In yet another sign that the public is not only fed up with our lurch toward ever‐bigger government, but also eager to educate themselves on the subject, F.A. Hayek’s classic The Road to Serfdom, written 66 years ago, has been in the top 100 on Amazon’s bestseller list for the last six days, and hit number 1 today. (Here’s why. h/t Greg Mankiw).
Writing in the Washington Post earlier this year, Professor Bruce Caldwell, director of Duke’s Center for the History of Political Economy, gave some reasons for the book’s continued appeal. For one thing, “it is actually readable.” That accessibility made it enormously influential when it “was condensed by Reader’s Digest in April 1945 [.pdf] just as the war in Europe was ending.”
Caldwell is General Editor of the the Collected Works of F.A. Hayek, a project begun at Duke University in the 1980s, aimed at publishing Hayek’s entire corpus in a multi‐volume set. The Cato Institute is now a major supporter of the project, working with Duke and Professor Caldwell.
Caldwell provides further reasons for “the Hayek Boom,” as evidenced in sales of his most famous book:
In the end, however, I think that the underlying reason for the sustained interest in Hayek’s book is that it taps into a profound dissatisfaction in the public mind with the machinations of its government. Both Presidents Bush and Obama have presided over huge growth in the size of the federal government and in the size of the federal deficit, with little obvious effect on unemployment. Things seem out of control.
Furthermore, a recurrent theme in the news is that, in contrast to the millions who are suffering, the politically connected are doing just fine. The examples are everywhere, from bailed out financiers getting huge bonuses to public union employees getting hefty pensions, from auto companies that are nationalized instead of going belly up to politically savvy firms that get government subsidies to produce products that would be otherwise unprofitable.
For people upset by such trends, “The Road to Serfdom” opens a window onto another time, when debates about how best to restructure an economy emerging from wartime were taking place. Such debates, as the strong sales of the book clearly show, still have resonance today.
The publishing project is about halfway through with its work, and nine more volumes are scheduled to be published over the next seven years. If current trends are any indication, Hayek’s work will become ever more vital in the interim.