An interesting side note is that Hayek, one of the earliest people to diagnose what was wrong with socialism (according to me, at least), wrote The Road to Serfdom while Orwell was still alive (before he wrote his major books, in fact), and he reviewed it (for what was, at the time, a non-partisan London newspaper).
[I had historically respected Orwell a lot, then read The Road to Serfdom, found it compelling, and thought “oh, I wish that Orwell had read this”, and then discovered that he had, and I didn’t much like what he made of it.]
I just went and read his review—I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on it! My own take was “Orwell is saying Hayek is right about the problems with socialism, but capitalism is bad too in different ways & Hayek doesn’t aknowledge this.” I feel like that’s a reasonable take on Hayek’s book, no? As for whether capitalism is just as bad, no it isn’t, but I don’t fault Orwell for hoping for some middle way where you have the planned economy without all the problems. Especially back in the day, the world was younger & economics was younger, they didn’t have the data on the suckiness of planned economies that we have.
[This isn’t decision-relevant to anything of cosmic importance, so feel free to just not respond. I’m just curious.]
But he does not see, or will not admit, that a return to ‘free’ competition means for the great mass of people a tyranny probably worse, because more irresponsible, than that of the State. The trouble with competitions is that somebody wins them.
This bit feels like it’s missing something, which I don’t know that Hayek ever stated fully, which I think Rand stated a little more clearly. I think there are two main parts of it.
First, there’s a way of organizing that humans have had for a long time, with toiling peasants and idle rich. There’s a new way of organizing, that roughly dates to the Industrial Revolution (but not quite), where there are toiling peasants, idle rich, and organizing rich.
That is, sometimes people get rich by finding a bunch of peasants and somehow managing to get a percentage of their output (see The Emperor for a view of this), and this relationship is roughly parasitic—the main value the nobility provide is keeping other nobility from taxing the peasants instead.
There’s a different thing that people can do, tho, which is doing useful thinking or providing a useful service, and that makes for the organizing rich. The frame that sees Sam Walton as just another duke who somehow managed to entitle himself is missing the ways in which a world with Walmart is richer than a world without Walmart. This relationship really does seem more mutualistic.
This sort of generates idle rich. I don’t think many of the Waltons since Sam have done all that much that’s interesting, but they’re much less obviously parasitic. (If they just lent out money and lived off the interest, that’s much more of a voluntary exchange than the medieval baron taxing his parents.)
Second, I think the “more irresponsible” thing is fake, for basically the reason discussed in the earlier paragraphs, and expanded on in the public choice literature. Governments could act in ways that put the public interest first, but empirically they act in a way that benefits the governing cartel (in a way that is worse for socialism than alternatives, because of the ‘tyrannical minority’ bit). Governments could set food subsidies in ways that make people who eat the food healthier (which is what you might expect voters would want), but at least in the US they set it in ways that make people who eat the food less healthy, but which benefit politically connected farmers.
Like, at the beginning of the pandemic, Gates was talking about building more vaccine factories at the same time that the federal government was punishing people for doing unlicensed tests that helped alert people to community spread inside the US; that makes it really difficult for me to take seriously the bit where monopolistic billionaires are ‘more irresponsible.’
[Of course, I’m writing in America in the 2020s, where most of the billionaires on my mind are tech billionaires; Orwell was writing in England in the 1940s, where many of the equivalent rich people would have been clearly in the ‘parasitic nobility’ camp, or directly descendant from them. But I think the thing about industrial fortunes being good, and often reinvested in progress, still could have been obvious then.]