The Road to Serfdom


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The follwoing text is from "The Road to Serfdom" by F.A. Hayek, The University of Chicago Press, Fiftieth Aniversary Edition, 1994, pages 59-62, ISBN 0-226-32061-8.

While there can thus be little doubt that the movement toward planning [Socialism] is the result of deliberate action and that there is no external necessities which force us to it, it is worth inquiring why so large a proportion of the technical experts should be found in the front rank of the planners. The explanation of this phenomenon is closely connected with an important fact which the critics of the planners should always keep in mind: that there is little question that almost every one of the technical ideals of our experts could be realized within a comparatively short time if to achieve them were made the sole aim of humanity. There is an infinite number of good things, which we all agree are highly desirable as well as possible, but of which we cannot hope to achieve more than a few within our lifetime, or which we can hope to achieve only very imperfectly. It is the frustration of his ambitions in his own field which makes the specialist revolt against the existing order. We all find it difficult to bear to see things left undone which everybody must admit are both desirable and possible. That these things cannot all be done at the same time, that any one of them can be achieved only at the sacrifice of others, can be seen only by taking into account factors which fall outside any specialism, which can be appreciated only by a painful intellectual effort -- the more painful as it forces us to see against a wider background the objects to which most of our labors are directed and to balance them against others which lie outside our immediate interest and for which, for that reason, we care less.

Every one of the many things which, considered in isolation, it would be possible to achieve in a planned society creates enthusiasts for planning who feel confident that they will be able to instill into the directors of such a society their sense of the value of the particular objective; and the hopes of some of them would undoubtedly be fulfilled, since a planned society would certainly further some objectives more than is the case at present. It would be foolish to deny that the instances of planned or semiplanned societies which we know do furnish illustrations in point, good things which the people of these countries owe entirely to planning. The magnificent roads in [pre-war] Germany and Italy are an instance often quoted -- even though they do not represent a kind of planning not equally possible in a liberal society. But, it is equally foolish to quote such instances of technical excellence in particular fields as evidence of the general superiority of planning. It would be more correct to say that such extreme technical excellence out of line with general conditions is evidence of a misdirection of resources. Anyone who has driven along the famous German motor roads and found the amount of traffic on them less than on many a secondary road in England can have little doubt that, so far as peace purposes are concerned, there is little justification for them. Whether it was not a case of where the planners decided in favor of "guns" instead of "butter" is another matter. But by our standards there is little ground for enthusiasm.

The illusion of the specialist that in a planned society he would secure more attention to the objectives for which he cares most is a more general phenomenon than the term "specialist" at first suggests. In our predilections and interests we are all in some measure specialists. And we all think that our personal order of values is not merely personal but that in a free discussion among rational people we would convince the others that ours is the right one. The lover of the countryside who wants above all that its traditional appearance should be preserved and that the blots already made by industry on its fair face should be removed, no less than the health enthusiast who wants all the picturesque but insanitary old cottages cleared away, or the motorist who wishes the country cut up by major roads, the efficiency fanatic who desires the maximum of specialization and mechanization no less than the idealist who for the development of personality wants to preserve as many independent craftsman as possible, all know that their aim can be fully achieved only by planning -- and they all want planning for that reason. But, of course, the adoption of the social planning for which they clamor can only bring out the concealed conflict between their aims.

The movement for planning owes its present strength largely to the fact that, while planning is in the main still an ambition, it unites all the single-minded idealists, all the men and women who have devoted their lives to a single task. The hopes they place in planning, however, are the result of not of a comprehensive view of society but rather of a very limited view and often the result of a great exaggeration of the importance of the ends they place foremost. This is not to underrate the great pragmatic value of this type of men in a free society like ours, which makes them the subject of just admiration. But it would make the very men who are most anxious to plan society the most dangerous if they were allowed to do so -- and the most intolerant of the planning of others. From the saintly and single-minded idealist to the fanatic is but a step. Though it is the resentment of the frustrated specialist which gives the demand for planning its strongest impetus, there could hardly be a more unbearable -- and more irrational -- world than one in which the most eminent specialists in each field were allowed to proceed unchecked with the realization of their ideals. Nor can "co-ordination", as some planners seem to imagine, become a new specialism. The economist is the last to claim that he has the knowledge which the co-ordinators would need. His plea is for a method which reflects such co-ordination without the need for an omniscient dictator. But that means precisely the retention of some such impersonal, and often unintelligible, checks on individual efforts as those against which all specialists chafe.

[Ed. italics added]


See this also.

My Planned Society

In my planned society:


(Last Changed: December 9, 2016.)