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Showing posts with label Friedrich Hayek. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Friedrich Hayek. Show all posts

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Freedom Imperilled

From The New Criterion

On Democratic Despotism

“It is seldom,” David Hume wrote, “that liberty of any kind is lost all at once.” That admonitory sentence furnishes one of the epigraphs for Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, first published in 1943. How is freedom faring in the United States today? Peter Robinson, a scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, provided a melancholy prĂ©cis in “The Loss of Individual Liberty,” a column that appeared in Forbes last month. Mr. Robinson recalled a dinner he shared with Milton Friedman several years ago. He complimented the venerable economist on his role in transforming the intellectual landscape, especially in fostering widespread appreciation of the inextricable connection between free markets and individual liberty. Friedman refused the compliment. “We may have won the intellectual battle,” he said, “but in practical politics, it’s difficult to see that we’ve had any effect at all.” Even a few years ago, it would have been easy to react as did Mr. Robinson at the time: to think that Friedman was responding with false modesty. After all, had not the power of the free market been demonstrated beyond cavil in America’s triumph over the Soviet Union, its unparalleled prosperity, its culture of political freedom?

That, as Mr. Robinson puts it, was then. Now, today, we have witnessed an expansion of government into every corner of economic and social life that has been as sudden as it has been extraordinary. Having just lived through a presidential election in which the winning candidate cheerfully admitted that his goal was “to spread the wealth around,” we might think Mr. Robinson, a well-known conservative, was making a partisan point. He wasn’t. Over the last several years, he observes, we have witnessed, under a Republican administration, a prescription drug program that “represents the biggest expansion of the welfare state since the Great Society.” At the same time, Congress sharply increased domestic spending and passed “the biggest farm bill in history, a massive transfer of resources to the 2 percent of the population still engaged in agriculture.”

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