I have been reading The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek. It is described as an “unimpeachable classic work in political philosophy, intellectual and cultural history, and economics.” Originally published in 1944 it was seen as heretical for its passionate warning against the dangers of state control over the means of production.
While it was written to warn his readers about the socialistic roots of Nazism, Fascism and Communism during World War II, The Road to Serfdom prophetically described what would happen in Europe, China, Great Britain, and even in the United States. I would like this book to be required reading in civics, political science, economics, history and philosophy classes. It is as relevant today as when it was written.
Hayek argues that the free market in goods, labor, ideas, and speech is incompatible with the coercive power of central government to plan our economy. Personal freedom and individual responsibility is endangered by state control. The objective and impartial Rule of Law is threatened when politicians and government agencies choose winners and losers in business and employment. Policies aimed at achieving the ideal of distributive justice (i.e. economic equality), leads to the destruction of the Rule of Law. There can be no liberty without law. There is conflict between different kinds of law: one is the Rule of Law, general principles laid down beforehand, the ‘rules of the game’ which enables individuals to foresee how the coercive apparatus of the state will be used, or what he and his fellow-citizens will be allowed to do, or made to do in stated circumstances. The other kind of law gives in effect the authority power to do, or made to do what it thinks fit to do.
Government agencies are given broad powers without being bound by fixed rules so that they have almost unlimited discretion in regulating activities of citizens and companies. Yet true Rule of Law would limit the scope of such powers and legislation so that they could not be aimed at particular people or companies in a discriminatory way.
There seems to be a cry from the pundits, the news anchors, the critics, for a plan to create jobs, to right the ship of state, and to restore prosperity. But what kind of plan? There is a temptation in troubled times for people to want a savior, a strong man, who will come up with the answer to all problems. Hayek is skeptical about such an approach. He had seen it at work in Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union.
Every time the politicians try a new plan there are unintended consequences that worsen the situation. The government needs to get its own house in order – its own debt and budget problems. Political candidates for election propose all sorts of plans to solve our national problems. Hubris is in great supply. Humility is in short supply. We are in for a rough enough ride as we gear up for a presidential election in 2016. May the Lord have mercy on us all!