Bruce Caldwell replies to Farrant and McPhail on Hayek's Road to Serfdom; I'm told the reply is coming out in a later issue of Challenge.
For Farrant and McPhail, the resurgent popularity of RTS hinged on a reading of Hayek that, while unpopular among RTS fans, was in fact the right reading of Hayek: any moves towards socialism would lead to serfdom. Consequently, Glenn Beck's using of Road to Serfdom as a rallying call against Obama's policies does no disservice to Hayek. Hayek, however, does disservice to those British socialists who rated liberalism above totalitarianism and who would have stepped back from planning rather than allow the rule of the demagogue.
Caldwell argues that Farrant and McPhail miss essential context. The argument in RTS was addressed only to "hot" socialism: full nationalisation of industries and central command planning. When restricted to that set, Hayek was right: full planning cannot be undertaken without totalitarianism. Caldwell notes that no socialist state achieved totalitarianism through Hayek's mechanism: democratic election leading to failings of planning leading to the rise of the demagogue; he argues that consequently no test of Hayek's mechanism has been undertaken. While the argument in RTS was restricted to "hot socialism", Hayek's later writings provided other warnings of the dangers of the welfare state. The mechanisms and arguments in those later writings were different and oughtn't be conflated with the dangers noted in RTS.
Farrant and McPhail respond to Caldwell [Note: they're there responding to earlier Caldwell arguments, not this particular piece], and others, in the latest issue of Challenge, unfortunately gated. I'll leave to one side F&M's noting that the current talking heads promoting Hayek's argument on Beck's show happily identify Obama's policies as the starting point on the road to serfdom; the more interesting question is whether Hayek meant the argument there to apply.
Intriguingly, Bruce Caldwell — commenting on the Beck-inspired surge in Hayek’s sales—notes that Hayek wrote his “full-fledged attack on socialism and totalitarianism” largely in “response to the British Labour Party platform of the time” (Caldwell, as quoted in Zaitchik 2010, 3). Caldwell’s reference to the policy program of the British Labour Party is particularly noteworthy. Hayek often invoked postwar British experience to illustrate the supposed veracity of The Road to Serfdom. As Hayek explained in 1948, British experience supposedly clearly demonstrates that “the unforeseen but inevitable consequences of socialist planning create a state of affairs in which sooner or later totalitarian forces get the upper hand” (Hayek 1948, as quoted in Farrant and McPhail 2010b). Unsurprisingly, the tenor of Hayek’s remarks is markedly congruent with the logic he laid out in chapter 5 of The Road to Serfdom: Planning and intervention (it is highly revealing that Hayek invokes the interventionist and welfare state policies adopted by Labour as full-blown “socialist planning”) generate pervasive economic inefficiencies and dislocations.8 This pervasive inefficiency supposedly leads to the wholesale replacement of democracy.They then cite the foreword to the 1976 edition of RTS:
In the preface, Hayek notes that if any reader asked whether he would still “defend all the main conclusions of ... [the] book ... the answer ... is on the whole affirmative” (xxiii). Importantly, Hayek notes that “terminology has changed” between 1944 and 1976, andHayek intended the argument to apply to the British Labour Party. British socialists would then had to have preferred totalitarianism to liberalism for the RTS mechanism to run its course; otherwise, they'd have retreated from planning before going too far down that path. It's of course possible that their retreat came only because Hayek showed them the inevitable outcome of pushing through with planning. But that we can't point to an example of a democratic country turning totalitarian using the RTS mechanism suggests that the RTS mechanism isn't a particularly important one in explaining any real world totalitarianism; totalitarianism tends to come in with planning rather than as later consequence of it.
for this reason what I say in the book may be misunderstood.... At the time I wrote, socialism meant ... nationalization ... [and] central economic planning.... [Hence] Sweden ... is today very much less socialistically organized than ... Britain or Austria, though Sweden is commonly regarded as much more socialistic. This is due to the fact that socialism has come to mean chiefly the extensive redistribution of incomes through taxation and the institutions of the welfare state. In [this] ... latter kind of socialism the [totalitarian] effects I discuss in this book [Road to Serfdom] are brought about more slowly, indirectly, and imperfectly ... the ultimate outcome tends to be very much the same, although the process by which it is brought about is not quite the same as that described in this book. (Hayek 1976/1994, xxiii–xxiv, emphasis added)
So, I'll disagree with Caldwell that Hayek's mechanism hasn't been tested. Caldwell writes:
Next, there are no examples of democratically elected governments that tried to put such a system into place.10 So we cannot directly test to see if he was right or wrong. We do, however, have examples of such systems that were not democratically elected. And Hayek’s description of life under such regimes is spot on.Planning cannot be done without totalitarianism. But the RTS argument isn't just that; it's that steps toward planning push us to totalitarianism. And that many western European democracies turned back from planning rather than continuing on the road to serfdom suggests Hayek's mechanism was wrong, even if he was right that planning cannot be done without totalitarianism.
But I will have to re-read Constitution of Liberty and Law, Legislation and Liberty to contrast the mechanisms there with those in Road to Serfdom.
Note also that John Quiggin reviews Farrant and McPhail's argument at Crooked Timber:
Until the right went completely crazy, the most common claim in support of Hayek was that his predictions had somehow been vindicated by Thatcher’s reaction against the welfare state. Leaving aside the fact that Thatcher’s remodelling of the British economy in the image of the City of London looks a lot less appealing today than it did only a few years ago, this totally misses the point of Hayek’s book. If he had wanted to argue that social democratic policies would reduce the rate of economic growth, and to throw in a bit of hyperbole, he could have called it “The Road to Destitution” or something similar. Hayek wanted to make the much stronger claim that the attempt to implement Labor’s policies would necessarily lead to a loss of personal and political freedom.