The biggest threat America faces is not the enemy without but the enemy within. As America’s memory of the horrors of socialism fades, some are tempted by the false appeal of socialism.
American youth seem open to the allure of a doctrine that places fairness above merit. American politicians now openly call for European-style socialized medicine.
What is our world coming to?
While America drifts toward the socialism of Western Europe, Western Europe regulates itself in the direction of Eastern Europe. Meanwhile, the failed Soviet satellites of Eastern Europe yearn for the freedom and prosperity that made America great.
For decades, the economists of free markets have demolished the arguments of the socialists. Not only did socialism intertwine itself with the Soviet gulag and the Holocaust of national German socialism, but socialism just plain did not work — and millions of people starved to death because of it.
The Soviet Empire fell without a bullet being fired because the engine of capitalism defeated the sputtering and defective motor of socialism.
What defect caused socialism to fail?
Hayek used the word “conceit” to describe the flaw inherent to socialism. In Greek, I am told the word is eparsi, or arrogance. It is precisely an elitism or form of arrogance that underlies socialism.
Socialism relies upon a belief that planners are smarter than the rest of us — that a complicated economy requires central government planning.
Hayek describes this fatal conceit of socialist thought: that centrally planned policies are necessary for market efficiency, that individuals are incapable of spontaneously arriving at a marketplace that benefits buyers and sellers.
Likewise, Leonard Read, in “I, Pencil,” explains how the elaborate economic steps necessary to make a product — even a product as simple as a pencil — occur more precisely without government planning.
Read explains that each of these steps in the manufacturing of a pencil occur without government direction but are guided by an invisible hand that rewards efficiency or profit.
Hayek wrote, “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”
No one person or politburo of people can ever possess as much knowledge as can be instantaneously gathered and processed by what Hayek called “the separate, differing, information of millions, which is precipitated in prices that serve to guide further decisions.”
The fatal conceit of socialists is their belief that economic production requires “deliberate arrangement” by the government.
Hayek goes on to explain “that in complex conditions, order and adaptation to the unknown, can be achieved more effectively by decentralizing decisions,” and that allowing “a division of authority … actually extend[s] the possibility of overall order.”
According to Hayek, “[D]ecentralization actually leads to more information being taken into account.”
Socialism crushes the free distribution of knowledge.
America is threatened because we’ve begun to forget what made us great. America has begun to forget that socialism does not work.
America’s survival is not dependent on the outcome of some misbegotten battle in the mountains of Afghanistan but rather is dependent on the will of the people to be free from the arrogance of big government, aka socialism.
Essentially, the argument for capitalism is two-fold. First, it is a matter of liberty. The bigger government gets, the less liberty you have.
Second, it is a matter of prosperity. That America is the richest and most humanitarian nation in recorded history is no accident. Our prosperity is directly linked to our freedom.
Not only do I wish my country to remain free and prosperous, but I also hope that other countries aspire to join in the great benefits of the free market.
America, like Greece, faces a mountain of debt. Nothing guarantees that America will not someday suffer from insurmountable debt as Greece does.
The lesson is clear for Greece and America: choose less government and more freedom, and your debt will slowly wither away. My hope is that the cradle of Western civilization in Athens awakens to celebrate the individual and is rewarded with all the splendor and glory befitting the descendants of Ancient Greece.
This essay is a facsimile of extemporaneous remarks given in the Old Parliament building in Athens, Greece in August 2017 to the Institute for Liberal Studies and Greek Republicans Overseas. F. A. Hayek quoted from The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism.