Is Hayek spinning around in his grave?

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by Dave Weigel

Andrew Farrant and Edward McPhail pose the question in "Does F.A. Hayek's Road to Serfdom Deserve to Make a Comeback?"

You can pay for the article, which argues that Hayek was making a doomsday argument about social insurance that, later in life, he backed away from. Or you can read Barkley Rossner's summary of the current thinking here, grappling with the book's newfound Amazon.com domination in the wake of its endorsement from Glenn Beck.

Many observers, perhaps most prominently Paul Samuelson in a bunch of his Principles texts, saw Hayek as promoting a "slippery slope" argument, that any move towards a welfare state by the US or UK or other western democracies, would put them onto "the road to serfdom," which, of course, history has shown to be a bunk argument, even if the tea partiers are now invoking Hayek to repeat it along with Limbaugh and Beck. Hayek himself, with Caldwell agreeing, have argued that this is a misreading of RTS, and that Hayek was really focusing on the dangers of Soviet-style command central planning, with Hayek writing angry letters to Samuelson about this matter.

Whatever Hayek meant, it's best to read "The Road to Serfdom" as a rhetorical exercise that can ground your thinking about the motivation behind socialist policies. It's worst to think of it as a playbook for how this stuff plays out -- i.e., passing social insurance leads inexorably to tyranny. And it's easy to whine about Glenn Beck pounding home the wrong lesson by having his viewers buy the book. But let's remember who these viewers are. They already think that modest social insurance of the type a European Christian Democrat party might introduce is going to bring about serfdom. Sending these viewers to a non-crazy (that is, non-Skousen) text is one of the best public services Beck has performed.

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