Which Road to Serfdom?

Both here and at Crooked Timber, libertarianism is getting a bit of a run. So, can anyone find me a copy of Hayek’s prescient 1944 book, The Road to Serfdom, which predicted that the policies of the British Labour Party (policies that were implemented after the 1945 election) would result in relatively poor economic performance, and would eventually be modified or abandoned, a claim vindicated by the triumph of Thatcherism in the 1980s? This book, and its predictive success, seem to play an important role in libertarian thinking.

Despite a diligent search, the only thing I can find is a book of the same title, also written by an FA von Hayek in 1944. This Road to Serfdom predicts that the policies of the British Labour Party, implemented after the 1945 election, would lead to the emergence of a totalitarian state similar to Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, or at least to a massive reduction in political and personal freedom (as distinct from economic freedom). Obviously this prediction was totally wrong. Democracy survived Labor’s nationalizations, and personal freedom expanded substantially. Even a defensible version of the argument (say, a claim that, Labor’s ultimate program included elements that could not be realised without anti-democratic forms of coercion, and that would have to be dropped if these bad outcomes were to be avoided) could only be regarded as raising a hypothetical, but unrealised, cause for concern.. Presumably, this isn’t the book the libertarians have read, so I assume there must exist another of the same title.

125 thoughts on “Which Road to Serfdom?

  1. Treasury is about raising money – Finance is about trying to get departments to justify their spending proposals, PM&C is about the politics of the issues. That is roughly how it works.

  2. @Andrew Reynolds

    Repeating your statement doesn’t make it any less wrong. I will just chalk it up to one more thing on the list of what you don’t know about. Doug has got it right.

  3. “Society is, therefore, an artificial construct.”
    LOL, where would you like to stop? Some say that reality is formed differently by each individual yet there myriad assertions of reality (“society doesn’t exist”). Would you believe individuals as constructed by libertarians are a construct? May be libertarians are a construct. Really that is a schoolyard argument. But then most libertarian positions fall apart quicker that a late night kebab. I love the one about individual sovereignty, John Humphries for the execrable IPA is a big fan of this one, what a loon!

  4. “A large amount of money was dumped into a small industry all of a sudden.”

    Is over the top rhetoric part of your individuality or is it wild, unsupported assertions that define your particular collection of rapidly oscillating particles?
    It’s such a great sentence when you strip it bare it’s almost poetic:

    large amount of money
    was dumped
    small industry
    all of a sudden

  5. Patrickb,
    Indulging in pseudo-philosophy does not constitute an argument. Generally I find that it is not even a good substitute for one.
    Oh – of course Freelander. Treasury never spends a cent. No-one working there ever gets paid. Perhaps we can chalk that one up to “Freelander misses the point yet again”.
    How about addressing the substance of the argument, rather than embarrassing yourself on side issues.

  6. @Andrew Reynolds

    You really are an idiot. How is the fact that Treasury officers get paid, equivalent to your ridiculous claim that Treasury spends its time dreaming up new ways to spend (even on Treasury). You just don’t have a clue who does what, and who decides what. If you really understood how silly the things you say are, you would shrivel up in humiliation. If you just understood what Patrickb had to say, you would have recognised that you just experienced yet another paddling.

    Funny to hear you use the word philosophy, even if prefaced by pseudo. Philosophy another subject you clearly know nothing about. What an astonishingly long list of complete ignorance.

    Did I hear you say once again that you would like me to explain what your choice of avatar reveals?

    Also annoying is how mechanical, lacking in creativity and originality, your patter is. You just ain’t entertaining. Your behaviours are so boringly mechanical and insipid, you will have many of us suspecting that you’re an accountant!

    Now, given you are blind to error, incapable of learning, and certainly incapable of contributing to a discussion, and you seem to think that it is good enough just to make it all up as you go along, why don’t you be a good little toddler and go away.

    Even for the large number of people who are regularly giving you a spanking the whole thing is becoming a bore.

  7. Defenders of Hayek always claim that people over-read and over-simplified the thesis of The Road to Serfdom. Which makes the following interesting in multiple respects:
    http://mises.org/books/TRTS/ The Road to Serfdom: in Cartoons.
    Though un-dated it is clearly from the mid to late forties. Note that it originally appeared in Look magazine, at that time a top popular general magazine competing with Life and that it was reprinted as a stand-alone pamphlet as no. 118 in General Motors ‘Thought Starter’ series. Meaning it was intended for wide popular distribution, and given that it could hardly have been issued without Hayek’s consent must represent the ‘take away’ he wanted.

    The pamphlet consists of 18 cartoon panels and presents the ‘Government Planning leads to Nazi-like Tyranny’ in the starkest form. The imagery draws more on Mussolini than Hitler, but the message is clear enough.

    My favorite panel is no 17 which implicitly equates golf to freedom and organized sports to fascism.

    Hayek obviously backed off his thesis in later years but he was clearly comfortable having it presented to the masses in this way.

  8. Blah, blah, blah. Freelander do you have any ideas or arguments you would like to present or is personal abuse more your thing.

  9. Freelander,
    I am really not interested in anything from you except any substantive argument you may have. It does somewhat reduce the amount of your stuff I have to bother with.

  10. Your behaviours are so boringly mechanical and insipid, you will have many of us suspecting that you’re an accountant!

    Don’t be jobist.

    And for God’s sake, would you just tell us what the damned avatar means?

  11. My apologies to accountants. Actually, I think accountancy is a fine occupation despite the reputation, and targeted jokes. Simply was an attempt at irony.

    I will let the toddler toddle on, but will add this for Terje.

    There is no contribution of ideas or arguments when a person becomes so mechanical that others are able to predict what they will say long before they have even thought of it themselves, especially when that person tends to spray anyone who goes to the trouble of clarifying the fallaciousness of their reasoning. You Terje, often border on the mechanical, and also have a tendency toward the make it up school, though in lesser degree and, though thankfully, sans, the regular serial sprays targeted at those providing a forensic analysis.

    When someone does you the courtesy of showing you that you are in error, the rational thing is to be thankful, take note of the correction, and move on. As Keynes would say “When I find that I am wrong, I change my mind. What do you do, Sir?”

    When ruled by emotion there can be other tendancies. I’ll accept that denial and delusion are increasingly popular alternative strategies. The topic of climate change is a great illustration of that.

    As for what the choice of avatar reveals…

    The ‘naughty little boy’ has previously been diagnosed with narcissism based on numerous displays in his many posts. Admittedly, since diagnosis, and more so recently, he does seem to be working hard to tone down this compulsive behaviour, and for this he must be given great credit, especially given that the disorder is considered by most to be incurable.

    Choice of an avatar often reveals how the person would like the world to perceive them. In this case the unoriginal choice, Damien from South Park, reveals much. This person would like to be perceived as like Damien the anti-Christ, full of amazing talents and great powers. Of course, how they would like to be perceived is in contrast with how they really feel about themselves, which is as most narcissists do — as rather talentless, and totally powerless. These empty feelings are what drive the narcissist to crave admiration and strive to be perceived as powerful and talented. If only the rest of the world would see them so, maybe they could reject their self assessment and dispel that inner deep self loathing. Fascinating stuff and fascinating specimen. But maybe I’ve got this all wrong?

  12. Freelander,
    Pity you put all of that thought in with it all being wasted. I just used the South Park character builder in facebook, without it being aimed at being any particular character. Nice try, though. Typical, though, isn’t it? Lots of thought, big build up and just wrong. Better luck next time.

  13. @Bruce Webb

    Yes. I also had a great laugh at that cartoon and downloaded it some time ago. The history of Prophets, including Hayek, is to disown or ‘reinterpret’ the numerous prophecies that have not come to pass.

  14. @Bruce Webb

    This cartoon also came out as a short film, with a voice over, using the same panels. Very reminiscent of the anti-communist stuff of the time.

  15. For such a strong believer in ‘free will’ and personal agency, you are somewhat compulsive! And self-contradictory. And, occasionally, unintentionally amusing.

  16. Freelander – I don’t see being predictable as a problem. Being unpredictable isn’t a virtue. If people can accurately anticipate my response to an issue then I feel like my logic and reason has been well communicated. You should stick to refuting ideas you think are wrong, and defending ideas you think are right and spend less time offering commentary on peoples style.

  17. The trite and the wrong a frequently predictable. Substantive contribution are not. That is what makes them substantive. If a message can be predicted before it is received it is uninformative, that is it contains no information.

  18. @Freelander
    I agree with Freelander’s comment and sorry Terje..but your responses are to a pre set recipe… somewhat predicable here in this blog. I dont see being predictable as a virtue. It means you cannot adapt to change..and after all, for most, economies prove that economic outcomes are unpredictable (by most in the profession). So if your views are pedictable there is a greater chance they are wrong.

  19. If a message can be predicted before it is received it is uninformative, that is it contains no information. …to paraphrase Shannon.

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