The Road to Serfdom

….To many who have watched the transition from socialism to fascism at close quarters the connection between the two systems has become increasingly obvious, but in the democracies the majority of people still believe that socialism and freedom can be combined. They do not realize that democratic socialism, the great utopia of the last few generations, is not only unachievable but that to strive for it produces something utterly different – the very destruction of freedom itself. As has been aptly said: “What has always made the state a hell on earth has been precisely that man has tried to make it his heaven.”

…. The successful use of competition does not preclude some types of government interference. For instance, to limit working hours, to require certain sanitary arrangements, to provide an extensive system of social services is fully compatible with the preservation of competition. There are, too, certain fields where the system of competition is impracticable. For example, the harmful effects of deforestation or of the smoke of factories cannot be confined to the owner of the property in question. But the fact that we have to resort to direct regulation by authority where the conditions for the proper working of competition cannot be created does not prove that we should suppress competition where it can be made to function. To create conditions in which competition will be as effective as possible, to prevent fraud and deception, to break up monopolies– these tasks provide a wide and unquestioned field for state activity. This does not mean that it is possible to find some “middle way” between competition and central direction, though nothing seems at first more plausible, or is more likely to appeal to reasonable people. Mere common sense proves a treacherous guide in this field. Although competition can bear some admixture of regulation, it cannot be combined with planning to any extent we like without ceasing to operate as an effective guide to production. Both competition and central direction become poor and inefficient tools if they are incomplete, and a mixture of the two – means that neither will work. Planning and competition can be combined only by planning for competition, not by planning against competition. The planning against which all our criticism is directed is solely the planning against competition.

….In a planned society the question can no longer be on what do a majority of the people agree but what the largest single group is whose members agree sufficiently to make unified direction of all affairs possible. There are three main reasons why such a numerous group, with fairly similar views, is not likely to be formed by the best but rather by the worst elements of any society. First, the higher the education and intelligence of individuals become, the more their tastes and views are differentiated. If we wish to find a high degree of uniformity in outlook, we have to descend to the regions of your moral and intellectual standards where the more primitive instincts prevail. This does not mean that the majority of people have low moral standards; it merely means that the largest group of people whose values are very similar are the people with low standards.

…But there are two kinds of security: the certainty of a given minimum of sustenance for all and the security of a given standard of life, of the relative position which one person or group enjoys compared with others. There is no reason why, in a society which has reached the general level of wealth ours has, the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom; that is: some minimum of food, shelter and clothing, sufficient to preserve health. Nor is there any reason why the state should not help to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance in providing for those common hazards of life against which few can make adequate provision. It is planning for security of the second kind which has such an insidious effect on liberty. It is planning designed to protect individuals or groups against diminutions of their incomes.

…There can be no question that adequate security against severe privation will have to be one of our main goals of policy. But nothing is more fatal than the present fashion of intellectual leaders of extolling security at the expense of freedom. It is essential that we should relearn frankly to face the fact that freedom can be had only at a price and that as individuals we must be prepared to make severe material sacrifices to preserve it.

For more, The Road to Serfdom

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Posted on February 13, 2004, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. A very interesting article! It has now set me off thinking in a tangent – will discuss this with you once I have a clear picture.

    This appears to be an article written for the 1970s – nevertheless, a lot of what is said still holds good – especially for India!

    The homepage has a lot of other interesting articles too.

    • Its even before. Hayek wrote his book The road to serfdom in the 1950s, or maybe even earlier, as a counter to Keynes book (i forget the name). Keynes and Hayek had different opinions w.r.t state involvement. Keynes was not a socialist, but he advocated a more involved state, Hayek preferred the least possible involvement. A few nights ago, I saw this video that we had burnt at ISB – Commanding HEights – Battle of Ideas. 3 part programme that talked about the economic ideas that have shaped the 20th century – mostly Hayek Vs keynes. Excellent!

      That kind of got me into looking for this.

  2. In a planned society the question can no longer be on what do a majority of the people agree but what the largest single group is whose members agree sufficiently to make unified direction of all affairs possible. There are three main reasons why such a numerous group, with fairly similar views, is not likely to be formed by the best but rather by the worst elements of any society. First, the higher the education and intelligence of individuals become, the more their tastes and views are differentiated. If we wish to find a high degree of uniformity in outlook, we have to descend to the regions of your moral and intellectual standards where the more primitive instincts prevail. This does not mean that the majority of people have low moral standards; it merely means that the largest group of people whose values are very similar are the people with low standards.

    Wow! This is what I have been trying to formulate for a month now! This is truly amazing. Thanks birdie.

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