Serfdom USA: How Far Have We Traveled Down Hayek's "Road?" (Author Friedrich Hayek's 'The Road to Serfdom')

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The free world celebrates two special 50th anniversaries this year. One is of D-Day, the beginning of the end of Nazi Germany's evil empire. The other is the publication of The Road to Setfdom, by Friedrich Hayek, which warned that Britain, America and other free nations that were expanding the welfare state and adopting centralized economic controls were unintentionally traveling down the same road to serfdom that led to fascism in Germany and communism in Russia. Hayek's Road, and his later works such as The Constitution of Liberty and Law, Legislation and Liberty, are among the most influential books in modern conservatism. To mark its semicentennial, Policy Review, asked some of America's most thoughtful students of freedom to answer whether our country has moved closer or further from serfdom in the 50 years since Hayek's prophecy.

Dick Armey

Certainly we've travelled further down the road to serfdom since 1944, but that's really, not the interesting question. The real issue is, in which direction on that road are we heading now? I believe we have just made a screeching U-turn and are now heading back toward freedom - but Washington doesn't know it yet.

Ironically, things in this country began to go wrong at the precise moment Hayek was writing. That's when our statists conceived income-tax withholding, the scheme that made our modern leviathan possible. In the old days, when free Americans paid their taxes out of their own wallets, there was a limit to how much revenue our statists could raise without having a rebellion on their hands. People could see how much they paid the government, and judge if the return was worth it. But once World War II gave the statists an excuse to take our money from our paychecks before we even touched it, the obscene growth of the government became inexorable.

Today, we are staggering beneath a bloated government that spends over $24,000 for each household in America, an amount equal to almost 40 percent of the nation's economy. Every cent a typical American earns from New Year's Day to May 5 he in effect surrenders to the government. Throw in the hidden cost of government regulations - a concealed tax of over a half-trillion dollars a year - and it is not until July 13 that he stops working for the political class and begins working for himself. Young families with children suffer the cruelest burden. When millions of American couples need a second income, they need it not to support their children, but to support the government. Yes, we are indeed frighteningly close to serfdom.

But liberation is at hand. For all the gloom of the Clinton term, we must remember that a paradigm-shattering revolution has just taken place. In the signal events of the 1980s - from the collapse of communism to the Reagan economic boom to the rise of the computer - the idea of economic freedom has been overwhelming vindicated. The intellectual foundation of statism has turned to dust. This revolution has been so sudden and sweeping that few in Washington have yet grasped its full meaning - which is why the Clinton plan to nationalize our health care is actually taken seriously. But when the true significance of the 1980s freedom revolution sinks in, politics, culture - indeed, the entire human outlook - will change.

Capitalism will lose its century-old connotation of materialism and greed, and will at last be recognized as an unambiguous good, the only system compatible with our creative human natures. The redistributionist pessimism of today's elites will give way, to a new populist optimism of growth and opportunity. Policies that restrict economic freedom will suddenly seem backwards and reactionary; those that expand it will be seen as enlightened and progressive. And the Clinton administration will be remembered as an anomaly, the last gasp of a cause that had already, been lost.

Once this shift takes place - by 1996, I predict - we will then be able to advance a true Hayekian agenda, including a flat tax, radical spending cuts, the end of the public school monopoly, a free market health-care system, and the elimination of the family-destroying welfare dole. …