OF ALL the great crimes that societies have managed to perpetrate against themselves, the suppression of prices receives scarce attention. But not for lack of trying on the part of Friedrich Hayek, the great Austrian economist. In his most popular work, The Road to Serfdom, he wrote:
Any attempt to control prices or quantities of particular commodities deprives competition of its power of bringing about an effective co-ordination of individual efforts, because price changes then cease to register all the relevant changes in circumstances and no longer provide a reliable guide for the individual’s actions.
A chronicler of Mao’s depredations finds much to worry about in modern China.
An Interview with Yang Jisheng, by Bret Stephens
In the spring of 1959, Yang Jisheng, then an 18-year-old scholarship student at a boarding school in China’s Hubei Province, got an unexpected visit from a childhood friend. “Your father is starving to death!” the friend told him. “Hurry back, and take some rice if you can.”
Granted leave from his school, Mr. Yang rushed to his family farm. “The elm tree in front of our house had been reduced to a barkless trunk,” he recalled, “and even its roots had been dug up.” Entering his home, he found his father “half-reclined on his bed, his eyes sunken and lifeless, his face gaunt, the skin creased and flaccid . . . I was shocked with the realization that the term skin and bones referred to something so horrible and cruel.”
Mr. Yang’s father would die within three days. Yet it would take years before Mr. Yang learned that what happened to his father was not an isolated incident. He was one of the 36 million Chinese who succumbed to famine between 1958 and 1962.