Hayek Vs. Ocasio-Cortez

A real lesson on socialism for the Democrats' new rising star.

Capitalism has not always existed in the world, and it will not always exist in the world,” explains Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 28, poster child for the “democratic socialism” now surging in the Democratic Party. By all indications, the upstart politician and establishment media remain ignorant of the major critic of socialism in modern times.

Friedrich A. Hayek, 1899-1992, is the author of The Road to Serfdom, first published in 1944 when the Allies were doing battle with Adolph Hitler’s National Socialist regime, which from 1939-1941 was allied with Josef Stalin’s Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Hayek left his native Austria before World War II but he was well aware of the socialist dynamics in Germany. 

The socialist policy of Germany, “was generally held up by progressives as an example to be imitated.” And “few are ready to recognize that the rise of fascism and Nazism was not a reaction against the socialist trends of the preceding period but a necessary outcome of those tendencies.” For further study, consult Hayek’s chapter on “The Socialist Roots of Nazism.”

Free societies feature the rule of law but as Hayek observes “economic planning of the collectivist kind necessarily involved the very opposite of this.” Under socialist planning, “if things are to get done, the responsible authorities must be freed from the fetters of democratic procedure.” Even with that authority, the planners face a tougher problem.

Knowledge about the allocation of resources is dispersed among many people, with no individual or group of experts capable of acquiring it all. So even government planners of great expertise cannot command more than the smallest fragment of that knowledge. This is why socialist regimes from the USSR to Cuba to Venezuela have been economic basket cases, barren of liberties and groceries alike. 

Socialism always trends toward the “Great Leader” and the totalitarian state. In his chapter “Why the Worst Get on Top,” Hayek writes: “Just as the democratic statesman who sets out to plan economic life will soon be confronted with the alternative of either assuming dictatorial powers or abandoning his plans, so the totalitarian dictator will soon have to choose between disregard of ordinary morals and failure. It is for this reason that the unscrupulous and uninhibited are likely to be more successful in a society trending towards totalitarianism.” 

Hayek understood that “ruthlessness is required for the task” and in such a system, “it is easier for people to agree on a negative program – on the hatred of an enemy, on the envy of those better off – than on any positive task.” 

Under socialism “a person is respected only as a member of a group” and works for common ends. Further, “once you admit that the individual is merely a means to serve the ends of the higher entity called society or the nation, most of those features of totalitarian regimes which horrify us follow of necessity.” For further study, see the chapter on “The Totalitarians in Our Midst.” 

Under socialism, “public criticism or even expressions of doubt must be suppressed because they tend to weaken public support” and “the probable effect on the people’s loyalty to the system becomes the only criterion for deciding whether a particular piece of information is to be published or suppressed.” Under socialism, “everything which might cause doubt about the wisdom of the government or create discontent will be kept from the people.” As Hayek notes, “the minority who will retain an inclination to criticize must also be silenced,” and it gets worse.

The machinery of monopoly becomes “identified with machinery of the state. The state becomes more identified with the interests of those who run things than with the interests of the people in general.” Individual freedom “cannot be reconciled with the supremacy of one single purpose to which the whole society must be entirely and permanently subordinated.” So if the state has its way, you can’t have yours. 

Therefore, Hayek explains, “democratic socialism, the great utopia of the last few generations, is not only unachievable, but to strive for it produces something so utterly different that few of those who now wish for it would be prepared to accept the consequences.” For details, see Cuba, Venezuela and recall the enforced poverty of the Eastern Bloc. 

For Ocasio-Cortez and her media-celebrity posse, democratic socialism is essentially free hors d’oeuvres in every bar. For socialism, as it actually exists, this squad could use a briefing from Hayek, winner of the Nobel Prize for economics in 1974 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1991. The Road to Serfdom drew praise from John Maynard Keynes, and the author offers timely advice for partisans of a free society. 

“If the democracies themselves abandon the supreme ideal of the freedom and happiness of individual,” they in effect admit “that their civilization is not worth preserving.” Therefore, says Hayek, “we must retain the belief in the traditional values for which we have stood in the past and must have the moral courage stoutly to defend the ideals which our enemies attack.”

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