By Richard Ebeling
Seventy years ago this month, on March 10, 1944, “The Road to Serfdom” by Friedrich A. Hayek was first published in Great Britain. For seven decades it has continued to challenge and influence the political-economic landscape of the world. Hayek delivered an ominous warning that political trends in the Western democracies, including America, were all in the direction of a new form of servitude that threatened the personal and economic liberty of the citizens of these countries.
Austrian economist, F.A. Hayek (1899-1992) was already famous as the leading free-market opponent of the emerging Keynesian Revolution in the 1930s. He also was one of the most prominent critics of socialist central planning, having helped demonstrate why government management of an entire economy was inherently unworkable, and could never “deliver the goods” as efficiently and effectively as competitive capitalism.
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Now, in “The Road to Serfdom,” Hayek showed that government planning was not only an economic disaster, but also more tellingly a political system of control and management that threatened to bring about the end of human freedom.
When the book was published Great Britain and the United States were engulfed in a global war with Nazi Germany as the primary enemy and Soviet Russia as the primary ally. In 1944 the British had a wartime coalition government of both Conservative and Labor Party members, with Winston Churchill as its head. During these war years plans were being designed within the government for a postwar socialist Britain, including nationalized health care, nationalized industries, and detailed economic planning of industry and agriculture.
For the eight years before America’s entry into the war Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal had transformed the United States through levels of government spending, taxing, regulation, and redistribution the likes of which had never before been experienced in the nation’s history. Many of the early New Deal programs had even imposed a network of fascist-style economic controls on private industry and agriculture; fortunately, the Supreme Court had declared most of these controls unconstitutional in 1935.
At the same time, the Soviet Union was frequently portrayed as a model – however rough around the edges – of an ideal socialist society, freeing “the masses” from poverty and exploitation. The Nazi regime, on the other hand, was usually depicted as a brutal dictatorship designed to maintain the power and control of aristocratic and capitalist elites that surrounded Hitler.
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