Friedrich August von Hayek was born 123 years ago on March 8th, 1899 in Vienna. His profile at Mises.org says that “Born to a distinguished family of Viennese intellectuals, Hayek attended the University of Vienna, earning doctorates in 1921 and 1923. Hayek came to the University at age 19 just after World War I, when it was one of the three best places in the world to study economics (the others being Stockholm and Cambridge).
“Like many students of economics then and since, Hayek chose the subject not for its own sake, but because he wanted to improve social conditions—the poverty of postwar Vienna serving as a daily reminder of such a need. Socialism seemed to provide a solution.”
He went on to become one of the greatest classical liberals of the 20th century and a fierce critic of collectivism in all its forms — Nazism, Fascism and Communism. He was an opponent of the ideas of his friend John Maynard Keynes at the London School of Economics.
It’s a curious fact that many distinguished economists began their intellectual journeys attracted by some variety of socialism — and then recognized it was a bad ideology.
Hayek worked in the areas of philosophy of science, political philosophy, the free will problem, and epistemology. For all that, Hayek was more hedgehog than fox. His life’s work, for which he won a Nobel Prize in Economics in 1974, illuminated the nature and significance of spontaneous order. The concept seems simple, yet Hayek spent six decades refining his idea, evidently finding elusive the goal of being as clear about it as he aspired to be.
This essay concentrates on this enduring theme of Hayek’s work, and a question: why would the scholar who did more than anyone in the twentieth century to advance our understanding of price signals and the emergence of spontaneous orders also be driven to claim “that social justice is a mirage”?
Hayek was one a towering intellect although he was not an “intellectual” in the sense he defined that term: secondhand dealers of ideas. I recommend this essay, “The Intellectual and Socialism,” published in 1949 in The University of Chicago Law Review.
Hayek passed into the great beyond in 1992.
Belated happy birthday to you, Herr Professor Doktor Friedrich August von Hayek.
And now, a video of a conversation between two of my most favorite economists, Buchanan and Hayek, recorded in 1978 in San Jose, CA (a city I called home for decades.) Enjoy!
Post script: I just read the 2020 tribute I wrote on Hayek’s birthday. Worth a look.