The Road to Serfdom

Note 6.8.2022: I no longer agree with either my assessment concerning Scandinavian states or the merits of Hayek’s work. Part of my shift in opinion is because the character of European social democracy has changed considerably since I wrote this blog in 2007. But I have also changed my judgment with respect to Hayek. Indeed, I should not have a “but” in there, since the emergent authoritarian character of European social democracy suggests the predictive validity of Hayek’s argument. And it is not just Europe suffering from the overgrowth of elite planning; the American republic is suffering, as well.

What was the joke Paul Sweezy used to tell? Something to the effect of Hayek’s theory posits that if there is an overproduction in baby carriages, then the central planners will order the population to have more babies. A joke to be sure, but dead to rights.

The premise of The Road to Serfdom, “planning leads to dictatorship,” is on its face absurd; but more importantly, it has been empirically falsified. To be sure, planning by a corporate-state sharply increases the likelihood of authoritarian rule, such as, most obviously, in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, and, less dramatically but nonetheless obviously, in the United States. However, planning in contexts where workers have a substantial say-so in what happens in economic life (that is, democracy), such as in the Scandinavian states, increases personal freedom. Indeed, most European states have far greater levels of personal freedom than the United States, and the European countries that are most free present with a much greater degree of planning.

We don’t need to speculate on whether Hayek’s claims are sound; the evidence refutes the thesis of his book.

If you want to read more of Hayek’s immoral ideas, read The Constitution of Liberty (1960). If we stay true to the man’s logic, handicapped parking discriminates against the able-bodied. Only ideologues cling to his words any more. Unfortunately, ideologues, in contrast to rational minds, are never in short supply.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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