I don’t particularly like criticizing Tyler Cowen, but this is a bit ridiculous, and I”m going to have to chalk it up to excess holiday tryptophan.
Last time I read Road To Serfdom was this fall, driving cross country. Actually, I listened to it on tape. And I cautiously pulled aside whenever I needed to take notes. I took ten pages of notes. But that’s OK. It helped with fatigue.
Tyler recently re-read Road To Serfdom. Here are his comments.
Given all the recent fuss, I picked it up again and found:
1. It was more boring and less analytic on matters of public choice than I had been expecting.
2. Although some of Hayek’s major predictions have been proven wrong, they are more defensible than I had been expecting.
3. The most important sentence in the book is “This book, written in my spare time from 1940 to 1943…” In those years, how many decent democracies were in the world? How clear was it that the Western powers, even if they won the war, would dismantle wartime economic planning? How many other peoples’ predictions from those years have panned out? At that time, Hayek’s worries were perfectly justified.
4. If current trends do turn out very badly, this is not the best guide for understanding exactly why.
It’s fine to downgrade the book, relative to some of the claims made on its behalf, but the book doesn’t give us reason to downgrade Hayek.
Straw man. Self serving at that. No direct criticisms. Obtuse criticisms are illogical.
a) The book contributed to the current state of affairs.
b) The book was written for the masses, and that is why it has been widely read., and why it contributed to the current state of affairs. (more so than Braudel – although no discredit to him – and others.)
c) The book’s criticism of central planning is not the same as the current criticism of the welfare state.
And I do not understand, nor does it appear others here do, why you grant particular grace to current democracies – the merit of which is still in play, until we observe how we fare now that the rest of the world has adopted capitalist instituions, and erased our prior advantage. It certainly appears, that instead of Democracy, the award goes to capitalist institutions, calculation and incentives. Democracy is irrelevant. Other than, under democracy, it appears, it is far more common to vote one’s self into tyranny, than is possible under parliamentary monarchy, or oligarchy.
I believe the three points above refute all four of your observations. In fact, I’m having trouble understanding why you even view it through your empirical framework. It is a narrative pedagogical work. And as a narrative pedagogical work it will very likely be as durable as most innovative narrative works are, versus the very perishable empirical works of political economy that are fashionable flashes of the moment.
AFWIW: Whether one lives under tyranny or not is a matter of perspective determined by one’s definition of property.