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Slaying Straw Austrians

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Here’s a letter to the Washington Post:

E.J. Dionne writes that “[F.A.] Hayek and [Ludwig von] Mises perceived little difference between democratic governments that used their power to plan against recessions and dictatorships that did the same thing.  In this view, the policies of Franklin Roosevelt led down what Hayek called the ‘Road to Serfdom’ and were thus objectively comparable to those of Hitler or Stalin” (“An economic school has led to gridlock in Washington [2],” Feb. 10).

Not so.  Instead, Hayek argued (in his 1944 book, The Road to Serfdom [3]) that individual freedom will inevitably be snuffed out if government insists on centrally planning the economy in the way demanded by many socialists of the era, or if government attempts to protect every producer and worker from the forces of market competition.  The argument is neither that the slightest overreach by government dooms society to totalitarianism, nor that all unwise interventions such as those of the New Deal are “objectively comparable” to the tyrannies unleashed by Hitler or Stalin.

Hayek and Mises were certainly not New Dealers.  But for Mr. Dionne to caricature their warning that freedom cannot survive if the economy becomes overwhelmingly politicized as a claim that the slightest bit of politicization is “objectively comparable” to Nazism and Soviet communism is absurd.  Mr. Dionne’s caricature of these scholars’ works is evidence that he writes about what he does not know.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030