Every morning, more than five million people wake up in the modern city-state of Singapore — men and women of various means, needs, and places to go. Its citizens produce untold amounts of goods, from gasoline to clothing to sandwiches. There won’t be too much, nor too little, but just the right amount.
This miracle doesn’t happen because a commerce tsar issues fiats from a government building. It happens because of the free market and the ideas espoused by the man who should be the next statue on the Hillsdale College Liberty Walk: Friedrich August von Hayek.
Despite a lack of natural resources and physical space, Singapore is prosperous and free. By embracing ideas put forth by Hayek, the once poor colonial outpost transformed itself into one of the richest nations in the world in under 50 years. The free operation of the price system combined with the laws of supply and demand ensures that everyone walks away happy from each exchange — even in the case of a complicated, dense, and interwoven megacity like Singapore. Singapore’s success is a daily vindication of Hayek’s teachings. It’s human liberty in action.
Born in Vienna, Austria in 1899, Hayek served in World War I, which led him into economics, seeking to find answers to prevent another global conflict. His most famous work, “The Road to Serfdom,” was published in 1944. It went on to educate the world on the importance of liberty and the dangers of meddlesome government planners.
Expanding his philosophy further with “The Constitution of Liberty,” and “Law, Legislation and Liberty,” Hayek argued that when men tinker with the free market, even the best intentions of government do-gooders will have negative consequences. He reasoned that economic freedom does not guarantee political freedom, but that political freedom is nearly impossible without it. He said that a state cannot control the market without first controlling people. “The more the state ‘plans’,” wrote Hayek, “the more difficult planning becomes for the individual.” His conclusion: as government power grows, human liberty shrinks.
The free-market renaissance of the 1980s, led by economists Milton Friedman and Thomas Sowell, was predicated on Hayek’s ideas. Their success, however, depended on Hayek legitimizing the entire free-market movement in the first place.
After winning the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1974, Hayek helped define the governing principles for Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives, and later, Ronald Reagan’s Republicans.
Politicians are well-represented on Hillsdale College’s Liberty Walk. They should be. But the Liberty Walk should feature an economist — especially in light of the role the college’s economics department plays in advocating for freedom as well as the role economists have played in the conservative movement.
Today, the nation faces a resurgence of socialism. Hayek cautioned, “‘Emergencies have always been the pretext on which the safeguards of individual liberty have been eroded.” Sen. Bernie Sanders’s, I‑Vermont, single-payer healthcare plan and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s, D‑NY, “Green New Deal,” are the exact types of proposals on Hayek’s mind when he issued his warnings.
Putting Hayek on the Liberty Walk would also remind conservatives that even if their hearts are pure, toying with central planning will burn them. Hayek warned against thinking that the market is merely a “tool.” Attempts to manipulate the market, even by those who purport to “know better,” will ultimately lead down a path to tyranny. Tellingly, Hayek dedicated “Serfdom” to “the socialists of all parties.”
The last century featured demagogues from the left and right pledging to orient society towards what they believed is best for everyone. Promises were typically accompanied by some claim that, this time, their enlightened plan would work. What we witnessed were upheaval and ruin, culminating in two world wars and generations of Soviet despotism.
Hayek knew better. He knew liberty is a messy business. Life is challenging — but it’s harder under the jackboot of irresistible government force. A free market means there will be winners and losers. But when we forget the importance of liberty, everyone loses.
Joshua Lawson is a candidate for a Master’s degree in politics from the Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship at Hillsdale College. His work has appeared in the Washington Examiner and The Federalist.