Review of “The Road to Serfdom”

Friedrich von Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom is a popular book from the Austrian School of economics. It is the scripture of classical liberalism and the right, much more so than Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. The thesis of the book is that all forms of collectivism and socialism do not work and that liberal capitalism in its most libertarian and stateless form is the only way to bring freedom. All other roads lead to what he calls “serfdom.”

Like most of the “Austrian School,” Hayek’s ideology can roughly be called Social Darwinism or Objectivism, in other words the smaller the government the better. He says that “small government, free markets, low taxes,” etc., will bring prosperity in the long run. The question he refuses to answer is: prosperity for whom? Hayek argues against “collectivism,” saying it is “totalitarian” and that pure individualism is the way to go. He does not provide any essential analysis of the difference between types of collectivism, nor does he seem to think cooperation between groups of people can bring any form of success or prosperity.

The Road to Serfdom claims that a planned economy will be bureaucratic and inefficient. Hayek claims planners will naturally be corrupt or will not be able to agree on planning. This is a very shallow assumption—he never speaks of the detailed planning that goes on in major corporations and small businesses alike. The bureaucratic control of global corporations ruling today are also not mentioned. Corporate entities do not even pretend to answer to anyone. Hayek rails against “bureaucracy” as an abstract concept without explaining the high bureaucratic levels and chaotic inefficiency in the private industry he loves so much.

There are parts of the book that are outright bizarre or inaccurate: there is a part in chapter eight where Hayek claims that inequality of income is not inherently caused by private property. Even the most amateur economist will tell you that owning land, resources, factories, farms or other means of production and extracting value from that property, as opposed to selling your working power for a wage, most certainly does affect your income. Later in the same chapter, Hayek claims that the low income gap in socialist countries like the USSR was the same as in capitalist countries such as the United States. He both greatly underestimates the income gap in the US and overestimates the gap in socialist Russia as an example, claiming both stood at 50: 1. Even if this were true, socialism has a more advanced example in Albania where the wage gap was reduced to 2:1, the lowest gap in the world.

It’s not going too far to say that Hayek’s view of World War II is crazy. He spends a great deal of his book trying to convince the reader that Nazism is actually socialism. He does not explain how Hitler’s only real opponents were socialists or why large German industrialists formed his base, nor why at the time of publication the two ideologies were locked in a death struggle. He pays token support to anti-Nazism, but only insofar as he argues fascism is a form of socialism. It just so happens that there is an actual form of serfdom nowadays. It’s called the ghetto. Fathers, sons and grandfathers alike all live there down through the generations. Poor people are serfed into a life there by the same economic and political system that Friedrich Hayek believes is the only true form of liberty.

There is nothing new or unique about Austrian Economics. Despite what they say, the workers are not parasites; the rich classes are. The rich classes are not Atlas; the workers actually build everything. There is something amiss in an ideology that seeks to revive nostalgia for small capitalism and sees human social interaction as being on par with hyenas fighting over an animal carcass. In this world of suffering and need, there are few with the luxury to hold to such a deluded world outlook, and for the rest of us, Austrian Economics will continue to add nothing to our understanding of the world as we know it.

Categories: Books, Economic Exploitation, Economics, History, United States History

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