Our Journey Down Hayek’s Road

As the president lays out his vision for the country in his State of the Union address tomorrow, it’s important to keep a simple question in mind, “how far have we traveled down Hayek’s road?

For those who haven’t read F. A. Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, or maybe just need a refresher, check out this user-friendly version.

For the 50th anniversary of the publication of Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, Policy Review (Summer 1994) asked several prominent economists to ponder the question, “how far have we traveled down Hayek’s road?”

Here are some highlights of that discussion:

To Dick Armey, then Representative of the 26th District of Texas, the system of income-tax withholding was the single greatest impetus that sent America down the Road.

In the old days, when free Americans paid their taxes out of their own wallets, there was a limit to how much revenue our statists could raise without having a rebellion on their hands. People could see how much they paid the government, and judge if the return was worth it. But once World War II gave the statists an excuse to take our money from our paychecks before we even touched it, the obscene growth of the government became inexorable.

According to Milton Friedman, what kept America marching down the Road is that the intellectual class has chosen not believe in the superiority of capitalism.

Today there is wide agreement that socialism is a failure, and capitalism a success. Yet this apparent conversion of the intellectual community to what might be called a Hayekian view is deceptive… The present discussion of a national program of health care provides a striking example. The intellectuals may have learned the words but they do not yet have the tune… It is only a little overstated to say that we preach individualism and competitive capitalism, and practice socialism.

And finally, Fred Smith, the president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, says that freedom “continues to retreat.”

Those promoting the federal government’s higher education and highway construction programs felt it necessary to rationalize such programs on “national defense” grounds. Today the constitutional legitimacy of, say, politically managed health care is not even debated or questioned. Taxes have increased in severity. Government credit and insurance schemes are more intrusive and create more mischief than in 1944. Federal welfare programs have done as much harm to minority families as anything since slavery.

The words of these experts ring even truer now, seventeen years farther down the Road to Serfdom. And F. A. Hayek’s words ring even truer.

As you watch the president’s address, and even more telling, watch his actions, ask yourself, “How far is this taking us down the Road to Serfdom and away from freedom?”

If the answer is as small as one more step in the wrong direction, then it is the wrong course of action.