Traffic Jam on the Road to Serfdom

F.A. Hayek had a lot of smart and interesting ideas, but I join Alan Beattie in finding it bizarre that the work of his that people have the most interest in promoting nowadays is The Road to Serfdom, which is based around a provocative but in retrospect clearly mistaken idea:

This would be an interesting thesis, had it not turned out to be manifestly wrong. Even Hayek himself, towering genius though he was, looks a bit silly in retrospect. Here he is in the foreword to a 1956 edition, warning about Britain after six years of Labour government: “[W]hat the British experience convinces me even more to be true is that the unforeseen but inevitable consequences of socialist planning create a state of affairs in which, if the policy is to be pursued, totalitarian forces will get the upper hand.” Unless Hayek was foreseeing the rise of reality TV and Simon Cowell’s reign of terror over British national life, this was a bit of a duff prediction.

There’s a debate to be had on the boundaries between private and public. But it’s hard to have it with people who look at a state-run Swedish kindergarten and see a boot stamping on a human face forever. In truth, if Hayek’s new readers want the literary equivalent of Fox News, they are heading for the disappointment of a rather dry treatise short on contemporary talking points. The Road to Serfdom has nothing exposing the authoritarian iniquities of government healthcare; nothing savaging the dictatorship of Social Security; nothing railing against the totalitarianism of gun control. It’s enough to make you turn to Nietzsche.

As it happens, I don’t have a photo of a Swedish kindergarten but here’s one I took of a Finnish middle school, which is a better example anyway since Finnish schools are more state-run than Swedish ones and their kids perform better:


To be fair, I do recall from the years 2004-2005 that a segment of progressive thinking also took a somewhat apocalyptic turn. It seems all too easy for people to forget that the pendulum of party politics oscillates very rapidly and that US public policy is massively biased toward the status quo continuing.