Book Review — The Road to Serfdom

summary

For those willing to take the plunge, The Road to Serfdom is endlessly rewarding and well worth the intellectual effort.

A re-post of a book review I did back in July 2008.

This is a re-post of an old book review I did back on July 25th, 2008 entitled Why Good Intentions Do Not Mean Good Outcomes. No edits have been made from the original version found at https://www.amazon.com/review/RUP63GYVBG80K/.

Given the current political climate, this book is timely as ever and provides an intellectual tent pole that one can use to construct a more sturdy framework for analyzing the modern world.

I read this book while in high school, many people thought that I was radical and was being taken in by ideas that sounded great but never worked in principle. Essentially I was surrounded by people who approved of government expansion, as long as it was in their interest, this included fellow students and teachers, who in lectures about US history and government espoused the greatness of the government and those presidents who contributed the most to its expansion. This book readily refutes many of the claims that government expansion is not bad so long as the people helming the expansion are benevolent.

It has become to be interesting to watch the news after reading this book, you will instantly see claims to more regulation of the lives of others and appointing people from academia to run these operations. If ever someone questions this arrangement, such as with the Fed, people will either claim that they do not know enough about the area being regulated or that the examples they point to of regulation gone wrong was an anomaly, enlightened and well-written legislation will solve the problems that may arise from regulation. But through reading this book you realize that the very nature and incentive structure of the bureaucratic system leads even the most well-meaning individuals to stray and even those that do not face the inevitable negative consequences that develop when the government tries to defy economic laws and limit the freedom of its constituents.

This book should be required reading for those in high school (maybe even middle school, but many would not have the historical or vocabulary necessary to understand much of the book) and above. It was relevant in its time, yet it is even more relevant now, because then the fight was obvious, the enemies clear, and the motives and goals of all involved clearly defined. Now the enemies are those who wish us well, those who believe they are doing good when they are actually doing the most harm. The enemies of freedom today, more than ever, use gradual erosion, much like boiling frog, of liberty until waking up one day, we realize much of our freedom is gone. Hayek discusses concepts like these and more, it is a testament to his understanding of the workings of government and the incentives that go along with in addition to understanding basic economic principles that make this work so timeless.

This edition is indeed the definitive, it corrects some of the citation errors in the original and provides many footnotes that help with some of the references Hayek makes to lesser known historical figures, works and events. The index is well done and helps greatly in finding those concepts you want to look over. The Preface to the Original Editions, Foreword to the 1956 and the Preface to the 1976 editions are welcome, they provide added insight, such as what the author wished to change and why he left certain elements the same across the editions. The introduction is something else, a great summary of what Hayek went through to publish this book and what lead him down the path to publishing the book while also putting the book into a historical context and explaining its continued relevance. It is a wonderful look at the history behind the book itself and Hayek as well. Lastly, the Appendix provides several reads that are insightful, the introduction to the 1994 edition by Milton Friedman is welcome. Bruce Caldwell has done a brilliant job with this edition, I find it hard to see anyone making a better edition, this is indeed the definitive.

People, scenarios, governments - these all change with time, but the basic laws underlying economics and the workings of government do not. Just because people want to end poverty, hunger, unequal distribution of wealth and other malaises of modern life, does not mean using force and the government will cure them. As Hayek noted, "Is there a greater tragedy imaginable than that, in our endeavour consciously to shape our future in accordance with high ideals, we should in fact unwittingly produce the very opposite of what we have been striving."

-biafra

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