The Road To Serfdom Is A Best Seller Again

Bruce Caldwell, the editor of the University of Chicago’s new edition of “The Road To Serfdom” reports:

Friedrich Hayek, Nobel-prize winning economist and well-known proponent of free markets, is having a big month. He was last seen rap-debating with John Maynard Keynes in the viral video above, (in which Hayek is portrayed as the sober voice of reason while Keynes overindulges at a party at the Fed). His 1944 book, “The Road to Serfdom,” provided the theme for John Stossel’s Fox Business News program on Valentine’s Day.

Hayek, who died in 1992, is also reemerging as a bestselling author. A new edition of Hayek’s seminal book, “The Road to Serfdom,” was published in March 2007 by the University of Chicago Press as part of a series called “The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek,” for which I serve as editor. For over a year-and-a-half, the book sold respectably, at a clip of about 600 copies a month.

But then, in November 2008, sales more than quadrupled, and they haven’t slowed down since. What’s more, the Kindle edition went on sale in late May 2009 and is now the best-selling book that the University of Chicago Press has offered in that format. This would be a pretty good sales record for a contemporary author, but it is nothing short of amazing for a book originally published in 1944, and by an economist, no less.

What accounts for it? I would like to think that it’s due to the exceptional editing I did on the volume, but, alas, I think there is something larger going on.

First off, the November 2008 sales spike date certainly suggests that Obama’s election and the passing of control of both houses of Congress to the Democrats may have been an initial factor. The Republicans had been walloped, and some sought principled arguments that could be used to combat the policies of the party in power.

Even though Hayek himself disdained having his ideas attached to either party, he nonetheless provided arguments about the dangers of the unbridled growth of government.

Another early impetus may have been the characterization of the health care debate as being about socialized medicine. Hayek, whose book is perhaps the most famous attack on socialist central planning, would naturally be invoked by the health plan’s opponents.

But perhaps the biggest stimulus to sales was, well, the stimulus package.

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