What’s in a Name?

27 03 2010

The title of F.A. Hayek’s 1944 book, The Road to Serfdom, says everything you need to know about the surrender of individual liberty for the sake of the “common good” (which is invariably the justification for totalitarian rule).  I know I’ve recommended the text before, and if you haven’t read it, do so.

There has never been a better time to read this book.

It’s an easy read and you won’t regret it; in fact, you’ll probably find yourself agreeing that much of what Hayek says just seems like common sense.  That’s just confirmation bias at work—you’re not as smart as Hayek, after all—but says a lot about the clarity of his arguments.

So even though the whole work is great, the title, as I stated, really says it all.  By surrendering freedoms of any kind, you are unwittingly embarking down the path to complete domination, for your own good, of course.

This is probably crazy talk to half of you, so I’ll try to illustrate using an example that isn’t health care.  Which is a perfect example of this in action, by the way.

Take cars.

I love cars.  This is apparent.  But I also love what cars represent—mobility, freedom, technology applied for our benefit, and occasionally, the union of brilliant design and great engineering that has an almost spiritual quality to it.

Fans of big government tend to hate cars, often for the same reasons I love them.  Sure, they hate them because they pollute, or something, but I really think that’s secondary.  When everyone has to ride trains/light rail/buses, somebody is needed to make the trains/light rail/buses run on time.  Let everyone have a car and decided where they want to go, and suddenly, some poor bureaucrat is out of a job!  Tragedy!

And do you know how dangerous it is for society to let people drive cars whenever they want to, wherever they want to?  They might decide to live somewhere other than where they work!  And it’s a lot harder to control people with laws and regulations when they are spread out over hundreds of miles of suburbia than when they are clustered in a city!

This is all crazy talk.  Except, not really.  Let me try to prove me case.

Exhibit One:  Transportation Department Embraces Bikes, Business Groups Cry Foul

Now, I actually ride my bike more than most college students.  It’s a Trek 7.3, and I keep it in great working order.  I can get to class much faster than I ever could on the bus.  Still, it’s pretty clear to me that giving “bicycling and walking the same policy and economic consideration as driving” is insanity” when planning and funding transportation projects would be insane if we had enough money to blow on inane transportation projects, let alone now.

Yet that’s just what Transportation Secretary LaHood has proposed at a National Bike Summit, or something.  As some selfish business owner points out, dumping millions into bike lanes really isn’t going to stimulate the economy.  But it isn’t really about that, is it?  I don’t think LaHood wants people to drive.  I think he played a bit too much Sim City and forgot that roads exist to serve people, not to enable behavioral modification or social engineering.  Hopefully he gets run down by a bicycle courier soon; that should change his mind real quick.

Exhibit Two:  For New CAFE Rules, Automakers Place High-Stakes Bets

The economy is struggling.  It will continue to struggle for a long, long, time.  Automakers are likewise struggling.  As I recall, two needed billions of dollars to keep from folding not so long ago.  Incentive plans like Cash for Clunkers don’t create real demand for cars, just shift existing demand forward, and thus, fail to provide long-term relief for automakers.

The micro-economy cars of the future: just as useless, and even more expensive

In this precarious situation, why not raise the price of a car by a couple grand and see what happens?  Sure, the EPA says the price of a tiny, useless economy car will only increase by $1300 after new, stricter fuel economy standards go into effect.  But it could increase by $9000 for a truck—you know, the kind of vehicle driven by people who actually do stuff like haul tools and lumber.

But this should help the economy I can’t even come up with something sarcastic to say here.  It’s lunacy to expect this to help the economy in any way, but I can’t stress this enough: helping the economy is not the point.  Control is the point.

Finally, Exhibit Three:  The 50 Worst Cars of All Time

There are some obvious clunkers on that list, but amazingly, Time saw fit to choose the Model T as one of the worst of the worst.  Why, you might ask?  After all, didn’t the Model T make motoring affordable for millions of people, giving them mobility and freedom?

Still waiting for every anti-car nut to surrender their automobiles and bicycle everywhere

Well, of course it did.  And that’s why Time hates it.  In their own words:

The Model T — whose mass production technique was the work of engineer William C. Klann, who had visited a slaughterhouse’s “disassembly line” — conferred to Americans the notion of automobility as something akin to natural law, a right endowed by our Creator. A century later, the consequences of putting every living soul on gas-powered wheels are piling up, from the air over our cities to the sand under our soldiers’ boots. And by the way, with its blacksmithed body panels and crude instruments, the Model T was a piece of junk, the Yugo of its day.

Silly me.  I thought I had the right to live a life enhanced by technology like the automobile, but I guess not.  The staff of Time is probably right—we all would have been happier as feudal serfs, with every decision basically made for us by the protective and loving Lord of the Manor.

Oh, and that bit about the quality being bad?  That would be like saying that because a new Chevy Malibu is not a Rolls-Royce, it’s the Yugo of its day.

And before you tell me that Time is non-partisan, how many times did they have Obama on their cover in the past eighteen months.  A bajillion.  Literally.

When someone tells you that they can modify the behavior of the public through regulations, taxes, or incentives, they are telling you they know what is best for each and every member of the public (or for the public “as a whole,” which is a fallacious concept).  Do not trust them; run away from them quickly, or better yet, push them in front of a bicycle courier.  They feel that they have a mandate to control individuals, and once they gain that control, it is very hard to take it back.

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6 responses

29 03 2010
kathusitalo

When I read that story quoting LaHood I had a feeling you’d comment on it. Good points all.
The ludicrous Yugo comment illustrates the writer’s ignorance. Time ridicules the engineering and adaptation of carriage bodies and development of “crude instruments.” Crude compared to what? The auto pioneers were imagining, creating, developing, engineering…
Of all of the hundreds of automobiles (some of them one-offs) which vehicle survived and grew into the only independent among the Big Three?
It really illuminates your point: the Model T must be attacked for the very freedom it afforded folks.
Makes me want to go and buy a Flex.

29 03 2010
Min

Hey Kath,

I can get you a deal on that Flex.

29 03 2010
Thom Douglas

Graham, your comment about LaHood & others hating the idea of the auto because it offers freedom makes me want to own a 50’s “gas guzzler” even more. In a “stick it to the man” kind of way.

29 03 2010
Graham Kozak

Story of my life…

24 01 2012
Ed

Congratulations on your very early start down the road to old-people republicanism. By the time you hit 80 years old you’ll be so radically right-wing you won’t be able to walk out the door without shooting the mailman for “controlling” your flow of letters.

24 01 2012
Graham Kozak

Ed,

I’d thank you for the insight, if you had bothered to offer any. Snide insults are a cheap substitute for thoughtful commentary. I’d love to discuss the merits of classical liberalism with you if you’d care to make some substantive points.

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