Ed Feulner - The Enduring Influence of Hayek
Interviewed by Bill Steigerwald
August 30, 2005
Hayek warned that giving governments more and more control over the economies of free societies was not going to lead to socialist utopias but to totalitarian hellholes like Nazi Germany. "The Road to Serfdom," one of those masterpieces of liberty that rocks the lives and awakens the minds of many who read it, is as influential and relevant today as it ever was.
Ed Feulner, the president of the Heritage Foundation public policy think tank in Washington, knew Hayek personally and is something of an expert on the "The Road to Serfdom's" ideas and its enduring influence.
Q: Why should everyone who is serious about politics, government policy and freedom still read "The Road to Serfdom" today?
A: I think "The Road to Serfdom" is essential for understanding the modern political landscape, wherever you live. The point Hayek makes in an educated but not supercilious way is that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. You've got a lot of people who see a problem, whether it's a social problem or some difficulty afflicting some part of the body politic, and the immediate suggestion or thought is, "Gee, somebody ought to do something about that" and the second thought is, "It ought to be the government."
As Hayek points out, different government bureaucracies operate different agendas. The legislators, when they put things in terms of central control, remove options to people. So "The Road to Serfdom" really is a set of guideposts for what the individual citizen's relationship is to government. The basic principles outlined there are as relevant today as they were 60 years ago.
Q: What did Hayek mean by "serfdom"
Basically, what he's talking about is that the more decisions are made by somebody else about where you live, what kind of job you have, how much taxes you pay, what you can do with your own property whether it's real estate property or other things like a car -- the less real freedom you have. The more of a serf you are. The more subservient you are to government.
Q: The book's central message
was that the difference between Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and
communist Soviet Union is not that great when you are the individual
and you're looking at big government.
Q: In America was Hayek seen
as a dangerous radical nutcase by the establishment?
But at the same time, there was a residue of sufficient popular belief that man's destiny is not to be controlled, rather it is to be free and to expand freedom. That you could actually have a book of this intellectual content be run in a condensed version of the monthly Reader's Digest, as it was, is unbelievable, when you think about what's in every current magazine today.
Q: Who were some of the powerful
people who would eventually read "The Road to Serfdom,"
love it and put its ideas, lessons and values into practice?
I was at a new-members of Congress conference in Baltimore a year and a half ago. I was sitting next to a brand new member from Tennessee, Marsha Blackburn, and we started talking about influences on our lives. The first person she mentioned was Hayek and "The Road to Serfdom." Who would think a first-term congresswoman from Tennessee would come up with an answer like that?
Q: The book is a classic, but
99 percent of the college kids in America have never heard Hayek's
name or been introduced to his ideas.
Is it is as widely taught as it should be, or as widely influential as it should be? No. But it is probably more so than John Maynard Keynes. Keynes, who was his great intellectual nemesis in the late 1930s, through the '40s and into the '50s, and who was then infinitely more popular and people would say more influential than Hayek, is no longer considered mainstream. His economic theories no longer hold. Hayek, on the other hand, has still got the fundamentals right. They're still as relevant as they were back then.
Q: What would Hayek think about
the size, scope and power the federal government has today?
Q: Have today's conservatives
forgotten Hayek's lessons and principles?
Q: Milton Friedman in the 50th anniversary of "The Road to Serfdom" said it's not overstating it to say on both sides of the Atlantic that we preach individualism and competitive capitalism and practice socialism." Do you agree?
A: I'd say it is mixed. It is true to a large extent. Milton was right then and it still would be right now. But at the same time, you've got Tony Blair a self-admitted socialist Labor Party leader as prime minister and he is not undoing the Thatcher economic reforms. He has not tried to re-socialize housing or unscramble the privatized steel mills or the gas companies or anything because the privatized systems are working so much better. So there are mixed signals on both sides.
The fact is, it's very easy
to get depressed day-by-day and say, "Boy, it's going the
wrong way." But there are some hopeful signs out there.
It takes a long time for these ideas to become both popularized
and to have really the fundamental impact on the system.
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