Friedrich Hayek vs Bruce Bartlett

UCLA Law Professor Stephen Bainbridge:

Both [Bruce] Bartlett and [James] Joyner seem to have forgotten a point Hayek made in the preface to the 1976 edition of The Road to Serfdom:

Sweden … is today very much socialistically organized than Great Britain or Austria, though Sweden is common regarded as much more socialistic. This is due to the fact that socialism has come to mean chiefly the extensive redistribution of incomes through taxation and the institutions of the welfare state. In the latter kind of socialism the effects I discuss in this book are brought about more slowly, indirectly, and imperfectly. I believe that the ultimate outcome tends to be very much the same ….

This is precisely the point that seems to have escaped Bartlett. Yes, we are wealthier today on the whole than 100 years ago. Yes, we can afford higher taxes without suffering deprivation more easily than out ancestors. But it still puts us on the slow, indirect, and imperfect road to serfdom. And that’s a road I would prefer to avoid.

Bartlett and Joyner respond in the comments.

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9 Responses to Friedrich Hayek vs Bruce Bartlett

  1. lionel from france says:

    In response to some comments on the website of Professor Bainbridge:
    First, the Keynesian therapy is an illusion that becomes a drug and a poison. The subprime crisis is the result: very low interest rates, growing deficit spending, and tax and regulatory incentives in real estate before the crisis. The development of this policy (injection of higher doses) can have an exhilarating effect at the beginning (artificial boom) but after? Second, the Swedish model is a myth. Sweden has a relatively low rate of unemployment but at the cost of lower economic growth than the United States, in the long run. Sweden has been conducted several times on the brink of bankruptcy by the socialist government. Each time, the Conservatives have had to take drastic measures for relief. Americans who dream of living in Scandinavia make me think of those French who dream of living in Cuba!

  2. Bruce Bartlett says:

    It’s 35 years since Hayek wrote that and I am still waiting for Sweden to become the huge Gualg that right wingers have been expecting it to become since the 1930s. There is zero evidence that Sweden is any closer to totalitarianism than it was in 1976.

  3. Greg Ransom says:

    The there is a genuine conversation to be had on this matter, Bruce.

    I question, however, whether it advances a productive conversation to characterize what Hayek called “serfdom” using the genocide / Hitler / gulag / Stalin loaded term “totalitarianism”.

    Modern America and Sweden long ago required their citizens to perform many, many more hours working for the state than was required by France during the age of actual serfdom which De Tocqueiville warned about — the “serfdom” Hayek’s title derives from in the actual world of facts, rather than the myth making that Hayek haters have created around Hayek’s name and publications.

    In fact, Sweden was more free even in the 1960s and 1970s than most people knew — and of course people inspired by Hayek pushed back against the state over the last 40 years in just the ways Hayek intended by writing what Hayek himself called a warning.

    When you read a lot of Hayek, you see that he was pushing to change both the realm of the possible and the actualstate of policy by pushing hard on what the worst result could be if changes were not made — and he assumed changes would be made, as they were, in part as a result of his early warning.

    These remarks are the beginnings of an honest conversation on this topic.

    Give the facts of past practice [by others] I am never optimistic that honest and productive conversation will take place.

  4. Greg Ransom says:

    Bruce, as far as “totalitarianism” in Sweden goes, note well that the Swedish welfare state practiced Hitler-style eugenics measures into the 1990s ….

  5. Greg Ransom says:

    To reiterate — it’s clear that you can have serfdom without totalitarianism — as Europe had for hundreds of years.

  6. It was this quote that I was thinking about when I listed two disagreements with Hayek on Marginal Revolution. My view is that Welfare States have competing interest groups, which try and target benefits while spreading costs. Because these interests are competing and not uniform, they place a limit on the size and uniformity of the govt. Once the taxes begin to outweigh the targeted benefits, taxpayers balk. Hence, the Welfare State is a very stable and constrained system.

    In Sweden, all you have to do is read their pension benefits page, and study their bank bailouts in the 90s:

    By the end of the crisis, the Swedish government had seized a vast portion of the banking sector, and the agency had mostly fulfilled its hard-nosed mandate to drain share capital before injecting cash. When markets stabilized, the Swedish state then reaped the benefits by taking the banks public again.

    Their financial sector has competing interests, banks, investors, etc., and so the banks have been largely privatized again.

    From the point of view of Hayek, Friedman, Knight, etc., the growth of govt after the war did seem alarming, and for good reason. Now, its more a matter of moving the chairs around. But youre right. Its possible to disagree, although, getting to real Socialism from a Welfare State is not the easy to imagine given the power of competing interest groups. They dont want an end to competition, but a leg up, if you will.

  7. Dear Bruce Bartlett: You must make an effort to understand the meaning of “slowly, Indirectly, and imperfectly.” That means no fast enough to erase of the memory, of all those generations, all damage that your socialist governments are causing. The memory of your generation is being systematically erased so that the succeeding generation will not have that record of such damages. Your society is slowly enslaving. In the long run that ends in a serfdom. For worst thing I see that you evaluate social outcomes using a Keynesian model. You should know that a Keynesian model is not an economic model of an economic phenomenon but a physical model of an economic phenomenon. You have fallen into this Keynesian trap and under this context can hardly see the true underlying economic events…

  8. LetUsHavePeace says:

    Hayek was quite precise in his terms. He identified the risk as “serfdom”. Mr. Bartlett changes that to “totalitarianism”, by which he means a world run by a Hitler, Stalin or Mao. Hayek did not think that Britain and the United States would become a National Socialist or Marxist-Leninist gulag, nor did he predict such an outcome – although George Orwell did. What Hayek did predict is precisely what has come true in Sweden and elsewhere. In their economic lives people have become serfs. They can own private property but that property is subject to arbitrary “regulation” that can act as an effective taking, and the individual citizen has no more recourse against such rule-making and taking than a peasant or merchant had under the Czars. People can have money savings, but their bank notes and coinage have a value determined by the government. As Hayek acknowledged in the interviews he gave towards the end of his life, in the area of money Europe and America had already gone well beyond the world of Russian serfdom that his book had warned about in 1945. Even in the midst of the ruinous inflation of the Napoleonic wars Czar Alexander and his successors strove to have rubles remain exchangeable into silver and kopeks be made of something other than pot metal; even a serf had the right to hold coin that had value independent of the rulings of the state.

  9. David Tomlin says:

    It’s been a long time since I read The Road to Serfdom, but I recall it’s having a chapter, or maybe a sub-chapter, entitled ‘Why the Worst Get on Top’. As I recall Hayek in this chapter did argue that economic central planning would lead to a government dominated by thugs, on the order of Mussolini or Franco if not Hitler or Stalin.

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