It seems every day there are more calls for government intervention to relieve us from the infliction and anguish caused by our current economic woes. Those who call for more government centralization and planning reason that doing so can dispel hardship and decline. Yet rarely do they consider that central planning doesn’t work precisely because it counters the variable paramount to guide societal and economic complexities: freedom.
In his indispensable 1944 classic, The Road to Serfdom, Friedrich von Hayek imparts his sage insight:
Economic control is not merely control of a sector of human life which can be separated from the rest; it is the control of the means for all our ends. And whoever has sole control of the means must also determine which ends are to be served, which values are to be rates higher and which lower, in short, what men should believe and strive for.
Sometimes it is argued that our modern economy is too complex to go without central planning, so sacrificing personal freedom is justified for the greater good. Hayek dispels this notion:
This argument is based on a complete misapprehension of the working of competition. Far from being appropriate only to comparatively simple conditions, it is the very complexity of the division of labor under modern conditions which makes competition the only method by which such coordination can be adequately brought about.
Today, infringement of liberty in pursuit of central planning has left Americans distrustful of the very government that was erected to protect that liberty, which is why Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom is Amazon’s number one best seller.
Because central planning is deeply unpopular to Americans, those who advocate it will rarely say so in those terms. Rather, Hayek explains:
It is a revealing fact that few planners are content to say that central planning is desirable. Most of them affirm that we can no longer choose but are compelled by circumstances beyond our control to substitute planning for competition. The myth is deliberately cultivated that we are embarking on the new course not out of free will but because competition is spontaneously eliminated by technological changes which we neither can reverse nor should wish to prevent.
Recall that during his campaign, then Senator Obama rhetorically evaded any hint of embodying a central planner: “Change doesn’t come from Washington. Change comes to Washington.”
After being elected, however, Hayek’s wisdom proved correct when President Obama insisted that unavoidable circumstances justified taking over 60 percent of the auto industry. In addition to the takeover of the auto industry, the left insisted that uncontrollable circumstances compelled nationalization of much our health care sector. Moreover, we are currently told by the left that circumstance requires cap and trade legislation, and that the circumstance of “environmental emergency” gives justification to nationalize BP.
But if central planning were the solution to our current problems, then why is it that those economies that are more economically free tend to have more prosperity, better overall quality of life, more political and social progress, and better environmental protection?
Hayek clarifies why freedom best guides the complexities of the marketplace:
This interaction of individuals, possessing different knowledge and different views, is what constitutes the life of thought. The growth of reason is a social process based on the existence of such differences. It is of its essence that its results cannot be predicted, that we cannot know which views will assist this growth and which will not – in short, that this growth cannot be governed by any views which we now possess without at the same time limiting it. To “plan” or “organize” the growth of mind, or, for that matter, progress in general, is a contradiction in terms.
At a time when trust in government is at a low, every American would be better off reading Hayek’s timeless reminder of why freedom is so significant, and, ultimately, why believing in central planning to alleviate anguish puts us on a Road to Serfdom.