Battlepanda: Random observations about <i>The Road to Serfdom</i>


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Random observations about The Road to Serfdom

I was inspired to read Hayek by the posts by Lawrence, Henry and Issac, which lead me to believe that Hayek is not the crazed libertarian dude many of his worshippers adherants take him to be. So far, I agree with their general assessment, i.e., socialism as Hayek railed against it doesn't really exist anymore. And libertarians are being disingenuous when they use Hayek impassioned prose to defend laissez-faire because Hayek himself didn't believe in laissez-faire. It says so right there on page 37 of my my edition.

Other thoughts:

1) Hayek's nightmare scenario was "a state of affairs which can satisfy neither planners nor liberals: a sort of syndicalist or "corporative" organisation of industry, in which competition is more or less suppressed but planning is left in the hands of the independent monopolies of the separate industries." (42) Hmm...where have I seen this kind of keptocratic behavior recently? I don't think it arose out of socialism though.

2) Just a general point. I don't think that Hayek was anti-government as much as anti-monopoly. But of course government can be thought of as the ultimate monopoly. Very restrictive institutions such as the military are OK in his mind (131) because of the individual's ability not to join or to leave it if they find it intolerable. This made me think. What would Hayek think of nation-states that adopt illiberal policies if people have the ability to freely immigrate? Of course, this is a pipe-dream considering how big a can-o-worms immigration is over most of the world.

3) Hayek habitually plays down the monopolies and inequalities that can arise spontaneously in the market. He pooh-poohs the notion that corporate monoliths will inevitably emerge through sheer economy of scale, network advantages, not to mention anti-competition tactics. The market will break up monopolies through competition, he believed, if only it is left alone by the government. Well, in the age of huge multi-national corporations, this belief seems quaint. In a footnote (107) where he cautiously ponders "It is probable that we habitually overestimate the extent to which inequality of incomes is mainly caused by income derived from property..." he quotes that the ratio between the highest salaries and lowest salaries in the United States and the Soviet Union are "of the same order of magnitude (about 50 to 1)". Well, now the CEO: floor worker pay ratio is more like 300:1 or 400:1 by now! Left to its own devices, I don't think this is a trend that will likely reverse itself.

4) Hayek is concerned above all with expanding choices and opportunities for people. He believes that the state should "do a great deal to help the spreading of knowledge and information and to assist mobility" (98). Elsewhere, he wonders if it is inevitable that wealth is passed down through the generations (can't find it at the moment). Admittedly, he does not expand on what exactly he meant in policy terms by those rather tentative statements. But it would not be unreasonable to say that Hayek is probably pro state-sponsored education and in favor of the estate tax!

5) Again and again in The Road to Serfdom, the slippery slope between socialism and totalitarianism (more specifically, the Nazis) are pounded over and over and over again. This might have caused some of the more susceptable libertarians to adapt the logic that since Hayek says that all socialist societies end up totalitarian and, say, Sweden has been a socialist society for a long time, it must necessarily be a totalitarian society. This leads to the otherwise inexplicable phenomenon John Emerson observed of "loonier of them believ[ing] that Sweden is, in fact, a Communist dictatorship".