Sunday, October 21, 2007

Recommended Reading: The Road to Serfdom: A classic warning against the dangers to freedom inherent in social planning by F.A. Hayek

Although this blog is on hiatus, I will from time to time offer recommended readings. In this installment, The Road to Serfdom: A classic warning against the dangers to freedom inherent in social planning by F.A. Hayek will be briefly discussed. This book, written by the 1974 co-winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics, was published in 1944 and is dedicated "to socialists of all parties." In it, the author warns against state-imposed collective "planning," and explains in detail its incompatibility with democracy. His thesis, written from the point of view of a classical liberal, is essentially that state economic controls (which lead to monopolies) are the antithesis of freedom. In the real world, authority is human and must make choices that will inevitably favor one group over another, thus leading to social strife. In addition, the happiness of the individual must be neglected, which basically leaves all claims of authoritarian socialism as incompatible with the concept of personal freedom. As the author also states, only personal freedom allows the individual and hence society to develop humanistic morality and values. Without some personal responsibility, the most terrible deeds may be justified as part of the greater plan.

Although dated, his thesis is still relevant. For those believing the state can solve all problems, as its history indicates, this book would definitely appear threatening. For this reason alone, this book is worth reading.

5 comments:

Civil DIsobedience said...

Is there a natural tension between liberty and equality? why?

I do not know if the tension is natural. Instead I would propose that the tension is an artifact of dependence on the legislative, procedural, and administrative means by which the country is defined, controlled, influenced, and aspires for greater things.

My experiences during this course to include the readings and personal experiences have offered me the insight that the means of equality can become rigid, undefined, implicit and unrealized, and thus mitigating of the flexibility, decisiveness, and individuality necessary for a humane and compassionate system.

Liberty and Equality are frequently utilized as just another excuse for selfishness. To not have to change, to maintain the status quo, to make the system comform to us instead of in the reverse.

To treat everyone as equal can become an administrative limitation through which no one is special, no special circumstances are acknowledged, and no individual aspirations are ceded.

Similarly, liberty can be both the realization of a climate in which one is unbound to seek what they may as well as a climate that provides no vision, direction, or meaning. Both can be tricky.

I've learned that for liberty to be meaningful is to recognize our meaning and purpose within a community. Similarly, I've learned that for equality to be meaningful we have to be able to recognize our differences, uniqueness, and individual needs and situations.

Without this balance we are trapped in bureaucratese and self limiting and inflexible systems that fail to evolve, grow, accomodate, adapt, and provide the organic life matter through which we as individuals and groups are empowered to do the same.

Our role as public administrators is to consider the individual and the group in tandem. The system defines neither.

civil disobedience said...

The monopoly of a federal government as the sole executive of people’s wills, interests, and resources ignores the existence of state, city, and regional governments. Would a federal government even be an issue if the United States was only a quarter its current size? With the current landmass of the United States is an equitable distribution of resources likely to exist amongst separate sovereign geographical land-states? I would argue that selfishness, conformity, and exclusion of interests exist regardless of the scope of the ruling government.

SRL said...

Thanks for the comments. I'll respond in a few days.

SRL said...

1. response to "I do not know if the tension is natural..."

I believe a main systemic issue is sheer mass. Eventually, it crushes any sense of community under a blanket of uniformity. "Natural" communal relationships are suppressed. All that's left is unity. Socially isolated individuals are more likely to abuse their freedoms at the expense of the community. It's hard to care about what one does not know. As such, short of falling apart, there is no systemic reform that may alter this situation. Too many vested interests resist meaningful change. That which does not bend, breaks. The state cannot solve this problem. As things fall apart, as administrators, the responsible position will be to seize the opportunity to re-establish community, yet allow difference. Unfortunately, too many knowing nothing but unity will embrace totalitarianism to preserve their equality at the expense of freedom. The two positions will inevitably clash, thus strengthening the impulse towards totalitarianism for those susceptible to manipulation by fear-mongering tactics.

After the dust settles, it will be good that some on us still know how to build.

SRL said...

2. Response to The monopoly of a federal government...

By far, the Federal government is far larger than necessary even for a continental landmass. In addition, there is the issue of unfunded federal mandates, which directly impacts services that are primarily the responsibility of state and local governments. The added expense makes everything from maintenance of critical infrastructure to social services difficult or even impossible to deliver. The residents pay high regressive taxes, yet relatively little is delivered. Unable to do anything about Federal power, the citizenry takes out their displeasure on state and local governments by voting to cut taxes. Thus government illegitimizes itself.