Friedrich A. Hayek Quotes on Socialism, Economics, and More

“In any society freedom of thought will probably be of direct significance only for a small minority.”

An Austrian-British economist and philosopher, Friedrich August von Hayek remains a pivotal figure in the defense of classical liberalism – the assertion that civil liberties and economic freedom are paramount to civilization. Hayek quotes are worth reading and considering given the influence he’s had on freedom and liberty movements.

An academic from the beginning, Hayek studied biology and philosophy at a young age. He turned 18 just in time for the outbreak of the Great War, which he spent a large part of serving on an airplane. This experience drove Hayek to study law and political science, as he wished to help the world never again repeat the mistakes which led to such horror.

Following the war Hayek studied at the University of Vienna, was hired by Ludwig von Mises, and moved to New York to compile data on the U.S. economy and the Federal Reserve. During this time Hayek gravitated away from socialism in favor of Mises’ ideals, attending his private seminars and soaking up the Austrian School economist’s lessons. With his mentor’s help Hayek cofounded and directed the Austrian Institute for Business Cycle Research in London. It remains Austria’s largest economic research institute to this day.

Hayek famously clashed with John Maynard Keynes in 1932, asserting that private investment in Britain’s public markets would serve them better than direct government spending. Keynes raked several of Hayek’s ideas over the coals in turn, although his rebukes weren’t enough to keep Hayek from earning a large following as he taught at the London School of Economics.

Hayek published his best known work The Road to Serfdom in 1944. In it he argued that Western democracies have “progressively abandoned that freedom in economic affairs without which personal and political freedom has never existed in the past,” and that society’s well-meaning attempts at continuing prosperity would erect the framework that ultimately can lead to totalitarianism. To Hayek, centralized planning imposed the will of a small minority upon the greater population, corroding the rule of law as well as individual freedoms. In essence, Hayek claimed that once a government concerns itself with the greater good – a nebulous, moving goal post – it can dispense of personal freedom however it deems necessary. The ideal government would only concern itself in matters which the free market could not help, such as the prevention of fraud and the creation of a safety net.

Hayek’s treatise on individualism had far-reaching influence. Nearly half a million copies have been sold to date, including one to Milton Friedman. Even Keynes found himself in near total agreement with The Road to Serfdom (although he would never deign to admit that Hayek’s vision for a vastly limited government could work in practice).

Hayek pioneered the Austrian theory of the business cycle with which he argued that artificially low interest rates lead to capital misallocation, the economic calculation problem which makes the case that government bureaucrats are never qualified to set accurate prices, and the critique of collectivism – a social system which could not exist without maintenance by fierce and unfair government intervention.

Hayek continued to teach throughout his life and had a profound impact on world leaders including Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Much to his surprise, Hayek won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 1974. He passed away in Germany in 1992.

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The Road to Serfdom Quotes

“To act on behalf of a group seems to free people of many of the moral restraints which control their behaviour as individuals within the group.”
The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek

“Probably it is true enough that the great majority are rarely capable of thinking independently, that on most questions they accept views which they find ready-made, and that they will be equally content if born or coaxed into one set of beliefs or another. In any society freedom of thought will probably be of direct significance only for a small minority. But this does not mean that anyone is competent, or ought to have power, to select those to whom this freedom is to be reserved. It certainly does not justify the presumption of any group of people to claim the right to determine what people ought to think or believe.”
The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek

“Everything which might cause doubt about the wisdom of the government or create discontent will be kept from the people. The basis of unfavorable comparisons with elsewhere, the knowledge of possible alternatives to the course actually taken, information which might suggest failure on the part of the government to live up to its promises or to take advantage of opportunities to improve conditions – all will be suppressed. There is consequently no field where the systematic control of information will not be practiced and uniformity of views not enforced.”
The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek

“We are ready to accept almost any explanation of the present crisis of our civilization except one: that the present state of the world may be the result of genuine error on our own part and that the pursuit of some of our most cherished ideals has apparently produced results utterly different from those which we expected.”
The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek

“Few people ever have an abundance of choice of occupation. But what matters is that we have some choice, that we are not absolutely tied to a job which has been chosen for us, and that if one position becomes intolerable, or if we set our heart on another, there is always a way for the able, at some sacrifice, to achieve his goal. Nothing makes conditions more unbearable than the knowledge that no effort of ours can change them; and even if we should never have the strength of mind to make the necessary sacrifice, the knowledge that we could escape if we only strove hard enough makes many otherwise intolerable positions bearable.”
The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek

“The word ‘truth’ itself ceases to have its old meaning. It describes no longer something to be found, with the individual conscience as the sole arbiter of whether in any particular instance the evidence (or the standing of those proclaiming it) warrants a belief; it becomes something to be laid down by authority, something which has to believed in the interest of unity of the organized effort and which may have to be altered as the exigencies of this organized effort require it.”
The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek

“One need not be a prophet to be aware of impending dangers. An accidental combination of experience and interest will often reveal events to one man under aspects which few yet see.”
The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek

“The main cause of the ineffectiveness of British propaganda is that those directing it seem to have lost their own belief in the peculiar values of English civilization or to be completely ignorant of the main points on which it differs from that of other people. The Left intelligentsia indeed, have so long worshiped foreign gods that they seem to have become almost incapable of seeing any good in the characteristic English institutions and traditions. That the moral values on which most of them pride themselves are largely the product of the institutions they are out to destroy, these socialists cannot, of course, admit.”
The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek

“When security is understood in too absolute a sense, the general striving for it, far from increasing the chances of freedom, becomes the gravest threat to it.”
The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek

“It seems to be almost a law of human nature that it is easier for people to agree on a negative programme, on the hatred of an enemy, on the envy of those better off, than on any positive task. The contrast between the “we” and the “they”, the common fight against those outside the group, seems to be an essential ingredient in any creed which will solidly knit together a group for common action. It is consequently always employed by those who seek, not merely support of a policy, but the unreserved allegiance of huge masses. From their point of view it has the great advantage of leaving them greater freedom of action than almost any positive programme.”
The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek

“The young are right if they have little confidence in the ideas which rule most of their elders. But they are mistaken or misled when they believe that these are still the liberal ideas of the nineteenth century, which, in fact, the younger generation hardly knows. We have little right to feel in this respect superior to our grandfathers; and we should never forget that it is we, the twentieth century, and not they, who have made a mess of things.”
The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek

“What Tocqueville did not consider was how long such a government would remain in the hands of benevolent despots when it would be so much more easy for any group of ruffians to keep itself indefinitely in power by disregarding all the traditional decencies of political life.”
The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek

“Democracy is essentially a means, a utilitarian device for safeguarding internal peace and individual freedom. As such it is by no means infallible or certain. Nor must we forget that there has often been much more cultural and spiritual freedom under an autocratic rule than under some democracies and it is at least conceivable that under the government of a very homogeneous and doctrinaire majority democratic government might be as oppressive as the worst dictatorship.”
The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek

“Freedom to order our own conduct in the sphere where material circumstances force a choice upon us, and responsibility for the arrangement of our own life according to our own conscience, is the air in which alone moral sense grows and in which moral values are daily recreated in the free decision of the individual. Responsibility, not to a superior, but to one’s own conscience, the awareness of a duty not exacted by compulsion, the necessity to decide which of the things one values are to be sacrificed to others, and to bear the consequences of one’s own decision, are the very essence of any morals which deserve the name.”
The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek

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Hayek Socialism Quotes

“If socialists understood economics they wouldn’t be socialists.”
Friedrich Hayek

“Fascism is the stage reached after communism has proved an illusion.”
Friedrich Hayek

“But what socialists seriously contemplate the equal division of existing capital resources among the people of the world?”
Friedrich Hayek

“‘Emergencies’ have always been the pretext on which the safeguards of individual liberty have eroded.”
Friedrich Hayek

“I am certain, however, that nothing has done so much to destroy the juridical safeguards of individual freedom as the striving after this mirage of social justice.”
Friedrich Hayek

“Although we had been warned by some of the greatest political thinkers of the nineteenth century, by Tocqueville and Lord Acton, that socialism means slavery, we have steadily moved in the direction of socialism.”
Friedrich Hayek

“While an equality of rights under a limited government is possible and an essential condition of individual freedom, a claim for equality of material position can be met only by a government with totalitarian powers.”
Friedrich Hayek

“It is one of the saddest spectacles of our time to see a great democratic movement support a policy which must lead to the destruction of democracy and which meanwhile can benefit only a minority of the masses who support it. Yet it is this support from the Left of the tendencies toward monopoly which make them so irresistible and the prospects of the future so dark.”
Friedrich Hayek

“There can be no doubt that the promise of greater freedom has become one of the most effective weapons of socialist propaganda and that the belief that socialism would bring freedom is genuine and sincere. But this would only heighten the tragedy if it should prove that what was promised to us as the Road to Freedom was in fact the High Road to Servitude. Unquestionably, the promise of more freedom was responsible for luring more and more liberals along the socialist road, for blinding them to the conflict which exists between the basic principles of socialism and liberalism, and for often enabling socialists to usurp the very name of the old party of freedom. Socialism was embraced by the greater part of the intelligentsia as the apparent heir of the liberal tradition: therefore it is not surprising that to them the idea of socialism’s leading to the opposite of liberty should appear inconceivable.”
Friedrich Hayek

“It is true that the virtues which are less esteemed and practiced now – independence, self-reliance, and the willingness to bear risks, the readiness to back one’s own conviction against a majority, and the willingness to voluntary cooperation with one’s neighbors – are essentially those on which the of an individualist society rests. Collectivism has nothing to put in their place, and in so far as it already has destroyed then it has left a void filled by nothing but the demand for obedience and the compulsion of the individual to what is collectively decided to be good.”
Friedrich Hayek

“From the saintly and single-minded idealist to the fanatic is often but a step.”
Friedrich Hayek

“The chief evil is unlimited government, and nobody is qualified to wield unlimited power.”
Friedrich Hayek

Hayek Quotes on Economics

“The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”
Friedrich Hayek

“The more the state “plans” the more difficult planning becomes for the individual.”
Friedrich Hayek

“To produce the same result for different people, it is necessary to treat them differently. To give different people the same objective opportunities is not to give them the same subjective chance. It cannot be denied that the Rule of Law produces economic inequality—all that can be claimed for it is that this inequality is not designed to affect particular people in a particular way.”
Friedrich Hayek

“Economic control is not merely control of a sector of human life which can be separated from the rest; it is the control of the means for all our ends. And whoever has sole control of the means must also determine which ends are to be served, which values are to be rated higher and which lower, in short, what men should believe and strive for.”
Friedrich Hayek

“Within the known rules of the game the individual is free to pursue his personal ends and desires, certain that the powers of government will not be used deliberately to frustrate his efforts.”
Friedrich Hayek

“What our generation has forgotten is that the system of private property is the most important guarantee of freedom, not only for those who own property, but scarcely less for those who do not.”
Friedrich Hayek

“Only if we understand why and how certain kinds of economic controls tend to paralyze the driving forces of a free society, and which kinds of measures are particularly dangerous in this respect, can we hope that social experimentation will not lead us into situations none of us want.”
Friedrich Hayek

“Our freedom of choice in a competitive society rests on the fact that, if one person refuses to satisfy our wishes, we can turn to another. But if we face a monopolist we are at his absolute mercy. And an authority directing the whole economic system of the country would be the most powerful monopolist conceivable … it would have complete power to decide what we are to be given and on what terms. It would not only decide what commodities and services were to be available and in what quantities; it would be able to direct their distributions between persons to any degree it liked.”
Friedrich Hayek

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