortgage company to confiscate money from other debtors and give me a non-recallable, non-recourse loan so I can use that to pay my mortgage. My balance sheet would look great and then they can make brochures with my face on them showing a success story for financial prudence. How do I sell this? . . .

  • Do we need government? Of course, we have disorderd appetites and we must use force to restrain some of them. Murder, rape, kidnapping, plunder by another government, etc. However, we need to limit the scope of that government becuase it will be run by the same people it seeks to govern: sinners. The temptation to power is too great for any man so the power must be tempered and temporary.

    Economic rights, such as private property and a stable reserve currency that is pegged to a commodity to keep its inflation in check are very important. Hayek was right about all that and he also knew that if wealth is controlled by the collective then the individual is a slave and a slave that will not be free to excercise the worship of religion. Not good, unless you like that sort of thing.

    You know that old chestnut: Freedom is Slavery. It is a brave new world. We used to be apes and now we can be gods.

  • Gabriel,

    I’m going to buy that book by Hilaire. I’m a big fan of Von Hayek and if Belloc is anything close to it, I’d like it to be Catholic.