Results for “road to serfdom” 39 found
I’ve seen this work bashed a number of times in the blogosphere over the last few years. It didn’t get everything right, but it remains an important and seminal work and at the time of its publication it was a revelatory work. Let’s turn the microphone over to Albert Hirschman, hardly a right-wing ideologue. This is from Jeremy Adelman’s very useful biography of Hirschman:
…when he [Hirschman] found a copy of Friedrich von Hayek’s recently published…The Road to Serfdom in a Rome bookstore, a nerve was struck: “Reading this book is very useful for someone like me who grew up in a ‘collectivist’ climate — it makes you rethink many things and has shown me in how many important points I have moved away from the beliefs I had when I was 18 years old. The experience of the army has also confirmed or rather demonstrated forcefully the advantages of a monetary society, anonymous, and where one preserves at least a sector of private initiative.”
…Even more than a reminder of his skepticism of statist planners, Hayek got at something Hirschman felt strongly: the need to acknowledge the basic limits to the “intelligibility” of our complex world. Leaders were wont to claim complete knowledge when they did not have it and thus to squash the individual’s ability to make adjustments “to changes who cause and nature he cannot understand.”
Hirschman was never convinced by Hayek’s desire to rely so heavily on the market, but in this appreciation of the book you will find more wisdom than in the recent attempted take downs. In essence, the critics are not grasping how backward was the intellectual climate when Hayek’s book came out and what a useful corrective it was.
By the way, here is a new and good Cass Sunstein review of the Adelman bio of Hirschman.
Addendum: From the comments, Ricardo points us to Sen’s nice words about the book.
Given all the recent fuss, I picked it up again and found:
1. It was more boring and less analytic on matters of public choice than I had been expecting.
2. Although some of Hayek's major predictions have been proven wrong, they are more defensible than I had been expecting.
3. The most important sentence in the book is "This book, written in my spare time from 1940 to 1943…" In those years, how many decent democracies were in the world? How clear was it that the Western powers, even if they won the war, would dismantle wartime economic planning? How many other peoples' predictions from those years have panned out? At that time, Hayek's worries were perfectly justified.
4. If current trends do turn out very badly, this is not the best guide for understanding exactly why.
It's fine to downgrade the book, relative to some of the claims made on its behalf, but the book doesn't give us reason to downgrade Hayek.
Here is my latest NYT column, which they titled "The Pendulum Swings Back to Austerity." Excerpt:
The unfolding of the financial crisis has also changed the public’s sense of where change is needed, both in the United States and Europe. The tragedies of 2008 were represented by Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers – both private-sector institutions. In 2010, the financial crisis has spread to sovereign debt, with Greece as the most obvious example.
All of these developments are part of one broader story of overreach and complacency. Yet the 2008 crises were attached more directly to market institutions, while the 2010 crises are more closely linked to governments. Because politicians and voters are more influenced by the latest developments than by news from two or three years earlier, a cautious attitude toward public-sector spending has been further cemented.
Democracies, like markets, have some self-correcting mechanisms, and we are now seeing those at work in the United States and many European countries. (Spain and Britain, for example, are pursuing fiscal austerity aggressively.)
The lessons are straightforward. First, to paraphrase the French moralist La Rochefoucauld, things are never as good, or as bad, as they seem. Second, the Obama reforms, like the Reagan revolution, are turning out to be radically incomplete, which should come as no surprise.
Finally, effective political ideas are those that can still do good in half-baked form. We have neglected this insight in designing financial reform, and it remains to be seen if we can apply it successfully to climate change.
Overall, I believe we are headed toward slower growth and a larger public sector, but I do not believe we are headed down the road to serfdom. At the same time, I am aiming at a different target. Critics of incrementalism are usually too focused on the single issue at hand — where they are sure they know best — and not sufficiently aware of the efficiency properties of the broader system, which introduces self-correction mechanisms to counter or limit most major changes.
If I had to stress one sentence from the piece, it would be this one:
Finally, effective political ideas are those that can still do good in half-baked form.
BBC informs us that this is the 60th anniversary of the publication of Hayek’s Road to Serfdom. In memoriam, here is a fact sheet about the book.
I have always seen huge pluses and minuses in the work. On the down side, mixed economies did not lead to fascism, communism, or totalitarianism, as Hayek had feared. On the plus side, Hayek offers his strongest and clearest case for liberty. Only rarely is political decision-making about trying to do the right thing. His analysis of the dynamics of political power remains a “public choice” classic to this day.
Thanks to Ray Squitieri for the pointer.
They are not good, as evidenced by a new paper by Buggle and Nafziger (pdf):
This paper examines the long-run consequences of serfdom in the countries of the former Russian Empire. We combine novel data measuring the intensity of labor coercion on the district level in 1861 with several intermediate and present-day outcomes. Our results show that past serfdom goes along with lower economic well-being today. We apply an instrumental variable strategy that exploits the transfer of serfs on monastic lands in 1764 to establish a causal link between past serfdom and current economic development. Tracking the evolution of city populations throughout Soviet times corroborates the finding of persistent economic differences. Furthermore, our results suggest a political economy mechanisms linking higher historical economic inequality with worse public goods provision (roads and education), as well as lower urbanization and structural change towards factory production, as explanation for this persistence. We do not find differences in contemporaneous cultural attitudes and preferences.
The pointer is from Pseudoerasmus.
Sometime in the summer of 1942, the economists John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek spent the night on the roof of the King’s College Chapel in Cambridge. The Germans were in the midst of what some called the “Baedeker bombings,” a campaign to destroy the quaint and historical sorts of buildings that might be found in a Baedeker travel guide, in an effort to break the British fighting spirit. The Cambridge faculty volunteered to spend nights protecting their buildings from damage by extinguishing flames from incendiary bombs. Keynes was a long-time fellow of King’s College. Hayek was in Cambridge for the summer, the London School of Economics having closed due to the blitz.
Keynes’ greatest book, his General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money had been published in 1936, to the acclaim and fury of the entire field of economics. Hayek had just finished what was to become his greatest book, The Road to Serfdom, but he had yet to find a publisher for it. When he did publish it, the impact would be explosive.
Both men were intellectual bomb throwers; creatively destructive in their attacks on prevailing orthodoxies.
Eric Samuelsen on his play, Clearing Bombs, which somehow I missed when it was performed in Salt Lake City in 2014. Did any of you see it?
4. Building iPhones in Vietnam? (NYT)
The authors are Jon A. Shields and Joshua M. Dunn Sr. and the subtitle is Conservative Professors in the Progressive University. I found this book subtle and thought-provoking throughout. Here is one good bit:
In fact, many conservative academics feel more at home in the progressive academy than in the Republican Party. This alienation is not because most conservative academics we interviewed are Rockefeller Republicans. In some respects, they are more conservative than self-identified Republicans in the general population. Instead, the Republican Party tends to trouble even the most conservative professors because they share with the American founders a small-c conservatism that is sensitized to the dangers of democratic movements. This political orientation inclines conservative professors to look askance at the populism that has shaken up the Republican Party in recent years…
What also comes through in this book is the remarkable diversity of thought among the so-called “intellectual right.” And I enjoyed this anecdote:
A professor of history at an elite university, meanwhile, turned right after taking a course with the Marxist historian Arno Mayer. This admiring historian recalled Mayer announcing to his class, “I’m going to assign the book I most disagree with in the twentieth century, and I’m going to ask you not to critique it, but to recreate its arguments with intellectual empathy.” The book was Hayek’s Road to Serfdom.
If only the blogosphere was always so tolerant. I feared I would be bored by this book, but I found it a work of quality scholarship, yet highly readable too. Here is a Jonathan Marks WSJ review. And here is a relevant column by Virginia Postrel.
In 1944, the celebrated economist Friedrich Hayek was commissioned by the British Colonial Office to undertake a report on the economy of Gibraltar. His conclusion was that the government of Gibraltar should use market forces to relocate working class Gibraltarians into neighbouring Spain. Yet despite the libertarian credentials Hayek had established via his work of the same year, The Road to Serfdom, such a policy would have moved Gibraltarians into the dictatorship of General Franco.
In a study presented to the Economic History Society’s 2015 annual conference, Chris Grocott argues that Hayek’s proposal to relocate Gibraltarians into Spain shows an alarming lack of political astuteness on the part of the winner of the 1974 Nobel Prize for Economics.
In the first instance, the British Colonial Office conveniently lost Hayek’s report. When it re-surfaced in early 1945, the Colonial Office then sent the report to the Admiralty who, unimpressed with Hayek’s condemnation of educational facilities in Gibraltar’s dockyard, moved to delay its publication. Meanwhile, Hayek himself was on a lecture tour of the United States, promoting The Road to Serfdom, and oblivious to the dismay that his report has caused.
He has a new published paper, in Analyse & Kritik, entitled “Thoughts on Arrangements of Property Rights in Productive Assets,” here is the abstract:
State ownership, worker ownership, and household ownership are the three main forms in which productive assets (firms) can be held. I argue that worker ownership is not wise in economies with high capital-labor rations, for it forces the worker to concentrate all her assets in one firm. I review the coupon economy that I proposed in 1994, and express reservations that it could work: greedy people would be able to circumvent its purpose of preventing the concentration of corporate wealth. Although extremely high corporate salaries are the norm today, I argue these are competitive and market determined, a consequence of the gargantuan size of firms. It would, however, be possible to tax such salaries at high rates, because the labor-supply response would be small. The social-democratic model remains the best one, to date, for producing a relatively egalitarian outcome, and it relies on solidarity, redistribution, and private ownership of firms. Whether such a solidaristic social ethos can develop without a conflagration, such as the second world war, which not only united populations in the war effort, but also wiped out substantial middle-class wealth in Europe — thus engendering the post-war movement toward social insurance — is an open question.
There are some probably gated versions here. He also explains later in the paper that socialism cannot work because a generally solidaristic social ethos will be undermined by a selfish minority, driven by greed, which will turn social institutions to their favor and evolve into a new ruling class. In other words, Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom is not yet obsolete and still holds the power to sway men’s minds.
For the pointer I thank Kevin Vallier.
It is a wide-ranging dialogue with Timothy Snyder, you can buy it here. I will gladly recommend this book, but I have mixed feelings about it. It is Judt’s “deathbed conversations” with Snyder, when he was paralyzed.
Is it fascinating? Yes. Did I read it straight through without pausing? Yes. Did I learn a lot? Yes.
Yet it doesn’t show Judt in such an overwhelmingly favorable light. He is cranky, unfair to his intellectual opponents, and he repeatedly misrepresents thinkers such as Hayek on some fairly simple points. He conducts unsubstantiated attacks on various New York Times columnists, as if they had once beaten him in a debate and this was his revenge. It shows his lifelong and mostly unhealthy obsession with what Daniel Klein has called “The People’s Romance.” Unlike in some of his previous writings, his proposals for a one-state solution to the Israel-Palestine problem come off as an irresponsible and somewhat flip symbolic gesture, easy enough to make because he doesn’t have to live with the outcome. As a reader and reviewer it is hard to not wonder whether/how Judt was medicated during these conversations, and how well he had thought through his lack of editing options before publication. Or is this the real Judt? Are we all really like this? Pondering that question is as interesting as the dialogue itself.
The Austrians will be happy when Judt writes: “The three quarters of century that followed Austria’s collapse in the 1930s can be seen as a duel between Keynes and Hayek.” Yet he has the odd view that free market ideas were “imported to the U.S. in the suitcases of a handful of disabused Viennese intellectuals.” Others may underrate the importance of central/eastern Europe but in these dialogues he overrates it.
One does not have to agree with Hayek’s Road to Serfdom to find this an unfair characterization:
Hayek is quite explicit on this count: if you begin with welfare policies of any sort — directing individuals, taxing for social ends, engineering the outcomes of market relationships — you will end up with Hitler.
My favorite part of the book comes at Kindle location 1294, here is part of that discussion:
But even when Blunt was outed as a Soviet spy, in 1979, his standing in high society, and in the distinctive codes of that society in England, still protected him…Thus Blunt — a spy, a communist, a dissembler, a liar and a man who may have actively contributed to the exposure and death of British agents — was nonetheless deemed by some of the his colleagues to be guilty of no crime serious enough to justify depriving him of the fellowship of the British Academy.
If you are seeking to “normalize” this review, I consider Judt’s Past Imperfect to be one of the best books of the last few decades, his Postwar to be one of my favorite books ever, and his late essays to be some of the best writing, in any genre, in a long time. (Though I didn’t like Ill Fares the Land.) I can recommend this too, as something worth consuming and pondering and spending money on, but I still have a slightly queasy feeling in my stomach.