Thursday, April 15, 2010

The slippery slope to Serfdom

When I read F.A. Hayek's Road to Serfdom for the first time, the thing that jumped out at me the most was the inconvenient detail that history had demonstrated one of Hayek's core points of the book to be false: that welfare state and social democratic policies neccessarily led to tyranny of either communist or fascist variety. (I also found his understanding of fascism as an outgrowth of economic policy to be a facile, superficial and wrongheaded understanding of the subject, far inferior to the sort of analysis offered by Paxton.)

I mention this because I noticed this snarky post at Crooked Timber in regards to the ongoing significance that Road to Serfdom has in libertarian circles:

While we’re on yet another libertarian kick, can anyone find me a copy of Hayek’s prescient 1944 book, The Road to Serfdom, which predicted that the policies of the British Labour Party (policies that were implemented after the 1945 election) would result in relatively poor economic performance, and would eventually be modified or abandoned, a claim vindicated by the triumph of Thatcherism in the 1980s? This book, and its predictive success, seem to play an important role in libertarian thinking.

Despite a diligent search, the only thing I can find is a book of the same title, also written by an FA von Hayek in 1944. This Road to Serfdom predicts that the policies of the British Labour Party, implemented after the 1945 election, would lead to the emergence of a totalitarian state similar to Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, or at least to a massive reduction in political and personal freedom (as distinct from economic freedom). Obviously this prediction was totally wrong. Democracy survived Labor’s nationalizations, and personal freedom expanded substantially. Even a defensible version of the argument (say, a claim that, Labor’s ultimate program included elements that could not be realised without anti-democratic forms of coercion, and that would have to be dropped if these bad outcomes were to be avoided) could only be regarded as raising a hypothetical, but unrealised, cause for concern.. Presumably, this isn’t the book the libertarians have read, so I assume there must exist another of the same title.

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