“The Road to Serfdom” – A Take Away

Posted on October 12, 2011. Filed under: Economics, Government, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

English: GFDL picture of F.A. Hayek to replace...

English: GFDL picture of F.A. Hayek to replace fair use images that are used in some articles. Released by the Mises Institute. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you seen the summer Youtube sensations “Fear the Boom and Bust” and my personal favorite “The Fight of the Century”? These videos feature political-economic bigwigs Friedrich August von Hayek and John Maynard Keynes battling over the roll of government in the economy. Sounds really dorky but it’s actually pretty funny. The creator attempts to get viewers thinking about the age-old questions: do we go with central planning or favor personal liberty?

Anyways, after viewing these hysterical videos, I realized that I had never read either man’s works. So, I sat down and read F.A. Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom,” which warns of the inherent problems that exist in free societies and central planning. For anyone interested…scratch that…anyone who votes, the book is short and a pretty easy read. No graphs or equations or anything that would remind you of a mandatory college class.

While Hayek addresses a number of issues that are still eerily relevant today,  one thing in particular that  struck me was his argument on the “Rule of Law.” This bedrock for free societies is commonly understood to mean that no man from the President on down is higher than the law. It’s easy to understand why this is the colloquial meaning for the phrase, but it’s not entirely accurate.

As Hayek wrote, “Rule of Law implies limits to the scope of legislation.” After all, Hitler was elected and carried out his eugenic policies completely through a legislative process. But not too many of us would claim slaughtering Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and communists is okay as long as Congress passes a law saying so  (well Hoover might have argued that last one and no, not the vacuum cleaner guy). Here in the US, one of the major roles of the Supreme Court is to determine if laws Congress and the President pass hold muster to the Constitution, i.e. our set of laws that limit the government’s power.  Hayek argued that central planning and the Rule of Law are incompatable because “the government’s coercive powers [are] no longer limited and determined by pre-established rules.”

In Deuteronomy, when God is outlining how a king should rule, He commands the king is to read the law God gave Moses daily.  “It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he…(will) not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left” (Deut 17:19-20).  Now, from my understanding of the time, what the king said was law. But God also gave laws to his people that governed how even the king must live; the king was confined to these laws. It appears to me, this was God’s way of establishing the Rule of Law among the Jews.

This may seem theoretical and not so relevant today, but look at it this way: do we really think politicians should be permitted enact whatever they deem ‘good’ or should there be limits? I recently read the EPA is effectively outlawing an inhaler because it uses CFC – obviously it can, but should a Federal agency be permitted to outlaw a product while circumventing the legislative processes? Or do we still recognize pre-established rules that say what the government can and cannot do? Have we given up on our Rule of Law?


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