Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Road to Serfdom by F. A. Hayek

This book was recommended by Milton Friedman so I read it as part of my education in economics which has been woefully lacking!

This book is significant historically because it was written during WWII and published after with the  formidable understanding of two planned economies: Germany and Soviet Russia: both totalitarian regimes.  Hayek's warning is that the curtailing of civil liberties and the creation of a totalitarian regime can easily come from either the political left or right!  He writes passionately against 'planned' economies that control labor and prices.  He believes in liberty and recommends government oversight against monopolies.

Fundamentally, Hayek teaches that the quest for equality at the expense of liberty will ultimately create a totalitarian state where the individual is meaningless.  He passionately argues that equality is such a powerful concept that putting an influential propaganda program in place will convince the masses of the correctness of a planned economy to redistribute wealth.  Unfortunately, he argues that such a plan is doomed to failure.

The lure of equality is seductive.  The desire to create the ideal society is lofty and praiseworthy.  Hayek shows. however, the difficulty in putting into practice an ideal society.  He shows that government is inefficient and too arbitrary in prescribing equality, that ultimately, an elite few make decisions exhibiting the impossibility of 'equality'.

What I found fascinating about the book was that it was directed originally to an English audience. England was struggling with its future, trending toward a socialistic society.  Hayek warned that liberty must be kept in the forefront of socialism, that markets must be kept open and free to keep the tyranny of Nazism or Communism from creeping into England.

[I was reminded of my stay in Israel as a student years ago, having discussions with socialists from kibbutzim never understanding nor identifying with such a lifestyle that lumped everyone together.  Today, there are very few kibbutzim in the traditional socialistic form.  Many have changed to more capitalistic endeavors.  I can think of another example: Israel's national airline became more efficient and better run when it privatized!]

Hayek argues that planned economies don't work and his hope is that the leaders of the free world will keep the concept of liberty in the forefront.  This book has given me a better perspective and understanding to observe the different political issues that are being discussed today in the USA.  It is interesting to observe where the argument of equality has its lure and is voiced over liberty and vice versa. For example, in the present discussion about raising taxes, one hears comments like 'fair share' implying equality over liberty or in the discussion of gun control, the recitation of the Constitution's second amendment voicing liberty over equality.

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