A warning about big government
Created: 9/27/10 (Mon) | Topic: Education
A Warning About Big Government
By Stewart Truelsen
It’s been almost 70 years since Nobel Prize winning economist Friedrich A. Hayek wrote his timeless masterwork, The Road to Serfdom. The book inspired several generations of Farm Bureau leaders after it circulated in the United States, and it continues to be relevant today.
Born in Austria, Hayek was attracted by the London School of Economics in the 1930s as a lecturer and professor. Serfdom was intended as a warning to a British audience about the dangers of state control of the economy, but a condensation of it appeared in 1945 in the American magazine Reader’s Digest. That’s probably where most Farm Bureau members first read it.
According to Bruce Caldwell, who edited the recently published version by the University of Chicago, Hayek was alarmed by the then-popular claim that fascism was the last gasp of a dying capitalist system. Hayek’s thesis was that socialism had more in common with fascism than capitalism did. In fact, he believed that socialism inevitably led to fascism.
“Fascism and communism are merely variants of the same totalitarianism that central control of all economic activity tends to produce,” wrote Hayek. His message found a receptive audience in Farm Bureau for years to come.
Farm Bureau members had supported the New Deal that rescued American agriculture from near total collapse during the Great Depression and accepted wartime measures to direct the economy. But they became disillusioned with creeping government control over agriculture and the rest of the economy as time went on.
The term “serfdom” used by Hayek for his title was the antithesis of Farm Bureau philosophy. The organization believed in individual freedom and responsibility, opportunity and the competitive free enterprise system. Farm Bureau stood squarely for private property rights, which were essential to the success of American agriculture but would be diminished or eliminated in a socialist or centrally-planned system.
As Hayek wrote about Europe, “We have progressively abandoned that freedom in economic affairs without which personal and political freedom has never existed in the past.” He minced no words in describing socialism as a new form of slavery.
Hayek later joined the University of Chicago and its Committee on Social Thought, not its economics department. He inspired economists like Milton Friedman, but had numerous critics as well. In talks to business groups, Hayek made it clear that he did not oppose all government intervention in economic affairs, such as maintaining a monetary policy.
He likely would have supported federal action to ease this nation back from the economic precipice it was teetering on two years ago. However, Hayek was always worried about the government extending its power in times of emergencies, whether real or imagined. He felt that politicians and bureaucrats loved power, and that power is never easily surrendered once the danger has past.
Stewart Truelsen is a regular contributor to the Focus on Agriculture series and is author of a new book marking the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 90th anniversary, Forward Farm Bureau.