In 1944, during the war against collectivism that we call WWII, F.A. Hayek published a book in Britian. The book was called The Road to Serfdom. This book was published in the United States later the same year. Hayek was an Austrian School economist working in London at the time. He was concerned about the role of central planning in the inevitable descent of collectivism into barbarism that he had watched happen on Continental Europe. He pointed out that although such economic theory was generally begun by people of good purpose, that the Road to Serfdom is paved with such good intentions. He said:
However much we may differ when we name the culprit . . . we all are, or at least until recently, certain of one thing: that the leading ideas which in the last generation have become common to most people of good will and have determined the major changes in our social life cannot have been wrong. We are ready to accept almost any explanation of the present crisis of our civilization except one: that the present state of the world may be the result of genuine error on our part and that pursuit of our most cherished ideal have apparently produced results utterly different from those which we expected."
(F.A. Hayek (1944). The Abandoned Road. In Bruce Caldwell (Ed.). The Road to Serfdom: Text and Documents (The Definitive Edition). p. 65-66).
I first read The Road to Serfdom in college, but re-read it two years ago, and as I have often found for myself, I appreciated and understood Hayek's reasoning more fully with the passage of time. Part of the reason for this may be that my understanding of the world improved with age, and another part may indeed be that the United States has traveled further along the Road to Serfdom in the 30 years that have passed since I first read the book, and so its meaning and importance have become more immediate.
The book itself is written for the layman, and is not a text in economics. Rather, it explains the importance of economic theory to human action, particularly with respect to the problem of central planning. However, it was written in a style suited to its time, and in this age of bits, bytes, and soundbytes, where our time has become limited, those who are scrambling for a living in increasingly precarious situations may not have the time to read it.
In the early 1950's Look Magazine developed the main theme of each chapter into an illustrated pamphlet. Although the ideas are not fleshed out as carefully as Hayek did in the book, the main progression down the Road to Serfdom is well done. Here, as forshpice to actually reading the book, is a You Tube video of the Look Magazine pamphlet:
It is my hope that if you haven't yet read the book, this will whet your appetite.
CAVEAT: In the book, and even in this pamplet, the defintion of socialism that Hayek used necessarily included central planning. At that time, there was no soft, European-style socialism that had as its central focus the so-called "redistribution" of wealth via taxes and the welfare state. Hayek discusses this in his 1976 Preface to the book, which can be found in the Caldweller Edition cited above. That the work pre-dates this kind of "social democracy" does not mean that this kind of economic system is immune from the consequences of collectivism on human liberty, it only means that this way of limiting human liberty had not been invented yet.