Obama’s Road to Serfdom

Lloyd Billingsley is the author of Hollywood Party and From Mainline to Sideline. His work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Reason and many other publications.


0117-Obama-NSA-reforms_full_600Barack Obama has his pen and his phone and as this report notes, the President of the United States is poised to bypass Congress and “use his control of federal agencies to impose his progressive agenda on the economy and society throughout 2014.”

This is more evidence that Barack Obama has not read Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, the 1944 book endorsed by John Maynard Keynes “in deeply moved agreement” both philosophical and moral. Hayek’s book nevertheless remains enlightening about president Obama and his administration in several ways.

Last year in a piece on Obamacare Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson cited Hayek on the challenge of technocratic planning: limited information. The knowledge, Hayek wrote, “never exists in concentrated or integrated form but solely as the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individuals possess.”

According to Hayek, a Nobel laureate in economics, the dispute is not about “whether planning is to be done or not.” Rather, the key question is whether the planning is to be conducted “centrally, by one authority” or “divided among many individuals.” Obamacare purports to plan health care for an entire nation. By any standard, that has not worked out well.

The federal website was dysfunctional but Obamacare bosses opted to roll it out anyway.  Federal officials remained uncertain how many people had “enrolled” and whether enrollees had in fact secured a policy. Among other technical and economic problems, the federal website remains insecure and state exchanges have troubles of their own.

“So maybe the problem is not Obama or Sebelius,” Gerson wrote, “but rather a government program that requires superhuman technocratic mastery.” That validates Hayek on the information problem. Another section of his “grand book,” as Keynes called it, may be even more relevant.

That would be Hayek’s chapter on “Why the Worst Get on Top” in societies trending toward central control. In those, the dominating element is “the general demand for a quick and determined government action.” Therefore it is “the man or party strong enough to ‘get things done’ who exercises the greatest appeal.” But for such a man and his party, the problems range far beyond the lack of information.

“Where there is one common all-overriding end,” Hayek notes, “there is no room for any general morals or rules.” The principle that the end justifies the means is in fact “the denial of all morals.” The leader who really wants to get things done will “soon have to choose between disregard of ordinary morals and failure.” The necessary practices for such a leader include “cruelty and intimidation, deliberate deception and spying.”

Likewise, the “democratic statesman” determined to plan economic life will soon be confronted with the alternative of “either assuming dictatorial power or abandoning his plans.” That is why, Hayek says, in a society trending toward central control, “the unscrupulous and uninhibited are likely to be more successful.” Examples abound on the current scene.

The president is mounting a surge in his practice of legislating from the White House, a clear violation of the Constitution. This is precisely the kind of power grab outlined by Friedrich Hayek, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bush in 1991.

The Obama administration has deployed the IRS to intimidate groups the president dislikes. His NSA continues to spy on ordinary Americans, strip-mining their private lives beyond any legitimate security needs. Deception also abounds.

“If you like your health care plan,” the president said repeatedly, “you can keep it.” This was not, as the New York Times wrote, an “incorrect promise.” It was the sort of deliberate deception that, as Hayek noted, even democratic statesmen must indulge if they believe the end justifies the means. Barack Obama, President of the United States, is up to the task, and the results are evident. 

His signature plan strips Americans of their health care policies and steers them to a dysfunctional and insecure website whose “navigators” can be convicted felons. If Americans decline to participate, the IRS will fine them. Millions of Americans are now in dire straits but Barack Obama says as long as he is president Obamacare will never be repealed. 

Embattled Americans can doubtless find other evidence that the unscrupulous and uninhibited are already on top, and the nation progressing down the road to serfdom.  But could this happen in the United States of America, land of the free and home of the brave? Consider Hayek’s warning:

“Even a strong tradition of political liberty is no safeguard if the danger is precisely that new institutions and policies will gradually undermine and destroy that spirit.”

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  • Lord Rochester

    There’s a whole bunch of people full ready to noose him,
    He of dead, glassy eye and of shambling loose limb,
    The American whore has a sore need to sluice quim,
    Or die of the cancer, this commie, this mooselim.

  • JVictor

    The oft-retold statement of Benjamin Franklin replying to a question about whether the Constitutional Convention gave this country a monarchy or a republic, “A republic, if you can keep it,” rings louder each time the current occupant of the White House opens his mouth or waves his pen. Since the conclusion of the Civil War, federalists have been on a mission to strip away individual and states’ rights. One of the most heinous things that happened was the 17th Amendment which changed how states sent Senators to Washington. The “living document loonies” have successfully watered-down or disregarded the simple, direct language of the Constitution and the Courts have codified their madness. Entertainment is the biggest business out there and it distracts people from studying the facts about the trends of the ruling class. Government handouts have engendered a dependency upon government largesse that is bankrupting this country. Not to mention the shocking use of the office of the President to silence and threaten anyone who has a different opinion on things. Progressives are on the verge of completing the bloodless coup of turning our Republic into a Monarchy. Mr. Franklin and the rest of the Founders must be turning over in their graves.

  • Sally Smith

    Obama supporters will go hysterical over this well sourced list of 545 examples of his lying, lawbreaking, corruption, cronyism, etc. http://danfromsquirrelhill.wordpress.com/2013/08/15/obama-252/

    • John Davidson

      Expected means to be prepared.

    • Robert

      You list is pathetic, and paltry compared to Bush Jr.

      • Notalibfool

        So you support Obama? Sorry but Bush was a better president than the current idiot in chief.

        Where is all this Hope and Change that Obama promised? So far the only change he has brought is for the worse. He (and his herd of minions) can’t keep blaming Bush for ever; Obama has been president for FIVE awful years now.

  • John Davidson

    Excellent article and worth printing out for future reference.

  • T-Rex

    Of course the Poseur in Chief will not allow the repeal of Obamacare. It is the lefts single largest successful power grab/theft, second only to LBJ’s Great Society.

    The Founders were fully aware of the corrupting nature of government and tried to incorporate safeguards to protect the people. Almost from day one, the push has been on to wrest authority from the people. For the most part, this usurpation has been incremental and sufficiently disguised as a necessary step to provide services or protection, needed or not. Unfortunately, this tactic is not confined to only one party.

    Expecting the lib/prog/fascists to give back anything they stole from the people is like asking the fox to voluntarily quit his job as chicken house guard. They laid the plans with the Great Society by forcing dependence on the government and then, in one fell swoop, confiscated one/sixth of the economy from the private sector. Thieves are not in the business to give back what they steal even if millions of idiots see then as the new Robin Hood.

  • WeroInNM

    Americans – Like Nazi Germans – Don’t Notice that All of Our Rights Are Slipping Away (Part 17)!
    http://teapartyorg.ning.com/profiles/blogs/americans-like-nazi-germans-don-t-notice-that-all-of-our-rights-4
    “Food For Thought”
    God Bless America.
    Semper Fi!
    Jake

  • veeper

    the american people have become a nation of FOOLS, COWARDS and irresponsible NIT-WITS….

    americans have become the biggest group of FOOLS and willingly ignorant COWARDS on the planet….

    plantation slaves of a tyrant government…..

    americans have more to lose than any other group of people in the world ….and they do less to protect what they have…..

    • BS77

      The main problem are the low information, apathetic the robo voters who are oblivious …as long as the entitlement gravy train keeps chugging along, they will vote Democrat. We have fifty million people on food stamps, millions unemployed, millions of illegal aliens waiting for amnesty…what a complete FUBAR mess….but who cares , right?

    • Jane Wegener

      Well put. But one of the biggest problems is the state run media. Most average people who work each day and raise a family get their news from the alphabet channels and CNN, MSNBC. Each of those channels as well as much local news is left wing. The people are beginning to see the terrible results of the progressive party that is running DC and the MSM. I cannot wait until this radical is gone and I pray that we can recover from the damage he has done and continues to do to our great country. It is with great sadness that I am watching the destruction of the last best place on earth. God help America.

  • pupsncats

    Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom” is always pertinent because it contains the truth about the realities of central planning. As if the evidence doesn’t exist in the former Soviet Union. Yet, we know reality for those on the left really never is real.

  • WW4

    Hayek is right on all counts.

    This article is wrong on many and almost pathetically short-sighted.

    The NSA is doing what the NSA did under President Bush and under many presidents before him. The IRS “scandal” hasn’t come close to implicating Obama (in fact it was progressive groups–not conservative ones–that wound up being dinged in that particular ‘initiative’). That said, I wouldn’t put it past Obama, because using the IRS for such purposes is a time-honored tradition at this point.

    In other words, don’t flatter yourself that this would not be happening with a Republican in the White House, because it has.

    As for Obamacare (passed by Congress, not presidential fiat), I WISH it were a socialist power grab–at least it would have a clarity of purpose! Hayek would be right about it, either way (and he was not against the notion of a social safety net including some provision for health care, though he doubtless believed a private market would be superior).

    People feign anger over Benghazi as if it were a matter of two titans–Hillary and Barack–yawning while Americans died. It fuels their myopic worldview and makes them happy, I guess. They seem less interested in the indication that Benghazi is How We Do Business, Now: in secret, without any public discussion, “just trust us.” When it works, you don’t hear about it. And when it goes FUBAR, hopefully it didn’t involve high profile diplomats! and you won’t hear about it. Benghazi shows the arrogance and incompetence of just a few of the many organs of security apparatus which we have come to believe keep us safe. Sometimes it does….

    And if you think it all magically changes when a Republican gets the White House, I have some investment properties for you to look at. Hayek might like the rhetoric but I’m not sure he’d be too impressed with the actions.

    • mkat68

      “The NSA is doing what the NSA did under President Bush and under many presidents before him.”

      Still smarting over the Patriot Act, shouting from the rooftops that you’re afraid to speak above a whisper, are we? The distinction here is that Bush and the presidents before him used the NSA to track down our country’s enemies, whereas Obama has used it to track HIS enemies (which, in true liberal form, is anyone that disagrees with him).

      The IRS not targetting conseravtive groups? What planet have you been on? IRS agents singled out dozens of organizations for additional reviews because they included the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their exemption applications. In some cases, groups were asked for lists of donors, which violates IRS policy in most cases. A conservative group in Hollywood, Friends of Abe, is being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, which has requested information about its meetings with Republican politicians after that group applied for tax-exempt status. The IRS even issued an apology to those groups that were targetted. Why issue an apology for something they didn’t do? If you can name just ONE liberal group that was targetted by the IRS, please do so. The only liberals Obama seriously burned were his media lapdogs, who predictably still continue to fawn over him.

      Yes, Obamacare was passed, after several shady backroom deals and with not a single Republican vote. Where did anyone say it was a socialist power grab? But it is correct that socialism concentrates power in the hands of a few people. Obamacare is not socialized medicine, but bringing it about is undeniably the goal.

      You claim that Benghazi “shows the arrogance and incompetence of just a few of the many organs of security apparatus which we have come to believe keep us safe”, yet also claim that anger over such a misdeed is “feigned” and “myopic”. What, then, IS the appropriate response? Your pathetic excuse that “everybody does it”? I guarantee you would display no such cynicism and apathy were it a Republican guilty of such deeds.

      And I’d say your investment properties would be worth far more under a Republican president than under the current liar and fraud that occupies the White House now. The only thing pathetically short-sighted here has been your commentary.

      • WW4

        The appropriate response to Benghazi would be something like Rand Paul’s line of questioning where it concerned what we were doing there in the first place. Issa and others trying to create an alternate narrative of Hillary and Barack chuckling away while people were under fire, and then his attempts at theater “The democrats don’t care!” (which backfired on him) were a huge miscalculation. The role of the CIA in general–don’t like their story about the video? Then you really won’t like their reasons for the Iraq War. When people get more outraged about 4 casualties vs. 4000, right? That’s feigned anger.

        That doesn’t, by the way, mean Benghazi shouldn’t stand in the way of Hillary’s potential election.

        My home value and my stock investments didn’t do so well during a Republican presidency. So am I supposed to take your assertion as a matter of faith?

        Speaking of faith, now you tell me Bush used the NSA “differently” than Obama? Gee; tell me more!

        IRS lists that targeted “tea” and “patriots” targeted “progressive” and “occupy” too. One progressive group that got denied status–Emerge America. I doubt that satisfies you, though, right? Now, all these groups–including TEA party groups–applied for status that was only to be accorded to non-political groups. As far as “everybody does it” with regard to abuse of the IRS’s power–well, yeah, turns out, they do:

        http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324715704578482823301630836

        Having principles means you apply them to your side, as well.

        • mkat68

          Where are you getting this nonsense about the CIA having anything to do with that video no-one watched? It was nothing more than a clumsy attempt by Obama and Clinton to deflect their responsibility for the Benghazi debacle. And as for the Iraq War, leading Democrats in Congress saw the same intelligence as Bush, and came to the same conclusions – that Iraq had WMDs that were a credible threat. The only anger that should be felt over Iraq is Obama losing it for us. Spare us your selective outrage.Guess anger is only legitmate when it applies to people you don’t like.

          Since the beginning of the Obama administration, unemployment has gone up, the deficit has exploded (and still no budget passed!), household income has declined, the poverty rate has increased, home ownership has declined, and regulation of business has increased. If your investments are doing better under those conditions than they were before, then you obviously know something the rest of the country doesn’t.

          And please, tell us more about how Obama’s use of the NSA was better than Bush’s.

          So one progressive group as compared to many conservative groups was denied tax-exempt status? If anything, it should prove that the President who isn’t liberal enough for you is willing to attack anybody. He’s a Chicago politician – thanking his supporters by stabbing them in the back is a way of life for him.

          The “everybody does it” comment was about Benghazi, not the IRS, but nevertheless, that abuse of power is wrong no matter who does it.

          When you care to apply principles to your side by acknowledging the misdeeds of Obama & Co. instead of looking for ways to excuse them, then you can lecture me about principles.

          • WW4

            My original point was not to “defend Obama” but it was to point out the selective outrage. I never claimed Obama’s use of the NSA was “better than Bush’s”–you can’t make a point by trying to put words in my mouth. The claim was that Obama was somehow “worse.” That’s b.s. The fact is, any president we’re likely to see is going to be very interested in the power the NSA provides (a Ron Paul-type being the single exception) unless we hold them both to same standard.

            As far as Benghazi, the Senate Select Committee saw no evidence of a cover-up using the video, that the video “explanation” was part of the intel they had. Was the video maybe opportunistically used by the administration in campaign mode? Of course. Should her role in Benghazi hang heavy on Hillary’s potential campaign? Absolutely. I don’t think anyone serious thinks the whole thing wasn’t bungled.

            Home prices are recovering; the stock market has recovered. But the economic environment is still bleak, there is little confidence in the market, and unemployment continues, and I agree that is a huge failing of this administration which had some rather lame ideas about how to get out of the economic disaster they inherited. I wasn’t against the stimulus provided by both Bush and Obama in theory–but I was against the way it was deployed. I think it should have been used strictly to buy goods and services domestically.

            Iraq–hold on, don’t dig yourself into a hole, there. I understand that you’re embarrassed to have supported it, and that claiming Obama “is losing it for us” gives you cover and makes you sound like at least your intentions are good. But I’m glad there are lots of conservatives who now agree it was a bad idea. I’ve been on this site over 10 years, and I always said a democrat’s presidency would give people the chance to “come out” and admit it. Getting out of there is maybe the best thing Obama’s done.

    • Gary Dickson

      So, what happened then to Mr. Obama, Mr. Hope and Change, Mr. The Audacity of Hope?

      You have thus proven beyond a shadow of doubt that two wrongs make a right.

  • tanstaafl

    Time to break out the torches and pitchforks………the monster is hiding in the castle.

  • XoroxVotes

    Funny. Hayek was a strong advocate of universal health care.

    • WW4

      Mmmmm….He allowed that such a thing might be in the State’s interest to provide at some basic level.