(Page 2 of 3)
Caldwell: ...job choice...
Reason: ...being able to exit or enter a country....
Caldwell: Yes, all the dimensions of things such as that.
Reason: Sometimes the moral of Serfdom is boiled down to what's called "the inevitability thesis": If you get a little planning, you'll get more planning, and then eventually you'll have full-blown socialist planning.
Caldwell: If you look at Hayek's preface to the 1976 version of the book, he says that can happen. But that's not the argument of the book. He did not say that as soon as you get some combination of markets and planning, you are immediately going to go down the slippery slope to socialism and all the restrictions it entails.
In a historical context, he was worried about Britain primarily. One reason that he was so keen to get the book published during the war was that people were already making the same argument that had been made in various German-language countries during the 1920s: that wartime production produces what people need and that state planning is an efficient way to do it. People were calling for the same sorts of controls that were in place in the war to continue in peacetime.
In England nationalization went forward after the war, and a number of different industries were nationalized. At its peak, about 20 percent of British industry was nationalized, so it was nothing even close to full nationalization. But that was the direction in which Britain seemed to be headed, and that was one of the reasons that Hayek wrote the book.
Reason: We live in a time when even socialists grant that capitalism is better at producing things. What about The Road to Serfdom and Hayek remains especially relevant in the 21st century?
Caldwell: His critique of the way "science" gets used in social settings. Science is a very powerful tool that has brought a lot of technological and material progress. But the mistaken notion that we can plan social structures and social realities and social institutions in the same way that we can accomplish goals like putting people in space is very, very seductive. That belief is something that never goes away. Hayek's critique of that mind-set is part and parcel of The Road to Serfdom and many of his other writings. Road is part of a larger effort called "The Abuse of Reason Project," which attacked what he eventually called "rationalist constructivism," the idea that we are able to reconstruct or correct society along rational lines.
He argued that you can't easily improve on what he called "spontaneous orders." There are many situations in which an order has arisen by individuals following rules. They often can't articulate why they follow the rules, some of them are moral rules, whatever, and this has lead to a certain amount of coordination of people's activity. To the extent that it's done, that it's allowed, groups that have followed those rules tend to prosper. That's what he defined as "a spontaneous order." This can occur among animals that are noncommunicating, and it can occur among humans and various social institutions. Language, the market, money, and more reflect this.
To simply come in and say, "OK, this stuff all needs changing," ignores that social evolution has taken place through time. We can all see the problems that exist in various institutions, but it's particularly dangerous when you try to make wholesale changes, rather than piecemeal ones, within social institutions to try to achieve better ends.
The way socialism was implemented in the 20th century is one of the pre-eminent examples of what goes wrong when you try to reconstruct society along more "rational" lines.
Reason: Is it inevitable that top-down, central planning fails?
Caldwell: I don't think Hayek would say inevitably. It would depend on the specific question at hand. Hayek always wrote at a very high level of generalization, so it is difficult to get down to specifics with him, and that is one of the limitations I think of Hayek's particular approach.
Reason: He emphasizes that things change over time, the rules under which people act change over time, the institutions through which they are constrained change over time. But he doesn't like wholesale social change where you just say, "We're paving over Cam-bodia and starting a new society," or paving over Paris...