Regis invited several squirrels over for a surf party … and that’s as close to serfdom as what John Stossel thinks the word means. (More)

Regis got some tongue depressors from the BPI clinic, and he and his friends used them to surf the waves in the hot tub faculty lounge squirrel bath. That’s next to Árbol Squirrel, so of course the twins had to join in. Nancy and Michelle got less drenched than Regis and his friends, perhaps because the girls were smart enough to lie down and paddle. The boys kept trying to stand up, but the bubble-driven waves weren’t stable enough to ride. They weren’t surfing so much as sputtering and swimming …

… but they were as close to surfing as John Stossel’s understanding is to serfdom. In his syndicated column today, Stossel worries that Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan isn’t radical enough. Here he discusses his interview with Rep. Ryan from 2010:

But in your ideal world, should government have bailed out the auto company?

“No.”

Whew.

I wish he had voted against those bills, but the political class was in near panic, and Ryan is a politician.

It’s a reason I don’t like politicians.

But at least Ryan speaks against bailouts now.

“We’re reaching a tipping point in this country where a majority of Americans are getting their benefits and livelihoods from the federal government … .

Why does this put us on a road to “serfdom?”

“Because we’re moving from a society where the goal of government is not to equalize opportunity but to equalize the results of our lives. … The more we ask government to do for us, the more government can take from us. … Government is doing so much in our lives that we have less freedom to govern ourselves.”

I like hearing a politician say that.

Stossel is, of course, referring to Austrian economist Friedrich von Hayek’s book The Road to Serfdom, written during World War II in an attempt to explain the rise of Nazi Germany. Hayek rejected the centralized economic planning implicit in socialism, where all means of production were owned by the state. He also cautioned against the regulation of trade.

Yet Hayek recognized the need to regulate working hours and workplace safety, if the benefits of such regulation were balanced against the costs. Hayek also agreed that market forces alone could not protect the environment and the public from pollution and other negative externalities, and that government must act to do so, as well as to prevent “fraud and deception (including exploitation of ignorance).”

Hayek even agreed that government should help protect hard-working families from life’s pitfalls:

There is no reason why, in a society which has reached the general level of wealth ours has, the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom; that is: some minimum of food, shelter and clothing, sufficient to preserve health. Nor is there any reason why the state should not help to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance in providing for those common hazards of life against which few can make adequate provision.

Yet it is precisely those kinds of basic protections – regulations of working hours and workplace safety, to protect the environment and prevent fraud and deception, and provide a minimum of food, shelter, clothing, and insurance to preserve health – that Stossel decries as “the road to ‘serfdom.'” The extreme “economic freedom” Stossel proposes is nothing more than freedom for the wealthy to do as they wish, and for the rest to survive if they can.

When I think of “serfs,” I think of poor workers bound to wealthy employers, the lords of the manor. The workers had neither a political voice nor could they leave in search of better opportunities. Antebellum plantations and later 19th century company towns were the feudal communities of the United States, before the Civil War and Thirteenth Amendment ended slavery, and before government recognition of labor rights began to reduce corporate owners’ dominance over their workers’ lives.

Libertarians routinely laud the late 19th century – a time of company towns, a time before labor unions and even rudimentary safety and environmental protections – as the height of “economic freedom” in the United States. This was a time when workers could be investigated, charged, tried, convicted, and hanged by company-run investigators, prosecutors, and judges:

The Molly Maguire trials were a surrender of state sovereignty. A private corporation initiated the investigation through a private detective agency. A private police force arrested the alleged defenders, and private attorneys for the coal companies prosecuted them. The state provided only the courtroom and the gallows.

That may be “economic freedom” for corporate owners, and that’s the only ‘freedom’ Stossel and his ilk really care about. Their ideology is “the road to serfdom” – real serfdom – for everyone else.

Good day and good nuts.