The Security of the Barracks


Economic security is important. But it’s vital to distinguish between two types of security:  (1) Limited security (minimum sustenance and safety), which can be provided to all; and (2) Absolute security (a guaranteed standard of living), which cannot be provided to all without an unacceptable moral sacrifice.  Hayek explains the devastating tradeoff between economic security and freedom in Chapter 9 of The Road to Serfdom (1944).


The level of income from different occupations must rely on individual choice in a free society. This freedom of choice comes with the risk that a chosen occupation will become obsolete or suddenly fall in in its value to others.  Certainty of income cannot be guaranteed to everyone if there is to be a choice in one’s career.  There is a deep conflict between the only two options for social organization – military or commercial.  Government provided security for all means trading freedom for a hierarchical military life.  It’s the security of the barracks.  But it’s much worse than army life.  In the army you can leave when your enlistment is up. A collectivist society is a permanent prison.


How does this happen? No one wants to sacrifice freedom at first.  But once the privilege of guaranteed income is handed out to one group, it decreases the economic security of people outside of that group.  In order to start providing economic security to some, others must be restricted from entering the protected occupation.  Each restriction has a spiraling effect until people that are not with the program feel so insecure that they become willing to trade their freedom for security.  If social status and security are obtained only by subservience to Government and other pursuits become inferior and less secure, people eventually surrender their freedom.  That’s a horrible state of affairs.  Nazi Germany and Communist Russia are examples.


Minimum security (essential food, clothing, shelter) from our Government is expected and easily achieved. But it must stop there!  Providing more economic security than that is immoral because freedom requires material sacrifice and risk.  We are willing to bear that risk as long as it’s not too severe.  Collectivism is an attempt to impose a militaristic world by decreasing the economic security of those outside of a ruling class.  Intellectuals extolling security at the expense of freedom are the enemy because they argue for the destruction of the liberty that people have fought and died to obtain and which we have treasured for centuries.  Hayek quotes Benjamin Franklin:  “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety”.  Your Estate Planning War Chest is a hunkered down bunker of liberty.



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