This year I dedicated several columns to Friedrich Hayek. In his masterpiece, The Road to Serfdom, Hayek dispelled the myth that societies move in the direction of ever-increasing bureaucratic control because of unstoppable material forces.
Somehow, we are told, technological progress has given large corporations an insurmountable advantage over small entrepreneurs, creating the right conditions for the rise of natural monopolies in all sectors of the economy. It is an environment so radically different from the one observed by Adam Smith at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, we are reminded, that we are stuck with a choice between something unpleasant and something evil: We have to either accept more political intervention in the market, or let economic power be concentrated in the hands of a few greedy tycoons. We don't need to trust our politicians, we are told, as long as we can keep them responsible through periodic elections. Since, supposedly, we have no mechanism to keep businesses as accountable as democratic governments, the choice according to these experts is a no-brainer.
Though such beliefs are found in all kinds of places these days (including some of my closest friends and relatives), they are grounded in the Marxist doctrine of concentration of capital. Nineteenth century's rotten ideas of class antagonism have been given a makeover and sold to people who would normally never touch anything that is openly advertised as socialist, with those who have a lot to gain from monopolistic government power consistently exploiting our fears of private monopolistic abuses.
The myth that modern technology has spontaneously eliminated competition clashes with the real history of big business. Hayek wrote, "Anyone who has observed how aspiring monopolists regularly seek and frequently obtain the assistance of the power of the state to make their control effective can have little doubt that there is nothing inevitable about this development." There is nothing, argued Hayek, in modern technology that necessitates more market regulation or economic planning. But there is a great deal in it that makes "infinitely more dangerous" the power of bureaucracy to destroy our liberty.