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.
“Tombstone easily supersedes all previous chronicles of the famine, and is one of the best insider accounts of the Party’s inner workings during this period, offering an unrivalled picture of socioeconomic engineering within a rigid ideological framework . . . meticulously researched.” —Pankaj Mishra, The New Yorker
Jisheng was influenced by Hayek's Road to Serfdom. I haven't read that book. But I have read Hayek's article on the price system, The Use of Knowledge in Society, which is easily one of the most important works ever written in economics. Whenever we're in the mood for a little socioeconomic engineering, we should read and re-read that article and think hard about whether we really know enough to intervene and override the price system.