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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
The Road to Serfdom (Routledge Classics)
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on 4 April 2011
Writing in the middle of WWII, F.A. Hayek was concerned with what he was seeing: far from learning lessons from the destructive forces of fascism and communism, many politicians and intellectuals in the west were getting ready to wholeheartedly embrace some of the policies and practices that led to the rise of some of the most vile and destructive regimes in history. The title of the book evokes the old adage that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and Hayek readily acknowledges that most proponents of state control of economy would be vehemently opposed to the methods that are necessary to implement those policies. Unlike many in his time and unfortunately many more today, Hayek did not see fascism and communism as polar opposites of each other, but rather two aspects of the same socialist ideology. Sometimes those that are most alike are most opposed to each other, and the communist portrayal of fascists and Nazis as right wing movement was a label that stuck to this day. Hayek perceived this to be very dangerous, not least because it would create an environment in which self-proclaimed leftist ideologues would face far less scrutiny than those on the self-proclaimed right. This is the reason why Hayek dedicated this book to "socialists of all parties."

The most remarkable thing about this book is that it has aged so well. The style of writing, the ideas presented, and the importance of what it had to say are as fresh and relevant today as they were when the book was first written. This, to me at least, is quite unsettling. It is rather sad that after all these years we still have to debate the same premises that were spelled out so clearly during one of history's worst moments.
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on 2 May 2010
Lots of superior ideas have ultimately lost out, and society today looks the way it does mainly because of competition. For anyone to plan, or even attempt to plan this complex economy in an anywhere near optimal way, this task is substantially beyond the capacity of any individual on the planet. The best we can do is to construct a system in which we can predict future state behaviour on basis of our own = a legal framework. Within this framework, we are free to invest the fruits of our labour in any way we want, as long as it doesn't cause societal harm. This is our current system.

A state planned economy, however, will have to plan those decisions for us. They will have to decide how many cars/telephones/tonnes of wheat we produce next year, and consequent thereof, in order to efficiently run this system, dictate where we live, what we do for a living, and control our access to unbiased information that could ultimately lead to harm of the planned economy. Therefore, promises of "freedom" in a socialist state will become the exact opposite of what it promises.

After reading this book, it is obvious Orwell drew a significant part of his inspiration for '1984' from this work.
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on 27 June 2008
This definitive edition has been edited and provided with a Foreword and Introduction by Bruce Caldwell who retained the prefaces and forewords of earlier editions. The text has been enhanced by explanatory notes and new appendices that are listed at the end of this review.

Even after six decades, The Road To Serfdom remains essential for understanding economics, politics and history. Hayek's main point, that whatever the problem, human nature demands that government provide the solution and that this is the road to hell, remains more valid than ever. He demonstrated the similarities between Soviet communism and fascism in Germany and Italy.

The consensus in post-war Europe was for the welfare state which seemed humane and sensible for a long time. Now it is clear that this has led to declining birth-rates amongst native Europeans, mass immigration from North Africa and the Middle East, and a tendency to exchange their ancient cultural values for multiculturalism and moral relativism which is just another form of nihilism as the French philosopher Chantal Delsol observes.

In this timeless classic, Hayek examines issues like planning and power, the fallacy of the utopian idea, state planning versus the rule of law, economic control, totalitarianism, security and economic freedom. He brilliantly explains how we are faced with two irreconcilable forms of social organization. Choice and risk either reside with the individual or s/he is relieved of both. Societies that opt for security instead of economic freedom will in the long run have neither.

Complete economic security is inseparable from restrictions on liberty - it becomes the security of the barracks. When the striving for security becomes stronger than the love of freedom, a society gets into deep, deep trouble. The way to prosperity for all is to remove the obstacles of bureaucracy in order to release the creative energy of individuals.

The government's job is not to plan for progress but to create the conditions favorable to progress. This has been proved by the impressive economic expansion under Reagan and Thatcher and by the amazing growth of the Asian Tiger economies, and most recently India since it started implementing sensible economic policies. Everywhere entrepreneurial energy is unshackled, massive improvements follow.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the contrast between phenomenal growth in formerly communist countries like Estonia or Poland or even the economic health of the UK as measured against the stagnant economies of Germany and France during the first years of the millennium. Old Europe would have benefited by a Thatcher and the French would have welcomed Polish plumbers instead of being resentful.

Hayek warns against utopian yearnings that are exploited by politicians, the stealthy way in which welfarism diminishes individual freedom, the totalitarian impulse and different types of propaganda. As pointed out by Chantal Delsol in Icarus Fallen, lack of personal responsibility leads to perpetual adolescence where citizens conflate desires with rights. Defining this process as the "sacralization" of rights, she shows that freedoms are then transformed into entitlements.

What a pity people don't learn; what a blessing we have in The Road to Serfdom as a reminder and a warning. The new Appendix of Related Documents include: Nazi-Socialism (1933), Reader's Report by Frank Knight (1943), Reader's Report by Jacob Marschak (1943), Foreword to the 1944 American Edition by John Chamberlain, Letter from John Scoon to C. Hartley Grattan (1945) and Introduction to the 1994 Edition by Milton Friedman. The book concludes with an index.
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on 5 April 2001
This book written by the world renown Hayek was a revelation at its time of print (1944). Hayek challenged the notion that planning was the true way forward in the post-war world. He pointed to the examples of the Nazis and the Russians in the way in which planning can easily go wrong. This book is written in such a way to be accessible to those who have little previous economic knowledge. In all an excellent book.
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on 22 July 2017
Classic account which unfortunately inspired a generation of right wing nut jobs that probably never read it.
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on 5 July 2007
First published in 1944, Hayek's polemical work is a defence of classical liberalism in the face of totalitarianisms of both right- and left-wing hues. The author deplores all sorts of `collectivism', that is departures from such aspects of liberalism as the free market, individualism and the minimal state. Thus, conservatives such as Bismarck (responsible for business cartels) share the dock with communists such as Lenin. In a chapter entitled `The Socialist Roots of National Socialism', Hayek argues that collectivist achievements such as the welfare state and the war economy paved the way for the collectivism of the Nazis: `Few are ready to recognize that the rise of Fascism and Nazism was not a reaction against the socialist trends of the preceding period, but a necessary outcome of those tendencies.' (p. 4). This is a mirror image of the classic Marxist argument that Fascism, far from being a reaction against the upheaval in the capitalist economy in the 1930s, was in fact the logical culmination of capitalism, the last redoubt of the bourgeoisie.
Intriguing an argument as it is, I think Hayek over emphasizes the socialist element of National Socialism: as far as I know Hitler was quite happy to allow German capitalists to make large profits as long as they agreed to economic planning. Also, the German Workers' Party adopted `National Socialist' and `Workers' in the title only to attract working class votes, and not out of any enthusiasm for Marxism. Hayek would probably object that planning is planning regardless of whether capitalists are allowed to make profits or not.
This, of course, is the central conceit of the book and its Achilles heel: that all planning is bad and precipitates the onset of totalitarianism: `There is no other possibility than either the order governed by the impersonal discipline of the market or that directed by the will of a few individuals...' (p. 205). This argument is disingenuous. While Hayek recognizes that there are degrees of classical liberalism - he eschews what he calls the `dogmatic laissez-faire attitude' (p. 37) - he fails to concede that there are likewise degrees of collectivism. As a work of prediction, 'Serfdom' proved very wide of the mark, for although various postwar European governments instituted what Hayek would refer to as `collectivism' and `planning', they operated within the framework of liberal democracy, private property, and individual political liberty.
In spite of such objections, given all I had read about it, I was expecting Serfdom to be worse than it was. Given the atmosphere it was written in, the book's thesis is actually quite progressive. Maybe that's why such progressives as John Maynard Keynes, Bertrand Russell and George Orwell either gave it favorable reviews or were sympathetic to its argument. As a defence of liberal democracy, Hayek's polemic is indispensable.
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on 18 July 2013
Friedrich von Hayek wrote The Road to Serfdom in 1944 when the UK was at a turning point. The nationalistion of industry towards the war effort left the British state in an unusual position. Current tendencies and popular thought had meant that British society had, like their German contemporaries, been transitioning from an individualist to a collectivist one. The Second World War led to a jump in this process and to the nationalistion of huge tracts of the British economy. This meant that the government was in a prime position to transition the country into a fully socialist state. This book was written in response to this process in an effort to halt the movement. In many ways it was successful as the election of Thatcher and even Reagan led to a reliberalisation of these societies which was in no small way influenced by Hayek.

The book itself states that at the time most people saw the inequality a liberal society had produced as the largest social problem facing them at the time. The impatience for greater equality was leading to the state being called upon to take command over sectors of the economy in order to provide an equitable distribution of income and more security. Hayek argues that what is initially done to promote security eventually leads to a society where people are no longer free to choose how they wish to live. Instead the government chooses where they work and how much they are paid in the interests of securing "equality". A democracy functions as, in areas where the majority agrees, laws can be created to govern people. Where there is not common agreement (e.g. how children should be raised) individuals are allowed to make their own moral choices. In this system the state does not deliberately advantage particular people, instead it provides a standard set of rules which govern all equally. But when the government decides to take control of the factors of production (in collectivism) it must necessarily make choices that disadvantage some over others. For example if the state reduces the pay of industrial workers it has given an advantage to other people. The main distinction is that here the government has made a personal choice and in doing so has forced its citizens to accept its own "moral" standards. In this sense Hayek sees totalitarian states as being unjust as they force all individuals to adhere to the morals of the minority of people who run government. Collectivist states require absolute agreement (you can't create half a plan) and therefore anyone who disagrees with the economic plan will be unable to live according to his/her own morals.

The book is written well and is essential reading to understand liberalism regardless of whether you are left or right wing. Its polarising effect can still be seen by reading some of the different reviews of the book.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 October 2011
'The Road to Serfdom ' seeks to teach us a lesson from history. It's a simple but profound lesson: namely that excessive state power, however well intentioned or ideologically flavored , leads ultimately to the failure of society both economically and politically. Written just as the Second World War was ending, Hayek's treatise sparked enormous interest with the reading public both Europe and America. Its ideas were designed to provide a rationale for returning national economies to a 'free market' orientation after years of creeping state intervention or what Hayek calls 'State Socialism'. From Roosevelt's 'New Deal' to the job creating Autobahn construction schemes of the Nazi's and the 'collectivization' and 'centralism' of the Soviet system, Hayek saw the heavy, inefficient and ultimately wasteful hand of the state attempting to do what only 'free markets' can do properly: namely satisfy a myriad of individual wants and needs in a way that is timely and low in cost.

The focus is on 'freedom'.-freedom of the individual and businesses to act in their own best interests. Harking back to Adam Smith, Hayek argues that only the individual can understand their own best interests or express their preferences in a way that will maximize their own particular welfare. This is means that economies need markets to be free to work properly. This is an agenda for opening up markets to trade, low taxes, minimum regulation and state provision. Think: 'Reganomics' and the privatization program of the Margaret Thatcher years. Freedom implies competition- the role of the state according to Hayek is

'..planning for competition, not by planning against competition'

The role of the state is also to protect private property, the gains from enterprise, saving and copyright. Some social provision may be necessary as will legislation to control the activities of organized labour and monopolies, who both have tendencies to distort markets to their own advantage. Outside of that, markets should be left to function as they will. The price mechanism will get rid of over or under supply and demand for goods and services as well as acting as an incentive for actors in the market place to adjust their activities and expectations according to market conditions. According to Hayek then -small government and liberated markets.

Perhaps, Hayek has never been more relevant. Consider the huge budget deficits and enterprise deadening tax rate rates that are a feature of many Western economies, the perceived 'failure' of Keynesian style economics and the benefits that 'globalization' has brought to many producers and consumers world-wide would suggest that the message of economic and political liberalism has more benefits then costs-at least in the long term.

This book is more of a political tract then a work on free market economics, its beauty lies in its brevity and clarity. It will also provide plenty of thought provoking ideas to ponder and perhaps argue against. For a start Hayek equates state intervention as an inevitable precursor to fascism- is this a claim pushed too far? He fails to mention that free markets tend to create wasteful duplication of some products and services and under produce other services such as education and healthcare. Also, he avoids mentioning that free markets tend to create problems (global warming , anyone?) that government and the tax payer is meant to clear up! Could the rapid recovery of Europe post -war been achieved without huge American aid in the form of the 'Marshall Plan' ?- more of that pesky Keynesian style state demand management!!

Key topics: The role of free enterprise in economic growth, the proposed limits of state power and the need to let markets 'get on with it'! The state has a tendency to waste and make poor decisions based upon limited or out dated information. Allow people to 'price ' themselves into work and let businesses take the pain if they fail to respond to what the market is telling them.

Type of Read: Hayek has a prose style that is lucid and deceptively simple. Imagine a drink of fresh lemonade: that's Hayek: uncomplicated but sharp in analysis, focusing all the time on allowing people to make their own decisions. Individual freedom means more of what you and me want to do, and less of what 'Big Brother' government would have us do. A challenge for us all! Suitable for economics students, an essential text for anyone interested in politics and the evolution of post -war economic thinking. Are you ready for Hayek?
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on 29 June 2013
If you are considering buying Friedrich Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom”, make sure to get this definitive edition. Bruce Caldwell’s excellent introduction and scholarly footnotes provide insight and context essential for understanding this important work.
So, it’s five stars for Caldwell’s editorship.
What of the book itself? Four stars, I think.

Hayek came to the LSE from Vienna in the early 1930’s. He was already making a reputation as an economist and he was soon offered a visiting professorship at LSE. The ideas that gave rise to this work, first published in England in book form in March 1944, began as a memo to Lord Beveridge (his LSE director) ten years earlier. Hayek was convinced that Beveridge and many British intellectuals were hopelessly naïve about the true nature of National Socialism in Germany and were equally unable to comprehend the extreme authoritarianism of Stalin’s form of communism. Hayek, whose political philosophy might be characterised as ‘Whig’ in English terms, was fearful that the liberal cultures and widely cherished assumptions of post-enlightenment Europe were rapidly giving way to brutalising and authoritarian regimes. These often masqueraded as “efficient planned economies” in pursuit of an unobtainable goal of notional ‘equality’.

Hayek was deeply sceptical about the capacity of planned (or ‘command’) economies to deliver ‘equality’ without imposing draconian controls on labour and rights of free movement. He regarded any such tampering with the natural process of free-trade and interpersonal negotiations as a meddlesome and dangerous attempt to subvert social Darwinist ideals. He never mentions Darwin but there is little doubt that he believes in a ‘natural evolving order’, not of inherited privilege but ability, discovery and enterprise. To Hayek this natural order, however chaotic, is far more sympathetic to personal liberty than a rationalised and efficient impersonal order, however well planned. So, for Hayek, some degree of inequality reflects the natural differences in chance, ability and determination.

Why is he so resistant to the concept of social and economic planning? Because it reminds him of the excesses of Hitler and Stalin, it seems. Hayek probably knew far better than his English colleagues the nature of these regimes. This was a period when Stalin spoke contemptuously of his “necessary idiots”, by which he meant western intellectuals who sang the praises of Soviet Russia without having any knowledge of the Gulag or the terror trials.
His central thesis is that we surrender our powers to the planners at our peril and that ‘planning’ (as opposed to natural economic metamorphosis) involves first the reduction and then eventually the annihilation of liberty and individuality.

While the book is elegantly written, provocative and interesting it is not in any sense perfect. Some obvious criticisms spring to mind:
1) Is socialism really the twin of Nazism as he claims? To Hayek they seem congruent (see chapter 12, p181).

2) Didn’t real serfdom as opposed to his metaphorical “serfdom” precede both capitalism and socialism? Real serfdom has its origins in feudal traditions of gross inequality in which inherited privilege and vast tracts of property are concentrated in an aristocracy. In pre-revolution Russia a count, such as Tolstoy, actually owned not merely his estate but also his farm workers. Hayek is in danger of subscribing to the “myth of the golden past”.

3)Could soviet Russia have defeated Hitler in the crucial battles of 1942/3without central planning of the war economy? Hardly. Was that victory worth the terrible cost? Probably.

4) Was Clement Attlee, the ‘modest’ socialist planner of all planners, the victor of the 1945 general election, a despot? That accusation would be laughable. Thus Attlee is for Hayek that impossible chimera, a planner with a human face.

Caldwell acknowledges that while Hayek was respected at LSE for his fine intellect he was regarded by most academics there as on the “wrong side”. Hayek became far more popular in post-war America and we know that Margaret Thatcher was said to have found him “inspirational”. That is odd and reveals a misunderstanding of his political roots. Hayek was not a Tory. He hated inherited privilege and influence and went on to argue that: “A conservative movement, by its very nature, is bound to be a defender of established privilege and to lean on the power of government for the protection of privilege” (See his foreword to the 1956 American paperback edition, p46). He would have been a free-market ‘Whig’ had he lived a hundred years earlier. He was an old-fashioned Darwinian Liberal; a clear thinker whose warnings are still pertinent. Since most western (and some far eastern) economies are now planned with a precision he would have loathed, he would probably say that his nightmare has come to pass.

Yet many economies have achieved the trick of combining a Hayekian free-market with a socialist welfare state. These ‘mixed’ economies have achieved gains for many. The mass are better off, live longer and are more secure, while the gifted still have freedom to shine in a way that Hayek would have doubted possible in a planned economy.
But welfare provision has had to evolve just as Hayek would have predicted. In Darwinian terms it is simply too easy to ‘exploit’.

The road to serfdom is non-technical and easy to read, by the standard of most books on economics. But the argument emerges rather slowly and Hayek cannot resist the temptation to make the same point several times, even in adjacent chapters. His original editor should have insisted on the removal of this reiteration.
His early reviewers were quite caustic. Berlin called it “awful”, Tead described it as “long-winded and over written”. But the American public liked it and it sold well. It chimed with ‘Cold War’ rhetoric and the Readers’ Digest even serialised sections. That is most unusual for an academic book.

In case every reader tries to make it fit with their own ideology, it is worth noting that it was written for a British audience during wartime and that the dedication to the first edition was:
“To socialists of all parties”.
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on 15 October 2010
Friedrich A. Hayek, an Austrian economist, wrote this classic defense of democracy and market economies in 1944. That it remains a bestseller is a testament to the thoughtfulness and thoroughness of his critique of socialism and centrally planned economies. The Road to Serfdom cites the influence of Karl Marx and other German philosophers who primed German citizens to embrace the totalitarian rule of Adolph Hitler. The Great Depression of the 1930s stepped up questions about capitalism and boosted support for socialism among the people of democratic countries. But Hayek warned that citizens of America, England and other democracies put their freedom at risk when they extolled the goals of socialism. This edition of Hayek's classic includes a comprehensive introduction by the book's editor, ample annotation of the original text and an appendix with numerous related documents, as well as the introduction to the 1994 edition by monetary policy expert Milton Friedman. getAbstract recommends this book to readers who want to know the seminal works in this field and to explore the philosophical differences between socialism and capitalism.
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