Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Road to Serfdom - Bestseller

I mentioned yesterday how surprising it is to me to how few people engage with consequential knowledge that is easily and publicly available. Out of nation of 330 million and a world of 7.6 billion, only 750 download a free copy of Homer's Iliad each year from The Gutenberg Project.

There is the opposite case though as well. Books that you think are below the radar screen and yet are far more read than you would have anticipated. From 'The Road to Serfdom': 7 Things You Might Not Know about Hayek's Classic Book by Jon Miltimore.

The Road to Serfdom has been around for some seventy years. Miltimore notes that in that time, it has sold 2 million copies. That's an average of 27,000 copies a year over the whole three quarters of a century. In modern times it has been selling at a rate of 10-30,000 copies a year.
From Miltimore:
Hayek (1899-1992), an Austrian-British economist and political philosopher, was one of the twentieth century's leading proponents of classical liberalism. Thirty years before Hayek received the Nobel Prize for his work in economics, The Road to Serfdom (1944) challenged the prevailing view—nearly universal among economists and intellectuals, in fact—that central planning was a necessary precondition of the modern world. As Hayek explained in his work, this was essentially a foregone conclusion for respectable economists and policymakers.
"It is a revealing fact that few planners are content to say that central planning is desirable," Hayek wrote. "Most of them affirm that we can no longer choose but are compelled by circumstances beyond our control to substitute planning for competition."
It's safe to say that Serfdom shattered this perception. While many today may still contend that politicians and policy experts should direct the economy in ways to achieve desired ends (a public good, social justice, etc.), few today would argue that central planning is inevitable.

Much of this can be attributed to Hayek's small book—266 pages, to be precise—which propelled the author to international fame. Hayek and his ideas would contribute to the influential Austrian school of economics and kindle the minds of untold numbers of classical liberals, libertarians, and proponents of freedom.
Of the seven surprising things, this is of note:
6. Keynes Loved the Book

While many intellectuals saw Serfdom as “reactionary,” the book received praise from an important figure still remembered as one of Hayek's intellectual rivals.

The economist John Maynard Keynes (1886-1946), whose macroeconomic theories shaped much of the world’s economic policy in the twentieth century, read The Road to Serfdom while traveling to the Breton Woods conference. Keynes, whose ideas Hayek and his disciples would challenge during and beyond the Cold War-era, later sent a letter to Hayek praising his “grand book.”

“[M]orally and philosophically I find myself in agreement with virtually the whole of it,” Keynes wrote, “and not only in agreement with it, but in a deeply moved agreement.”
Keynes is the architect of non-totalitarian government planning. That he should have been so sympathetic to Hayek's ideas is notable.

It is also an example of how fast ideas can spread. The Road to Serfdom was first published in England in March 1944 with an initial run of 2,000 copies which sold out in the first week. The Bretton Woods conference started on July 1, 1944. In the closing months of the war and amidst the planning of the future world order, Keynes had time to read a philosophical tract and appreciate the argument made.

Speaking of which, I cannot close without the modern musical masterpiece celebrating the competing world views.
"Fear the Boom and Bust": Keynes vs. Hayek Rap Battle.

Double click to enlarge.

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