Author: Friedrich A. Hayek

Publisher: University of Chicago Press, 1978

ISBN-13: 978-0226320847, 580 pages


Economist and political philosopher Friedrich A. Hayek wrote The Constitution of Liberty for publication in 1960, but his timeless insights still have currency. His reasoned advocacy of economic freedom and personal liberty applies to modern debates on controversial subjects ranging from price inflation and progressive taxation to public education. The book contrasts the benefits of limited government with the costs of central economic planning. Restricting government is more likely to produce the individual spontaneity and creativity that is vital to the advancement of knowledge and civilization. Hayek demonstrates how liberty takes sustenance from the rule of law, the concept of due process and the constitutional form of government. He identifies serious but subtle threats to individual freedom. For example, he criticizes Social Security and progressive taxation as regrettable forms of income redistribution. getAbstract recommends this scholarly tome to readers seeking a detailed philosophical foundation for limited government and to anyone who wants to be familiar with the classic canon of modern economic thought.

Individual initiative and the accidents of progress

Citizens are most productive when government is limited, because reduced state interference minimizes public intrusion into private lives. A “liberal” form of government is narrow in scope; it liberates people by giving them the ability to make many of the major decisions that shape their lives. Liberal government is structured to allow each individual an “assured private sphere” that is free of public control, encouraging everyone to discover and pursue his or her most valuable contributions to society without any coercion by the state.

Recognition of property ownership rights was the initial step in delineating the private spheres of individuals. Such private circumstances beyond direct government control can encompass the ownership of real property, as well as such nonmaterial assets as contractual rights. Socialist forms of government deter individual enterprise in order to attain centrally planned economic goals. But the fruits of socialism have proved elusive; knowledge advances by accident, not by central planning.

Human progress would be unimpressive without all the unforeseen discoveries, errors and adjustments that a free society encourages. Not all change is acceptable, however, and liberty and its abuse are inseparable. But pursuing the ideal of individual liberty is better than pretending that any government completely comprehends what every citizen needs to flourish. And do not confuse the word “liberty,” or general freedom, with the word “liberties,” or state-prescribed privileges, which limit individual choice.

Egalitarians want to distribute privileges by reducing the inequality among individual incomes, which is folly. Efforts to make the rewards of human progress fairer can make it slower, instead, by smothering the individual’s incentive to excel. The wealthy have set the pace for improvements in overall living standards, not just their own. The general public has better housing, health care, education and transportation because a fortunate minority has pressed for the best. In a similar fashion, technological change and other advances in wealthy nations help lift living standards in poor nations…

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