Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

June 22, 2008

Starting Down the Road to Serfdom

Filed under: books, capitalism, politics — Tags: , , — codesmithy @ 9:22 am

As promised, I picked up Friedrich A. Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom” from the most socialist of institutions the library.

The book’s aim is ambitious.  It sets out to show how socialistic institutions, such as public schools, libraries, medicare, medicaid, social security, etc. invariably lead to totalitarian regimes like the Nazis and Soviets.  Hayek asks “have not the parties of the Left as well as those of the Right been deceived by believing that the National Socialist party was in the service of the capitalists and opposed to all forms of socialism? (pg 6)”

Yes, deceived by the facts.  Nazism was in service of the capitalists.  It was not in service of Hayek’s conception of free-market capitalism, but it was capitalism nonetheless.  I don’t think any one claimed that Nazism was opposed to all forms of so-called socialism.  Certainly, they were interested in the general welfare of the members of the Nazi party.  One of the reasons Hitler was so loved by the business leaders in this country was because he banned Trade Unions.  This move can hardly be construed as an action of a socialist.

I was somewhat disappointed that Hayek doesn’t provide a time-line for when governments will fall into totalitarian collapse.  He just continually assures us that they will.  Soon.  In a generation or two.  Just wait, you’ll see.

Among his more bizarre allegations was the apparent difficulty of getting his book published.  It was a conspiracy he assures us.  It wasn’t until editors at Reader’s Digest condensed his book and published excerpts to a warm reception that a publisher was willing to publish it in the United States in full.  One would think that this story has enough cognitive dissonance to make Hayek’s head spin.  I’m always surprised by those who advocate a doctrinal adherence to free-market principles in every aspect of the economy (even to go so far to argue that any variation of the principles leads directly to a totalitarian regime), bemoan its injustice as it presents obstacles to dissemination of their ideas.

Hayek also bemoans the fact that people don’t properly refute his main thesis.  To wit, as Christopher Hitchens said, “what can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.”  The strength of any argument rests on the evidence supporting it and its logical consistency.  Hayek can present a perfectly consistent argument, but so far, he uses the most loaded examples imagniable.

This brings me to labels and definitions.  Hayek presumably thinks that socialism is state ownership of the means of production.  The answer of course, is that state ownership of the means of production can be socialism, but it is not necessarily socialism.  Civics matter.  It is socialism if the means of production are controlled democratically.  If the means of production are not controlled democratically, it is something else, but the one thing it certainly isn’t is socialism.  Without this fundamental understanding, his argument is nothing more than a straw-man.

To Hayek, a state, is a state, is a state, regardless of the particular system of government.  However, Hayek assures us that any collective ownership of resources or implementation of services will lead to totalitarianism.  His solution to this situation is therefore to hand all resources and implementation of services to unaccountable private entities.  The possibility of a few of these private entities becoming dominant and eventually colluding is apparently impossibly in Hayek’s conception, in direct opposition to historical experience.

States, by their very nature, have a tendency to drift towards totalitarinism.  The founders of this nation recognized that problem and instituted a government with separation of powers, limited power, checks and balances, periodic elections, etc.  There are a few issues, in retrospect, they probably didn’t get right, such as election financing, the voting schemes employed and term limits.  Thankfully, they also gave us the ability to correct those imperfections.

Therefore, Hayek’s thesis is absurd on its face.  Did the Roman Republic fall because of socialism?  Did Greek democracy?  No, it is nature of all government to implode.  It is human nature.  Hayek’s solution is to capitualate all economic power to fundamentally unaccountable private tyrranies in the vain belief the power will remain dilute (another historical fallacy).  This ensures we remain free.  Free to find yourself in a world where the only option for your survival is to rent your labor power to a capitalist.  In this view, totalitarianism and Hayek’s “freedom” are virtually indistinguishable.

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