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Serfdom’s Receding Horizon

March 25th, 2004 · No Comments

Y’know, this TCS piece gets at something I’ve been thinking throughout the Road to Serfdom 60th-aniversary hoopla. (In D.C. libertarian circles, anyway, there’s hoopla.) Because everyone seems to want to say that the book is just as relevant, or even more relevant, than when it was published. And it clearly just isn’t. Look, I love me some Hayek. And a lot of the insights in RTS, about the impossibility of economic planning and the dynamics of economic regulation more generally, are still vital and useful. But the central thesis—that “mixed economy” style regulation leads inexorably to full-blown despotism, is by this point pretty clearly false. What actually seems to happen is that policy gets dumber and dumber, then eventually someone like Hayek comes along, and we roll it back to a slightly-less-dumb point. Now, there’s an observed “ratchet effect” here, where the rollback never brings you quite to the previous level. Does that mean we eventually get to tyranny? I wouldn’t rule it out a priori, but it seems like there’s a healthy enough feedback dynamic that it’s not, so to speak, a historical inevitability.

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