Socialism and Freedom Socialists

Socialism and Freedom, Socialism Freedom, Freedom Socialists

We have already seen that by the 1890s Schaffle, Brentano, and Nasse had openly questioned the compatibility of socialism and freedom. In the twentieth century this issue was forcibly brought to the attention of social scientists by develop­ments in Germany, Italy, and the Soviet Union between the two World Wars. Among English-speaking economists, the issue was again raised by F. A. Hayek in his The Road to Serfdom (1944).

In this book and in other writings, Hayek maintained that socialism is incompatible with freedom. An economic plan cannot simply exist; it requires a specific course of action. Because planners cannot know the preferences of everyone in the society, they must necessarily "impose their scale of preferences on the community for which they plan."12 The socialist blueprint suggesting that market socialism will permit freedom of consumer and occupational choice within a planned economy is, therefore, false, because planning and freedom of choice are incompatible, Hayek contended.

Probably reflecting the attitude of the majority of mainstream economists in 1948, Bergson responded to this new tack in a manner that is interesting from the hindsight of today:

Unfortunately, it does not seem possible to refer also to recent contributions to the discussion of the other basic issue in the larger controversy over socialism, that concerning planning and freedom. In view of the special circumstances in which the Russian Revolution has unfolded, the experience of that country perhaps is not so conclusive on the question of planning and freedom as is sometimes supposed. It must be conceded too that the emphasis that critics of socialism have lately placed on this issue sometimes has the appearance of a tactical maneuver, to bolster a cause which Mises' theories have been found inadequate to sustain. But certainly argu­ments revolving around the question of planning and freedom must be given the most serious consideration; without reference to them, one obviously is in no position to strike a balance for socialism.

The question of the relationships between economic and political freedom, socialism, and capitalism falls outside the normal scope of mainstream econom­ics, but it has been pursued by a number of writers. The line of argument that finds planning incompatible with freedom and capitalism compatible with freedom has been espoused by a number of economists. The most notable are Frank Knight, Henry C. Simons, and most recently Milton Friedman and Henry Wallich.

Even writers sympathetic to socialist ideas have expressed concern about the failure of Marxist socialist governments to permit political freedom. Robert Heilbroner is of the opinion that

Democratic liberties have not yet appeared, except fleetingly, in any nation that has declared itself to be fundamentally anticapitalist, which is to say within the self-styled "Marxist" socialist ambit. The tendency in all these nations has been toward restrictive, usually repressive governments that have systematically com­pressed or extinguished political and civil liberties.