Hayek’s Political Argument against Socialism
Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom was a bestseller when it was published in 1944, and it has remained ever since one of the classic works in the literature of liberty. Many people, though, find it hard to understand. After Glenn Beck featured the book on his television show in 2010, resulting in a surge in demand for it, one noted speaker at Mises Institute events told me he found the book dense and difficult, and he predicted that Hayek’s new readers would soon turn away from the book in bafflement.
I’d like to discuss this week a helpful way of grasping the central argument of Hayek’s book found in Jeremy Shearmur’s book Hayek and After: Hayekian Liberalism as a Research Programme (Routledge, 1996). According to Shearmur, Hayek began as a socialist, and throughout his life retained much sympathy for socialist values. His dedication of The Road to Serfdom to “the socialists of all parties” by no means was insincere. But he came to believe that the ends of socialism could not be realized by socialist means, and he deemed it his duty to convey this view to a wide public.
Why does socialism inevitably fail to achieve the ends of prosperity, justice, and happiness it professes? The main answer will come as no surprise to readers of mises.org: economic calculation is not possible in a socialist economy. Ludwig von Mises’s argument to this effect overthrew Hayek’s own commitment to socialism; and after he became aware of Mises’s argument, he regarded market prices as essential to a functioning economic system.
Hayek saw that an analogous argument could be extended to the political sphere. Just as the socialist planner has no means to measure economic projects on a common monetary scale to judge their efficiency, the planner cannot combine the conflicting preferences of individuals into a coherent set of
Article from Mises Wire