Hayek was right; we must not go too far down the Road to Serfdom



The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek published in 1949 is one of the most important works in the pantheon of economics. Margaret Thatcher famously slammed a copy on to her cabinet table stating, “this is what we believe”. At the time of publication in 1949 however in the post war Keynesian era at the height of British socialism, Hayek’s insights were largely ignored. It was only 30 years later in the 1970’s when the failure of Keynesian inspired policies became apparent, did Hayek’s ideas gain prominence. 

The central argument of the book can be summed up as follows, the great theme that developed over the history of western civilisation was the freeing of people from serfdom, kingdoms and dictators, giving power to us all as individual to dictate our own destinies. Increased individual liberty than led to advancements in science, in philosophy and in material comfort. In essence the aggregate result of all of the individual actions we make in a free society has far greater outcomes for society as whole than a centrally planned government bureaucracy. 

We should all know now with the evidence of the 20th century that Hayek’s words were not just the open pontificating of an ivory tower intellectual but were indeed incontrovertible truths. There are so many examples of which to choose to demonstrate this, East VS West Germany in the forty five years after WWII, the collapse of the USSR, the killing fields of Cambodia, China during and then post Moa Zedong, Latin American today most notable Venezuela and so many more. 

In Britain post Thatcher we have seen the slow increase in the size of the state again, some of this through the European Union through increased rules and regulation in our markets. Just recently we have seen cases where the judiciary has seen fit to dictate wages to the market. And in the Cameron/May years we have seen the slow creep of paternalist policies design to dictate how we live our lives. 

As Britain leaves the European Union, we have some big choices in front of us as to what kind of nation we want to be. We can choose to be Europe’s bastion of freedom and liberty. We can trade freely with the world on the basis of mutual benefit. We can have a nation of free people, where the state is our servant not our master. An economy that is dynamic, where innovation is rewarded. Or we can choose to continue down the road to serfdom, with the state getting bigger and bigger, interfering more and more into our lives and where our freedoms are chipped away at piece by piece. 

Those who look at Europe and think leaving means Britain’s best days are behind us are wrong. They fail to see that the strength of a nation, both in terms of quality of life and in economic productivity comes not from a centralised state, either in Brussels or in Westminster, but indeed as Hayek pointed out, from us all as individuals acting on basis of freedom. Britain can be great again, if only we turn back from the road to serfdom. 

Idreece Khan is a data scientist and a runner up in 2019’s IEA Breakthrough Prize, with his essay on utilising the internet in the Education Sector. Follow him on twitter: @IdreeceKhan