An 1980 interview with Hayek

This is a Friedrich Hayek interview by Bernard Levin at the University of Freiburg which was broadcast in May 1980. Hayek was, in my professional opinion, one of the greatest economists of all times. We are wonderfully privileged to be able to watch videos of his brilliant exposition on the web. I am also impressed by Mr Levin; he does his job as the interviewer magnificently.

I recommend turning on the captions. It will be helpful to follow the arguments.

Levin: … Now all this must presumably, in your philosophy, be directed to an end. It’s not gain, and material improvements are not, I imagine, ends in themselves. They are an end, an important end but it can’t stop there. What lies beyond it for you?

Hayek: Well that depends on the individuals. Our task, the common task, is to provide means for the greatest variety of purposes. And I want to leave to  individuals a maximum of means for their individual purposes. And I think that implies that  nobody else decides for them for what purpose they are to use it.  … The compulsory powers of the government are solely directed to providing the people with means which they can use for their own purposes. That is my fundamental conception.

Hayek goes on to say about liberty: “I certainly came to understand what liberty means by studying economics … as something that the law gives us by protecting us against the violence of others, including government. But I believe what originally was for me an economic approach stands the test of its general validity. It’s more easy to see in the economic field. It’s a very curious phenomenon in the world that the revival of liberalism which did not start among the economists is now due to the economists.

One of the most important part of the interview starts around 20:00 minute mark. Enjoy.

Author: Atanu Dey


2 thoughts on “An 1980 interview with Hayek”

  1. Following is what Mises wrote in his book ‘Liberalism’ on the charge of materialism levelled against liberalism(In Misesian sense):

    Liberalism has often been reproached for this purely external and materialistic attitude toward what is earthly and transitory. The life of man, it is said, does not consist in eating and drinking. There are higher and more important needs than food and drink, shelter and clothing. Even the greatest earthly riches cannot give man happiness; they leave his inner self, his soul, unsatisfied and empty. The most serious error of liberalism has been that it has had nothing to offer man’s deeper and nobler aspirations.

    But the critics who speak in this vein show only that they have a very imperfect and materialistic conception of these higher and nobler needs. Social policy, with the means that are at its disposal, can make men rich or poor, but it can never succeed in making them happy or in satisfying their inmost yearnings. Here all external expedients fail. All that social policy can do is to remove the outer causes of pain and suffering; it can further a system that feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, and houses the homeless. Happiness and contentment do not depend on food, clothing, and shelter, but, above all, on what a man cherishes within himself It is not from a disdain of spiritual goods that liberalism concerns itself exclusively with man’s material well-being, but from a conviction that what is highest and deepest in man cannot be touched by any outward regulation. It seeks to produce only outer well-being because it knows that inner, spiritual riches cannot come to man from without, but only from within his own heart. It does not aim at creating anything but the outward preconditions for the development of the inner life. And there can be no doubt that the relatively prosperous individual of the twentieth century can more readily satisfy his spiritual needs than, say, the individual of the tenth century, who was given no respite from anxiety over the problem of eking out barely enough for survival or from the dangers that threatened him from his enemies.



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