Wednesday, September 26, 2012

quotes from (and a few thoughts on) Hayek's Road to Serfdom

Hayek dedicates The Road to Serfdom to "the socialists of all parties". Gotta love that start, noting that socialism and crony capitalism (a later topic) are common among the politicians and partisans of the major political parties.

Hayek (xiii; page references from the original/1944 version) uses this deTocqueville quote in the preface about the slow removal of freedom in a "new kind of servitude" [to government]: "It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd."

Hayek quotes FDR (once) and it's a doozy: "not that the system of free enterprise for profit has failed in this generation, but that it has not yet been tried..."

Hayek on "individualism" (14, 59): “Individualism has a bad name today and the term has come to be connected with egotism and selfishness. But the individualism of which we speak in contrast to socialism and all other forms of collectivism has no necessary connection with these... It does not assume, as is often asserted, that man is egoistic or selfish or ought to be. It merely starts from the indisputable fact that the limits of our powers of imagination make it impossible to include in our scale of values more than a sector of the needs of the whole society...From this the individualist concludes that the individuals should be allowed, within defined limits, to follow their own values..." 

Hayek is not a hard-core Libertarian, easily finding a role for government in areas beyond "institutions" (p. 38-39; establishing an environment that encourages productivity-- e.g., by protecting property rights)-- into areas such as regulation of poisonous substances, to limit working hours, to regulate sanitation and safety (as long as it promotes the general welfare, rather than targeting specific actors; p. 37). See: Walter Block's article in the Journal of Libertarian Studies for more detail on this.

Hayek on the "inevitability" and slippery slope of central planning and socialism (43): "It is a revealing fact that few planners are content to say that central planning is desirable. Most of them affirm that we can no longer choose but are compelled by circumstances beyond our control to substitute planning for competition. The myth is deliberately cultivated that we are embarking on the new course not out of free will but because competition is spontaneously eliminated by technological changes which we neither can reverse nor should wish to prevent. This argument is rarely developed at any length—it is one of the assertions taken over by one writer from another until, by mere iteration, it has come to be accepted as an established fact."

Hayek (56) quotes Adam Smith on the troubles of central planning: "The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals would not only load himself with most unnecessary attention but assume an authority which could safely be trusted to no council and senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of man who have folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it."

I love this poke by Hayek on supposed advocates and the fetish of democracy (70-71): “It may well be true that our generation talks and thinks too much of democracy, and too little of the values which it serves...Democracy is essentially a means, a utilitarian device for safe-guarding internal peace and individual freedom. As such it is by no means infallible or certain... Democratic control may prevent power from becoming arbitrary, but it does not do so by its mere existence. If democracy resolves on a task which necessarily involves the use of power which cannot be guided by fixed rules, it must become arbitrary power."

Hayek on crony capitalism (194): "the impetus of the movement toward totalitarianism comes mainly from the two great vested interests: organized capital and organized labor. Probably the greatest menace of all is the fact that the policies of these two most powerful groups point in the same direction." Continuing (196-197): "Unless the argument of this book has been completely misunderstood, the author will not be suspected of any tenderness toward the capitalists if he stresses here that it would nevertheless be a mistake to put the blame for the modern movement toward monopoly exclusively or mainly on that class. Their propensity in this direction is neither new nor would it by itself be likely to become a formidable power. The fatal development was that they have succeeded in enlisting the support of an ever increasing number of other groups and, with their help, in obtaining the support of the state...Private monopoly is scarcely ever complete and even more rarely of long duration or able to disregard potential competition. But a state monopoly is always a state-protected monopoly—protected against both potential competition and effective criticism...The machinery of monopoly becomes identical with the machinery of the state, and the state itself becomes more and more identified with the interests of those who run things than with the interests of the people in general."


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