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 How COVID Paved The Road To Serfdom

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PostSubject: How COVID Paved The Road To Serfdom   How COVID Paved The Road To Serfdom Icon_minitimeThu Jan 14, 2021 4:53 pm

Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom maintains a near unrivalled influence on the political imagination of conservative and classical liberal thinkers. Published in 1943, at the height of the Keynesian consensus, it elaborated a worldview considered intolerable within academic economics.

How COVID Paved The Road To Serfdom 2021-01-12_12-49-55

The central thesis of The Road to Serfdom is that descent into tyranny is the ultimate and inevitable trajectory of a society in which the sovereignty of the individual is subverted in the accumulation of economic power by the state. Central planning leads invariably to authoritarianism. Hayek is not timid in making these claims.  

Studying the seemingly disparate political systems which dominated Europe in the run-up to the Second World War (communism, fascism, socialism), Hayek concluded that they each had a common endpoint – the development of a totalitarian state. Despite their contrasting social and economic goals, each necessitated the central consolidation of power and the explicit planning of an economy to achieve those goals.

As such, their distinct political flavours were largely irrelevant to their ultimate destination. Position along the political axis was less important than most commentators predicted. The binary Hayek was interested in, rather than left wing versus right wing, was whether the state uses its authority to promote individual freedom or to restrict it.

Hayek saw that the wartime governments of Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and communist Russia all fell within the latter category: they sacrificed the freedom of individuals to empower the state to achieve its own goals. In doing so, their citizens suffered similarly. Repression, poverty and death are the consequence of a government which has taken ownership of those responsibilities previously held by individual citizens.

Hayek’s argument faced an uphill struggle. Despite its enormous popularity among classical liberals and conservative policymakers, we continue to view the political machines of the first half of the 20th century through the lens of their self-assigned labels, rather than under Hayek’s consequentialist umbrella of totalitarian collectivism.

His criticism of socialism is not a left versus right argument, but a general observation of the tendency of systems of government who accumulate economic power to achieve social goals to veer towards repression. The different political labels are just different positions along the road to serfdom, valuing centralised economic planning over individual liberty.

By transcending traditional political labels, and regrouping governments in terms of how they wield the formidable power of the state, The Road to Serfdom gains its enduring appeal. Its lessons are a stern warning to any who believe that a government can accumulate vast powers and maintain them for purely beneficent purposes.
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