In which Jason Kuznicki schools me on Hayek

A couple posts ago, I approvingly quoted Conor Freiersdorf thus:

Forced to choose, I’d rather live in the ACLU’s idea of the perfect America than a country where we repeal Obamacare, eliminate earmarks, and persist in chipping away at civil liberties to fight drugs and terrorists. The former may be a “road to serfdom.” The latter is a shortcut to the same place.

Freiersdorf’s theme is, in part, that Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom and its preoccupation with the evils of Social Progress are missing the point: lack of liberty is what’s harmful, whether it makes the Coke Party or the Pepsi Party cry.  That theme comes across better in this paragraph, which I didn’t quote:

Seven decades have passed since The Road to Serfdom was published. Social democracy hasn’t yet led Europe or any of its diverse countries into serfdom. On the contrary, they’re are among the most free and prosperous countries in the history of human civilization. I prefer the American system. It’s better, all things considered. In order to make the case for it, we need not pretend that the people of Europe are in chains.

And because Freiersdorf is an excellent and a compelling writer, I jubilantly endorsed his article.  In my defence, I read most of The Road to Serfdom while stuck in various snowbound midwestern airports a few years ago, wallowing in unhappiness and distracted by every flicker of the Departures Schedule CRT.  I guess it didn’t take.

Fortunately, Mr. Kuznicki read Hayek better than I did, and he’s something less than awestruck by the content of Freiersdorf’s argument:

In particular:

[T]he road to serfdom isn’t paved with social democracy, which may after all be modest and well-contained. It’s paved with an overweening faith in the democratic process to solve complex, detailed problems of economic allocation. This faith eventually turns sour when (as inevitably happens) the democratic process can’t do the impossible.Democracy, social or otherwise, fails when we start out with too much faith in its ability to plan. We may imagine that democracy can produce a more rational and efficient economic system, but this is absolutely beyond its powers. As a result, we stand to lose faith in democratic institutions. We might even demand that broad discretion be given to experts, or to dictators. That’s the road to serfdom.

By contrast, it’s certainly possible to have a social democratic government that isn’t on the road to serfdom. This is true both by empirical observation and by Hayek’s own very clear statements about the matter. To imagine anything other is both to ignore history and to admit that you don’t really know your Hayek.

Read the whole thing.  (Don’t read the comments unless instant ad hominem amuses you.)

2 Responses to “In which Jason Kuznicki schools me on Hayek”

  1. September 28, 2010 at 00:26

    Check Andrew Farrant and Ed McPhail for a contrasting reading of Hayek.

    It’s very difficult to think of a single empirical case where serfdom followed the path set out by Hayek (disappointment with planning leads to the demagogue). All the ones I can think of had the demagogue running things from the start. China didn’t turn to serfdom because of the failures of planning but because Mao was a murderous totalitarian.

  2. 2 Chad
    October 16, 2012 at 20:57

    Ordinary-Gentlemen link is borked now. This appears to be the intended target.

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