October 2, 2011
Marie Lozito is a Registered Nurse, Licensed Massage Therapist, wife, mother, grandmother and life-long conservative. She wrote a text on medical massage and taught at New York College of Health Professions.
Interested in, and observing politics since 1960, she
ran for elected office in 2010.
The Road To Serfdom
I am finally getting the time to read The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek. Well, to be perfectly honest, only an abridged edition of it. Hayek was one of the most influential intellectuals during the
20th century. An award winning economist and a philosopher, he saw and understood the problems created by socialism in all of
its various forms (communism, fascism, democratic socialism etc). He had three doctorate degrees – law, social sciences and economics – and published ground breaking work in economics, political theory and philosophy. He writes in an easy to understand manner.
The only thing that is slightly confusing is his use of the words “liberal” and “liberalism”. He uses the words
with their 19th century meanings. These words are derived from the word
"liberty" and Hayek uses them to describe principles of free market, capitalism, private property, personal liberty, rule of law, respect for the individual and government regulation for the promotion of competition. In other words, his use of “liberal” and “liberalism” are referring to the principles that today's “conservatives” believe in.
He clearly shows the totalitarian nature of socialism and how it inevitably leads to “serfdom” – a condition in which the individual is “bound to the land and subject to the will of his lord.” In other words, serfdom is the European version of slavery. You are not free to do what you want
to do or live where you want to live, because you are controlled by a person or people with more power than you.
Released in America in 1944, this book is every bit as relevant now as it was then. He writes that the supreme tragedy in Germany was that
“largely people of good will who, by their socialist policies, prepared the way for the forces which stand for everything they detest. Few recognize that the rise of fascism and Nazism was not a reaction against the socialist trends of the preceding period, but a necessary outcome of those tendencies.” … “In the democracies at present, many who sincerely hate all of Nazism's manifestations are working for ideals whose realization would lead straight to the abhorred tyranny. Most of the people whose views influence developments are in some measure socialists. They believe that our economic life should be “consciously directed,” that we should substitute “economic planning” for the competitive system. Yet is there a greater tragedy imaginable than that, in our endeavor consciously to shape our future in accordance with high ideals, we should in fact unwittingly produce the very opposite of what we have been striving for?”
Most often the good intentions of the socialists are to free individuals from the stress of economic problems. “Freeing” us from making sometimes difficult decisions and choices and then living with the results of our choices. This false freedom from economic concerns is the means of destroying real freedom. True freedom is to live a life free of coercion, where you are free to make your own decisions about how you want to live, where you want to live, what you wish to do with you talents and abilities and what you want to do with the money you earn through your endeavors.
Those who wish to direct or plan our economic lives misunderstand that taking the power of choice away from the individual and concentrating that power into a centralized system in effort to enforce the “plan” alters that power into one that influences or controls all aspects of our lives. Indeed, economic freedom is essential to the exercise of all of our other freedoms.
The system of private property is the most important guarantee of freedom. “It is only because the control of the means of production is divided among many people acting independently that we as individuals can decide what to do with ourselves. When all the means of production are vested in a single hand, whether it be nominally that of “society” as a whole or that of a dictator, whoever exercises this control has complete power over us. In the hands of private individuals, what is called economic power can be an instrument of coercion, but it in can never have control over the whole life of a person. But when economic power is centralized is an instrument of political power it creates a degree of dependence scarcely distinguishable from slavery.”
Hayek explains very clearly how since the Renaissance the general direction of society in Western Civilization has been one of freeing the individual from the ties that bound him to the feudal state. The the removal of these barriers created an “unchaining of individual energies”. This freeing of the individual created a huge growth in science which, in turn, improved the lives and lifestyles of all the people. By the start of the 20th century, the working person in the western world had attained a level of material comfort, security and personal independence that would have seemed impossible only 100 years earlier. The effect of this was a new sense of power over our own fate, the belief in the unlimited ability of improving ones lot in life.
Socialism wants to get rid of the forces of the “individual energies”. It strives to replace them with a centralized power. A power that can organize and control the society, that can “plan” society. The more complex the society, the more impossible it is to have a functional central plan for the society. (Remember all the failed 5 year plans in Russia and China?)
The problem is not if we should or shouldn't have systematic thinking about planning our affairs, the problem is what is the best way to go about it. “The question is whether we should create conditions under which the knowledge and initiative of individuals are given the best scope so that they can plan most successfully (capitalism); or whether we should direct and organize all economic activities according to a “blueprint” that is to “consciously direct the resources of society to conform to the planners' particular views of who should have what. (socialism)”
Modern conservatism (Hayek's “liberalism”) believes that effective competition is a better way of guiding individual efforts than any other. Competition is superior not only because in most conditions it is the most effective method but “it is the only method which does not require the coercive or arbitrary intervention of authority.” – force from the powerful centralized government. Competition can withstand some amount of regulation but can not operate properly with central planning. Both competition (free market capitalism) and central direction or planning (socialism's system) are poor tools when not complete and a mixture of the two means neither one will work. Planning and competition can only work together if the planning is designed to help competition, not to eliminate it.