We had a great session of the Economic Liberty Lecture Series last night, an event that we co-sponsor with George Mason Universitys student-run GMU Econ Society. Richard Ebeling gave a great talk on the continuing relevance of Friedrich Hayeks classic book The Road to Serfdom as well as Austrian economics to the economic situation facing the American people today.
Long-time supporters of FFF will recall that Richard served as vice-president of academic affairs for FFF since our inception in 1989 until he became president of The Foundation for Economic Education several years ago. During that time he was also serving as the Ludwig von Mises Professor of Economics at Hillsdale College. After stepping down as FEEs president a couple of years ago, Richard returned to academia, first teaching at Trinity University in Connecticut and now at Northwood University in Michigan.
In his talk, Richard traced the rise of socialism and fascism in Europe and explained how those ideas came to be imported into the United States by American intellectuals at the turn of the 20th century. He pointed out how the watershed era was Franklin Roosevelts New Deal.
Since that time, government has only grown more intrusive and more powerful, a trend that has culminated in the Bush-Obama Keynesian stimulus plans, the partial nationalization of financial institutions and automobile companies, the bailouts, the massive spending and debt, and, of course, Obamas national health-care plan.
In other words, what Hayek wrote in The Road to Serfdom in 1944 has come to pass. That is the road that America has traveled and continues to travel.
But on the bright side is Austrian economics, the school of economic thought exemplified by Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Henry Hazlitt, and many scholars, which is now attracting ever-increasing numbers of devotees, especially students. As Richard pointed out, Austrian economics, as well as libertarianism, provide the antidote to the statism that afflicts the United States and the rest of the world.
Is there any chance that libertarianism and Austrian economics can prevail over statism? Richard concluded his talk with an interesting hypothetical. Suppose an ardent socialist was living in the United States in the late 19th century, a period that was characterized by perhaps the greatest extent of economic liberty in history. The task of converting the American people to socialism would have appeared daunting, almost impossible. Yet, because of their determination and perseverance, the socialists did prevail. They did convert America to their philosophy and ideas and they did succeed in putting America on the road to serfdom.
So, why not the reverse? Sure, the task of restoring economic liberty to our land appears daunting and difficult. But as American socialists at the turn of the 20th century showed, nothing is impossible. We must continue to fight for our principles, Richard pointed out, simply because they are true and right. In the process, we must maintain the hope and faith that they will prevail.