Sunday, September 02, 2012

Road to Serfdom

What follows are my notes/thoughts on Frederich Hayek's work "The Road to Serfdom". As I review libertarian/objectivist literature I find more and more what I object to is the binary thinking i.e. it is either this or that, no other options.

Pg 72 Hayek makes the argument that the advancement came because of the freedom to pursue profits, basically to allow great inequality allowed for faster advancement, the fruits accumulating first to those that took the risks then to common society at large. Trickle down economics? And because of this wealth of advancement we inevitably reject the inequality. FH thinks this is wrong, I think this is society growing up. We don’t expect toddlers to progress to adolescents only to lapse back to being toddlers when they become teenagers.

Pg 76 Libertarian/objectivist thought bandy about the word “freedom” quite a bit, but what of the second half, what of “responsibility”? Parents allow children greater and greater freedoms only because the demonstrate they can handle them responsibility. With great freedom comes great responsibility

Pg 77 Individualism has been associated with egotism and selfishness, but what also of separateness? Man's separateness from nature, Man's separateness from his fellow man (of a different class)?

Pg 77 Hayek confuses the "despotism of physical wants" by looking at it in capitalistic terms. He thinks it means power and affluence, but what it really means is sufficiency and knowing when it is enough.

Pg 78 there needs to be no great increase in material wealth to have abundance, it merely requires a shift in thinking, from a progressive growth paradigm to a steady state economy.

Pg 85 FH says the dispute is not about whether we want to choose the best way of intelligently planning or not, but rather what is the best method to do so.

Pg 90 FH effectively polarizes the argument by saying that planned economies and decentralized economies are wholly incompatible, thus creating a double bind by eliminating any third option (as there is no other option but socialism and capitalism).

Pg 99 FH makes the argument that their is nothing that planning can do that the free market couldn't do better and more efficiently. I’ve addressed the efficiency argument in my review of Milton Friedman’s work. Free market capitalism holds the distinction of being efficient when it comes to liquidating mal-investments, this I will concede.

Pg 102, To be fair, if you look at the aggregate of what people want, and take out manipulated wants, it isn't all that varied, nor is it infinite.

Pg 127 The monopoly directed at the economic system, if that is what it turns out to be, is made up of and ultimately answerable to people. This monopoly that Hayek speaks of is no different than the TNC cartels that currently run things.

Pg 128 Discrimination is quite handily enacted by money today. The only difference is you can't call on money to account for its discrimination. A person would be accountable. The act of “which by taking one, we deprive the other members of society", is this not force , however thinly disguised and indirect? There is no quantifiable difference between the monetary system pricing something out of your reach or some person telling you that this particular use of resources is not advisable. It is only offensive to libertarians sense of individuality and freedom to choose because it is a person or group of people (community) that stands in their way and not the divine “invisible hand”. This is a problem that has extended way back into history, we cannot tolerate being advised against something that runs contrary to our interests by those we perceive as a our equals, so our leaders and experts have to have that something special that sets them a head and shoulders above the rest of us. It used to be the divine right of kings, then it was knowledge and learning, today we settle on wealth.

Hayek tries to slide the premise by use that socialism must be centralized and centralization must be done along dictatorial lines. There is no attempt to entertain that socialism could be decentralized with decision making power delegated out to the local level where those on the ground have the most knowledge of the region. Similar to hunter/gatherers, it was knowledge of the land that was valuable in the use of it, not the ownership.

Hayek spells out the deviousness of the gilded cage, as long as we have the hope of escape we can tolerate the intolerable, and he is referring to the competitive system. Religion had a similar tool to get the masses to accept their role, it was called the afterlife, live a virtuous, uncomplaining life and when you die you will go to your reward. That is the road to serfdom. Why else does the media focus on the rags to riches stories? Why else do we have lotteries? We else to we deify the rich and famous? To fritter away our energies in the hope, the faintest of hopes, that one day we can be like them. This is enough for us to submit and allow the continued exploitation of our labour for the benefit of the upper class.

Pg 129 Society expects you to make a contribution. Currently we spur that on by making it a requirement to earn money to eat. But this is no different than a more transparent process proposed by socialists. By your works shall ye be judged. There is little freedom of choice in today's occupations, you are limited by your level of education, your physical and cognitive talents and by who you know.

Pg 132 What if, instead, we substituted the term "collaboration" for "central planning". That certainly has a more voluntary ring to it.

Pg 135 Wow what planet is Hayek talking about? Of course there are means and ways to prevent a poor man from rising above his class. These are embedded in the matrix of society. It isn't to the upper classes advantage if there is no semblance of permanence of wealth, so the desire for restriction of who can become wealthy is great. So no nothing to prevent the "attempt", but lots to prevent the “success”. Hayek tries to slip another premise by you that if property isn't to be privately owned it must then be state owned, does not consider it can be commonly owned or that it needs to be (or can be) owned at all.

Pg 138 Not necessarily, you'll do what you want to do and if you are good at it, you'll continue, if you aren't good at it you'll most likely bow out because of the embarrassment in front of your peers. For example, you want to be a dancer, and quite frankly you have two left feet, it takes a pretty thick skin to continue to dance when your peers are clearly better and no one wants to watch you.

Pg 142 FH says education can create no new ethics nor create a common vision held by all, especially on moral issues. Education can grant perspective and more options in which to express oneself, more tools in the tool box. To restrict education would result in a world much similar to 1984, where words were routinely removed from the dictionary and history continually rewritten in simpler vocabulary, the idea being that if one does not have the word to express a seditious concept then one cannot think seditious thoughts. Indoctrination, to work, has to be simple and easy to digest, and is more successful upon injection into simple minds than critical minds.

Pg 143 FH makes it appear that socialism started out like a cult. But spontaneous social action arises in response to imposition of free markets as per Karl Polanyi.

Pg 151 Why is FH making his arguments like there is wages to be paid in centrally planned socialist society, why bother with wages when it is goods that people need? And he is saying that the only alternative to discipline by firing is discipline by corporal punishment? False dichotomy argument.

Pg 153 I get the feeling that FH talks in terms of incomes and wages because he does not know how to talk in any other terms. A common refrain I hear from advocates of the price system is that there is no alternative but considering we got along quite well without it for most of our time as a species, albeit on a smaller more intimate scale, says there are alternatives and the price system for all of it flaws, is not the final end product. For which we should be relieved.

Pg 156 You should do your duty in the field of your usefulness, these are not mutually exclusive. Also FH admits that some security must exists to preserve freedom, he frames this as security against privation, but as history shows us that it is security of one class against the others. Privation only enters into the equation when society is on the verge of revolution in which the plutocracy is forced to concede some of its wealth (arguably ill-gotten) to placate the masses.

I guess this is a problem will a system of thought that only allows for purity of ideology. It tends to make you perceive things in terms of absolutes. FH makes all the same accusations of socialism that could equally apply to free market because it is the inevitable conclusion if one were to stick to pure ideals. He does admit that socialism proceeds from the base of "for the good of the whole" which of course depends on what is define as good and for which "whole". But in keeping with the duality FH then would expect "for the good of the individual" to radiate out and automatically be good for the whole. This is a non sequitur.

Pg 169 FH launches into a lengthy diatribe entailing the freedoms you have to give up and the morals you must be prepared to break because in a collectivist society you can hold no ideals that are different from the collective. This implies that in an individualist society you can, and you can defend those ideals from the community. So what if the ideals you choose to hold and defend are anti-life? Ran Prieur says that any society in the face of having their neighbour arming up only has three choices, to run, to submit, to arm up and fight. So when an individual picks an aggressive ideal to drive their actions, like objectivism, they are arming up to take from their neighbors for themselves by way of wealth accumulation, redistribution as sure as it came from the top.

Pg 178 Seems like that would be the wrong question to ask, do I serve my ideology that purportedly serves the collective, or do I serve my fellow man which by definition serves the collective. Servitude through ideology is similar to the way they routed the understanding of the bible through Latin-speaking priests, for the reasons of control and to sustain power. When you take out the middleman (ideology or religion) and seek to serve directly, it cannot be corrupted or perverted by outside forces.

Pg 179 FH says an interesting thing that it is probably true that a great majority rarely think for themselves and seek that which is ready-made, which explains the droves that seize upon his works or similar individualistic works like Ayn Rand.

Pg 184 Socialism is the crude application of scientific ideals to the problems of society. Sounds familiar, where have I heard this before?

Pg 195 I read this and find myself partially agreeing, individualism and the environment are going to have to find a compromise with individuals sacrificing much. Efficiency is needed combined with no growth and decreased consumption. If libertarians do not understand this intuitively then they are in for a painful surprise.

Pg 200 I agree with FH's view on war that it is senseless and devoid of purpose (other than to steal resources of course).

Pg 203 Socialists of the day talked about "potential plenty" and talked about the inevitable slide into monopoly. The "best authorities" used to support the political tracts are of questionable scientific standing, while serious study into the same problems are conspicuously neglected as per Dr. C.H. Waddington in The Scientific Attitude.

Do we not get the same baseless generalities when talking about the miracles of the “invisible hand” and how the free market is going to “lift all boats”?

Pg 216 You don't build wealth out of thin air, it comes at the expense of something, such as the environment. Also not all wealth building is equal although it is regarded as such as both increases in GDP and money do not take into account what was the cause of the increase for example, military spending.

Pg 217 Independence, self-reliance, willingness to back ones convictions against a superior, willingness to bear risks, willingness to voluntarily co-operate with ones neighbors. These are the supposed hallmarks of a individualistic society. FH says socialism is nothing but obedience and compulsion to do what society has deemed good. I would say that for any good socialist society to function you would need a healthy dose of voluntary co-operation, and among equals you do not have to back your convictions against a superior, but rather a peer, your willingness to bear a risk in so much as it does not exceed your communities willingness to bear risk. Collaboration and creativity substitute for rugged independence and self-reliance. No one is an island on their own.

Pg 231 FH makes an interesting comment that we have not yet learned how to use state powers intelligently on a national scale. Does that imply the possibility that such powers could be used if used intelligently? He suggests that there must be a set of rules that lays out what a state can and cannot do and an authority to enforce such rules. As well he suggests that states should prevent other states from harming their neighbors which seems to run counter to the free market, rugged individualism he espouses.

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