Bruce Bartlett’s “Hayek” vs The Real Hayek

Here’s Hayek in The Road to Serfdom:

There is no reason why in a society which has reached the general level of wealth which ours has attained the first kind of security [that is, limited security] should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom…. Nor is there any reason why the state should not assist the individuals in providing for those common hazards of life against which, because of their uncertainty, few individuals can make adequate provision.

Compare actual Hayek above to Bruce Bartlett’s  grossly false account of  “Hayek” and his The Road to Serfdom:

In 1944, the Austrian economist F.A. Hayek published an extraordinarily influential book, The Road to Serfdom. In it, he argued that liberalism eventually leads to totalitarianism; that is, once a nation has embarked on the creation of a welfare state, there is no natural limit to the size of government until it controls everything, socialism becomes pervasive and political freedom evaporates.

Bartlett quotes Jeffrey Sachs as his authority on this matter, but Bartlett must be aware of the many explodings of Sachs gross errors in this matter, such as William Easterly in the WSJ.

UPDATE:  Is the Welfare State the new road to Serfdom?  Richard Ebeling joins the debate.

BONUS LINK:  Walter Block on Hayek and The Road to Serfdom.

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One Response to Bruce Bartlett’s “Hayek” vs The Real Hayek

  1. Tim Kowal says:

    I keep seeing the same passage above quoted with the same ellipses in lieu of this important explanation:

    “There are many points of detail where those wishing to preserve the competitive system and those willing to supercede it by something different will disagree on the details of such schemes; and it is possible under the name of social insurance to introduce measures which tend to make competition more or less ineffective. But there is no incompatibility in principle between the state’s providing greater security in this way and the preservation of individual freedom. To the same category belongs also the increase of security through the state’s rendering assistance to the victims of such “acts of God” as earthquakes and floods.”

    There are two important points in this missing passage that relate to progressivist welfare programs, including health care. First is the notion that the government’s intervention in the private market will unnaturally effect market competition. That is, when the sorts of procedures that are encouraged by the nation’s largest payer, the rest of the market will follow suit. Thus, saying “if you don’t like the public option, you can go elsewhere,” is just lip service—the contours of medical services available will be defined, whether de jure (some ilk of advisory board) or de facto (the sheer number of dollars pumped in), by the government.

    The other point relates to the examples Hayek uses to demonstrate his principle. It is much easier to define the necessary minimum baseline of insurance to offer in cases of earthquakes and floods and other “acts of God.” In these cases, we are simply talking about saving people’s lives and restoring basic infrastructure. There does not seem to be a lot of danger of the government throwing its weight around to improperly effectuate its particular policy choices by doing this.

    But health care choices are exponentially more nuanced, and impact almost every facet of our lives—the foods we eat, our stress levels, the number of children we have and at what age, the activities we engage in, the hours we work at our jobs, and on and on. Can we still say that this sort of comprehensive social health insurance—rather than a simple baseline coverage for catastrophic injuries and illnesses—can fit within a Hayekian model in which “there is no incompatibility in principle between the state’s providing greater security in this way and the preservation of individual freedom”?


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