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The Road to Serfdom by F. A. Hayek and A Humane Economy by Wilhelm Röpke

Perhaps you have no interest in economics beyond the price of bread going up and your gas budget not going as far as it used to go. Could there be any value to you in reading these two books?

Let me respond with a question. Could there be value to you in understanding why your neighbor is enthusiastic about Obamacare? Could it be valuable to you to know how her support for Obamacare reveals significant openings for the gospel?

As you can see, with this post I am recommending an entire class of books, books that deal with economics. I choose these two because they have proven themselves to be widely read and recommended among conservatives. I also choose them because they represent slightly different visions. Even their differences can be instructive.

Hayek wrote his book in the midst of World War 2 to describe and combat ideas he saw operative in England and the United States – the same ideas which led Germany to its violent aggression in the war. In particular, Hayek wanted to expose the collectivist ideals which threatened freedom. Hayek wrote,

“The common feature of all collectivist systems may be described…as the deliberate organization of the labors of society for a definite social goal.”

 “The various kinds of collectivism, communism, fascism, etc., differ among themselves in the nature of the goal toward which they want to direct the efforts of society. But they all differ from liberalism and individualism in wanting to organize the whole of society and all its resources for this unitary end and in refusing to recognize the autonomous spheres in which the ends of the individuals are supreme.”

 Whenever centralized planning takes over a nation in order to provide security, Hayek argues, it always comes at the price of freedom. This inevitably leads to the worst people getting into positions of power, where they switch truth for propaganda to get people to believe in their agenda. This explains, for Hayek, the rise of Naziism. Only individual liberty will keep us from walking the road to serfdom.

As you can see, Hayek regarded himself as a classical liberal. He opposed collectivism with individualism, and he regarded the nineteenth century as a pinnacle of individual liberty. For conservatives who find themselves in some agreement with Hayek, the fact that he was a classical liberal ought to be instructive. In today’s world, conservatives have often conserved more of the best of classical liberalism than liberals have.

The Swiss economist Wilhelm Röpke shared large areas of agreement with Hayek. He was a decentralist. He, too, saw deeply troubling developments in Western societies. The welfare society and chronic inflation revealed the sickness of the patient. But much more than Hayek, he was willing to bring God into the picture. For Röpke, in order for a man to remain a decentrist, “he must keep his eye on a larger community….His center is God, and this is why he refuses to accept human centers instead.” You see, Röpke knew that mankind is not essentially an economic being (homo economicus) but a religious one (homo religiosis). In order for a free market economy to work, it must function within a larger moral framework which understands the true nature of man. This led him to a different position than Hayek. Röpke did not embrace individualism. Note what he says,

“Self-discipline, a sense of justice, honesty, fairness, chivalry, moderation, public spirit, respect for human dignity, firm ethical norms—all of these are things which people must possess before they go the market and compete with each other. These are the indispensible supports which preserve both market and competition from degeneration. Family, church, genuine communities, and tradition are their sources.”

“It is surely the mark of a sound society that the center of gravity of decision and responsibility lies midway between the two extremes of individual and state, within genuine and small communities, of which the most indispensible, primary, and natural is the family.”

As you can see, these are books which go beyond trying to explain why you have to shop the sales in order to find reasonable prices on clothes. These are books which dig into the deep questions of life. As such, they take a great deal of thought. But they also force us back to the Word, to stretch our minds and ennoble our souls. In a real sense, I believe they can help us to love God and our neighbor.

Why should economics matter to conservative mothers, pastors, teachers, church members? At its heart, economics is really about humanity. It’s about what we want in life and what we do to get it. It’s about what makes us tick. What could be more religious than that?

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Jason Parker

About Jason Parker

Jason Parker is the pastor of High Country Baptist Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He blogs at http://relentlesslybiblical.blogspot.com.

4 Responses to The Road to Serfdom by F. A. Hayek and A Humane Economy by Wilhelm Röpke

  1. I was informed by my employer's insurance broker a few weeks back that "Obamacare" might be more properly refered to as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Or just the Affordable Care Act or PPACA for short.

    :)

    Thanks for these recommendations!

  2. Jason Parker Jason Parker says:

    So it really does matter what we call things! More evidence of conservative principles, I believe.

    Thanks for commenting, David.

  3. Aaron Blumer says:

    I haven't read Hayek yet, though he's been sitting on a must-read short list for a while now. I have read excerpts… Did you find that he leaned on evolutionary thinking in his reasoning? Some of his statements seem to fuel the idea that capitalism is all about survival of the fittest.

    I'm glad to see Hayek getting more attention though, and I'm hoping to give it a good bit of exposure in a high school economics class I'm also hoping to teach next fall.

  4. [...] our foray into economics, I had intended to return to recommendations of poetry. In particular, I wanted to recommend an [...]

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