Dynamist Blog

The Road to Serfdom

Bruce Caldwell's definitive edition of Friedrich Hayek's The Road to Serfdom is now out. Although clearly grounded in a specific time and circumstance, The Road to Serfdom is one of those brilliant classics that yields new, and currently relevant, insights every time you read it. Still, the context is important, and easily forgotten. One of the things Bruce did as editor of the book was to check all Hayek's sources, which meant in many cases reading long-forgotten works. I interviewed Bruce three years ago, for a Boston Globe feature on Hayek, and he had this to say about revisiting popular books of the 1930s and early '40s.

They're just amazing. To a book, they're all assuming that the age of scarcity is over. We have the potential to produce much, much more. These are things being written after eight or nine years of the Great Depression, saying we can produce much, much more, we just have to get it right and this past view of competition--that may have worked in the 19th century, but it's a new world, a brave new world. All of them were saying, Here's the way to go, and none of them were saying markets had any role in that at all.

It's almost chilling to read some of these books to the extent that they were willing to accept fairly massive interventions in the economy--directing labor, who should be working at what jobs and that kind of thing. There was a corporatist aspect to it, where some of these writers at least were saying, We'lll all be solid together. It's strange stuff to read. The Road to Serfdom today reads reasonably, most of it. You read these other books and you feel like you're on another planet.

The occasion for my Globe piece was the publication of Bruce Caldwell's excellent intellectual biography, Hayek's Challenge.

UPDATE: Jesse Walker calls my attention to this comic book version of Hayek's argument, originally published by General Motors.

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