Sunday, August 7, 2011

Is Hayek's Road to Serfdom being vindicated?

Even for many who regard it as a great book the claim that we were actually heading to serfdom seemed a bit of a reach, but perhaps we owe him an apology. In a very interesting column Janet Daley says the essential question is whether capitalism is combatible with a democratic socialist society.  If it isn't, then you can go in one of two directions, and one of the possible choices is Hayek's serfdom:

"As the EU leadership is (almost) admitting now, the next step to ensure the survival of the world as we know it will involve moving toward a command economy, in which individual countries and their electorates will lose significant degrees of freedom and self-determination.
We have arrived at the endgame of what was an untenable doctrine: to pay for the kind of entitlements that populations have been led to expect by their politicians, the wealth-creating sector has to be taxed to a degree that makes it almost impossible for it to create the wealth that is needed to pay for the entitlements that populations have been led to expect"

In his introduction to The Social and Political Doctrines of Contemporary Europe (1939) Michael Oakeshott noted: a) "Contemporary Europe presents the spectator with a remarkable variety of social and political doctrines; indeed it is improbable that this collection of communities has ever before shown such fertility of invention in this field." and b) Moreover, this variety of social and political doctrine is not to be explained as merely the product of a fashion which has become a craze.  It denotes a deep and natural dissatisfaction with the social and political doctrine, broadly to called Liberalism..." [not to be confused with what now travels under that name]

The doctrines Oakeshott described in '39 were Representative Democracy [Liberalism], Catholicism, Communism, Fascism, and National Socialism.  What eventually won out in the west, was Social Democracy in Europe, and its watered down cousin Liberal-Progressivism here in the U.S.  What we are seeing is the failure of those two "winning" doctrines (the feedback loop in politics is very long).  Not only don't we know how this failure will play out economically, we don't know what political movements and doctrines will emerge from the wreckage.  It could be a recognition that Classical Liberalism was sound after all--a conservative victory--but I doubt it.

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