Friday, March 10, 2000

The Road To Serfdom

by F. A. Hayek

Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
Benjamin Franklin


The Road to Serfdom (condensed version) 28
Planning and Power 32
Background to Danger 34
The Liberal Way of Planning 37
The Great Utopia 39
Why The Worst Get On Top 43
Planning vs. the Rule of Law 49
Is Planning ‘Inevitable’? 51
Can Planning Free Us From Care? 53
Two Kinds of Security 58
Towards a Better World 62


28
THE ROAD TO SERFDOM
(condensed version, published in the Reader’s Digest,
April 1945 edition)
The author has spent about half his adult life in his native Austria,
in close touch with German thought, and the other half in the
United States and England. In the latter period he has become increasingly
convinced that some of the forces which destroyed freedom
in Germany are also at work here.
The very magnitude of the outrages committed by the National
Socialists has strengthened the assurance that a totalitarian
system cannot happen here. But let us remember that 15 years ago
the possibility of such a thing happening in Germany would have
appeared just as fantastic not only to nine-tenths of the Germans
themselves, but also to the most hostile foreign observer.
There are many features which were then regarded as ‘typically
German’ which are now equally familiar in America and England,
and many symptoms that point to a further development in the
same direction: the increasing veneration for the state, the fatalistic
acceptance of ‘inevitable trends’, the enthusiasm for ‘organization’
of everything (we now call it ‘planning’).
The character of the danger is, if possible, even less understood
here than it was in Germany. The supreme tragedy is still not seen
that in Germany it was largely people of good will who, by their
socialist policies, prepared the way for the forces which stand for
everything they detest. Few recognize that the rise of fascism and
Marxism was not a reaction against the socialist trends of the

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preceding period but a necessary outcome of those tendencies. Yet it is
significant that many of the leaders of these movements, from
Mussolini down (and including Laval and Quisling) began as
socialists and ended as fascists or Nazis.
In the democracies at present, many who sincerely hate all of
Nazism’s manifestations are working for ideals whose realization
would lead straight to the abhorred tyranny. Most of the people
whose views influence developments are in some measure socialists.
They believe that our economic life should be ‘consciously
directed’ that we should substitute ‘economic planning’ for the
competitive system. Yet is there a greater tragedy imaginable than
that, in our endeavour consciously to shape our future in accordance
with high ideals, we should in fact unwittingly produce the
very opposite of what we have been striving for?
Planning and power
In order to achieve their ends the planners must create power –
power over men wielded by other men – of a magnitude never before
known. Their success will depend on the extent to which they
achieve such power. Democracy is an obstacle to this suppression
of freedom which the centralized direction of economic activity requires.
Hence arises the clash between planning and democracy.
Many socialists have the tragic illusion that by depriving
private individuals of the power they possess in an individualist
system, and transferring this power to society, they thereby extinguish
power. What they overlook is that by concentrating power
so that it can be used in the service of a single plan, it is not merely
transformed, but infinitely heightened. By uniting in the hands of
some single body power formerly exercised independently by

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many, an amount of power is created infinitely greater than any
that existed before, so much more far-reaching as almost to be different
in kind.
It is entirely fallacious to argue that the great power exercised
by a central planning board would be ‘no greater than the power
collectively exercised by private boards of directors’. There is, in a
competitive society, nobody who can exercise even a fraction of
the power which a socialist planning board would posses. To decentralize
power is to reduce the absolute amount of power, and
the competitive system is the only system designed to minimize
the power exercised by man over man. Who can seriously doubt
that the power which a millionaire, who may be my employer, has
over me is very much less than that which the smallest bureaucrat
possesses who wields the coercive power of the state and on whose
discretion it depends how I am allowed to live and work?
In every real sense a badly paid unskilled workman in this
country has more freedom to shape his life than many an employer
in Germany or a much better paid engineer or manager in
Russia. If he wants to change his job or the place where he lives, if
he wants to profess certain views or spend his leisure in a particular
way, he faces no absolute impediments. There are no dangers
to bodily security and freedom that confine him by brute force to
the task and environment to which a superior has assigned him.
Our generation has forgotten that the system of private property
is the most important guarantee of freedom. It is only because
the control of the means of production is divided among many
people acting independently that we as individuals can decide
what to do with ourselves. When all the means of production are
vested in a single hand, whether it be nominally that of ‘society’ as
a whole or that of a dictator, whoever exercises this control has

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complete power over us. In the hands of private individuals, what
is called economic power can be an instrument of coercion, but it
is never control over the whole life of a person. But when economic
power is centralized as an instrument of political power it creates
a degree of dependence scarcely distinguishable from slavery. It
has been well said that, in a country where the sole employer is the
state, opposition means death by slow starvation.
Background to danger
Individualism, in contrast to socialism and all other forms of totalitarianism,
is based on the respect of Christianity for the individual
man and the belief that it is desirable that men should be free
to develop their own individual gifts and bents. This philosophy,
first fully developed during the Renaissance, grew and spread into
what we know as Western civilization. The general direction of
social development was one of freeing the individual from the
ties which bound him in feudal society.
Perhaps the greatest result of this unchaining of individual energies
was the marvellous growth of science. Only since industrial
freedom opened the path to the free use of new knowledge, only
since everythingcouldbe tried–ifsomebodycouldbe foundtoback
it at his own risk – has science made the great strides which in the
last 150 years have changed the face of the world. The result of this
growthsurpassed all expectations.Whereverthe barriers to the free
exercise of human ingenuity were removed, man became rapidly
able to satisfy ever-widening ranges of desire. By the beginning of
the twentieth century the working man in the Western world had
reached a degree of material comfort, security and personal independencewhich
100 years before had hardly seemed possible.
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The effect of this success was to create among men a new sense
of power over their own fate, the belief in the unbounded possibilities
of improving their own lot. What had been achieved came to
be regarded as a secure and imperishable possession, acquired
once and for all; and the rate of progress began to seem too slow.
Moreover the principles which had made this progress possible
came to be regarded as obstacles to speedier progress, impatiently
to be brushed away. It might be said that the very success of liberalism
became the cause of its decline.
No sensible person should have doubted that the economic
principles of the nineteenth century were only a beginning – that
there were immense possibilities of advancement on the lines on
which we had moved. But according to the views now dominant,
the question is no longer how we can make the best use of the
spontaneous forces found in a free society. We have in effect
undertaken to dispense with these forces and to replace them by
collective and ‘conscious’ direction.
It is significant that this abandonment of liberalism, whether
expressed as socialism in its more radical form or merely as ‘organization’
or ‘planning’, was perfected in Germany. During the last
quarter of the nineteenth century and the first quarter of the twentieth,
Germany moved far ahead in both the theory and the practice
of socialism, so that even today Russian discussion largely
carries on where the Germans left off. The Germans, long before
the Nazis, were attacking liberalism and democracy, capitalism,
and individualism.
Long before the Nazis, too, the German and Italian socialists
were using techniques of which the Nazis and fascists later made
effective use. The idea of a political party which embraces all activities
of the individual from the cradle to the grave, which claims to
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guide his views on everything, was first put into practice by the
socialists. It was not the fascists but the socialists who began to
collect children at the tenderest age into political organization to
direct their thinking. It was not the fascists but the socialists who
first thought of organizing sports and games, football and hiking,
in party clubs where the members would not be infected by other
views. It was the socialists who first insisted that the party member
should distinguish himself from others by the modes of greeting
and the forms of address. It was they who, by their organization of
‘cells’ and devices for the permanent supervision of private life,
created the prototype of the totalitarian party.
By the time Hitler came to power, liberalism was dead in Germany.
And it was socialism that had killed it.
To many who have watched the transition from socialism to
fascism at close quarters the connection between the two systems
has become increasingly obvious, but in the democracies the
majority of people still believe that socialism and freedom can be
combined. They do not realize that democratic socialism, the
great utopia of the last few generations, is not only unachievable,
but that to strive for it produces something utterly different – the
very destruction of freedom itself. As has been aptly said: ‘What
has always made the state a hell on earth has been precisely that
man has tried to make it his heaven.’
It is disquieting to see in England and the United States today
the same drawing together of forces and nearly the same contempt
of all that is liberal in the old sense. ‘Conservative socialism’ was
the slogan under which a large number of writers prepared the
atmosphere in which National Socialism succeeded. It is ‘conservative
socialism’ which is the dominant trend among us now.
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The liberal way of planning
‘Planning’ owes its popularity largely to the fact that everybody desires,
of course, that we should handle our common problems with
as much foresight as possible. The dispute between the modern
planners and the liberals is not on whether we ought to employ
systematic thinking in planning our affairs. It is a dispute about
what is the best way of so doing. The question is whether we
should create conditions under which the knowledge and initiative
of individuals are given the best scope so that they can plan
most successfully; or whether we should direct and organize all
economic activities according to a ‘blueprint’, that is, ‘consciously
direct the resources of society to conform to the planners’ particular
views of who should have what’.
It is important not to confuse opposition against the latter
kind of planning with a dogmatic laissez faire attitude. The liberal
argument does not advocate leaving things just as they are; it
favours making the best possible use of the forces of competition
as a means of coordinating human efforts. It is based on the conviction
that, where effective competition can be created, it is a better
way of guiding individual efforts than any other. It emphasizes
that in order to make competition work beneficially a carefully
thought-out legal framework is required, and that neither the past
nor the existing legal rules are free from grave defects.
Liberalism is opposed, however, to supplanting competition
by inferior methods of guiding economic activity. And it regards
competition as superior not only because in most circumstances it
is the most efficient method known but because it is the only
method which does not require the coercive or arbitrary intervention of
authority. It dispenses with the need for ‘conscious social control’
and gives individuals a chance to decide whether the prospects of
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a particular occupation are sufficient to compensate for the disadvantages
connected with it.
The successful use of competition does not preclude some types
ofgovernmentinterference. For instance, to limitworkinghours, to
require certain sanitary arrangements, to provide an extensive system
of social services is fully compatible with the preservation of
competition. There are, too, certain fields where the system of competition
is impracticable. For example, the harmful effects of deforestation
or of thesmokeof factoriescannotbeconfined to theowner
of the property in question. But the fact that we have to resort to direct
regulation by authority where the conditions for the proper
working of competition cannot be created does not prove that we
should suppress competition where it can be made to function. To
create conditions in which competition will be as effective as possible,
to prevent fraud and deception, to breakupmonopolies – these
tasks provide a wide and unquestioned field for state activity.
This does not mean that it is possible to find some ‘middle
way’ between competition and central direction, though nothing
seems at first more plausible, or is more likely to appeal to reasonable
people. Mere common sense proves a treacherous guide in
this field. Although competition can bear some mixture of regulation,
it cannot be combined with planning to any extent we like
without ceasing to operate as an effective guide to production.
Both competition and central direction become poor and inefficient
tools if they are incomplete, and a mixture of the two means
that neither will work.
Planning and competition can be combined only by planning
for competition, not by planning against competition. The planning
against which all our criticism is directed is solely the planning
against competition.
t h e roa d to s e r f d o m
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The great utopia
There can be no doubt that most of those in the democracies who
demand a central direction of all economic activity still believe
that socialism and individual freedom can be combined. Yet
socialism was early recognized by many thinkers as the gravest
threat to freedom.
It is rarely remembered now that socialism in its beginnings
was frankly authoritarian. It began quite openly as a reaction
against the liberalism of the French Revolution. The French writers
who laid its foundation had no doubt that their ideas could be
put into practice only by a strong dictatorial government. The first
of modern planners, Saint-Simon, predicted that those who did
not obey his proposed planning boards would be ‘treated as
cattle.’
Nobody saw more clearly than the great political thinker de
Tocqueville that democracy stands in an irreconcilable conflict
with socialism: ‘Democracy extends the sphere of individual freedom,’
he said. ‘Democracy attaches all possible value to each man,’
he said in 1848, ‘while socialism makes each man a mere agent, a
mere number. Democracy and socialism have nothing in common
but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy
seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and
servitude.’
To allay these suspicions and to harness to its cart the
strongest of all political motives – the craving for freedom – socialists
began increasingly to make use of the promise of a ‘new freedom’.
Socialism was to bring ‘economic freedom’ without which
political freedom was ‘not worth having’.
To make this argument sound plausible, the word ‘freedom’
was subjected to a subtle change in meaning. The word had
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formerly meant freedom from coercion, from the arbitrary power
of other men. Now it was made to mean freedom from necessity,
release from the compulsion of the circumstances which
inevitably limit the range of choice of all of us. Freedom in this
sense is, of course, merely another name for power or wealth. The
demand for the new freedom was thus only another name for the
old demand for a redistribution of wealth.
The claim that a planned economy would produce a substantially
larger output than the competitive system is being progressively
abandoned by most students of the problem. Yet it is this
false hope as much as anything which drives us along the road to
planning.
Although our modern socialists’ promise of greater freedom is
genuine and sincere, in recent years observer after observer has
been impressed by the unforeseen consequences of socialism, the
extraordinary similarity in many respects of the conditions under
‘communism’ and ‘fascism’. As the writer Peter Drucker expressed
it in 1939, ‘the complete collapse of the belief in the attainability of
freedom and equality through Marxism has forced Russia to travel
the same road toward a totalitarian society of unfreedom and inequality
which Germany has been following. Not that communism
and fascism are essentially the same. Fascism is the stage
reached after communism has proved an illusion, and it has
proved as much an illusion in Russia as in pre-Hitler Germany.’
No less significant is the intellectual outlook of the rank and
file in the communist and fascist movements in Germany before
1933. The relative ease with which a young communist could be
converted into a Nazi or vice versa was well known, best of all to
the propagandists of the two parties. The communists and Nazis
clashed more frequently with each other than with other parties
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simply because they competed for the same type of mind and reserved
for each other the hatred of the heretic. Their practice
showed how closely they are related. To both, the real enemy, the
man with whom they had nothing in common, was the liberal of
the old type. While to the Nazi the communist and to the communist
the Nazi, and to both the socialist, are potential recruits made
of the right timber, they both know that there can be no compromise
between them and those who really believe in individual
freedom.
What is promised to us as the Road to Freedom is in fact the
Highroad to Servitude. For it is not difficult to see what must be
the consequences when democracy embarks upon a course of
planning. The goal of the planning will be described by some such
vague term as ‘the general welfare’. There will be no real agreement
as to the ends to be attained, and the effect of the people’s
agreeing that there must be central planning, without agreeing on
the ends, will be rather as if a group of people were to commit
themselves to take a journey together without agreeing where they
want to go: with the result that they may all have to make a journey
which most of them do not want at all.
Democratic assemblies cannot function as planning agencies.
They cannot produce agreement on everything – the whole direction
of the resources of the nation – for the number of possible
courses of action will be legion. Even if a congress could, by proceeding
step by step and compromising at each point, agree on
some scheme, it would certainly in the end satisfy nobody.
To draw up an economic plan in this fashion is even less possible
than, for instance, successfully to plan a military campaign by
democratic procedure. As in strategy, it would become inevitable
to delegate the task to experts. And even if, by this expedient, a
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democracy should succeed in planning every sector of economic
activity, it would still have to face the problem of integrating these
separate plans into a unitary whole. There will be a stronger and
stronger demand that some board or some single individual
should be given powers to act on their own responsibility. The cry
for an economic dictator is a characteristic stage in the movement
toward planning.
Thus the legislative body will be reduced to choosing the persons
who are to have practically absolute power. The whole system
will tend toward that kind of dictatorship in which the head of
government is from time to time confirmed in his position by popular
vote, but where he has all the power at his command to make
certain that the vote will go in the direction that he desires.
Planning leads to dictatorship because dictatorship is the most
effective instrument of coercion and, as such, essential if central
planning on a large scale is to be possible. There is no justification
for the widespread belief that, so long as power is conferred by democratic
procedure, it cannot be arbitrary; it is not the source of
power which prevents it from being arbitrary; to be free from dictatorial
qualities, the power must also be limited. A true ‘dictatorship
of the proletariat’, even if democratic in form, if it undertook
centrally to direct the economic system, would probably destroy
personal freedom as completely as any autocracy has ever done.
Individual freedom cannot be reconciled with the supremacy
of one single purpose to which the whole of society is permanently
subordinated. To a limited extent we ourselves experience this fact
in wartime, when subordination of almost everything to the immediate
and pressing need is the price at which we preserve our
freedom in the long run. The fashionable phrases about doing for
the purposes of peace what we have learned to do for the purposes
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of war are completely misleading, for it is sensible temporarily to
sacrifice freedom in order to make it more secure in the future, but
it is quite a different thing to sacrifice liberty permanently in the
interests of a planned economy.
To those who have watched the transition from socialism to
fascism at close quarters, the connection between the two systems
is obvious. The realization of the socialist programme means the
destruction of freedom. Democratic socialism, the great utopia of
the last few generations, is simply not achievable.
Why the worst get on top
No doubt an American or English ‘fascist’ system would greatly
differ from the Italian or German models; no doubt, if the transition
were effected without violence, we might expect to get a better
type of leader. Yet this does not mean that our fascist system
would in the end prove very different or much less intolerable than
its prototypes. There are strong reasons for believing that the
worst features of the totalitarian systems are phenomena which
totalitarianism is certain sooner or later to produce.
Just as the democratic statesman who sets out to plan economic
life will soon be confronted with the alternative of either
assuming dictatorial powers or abandoning his plans, so the totalitarian
leader would soon have to choose between disregard of
ordinary morals and failure. It is for this reason that the unscrupulous
are likely to be more successful in a society tending
toward totalitarianism. Who does not see this has not yet grasped
the full width of the gulf which separates totalitarianism from the
essentially individualist Western civilization.
The totalitarian leader must collect around him a group which
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is prepared voluntarily to submit to that discipline they are to
impose by force upon the rest of the people. That socialism can
be put into practice only by methods of which most socialists disapprove
is, of course, a lesson learned by many social reformers
in the past. The old socialist parties were inhibited by their
democratic ideals; they did not possess the ruthlessness required
for the performance of their chosen task. It is characteristic that
both in Germany and in Italy the success of fascism was preceded
by the refusal of the socialist parties to take over the responsibilities
of government. They were unwilling wholeheartedly to
employ the methods to which they had pointed the way. They
still hoped for the miracle of a majority’s agreeing on a particular
plan for the organization of the whole of society. Others had
already learned the lesson that in a planned society the question
can no longer be on what do a majority of the people agree but
what the largest single group is whose members agree sufficiently
to make unified direction of all affairs possible.
There are three main reasons why such a numerous group,
with fairly similar views, is not likely to be formed by the best but
rather by the worst elements of any society.
First, the higher the education and intelligence of individuals
become, the more their tastes and views are differentiated. If we
wish to find a high degree of uniformity in outlook, we have to descend
to the regions of lower moral and intellectual standards
where the more primitive instincts prevail. This does not mean
that the majority of people have low moral standards; it merely
means that the largest group of people whose values are very similar
are the people with low standards.
Second, since this group is not large enough to give sufficient
weight to the leader’s endeavours, he will have to increase their
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numbers by converting more to the same simple creed. He must
gain the support of the docile and gullible, who have no strong
convictions of their own but are ready to accept a ready-made system
of values if it is only drummed into their ears sufficiently
loudly and frequently. It will be those whose vague and imperfectly
formed ideas are easily swayed and whose passions and
emotions are readily aroused who will thus swell the ranks of the
totalitarian party.
Third, to weld together a closely coherent body of supporters,
the leader must appeal to a common human weakness. It seems to
be easier for people to agree on a negative programme – on the
hatred of an enemy, on the envy of the better off – than on any
positive task.
The contrast between the ‘we’ and the ‘they’ is consequently always
employed by those who seek the allegiance of huge masses.
The enemy may be internal, like the ‘Jew’ in Germany or the ‘kulak’
in Russia, or he may be external. In any case, this technique has the
great advantage of leaving the leader greater freedom of action
than would almost any positive programme.
Advancement within a totalitarian group or party depends
largely on a willingness to do immoral things. The principle that
the end justifies the means, which in individualist ethics is regarded
as the denial of all morals, in collectivist ethics becomes
necessarily the supreme rule. There is literally nothing which the
consistent collectivist must not be prepared to do if it serves ‘the
good of the whole’, because that is to him the only criterion of
what ought to be done.
Once you admit that the individual is merely a means to serve
the ends of the higher entity called society or the nation, most
of those features of totalitarianism which horrify us follow of
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necessity. From the collectivist standpoint intolerance and brutal
suppression of dissent, deception and spying, the complete
disregard of the life and happiness of the individual are essential
and unavoidable. Acts which revolt all our feelings, such as the
shooting of hostages or the killing of the old or sick, are treated as
mere matters of expediency; the compulsory uprooting and
transportation of hundreds of thousands becomes an instrument
of policy approved by almost everybody except the victims.
To be a useful assistant in the running of a totalitarian state,
therefore, a man must be prepared to break every moral rule he
has ever known if this seems necessary to achieve the end set for
him. In the totalitarian machine there will be special opportunities
for the ruthless and unscrupulous. Neither the Gestapo nor the administration
of a concentration camp, neither the Ministry of Propaganda
nor the SA or SS (or their Russian counterparts) are
suitable places for the exercise of humanitarian feelings. Yet it is
through such positions that the road to the highest positions in the
totalitarian state leads.
A distinguished American economist, Professor Frank H.
Knight, correctly notes that the authorities of a collectivist state
‘would have to do these things whether they wanted to or not: and
the probability of the people in power being individuals who
would dislike the possession and exercise of power is on a level
with the probability that an extremely tender-hearted person
would get the job of whipping master in a slave plantation’.
A further point should be made here: collectivism means the
end of truth. To make a totalitarian system function efficiently it is
not enough that everybody should be forced to work for the ends
selected by those in control; it is essential that the people should
come to regard these ends as their own. This is brought about by
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propaganda and by complete control of all sources of information.
The most effective way of making people accept the validity of
the values they are to serve is to persuade them that they are really
the same as those they have always held, but which were not properly
understood or recognized before. And the most efficient technique
to this end is to use the old words but change their meaning.
Few traits of totalitarian regimes are at the same time so confusing
to the superficial observer and yet so characteristic of the whole intellectual
climate as this complete perversion of language.
The worst sufferer in this respect is the word ‘liberty’. It is a
word used as freely in totalitarian states as elsewhere. Indeed, it
could almost be said that wherever liberty as we know it has been
destroyed, this has been done in the name of some new freedom
promised to the people. Even among us we have planners who
promise us a ‘collective freedom’, which is as misleading as anything
said by totalitarian politicians. ‘Collective freedom’ is not the
freedom of the members of society, but the unlimited freedom of
the planner to do with society that which he pleases. This is the
confusion of freedom with power carried to the extreme.
It is not difficult to deprive the great majority of independent
thought. But the minority who will retain an inclination to criticize
must also be silenced. Public criticism or even expressions of
doubt must be suppressed because they tend to weaken support of
the regime. As Sidney and Beatrice Webb report of the position in
every Russian enterprise: ‘Whilst the work is in progress, any public
expression of doubt that the plan will be successful is an act of
disloyalty and even of treachery because of its possible effect on
the will and efforts of the rest of the staff.’
Control extends even to subjects which seem to have no political
significance. The theory of relativity, for instance, has been
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opposed as a ‘Semitic attack on the foundation of Christian
and Nordic physics’ and because it is ‘in conflict with dialectical
materialism and Marxist dogma’. Every activity must derive its justification
from conscious social purpose. There must be no spontaneous,
unguided activity, because it might produce results
which cannot be foreseen and for which the plan does not provide.
The principle extends even to games and amusements. I leave
it to the reader to guess where it was that chess players were
officially exhorted that ‘we must finish once and for all with the
neutrality of chess. We must condemn once and for all the formula
chess for the sake of chess.’
Perhaps the most alarming fact is that contempt for intellectual
liberty is not a thing which arises only once the totalitarian
system is established, but can be found everywhere among those
who have embraced a collectivist faith. The worst oppression is
condoned if it is committed in the name of socialism. Intolerance
of opposing ideas is openly extolled. The tragedy of collectivist
thought is that while it starts out to make reason supreme, it ends
by destroying reason.
There is one aspect of the change in moral values brought
about by the advance of collectivism which provides special food
for thought. It is that the virtues which are held less and less in
esteem in Britain and America are precisely those on which
Anglo-Saxons justly prided themselves and in which they were
generally recognized to excel. These virtues were independence
and self-reliance, individual initiative and local responsibility, the
successful reliance on voluntary activity, non-interference with
one’s neighbour and tolerance of the different, and a healthy suspicion
of power and authority.
Almost all the traditions and institutions which have moulded
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the national character and the whole moral climate of England
and America are those which the progress of collectivism and its
centralistic tendencies are progressively destroying.
Planning vs. the Rule of Law
Nothing distinguishes more clearly a free country from a country
under arbitrary government than the observance in the former of
the great principles known as the Rule of Law. Stripped of technicalities
this means that government in all its actions is bound by
rules fixed and announced beforehand – rules that make it possible
to foresee with fair certainty how the authority will use its coercive
powers in given circumstances and to plan one’s individual
affairs on the basis of this knowledge. Thus, within the known
rules of the game, the individual is free to pursue his personal
ends, certain that the powers of government will not be used deliberately
to frustrate his efforts.
Socialist economic planning necessarily involves the very
opposite of this. The planning authority cannot tie itself down in
advance to general rules which prevent arbitrariness.
When the government has to decide how many pigs are to be
raised or how many buses are to run, which coal-mines are to operate,
or at what prices shoes are to be sold, these decisions cannot
be settled for long periods in advance. They depend inevitably on
the circumstances of the moment, and in making such decisions it
will always be necessary to balance, one against the other, the interests
of various persons and groups.
In the end somebody’s views will have to decide whose interests
are more important, and these views must become part of the
law of the land. Hence the familiar fact that the more the state
t h e roa d to s e r f d o m
49
‘plans’, the more difficult planning becomes for the individual.
The difference between the two kinds of rule is important. It is
the same as that between providing signposts and commanding
people which road to take.
Moreover, under central planning the government cannot be
impartial. The state ceases to be a piece of utilitarian machinery intended
to help individuals in the fullest development of their individual
personality and becomes an institution which deliberately
discriminates between particular needs of different people, and allows
one man to do what another must be prevented from doing.
It must lay down by a legal rule how well off particular people shall
be and what different people are to be allowed to have.
The Rule of Law, the absence of legal privileges of particular
people designated by authority, is what safeguards that equality
before the law which is the opposite of arbitrary government. It is
significant that socialists (and Nazis) have always protested
against ‘merely’ formal justice, that they have objected to law
which had no views on how well off particular people ought to be,
that they have demanded a ‘socialization of the law’ and attacked
the independence of judges.
In a planned society the law must legalize what to all intents
and purposes remains arbitrary action. If the law says that such a
board or authority may do what it pleases, anything that board or
authority does is legal – but its actions are certainly not subject to
the Rule of Law. By giving the government unlimited powers the
most arbitrary rule can be made legal; and in this way a democracy
may set up the most complete despotism imaginable.
The Rule of Law was consciously evolved only during the liberal
age and is one of its greatest achievements. It is the legal embodiment
of freedom. As Immanuel Kant put it, ‘Man is free if he
t h e roa d to s e r f d o m
50
needs obey no person but solely the laws.’
Is planning ‘inevitable’?
It is revealing that few planners today are content to say that central
planning is desirable. Most of them affirm that we now are
compelled to it by circumstances beyond our control.
One argument frequently heard is that the complexity of modern
civilization creates new problems with which we cannot hope
to deal effectively except by central planning. This argument is
based upon a complete misapprehension of the working of competition.
The very complexity of modern conditions makes competition
the only method by which a coordination of affairs can be
adequately achieved.
There would be no difficulty about efficient control or planning
were conditions so simple that a single person or board could
effectively survey all the facts. But as the factors which have to be
taken into account become numerous and complex, no one centre
can keep track of them. The constantly changing conditions of
demand and supply of different commodities can never be fully
known or quickly enough disseminated by any one centre.
Under competition – and under no other economic order – the
price system automatically records all the relevant data. Entrepreneurs,
by watching the movement of comparatively few prices,
as an engineer watches a few dials, can adjust their activities to
those of their fellows.
Compared with this method of solving the economic problem
– by decentralization plus automatic coordination through the
price system – the method of central direction is incredibly
clumsy, primitive, and limited in scope. It is no exaggeration to say
t h e roa d to s e r f d o m
51
that if we had had to rely on central planning for the growth of our
industrial system, it would never have reached the degree of differentiation
and flexibility it has attained. Modern civilization has
been possible precisely because it did not have to be consciously
created. The division of labour has gone far beyond what could
have been planned. Any further growth in economic complexity,
far from making central direction more necessary, makes it more
important than ever that we should use the technique of competition
and not depend on conscious control.
It is also argued that technological changes have made competition
impossible in a constantly increasing number of fields and
that our only choice is between control of production by private
monopolies and direction by the government. The growth of
monopoly, however, seems not so much a necessary consequence
of the advance of technology as the result of the policies pursued
in most countries.
The most comprehensive study of this situation is that by the
Temporary National Economic Committee, which certainly
cannot be accused of an unduly liberal bias. The committee
concludes:
The superior efficiency of large establishments has not been
demonstrated; the advantages that are supposed to destroy
competition have failed to manifest themselves in many
fields . . . the conclusion that the advantage of large-scale
production must lead inevitably to the abolition of
competition cannot be accepted . . . It should be noted,
moreover, that monopoly is frequently attained through
collusive agreement and promoted by public policies. When
these agreements are invalidated and these policies
reversed, competitive conditions can be restored.
t h e roa d to s e r f d o m
52
Anyone who has observed how aspiring monopolists regularly
seek the assistance of the state to make their control effective can
have little doubt that there is nothing inevitable about this development.
In the United States a highly protectionist policy aided
the growth of monopolies. In Germany the growth of cartels has
since 1878 been systematically fostered by deliberate policy. It was
here that, with the help of the state, the first great experiment in
‘scientific planning’ and ‘conscious organization of industry’ led to
the creation of giant monopolies. The suppression of competition
was a matter of deliberate policy in Germany, undertaken in the
service of an ideal which we now call planning.
Great danger lies in the policies of two powerful groups, organized
capital and organized labour, which support the monopolistic
organization of industry. The recent growth of monopoly is
largely the result of a deliberate collaboration of organized capital
and organized labour where the privileged groups of labour share
in the monopoly profits at the expense of the community and particularly
at the expense of those employed in the less well organized
industries. However, there is no reason to believe that this
movement is inevitable.
The movement toward planning is the result of deliberate action.
No external necessities force us to it.
Can planning free us from care?
Most planners who have seriously considered the practical aspects
of their task have little doubt that a directed economy must be run
on dictatorial lines, that the complex system of interrelated activities
must be directed by staffs of experts, with ultimate power in
the hands of a commander-in-chief whose actions must not be
t h e roa d to s e r f d o m
53
fettered by democratic procedure. The consolation our planners
offer us is that this authoritarian direction will apply ‘only’ to economic
matters. This assurance is usually accompanied by the suggestion
that, by giving up freedom in the less important aspects of
our lives, we shall obtain freedom in the pursuit of higher values.
On this ground people who abhor the idea of a political dictatorship
often clamour for a dictator in the economic field.
The arguments used appeal to our best instincts. If planning
really did free us from less important cares and so made it easier to
render our existence one of plain living and high thinking, who
would wish to belittle such an ideal?
Unfortunately, purely economic ends cannot be separated
from the other ends of life. What is misleadingly called the ‘economic
motive’ means merely the desire for general opportunity. If
we strive for money, it is because money offers us the widest choice
in enjoying the fruits of our efforts – once earned, we are free to
spend the money as we wish.
Because it is through the limitation of our money incomes that
we feel the restrictions which our relative poverty still imposes on
us, many have come to hate money as the symbol of these restrictions.
Actually, money is one of the greatest instruments of freedom
ever invented by man. It is money which in existing society
opens an astounding range of choice to the poor man – a range
greater than that which not many generations ago was open to the
wealthy.
We shall better understand the significance of the service of
money if we consider what it would really mean if, as so many
socialists characteristically propose, the ‘pecuniary motive’ were
largely displaced by ‘non-economic incentives’. If all rewards, instead
of being offered in money, were offered in the form of public
t h e roa d to s e r f d o m
54
distinctions, or privileges, positions of power over other men, better
housing or food, opportunities for travel or education, this
would merely mean that the recipient would no longer be allowed
to choose, and that whoever fixed the reward would determine not
only its size but the way in which it should be enjoyed.
The so-called economic freedom which the planners promise
us means precisely that we are to be relieved of the necessity of
solving our own economic problems and that the bitter choices
which this often involves are to be made for us. Since under modern
conditions we are for almost everything dependent on means
which our fellow men provide, economic planning would involve
direction of almost the whole of our life. There is hardly an aspect
of it, from our primary needs to our relations with our family and
friends, from the nature of our work to the use of our leisure, over
which the planner would not exercise his ‘conscious control’.
The power of the planner over our private lives would be hardly
less effective if the consumer were nominally free to spend his income
as he pleased, for the authority would control production.
Our freedom of choice in a competitive society rests on the fact
that, if one person refuses to satisfy our wishes, we can turn to
another. But if we face a monopolist we are at his mercy. And an
authority directing the whole economic system would be the most
powerful monopolist imaginable.
It would have complete power to decide what we are to be
given and on what terms. It would not only decide what commodities
and services are to be available and in what quantities; it would
be able to direct their distribution between districts and groups
and could, if it wished, discriminate between persons to any degree
it liked. Not our own view, but somebody else’s view of what
we ought to like or dislike, would determine what we should get.
t h e roa d to s e r f d o m
55
The will of the authority would shape and ‘guide’ our daily
lives even more in our position as producers. For most of us the
time we spend at our work is a large part of our whole lives, and
our job usually determines the place where and the people among
whom we live. Hence some freedom in choosing our work is probably
even more important for our happiness than freedom to
spend our income during our hours of leisure.
Even in the best of worlds this freedom will be limited. Few
people ever have an abundance of choice of occupation. But what
matters is that we have some choice, that we are not absolutely
tied to a job which has been chosen for us, and that if one position
becomes intolerable, or if we set our heart on another, there is
always a way for the able, at some sacrifice, to achieve his goal.
Nothing makes conditions more unbearable than the knowledge
that no effort of ours can change them. It may be bad to be just a
cog in a machine but it is infinitely worse if we can no longer leave
it, if we are tied to our place and to the superiors who have been
chosen for us.
In our present world there is much that could be done to
improve our opportunities of choice. But ‘planning’ would surely
go in the opposite direction. Planning must control the entry into
the different trades and occupations, or the terms of remuneration,
or both. In almost all known instances of planning, the
establishment of such controls and restrictions was among the
first measures taken.
In a competitive society most things can be had at a price. It is
often a cruelly high price. We must sacrifice one thing to attain
another. The alternative, however, is not freedom of choice, but
orders and prohibitions which must be obeyed.
That people should wish to be relieved of the bitter choice
t h e roa d to s e r f d o m
56
which hard facts often impose on them is not surprising. But few
want to be relieved through having the choice made for them by
others. People just wish that the choice should not be necessary at
all. And they are only too ready to believe that the choice is not
really necessary, that it is imposed upon them merely by the
particular economic system under which we live. What they resent
is, in truth, that there is an economic problem.
The wishful delusion that there is really no longer an economic
problem has been furthered by the claim that a planned economy
would produce a substantially larger output than the competitive
system. This claim, however, is being progressively abandoned by
most students of the problem. Even a good many economists with
socialist views are now content to hope that a planned society will
equal the efficiency of a competitive system. They advocate planning
because it will enable us to secure a more equitable distribution
of wealth. And it is indisputable that, if we want consciously
to decide who is to have what, we must plan the whole economic
system.
But the question remains whether the price we should have to
pay for the realization of somebody’s ideal of justice is not bound
to be more discontent and more oppression than was ever caused
by the much abused free play of economic forces.
For when a government undertakes to distribute the wealth,
by what principles will it or ought it to be guided? Is there a definite
answer to the innumerable questions of relative merits that
will arise?
Only one general principle, one simple rule, would provide
such an answer: absolute equality of all individuals. If this were the
goal, it would at least give the vague idea of distributive justice
clear meaning. But people in general do not regard mechanical
t h e roa d to s e r f d o m
57
equality of this kind as desirable, and socialism promises not complete
equality but ‘greater equality’.
This formula answers practically no questions. It does not free
us from the necessity of deciding in every particular instance between
the merits of particular individuals or groups, and it gives
no help in that decision. All it tells us in effect is to take from the
rich as much as we can. When it comes to the distribution of the
spoils the problem is the same as if the formula of ‘greater equality’
had never been conceived.
It is often said that political freedom is meaningless without
economic freedom. This is true enough, but in a sense almost opposite
from that in which the phrase is used by our planners. The
economic freedom which is the prerequisite of any other freedom
cannot be the freedom from economic care which the socialists
promise us and which can be obtained only by relieving us of the
power of choice. It must be that freedom of economic activity
which, together with the right of choice, carries also the risk and
responsibility of that right.
Two kinds of security
Like the spurious ‘economic freedom’, and with more justice, economicsecurity
is often represented asanindispensable condition of
realliberty.Inasensethisisbothtrueandimportant.Independence
of mind or strength of character is rarely found among those who
cannotbeconfidentthattheywillmaketheirwaybytheirowneffort.
But there are two kinds of security: the certainty of a given
minimum of sustenance for all and the security of a given standard
of life, of the relative position which one person or group enjoys
compared with others.
t h e roa d to s e r f d o m
58
There is no reason why, in a society which has reached the general
level of wealth ours has, the first kind of security should not be
guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom; that is:
some minimum of food, shelter and clothing, sufficient to preserve
health. Nor is there any reason why the state should not help
to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance in providing
for those common hazards of life against which few can make
adequate provision.
It is planning for security of the second kind which has such an
insidious effect on liberty. It is planning designed to protect individuals
or groups against diminutions of their incomes.
If, as has become increasingly true, the members of each trade
in which conditions improve are allowed to exclude others in
order to secure to themselves the full gain in the form of higher
wages or profits, those in the trades where demand has fallen off
have nowhere to go, and every change results in large unemployment.
There can be little doubt that it is largely a consequence of
the striving for security by these means in the last decades that unemployment
and thus insecurity have so much increased.
The utter hopelessness of the position of those who, in a society
which has thus grown rigid, are left outside the range of sheltered
occupation can be appreciated only by those who have
experienced it. There has never been a more cruel exploitation of
one class by another than that of the less fortunate members of a
group of producers by the well-established. This has been made
possible by the ‘regulation’ of competition. Few catchwords have
done so much harm as the ideal of a ‘stabilization’ of particular
prices or wages, which, while securing the income of some, makes
the position of the rest more and more precarious.
In England and America special privileges, especially in the
t h e roa d to s e r f d o m
59
form of the ‘regulation’ of competition, the ‘stabilization’ of particular
prices and wages, have assumed increasing importance.
With every grant of such security to one group the insecurity of the
rest necessarily increases. If you guarantee to some a fixed part of
a variable cake, the share left to the rest is bound to fluctuate proportionally
more than the size of the whole. And the essential element
of security which the competitive system offers, the great
variety of opportunities, is more and more reduced.
The general endeavour to achieve security by restrictive measures,
supported by the state, has in the course of time produced a
progressive transformation of society – a transformation in which,
as in so many other ways, Germany has led and the other countries
have followed. This development has been hastened by another effect
of socialist teaching, the deliberate disparagement of all activities
involving economic risk and the moral opprobrium cast on the
gains which make risks worth taking but which only few can win.
We cannot blame our young men when they prefer the safe,
salaried position to the risk of enterprise after they have heard
from their earliest youth the former described as the superior,
more unselfish and disinterested occupation. The younger generation
of today has grown up in a world in which, in school and
press, the spirit of commercial enterprise has been represented as
disreputable and the making of profit as immoral, where to employ
100 people is represented as exploitation but to command the
same number as honourable.
Older people may regard this as exaggeration, but the daily experience
of the university teacher leaves little doubt that, as a result
of anti-capitalist propaganda, values have already altered far
in advance of the change in institutions which has so far taken
place. The question is whether, by changing our institutions to satt
h e roa d to s e r f d o m
60
isfy the new demands, we shall not unwittingly destroy values
which we still rate higher.
The conflict with which we have to deal is a fundamental one
between two irreconcilable types of social organization, which
have often been described as the commercial and the military. In
either both choice and risk rest with the individual or he is relieved
of both. In the army, work and worker alike are allotted by
authority, and this is the only system in which the individual can
be conceded full economic security. This security is, however,
inseparable from the restrictions on liberty and the hierarchical
order of military life – it is the security of the barracks.
In a society used to freedom it is unlikely that many people
would be ready deliberately to purchase security at this price. But
the policies which are followed now are nevertheless rapidly creating
conditions in which the striving for security tends to become
stronger than the love of freedom.
If we are not to destroy individual freedom, competition must
be left to function unobstructed. Let a uniform minimum be secured
to everybody by all means; but let us admit at the same time
that all claims for a privileged security of particular classes must
lapse, that all excuses disappear for allowing particular groups to
exclude newcomers from sharing their relative prosperity in order
to maintain a special standard of their own.
There can be no question that adequate security against severe
privation will have to be one of our main goals of policy. But
nothing is more fatal than the present fashion of intellectual
leaders of extolling security at the expense of freedom. It is
essential that we should re-learn frankly to face the fact that
freedom can be had only at a price and that as individuals we must
be prepared to make severe material sacrifices to preserve it.
t h e roa d to s e r f d o m
61
We must regain the conviction on which liberty in the Anglo-
Saxon countries has been based and which Benjamin Franklin expressed
in a phrase applicable to us as individuals no less than as
nations: ‘Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a
little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.’
Toward a better world
To build a better world, we must have the courage to make a new
start. We must clear away the obstacles with which human folly
has recently encumbered our path and release the creative energy
of individuals. We must create conditions favourable to progress
rather than ‘planning progress’.
It is not those who cry for more ‘planning’ who show the necessary
courage, nor those who preach a ‘New Order’, which is no
more than a continuation of the tendencies of the past 40 years,
and who can think of nothing better than to imitate Hitler. It is, indeed,
those who cry loudest for a planned economy who are most
completely under the sway of the ideas which have created this war
and most of the evils from which we suffer.
The guiding principle in any attempt to create a world of free
men must be this: a policy of freedom for the individual is the only
truly progressive policy.

62

64
t h e roa d to s e r f d o m i n c a rtoons

See jim.com/hayek.htm for abridged condenced version

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