Thursday, July 23, 2009

From Harsh Realities to Ruthlessness

I have been re-reading The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek. Speaking of the transfer of private property to the state, he writes (pp. 114-115):
“To believe that the power which is thus conferred on the state is merely transferred to it from others is erroneous. It is a power which is newly created and which in a competitive society nobody possesses. So long as property is divided among many owners, none of them acting independently has exclusive power to determine the income and position of particular people—nobody is tied to any one property owner except by the fact that he may offer better terms than anybody else.

“What our generation has forgotten is that the system of private property is the most important guaranty of freedom, not only for those who own property, but scarcely less for those who do not. It is only because the control of the means of production is divided among many people acting independently that nobody has complete power over us, that we as individuals can decide what to do with ourselves. If all the means of production were vested in a single hand, whether it be nominally that of “society” as a whole or that of a dictator, whoever exercises this control has complete power over us.

“Who can seriously doubt that a member of a small racial or religious minority will be freer with no property so long as fellow-members of his community have property and are therefore able to employ him, than he would be if private property were abolished and he became owner of a nominal share in the communal property. Or that the power which a multiple millionaire, who may be my neighbor and perhaps my employer, has over me is very much less than that which the smallest fonctionnaire possesses who wields the coercive power of the state and on whose discretion it depends whether and how I am to be allowed to live or to work? And who will deny that a world in which the wealthy are powerful is still a better world than one in which only the already powerful can acquire wealth?”
As I read through this segment this time, it struck me that this can be applied any kind of transfer of significant transfer of power to the state; not just property. Consider re-reading this section with health care in mind, for example. The coercive power that various insurance companies exercise today is an entirely different animal than the case would be if this power were transferred to the state.

Of course, many will counter that progressives don’t want to control the health care industry, but to broaden access. This is a rather odd claim, given that everyone in the U.S. (except in Massachusetts) has access to health care today, although; not all have access to health insurance. Contrast this with more socialized health care systems where everyone has insurance coverage but where access is routinely denied.

Besides, as Hayek carefully points out, it is never the first generation of socialists that wish to restrict freedom. They are too kind hearted to carry to its logical conclusion the system that they design. Rather, it is the next generation that in time is tasked with solving problems produced by the maturing socialized system. To solve these problems within the confines of socialist ideology requires ruthlessness. Thus, socialist systems eventually attract ruthless people to the positions of power, as they are the only ones that can ‘get the job done.’

Today’s health care debate is not about improving health care; it is about power. While some envision the state exercising what they seem to describe as benevolent dictatorial powers free of profit motive, the future will ultimately yield a future of cruelty that will make the current dysfunctional system look like Shangri La by comparison.

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