The Road to Hayek

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A sort of goofy Kate Zernike article lumps Friedrich Hayek in with some much more obscure figures as a kind of forgotten man resuscitated by the Tea Parties and Glenn Beck. The reality, of course, is that Hayek is a very famous and broadly influential thinker.

Now that said, though I know many people who disagree, in my opinion The Road to Serfdom is basically a crank political pamphlet. And certainly Beck and others are putting it forward in a crank context. But to make a long story short, not only is the Obama administration’s policy agenda much more Hayekian than the policy agenda of the British Labour Party in the mid-1940s, the implementation of the Labour Party platform clearly did not lead to serfdom.

The shame of it all, though, is that if people were inspired to go out and read “The Use of Knowledge in Society” or other stuff on the socialist calculation problem, they’d really learn a thing or two. A great many people, for example, observe that China has a faster growth rate than the USA and also a more state-directed economy and therefore observe that China has a faster growth rate than the USA in part because its economy is more state-directed. If you understand Hayek than I think you’ll understand that this is likely backwards.

I do have to say, though, that I think Hayek is one of those historically important thinkers who in many ways it’s clearer and easier to read about than to read directly (similarly, I find Keynes’ actual writing incredibly confusing relative to a Krugman or DeLong explanation of one of Keynes’ arguments). The language is just kind of off relative to how you would talk about these things today, and in some ways deciphering the prose without a helpful professor to explain it to you may be more difficult than just reading a Wikipedia entry.