david henderson: A Review of _The Road to Serdom_

Concise Encyclopedia of Economics editor David Henderson has written a new review of F. A Hayek’s perennial best seller The Road to Serfdom (pdf):

One of Hayek’s chapters that speaks most to today is his “Why the Worst Get on Top.” In it, he explains why the politicians in a totalitarian system will tend to be the most ruthless people in society. One reason he gives is “that it is easier to agree on a negative program — on the hatred of an enemy, on the envy of those better off — than on any positive task.” We see this even in nontotalitarian countries with a large amount of government control, such as the United States. Think about how Al Gore, for example, excoriated “the top one percent” of the income distribution during his 2000 presidential campaign. Hayek quotes the late University of Chicago economist Frank Knight’s memorable statement that “the probability of the people in power being individuals who would dislike the possession and exercise of power is on a level with the probability that an extremely tender- hearted person would get the job of whipping-master in a slave plantation.” Again, to some extent, this applies even to semi-free countries such as the United States. The last U.S. president I remember who had any reluctance about exercising power was Ronald Reagan. Every president since seems to have loved power.

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