Hayek, Friedrich August von

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Hayek, Friedrich August von 1899-1992


F. A. Hayek, as he is known throughout the English-speaking world, is generally considered to be the leading twentieth-century representative of classical, nineteenth-century liberalism and the foremost scourge of socialism. Hayek was a corecipient, with Gunnar Myrdal (18981987), of the Nobel Prize in Economic Science in 1974, awarded for their pioneering work in the theory of money and economic fluctuations and for their penetrating analysis of the interdependence of economic, social and institutional phenomena (Nobel Foundation).

Hayek was born in Vienna on May 8, 1899, into a family of academic distinction on both parental sides. Having served in the Austrian army as an artillery officer on the Piave front during the latter stages of World War I (19141918), he entered the University of Vienna and earned doctorates in both law (1921) and political science (1923). In 1927 he became director of the newly established Austrian Institute for Business Cycle Research. In January 1931 Hayek delivered a series of lectures at the London School of Economics and Political Science, subsequently published as Prices and Production. As a result of these lectures, he was appointed Tooke Professor of Economic Science and Statistics in the University of London later that year. In 1950 he joined the interdisciplinary Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago as professor of social and moral sciences. He returned to Europe in 1962 as professor of economic policy at the University of Freiburg, Germany. In 1969 he accepted a visiting professorship at the University of Salzburg in his native Austria. Hayek died in Freiburg on March 23, 1992.

Hayek was a strong believer in the supreme power of ideas. In 1947 he convened a group of like-minded scholars dedicated to classical liberalism to a meeting in Vevey, Switzerland, and thus the Mont Pelerin Society was born. From the mid-1970s Hayek was a pivotal figure in the renaissance of Austrian economics in the United States, and his ideas have exerted increasing political influence through think tanks such as the Institute of Economic Affairs in London and the Washington-based Cato Institute.

Hayek has made lasting contributions not only to economics but also to legal philosophy, theoretical psychology, social anthropology, political philosophy, the methodology of the social sciences, and the history of ideas. The polymathic range, far from suggesting a lack of focus, is indicative of a magnificent architectonic unity to his work. Steeped in the teachings of the Austrian school of economics derived from Carl Menger (18401921), Friedrich von Wieser (18511926), and Eugen Böhm von Bawerk (18511914), his early work on economic theory focused on marrying monetary theory, trade-cycle theory, and the theory of capital. His policy recommendation of waiting it out during the years of the Great Depression brought him into immediate conflict with Keynesian notions of underinvestment and underconsumption. As Sir John Hicks (19041989) pointed out in a retrospective assessment, Hayeks model of the maladjusted time structure of production triggered by low interest rates is not so much a theory of fluctuation as a theory of growth. In this sense, Hayeks theory of overinvestment was much more applicable to the situation of the long-lasting Japanese recession of the 1980s and 1990s or to the predicament in the United States in the late 1990s when interest rates were held too low relative to higher expected returns on capital, encouraging excessive investment, reduced savings, and the biggest stock-market bubble in U.S. history. Given Hayeks objections to the possibility of measuring the money supply and of distinguishing sharply between money and other financial assets, it is full of irony to find him frequently dubbed the father of monetarism.

It was also during his London years that Hayek, elaborating on an argument of his mentor, Ludwig von Mises (18811973), attended to the issue of rational economic calculation in planning under centralist socialism. His misgivings about the latter as a viable economic system were closely linked to his views on how knowledge is generated and disseminated in markets and paved the way for his notion of competition as a discovery procedure in a world where tastes and production techniques are frequently changing and knowledge about these matters is dispersed. Market transactions draw on the scatteredamong market participantsbits of practical, local knowledge, facilitating increasingly complex layers of specialization of labor without relying on any directing agency. The role of market prices, however imperfect as signals they may be, is to enable their users to adapt to events and circumstances about whose existence they may not have any clue whatsoever. The interactions of market participants using their own specific knowledge for their own projects generate a spontaneous order. The essential point about such a regular pattern of activities is that (1) it is emphatically not the result of design, neither by a single nor by a group mind, and that (2) its complexity puts insuperable limitations on control and prediction of the overall behavior of the system. In this sense, Hayeks view of the workings of an economy is much more akin to biology than to mechanics.

Following in the footsteps of Scottish Enlightenment philosophers such as David Hume (17111776), Adam Smith (17231790), and Adam Ferguson (17231816), Hayek extended the notion of a spontaneously generated order to the evolution of social institutions such as law, language, and morals. The recognition of complex orders, and the nature of rules conducive to their formation and preservation, was the central enigma fueling Hayeks intellectual ambition. It took him almost fifty years to grasp its full significance and to put it as succinctly as possible. This was a remote, painstaking academic pursuit constituting Hayeks legacy as a scholar. But at the same time, he was a preacher possessed by an urge to save the world from collectivism.

SEE ALSO Austrian Economics; Great Depression; Hume, David; Individualism; Keynes, John Maynard; Liberty; Markets; Mises, Ludwig Edler von; Mont Pelerin Society; Scottish Moralists; Sraffa, Piero



Hayek, F. A. 1935. Prices and Production. 2nd ed. London: Routledge.

Hayek, F. A. 1948. Individualism and Economic Order. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hayek, F. A. 1960. The Constitution of Liberty. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hayek, F. A. 1992. The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek, ed. Bruce Caldwell. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hayek, F. A. 1994. Hayek on Hayek: An Autobiographical Dialogue, eds. Stephen Kresge and Leif Wenar. London: Routledge.


Brittan, Samuel. 2005. Hayeks Contribution. In Against the Flow: Reflections of an Individualist, 300315. London: Atlantic.

Caldwell, Bruce. 2004. Hayeks Challenge: An Intellectual Biography of F. A. Hayek. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hicks, John. 1967. The Hayek Story. In Critical Essays in Monetary Theory, 203215. Oxford: Clarendon.

Kukathas, Chandran. 1990. Hayek and Modern Liberalism. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Machlup, Fritz, ed. 1976. Essays on Hayek. New York: New York University Press.

Nobel Foundation. 1974. Press Release: Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economics/laureates/1974/press.html.

Stephan Boehm

Hayek, Friedrich August von

views updated Jun 11 2018

Hayek, Friedrich August von

(b. 8 May 1899 in Vienna, Austria; d. 23 March 1992 in Freiburg, Germany), Nobel laureate in economics (1974), whose many publications included the influential, pro—free enterprise book The Road to Serfdom (1944).

Hayek was the eldest of three sons of August von Hayek, a physician who shifted his interests to botany and became an honorary professor in that discipline at the University of Vienna, and Felicitas von Juraschek, a homemaker. The family was partly of Czech descent; Hayek’s parents, although brought up as Catholics, were nonbelievers as adults. During World War I Hayek served on the Italian front (1917–1918) as a junior artillery officer in the Austro-Hungarian army. He later stated that the experience of serving in a multi-ethnic army, with its complex organizational problems, inspired his interest in economics. In 1918, eight days after the war ended, Hayek entered the University of Vienna, where he studied philosophy, law, and economics. He received his doctorate in law (1921), with specialization in economics, and a second doctorate in political science (1923), with specialization in political economy, while studying under Ludwig von Mises, an older economist with whom Hayek is usually connected because of their similar viewpoints. Under von Mises’s influence, Hayek abandoned his early socialism in favor of the free-market approach for which he became famous. From 1921 to 1926 Hayek worked under von Mises as his legal consultant at the Austrian Office of Accounts, a temporary government agency set up to fulfill the terms of the post-World War I settlement. During 1923-1924 Hayek, on leave of absence from his government post, was a graduate student in economics at New York University.

In 1926 Hayek married Helene (“Hella”) von Fritsch; they had two children. In the following year, he and von Mises founded the Austrian Institute for Business Cycle Research (later renamed the Institute for Economic Research); Hayek was director. From 1929 to 1931 he was also a lecturer in economics at the University of Vienna. His first book, Monetary Theory and the Trade Cycle, in German, appeared in 1929 (the English translation was published in 1933). After attending the London Conference on Economic Statistics in 1928, Hayek was invited to lecture at the London School of Economics; from 1931 to 1950 he was Tooke Professor there. Numerous books on economics, mostly technical, were published during these years. In 1938 he became a naturalized British citizen. Hayek became a close personal friend of John Maynard Keynes, despite strong differences on economic matters. During World War II, when the London School of Economics was evacuated to Cambridge, Hayek decided to write a nontechnical book explaining his economic views. The Road to Serfdom, published in 1944 and arguably the most important nontechnical book on economics of the twentieth century, gives in fewer than two hundred closely argued pages the case for free enterprise. His thesis was that “big government,” which Hayek saw as synonymous with socialism, often results from wartime economic mobilization and leads to loss of freedom and inefficiency. The book became an international best seller and was favorably reviewed even by Keynes. A few months after the book’s publication, Hayek was elected to the British Academy. In 1945 an abridged edition of The Road to Serfdom appeared in Reader’s Digest in the United States. Two years later Hayek founded the Mount Pelerin Society, an organization of pro—free enterprise scholars that became very influential and still exists.

Hayek’s Individualism and Economic Order, which pointed out the difficulties in allocating goods and services without a free price system, appeared in 1949. In the same year, the breakup of his marriage caused a severe depression, which resulted in his leaving England. He married Helene Bitterlich in 1950. That year he was also appointed professor of social and moral science at the University of Chicago, where he inspired the famous “Chicago School” of economics later associated with another Nobel laureate in economics, Milton Friedman. Major books published in those years included The Counter-Revolution of Science (1952), a critical study of the origins of “social engineering.” In collaboration with four other scholars Hayek edited Capitalism and the Historians (1954), which argues against the Marxist theory that the Industrial Revolution “immiserated” England’s working class. The Constitution of Liberty, which Hayek considered his most important book, appeared in 1960. This restatement of the nineteenth-century “classical liberal” argument asserts that society is too complicated for a planned economy to succeed.

Two years later the aging, homesick Hayek, who was becoming increasingly deaf, left Chicago to become professor of economics at the University of Freiburg in Breisgau in West Germany. By this time he was a major influence on the West German minister of economics and then chancellor, Ludwig Erhard, and later on the British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. Retiring from Freiburg in 1968, Hayek moved to Salzburg in his native Austria, where he held a visiting professorship at the university until 1974. He had already begun to receive honorary degrees from universities around the world, but shortly after his return to the city of Freiburg in 1974, he was surprised to be awarded the Nobel Prize in economics for his work in the theory of business cycles and his advocacy of the freemarket system as an answer to the problems of allocation of goods and services. Hayek continued to publish books on economics, political science, and philosophy such as Law, Legislation and Liberty (3 volumes, 1973–1979) and received honorary degrees from universities around the world, to which he traveled despite his increasing age and deafness. In 1984 Queen Elizabeth II awarded Hayek the Companionship of Honour, and in 1991 George Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian award. Germany and Austria honored him with similar awards, and both Pope John Paul II and Mikhail Gorbachev praised Hayek’s achievements.

In his last years Hayek showed signs of returning to his ancestral Catholicism. He died in Freiburg of a heart attack and is buried at Neustift Cemetery in his native Vienna. This “old Whig,” as he called himself, with moustache and spectacles, is reputed to have both looked and acted like a courtly, although somewhat shy, European gentleman.

Hayek’s papers are divided between the family archives in London and the various universities and institutes with which he was affiliated. His complete works in twenty volumes have been published jointly by Routledge (London) and the University of Chicago Press. Autobiographical notes, together with oral history interviews, are published in Stephen Kresge and LeifWenar, eds., Hayek on Hayek: An Autobiographical Dialogue (1994). John Gray, Hayek on Liberty (1984), summarizes his ideas and includes an extensive bibliography of Hayek’s works. Hayek: A Commemorative Album, compiled by John Raybould (1998) is a brief illustrated biography. An obituary is in the New York Times (24 Mar. 1992).

Stephen A. Stertz

Hayek, Friedrich

views updated Jun 27 2018


(18991992), leading proponent of markets as an evolutionary solution to complex social coordination problems.

One of the leaders of the Austrian school of economics in the twentieth century, Friedrich Hayek received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science in 1974. Born to a distinguished family of Viennese intellectuals, he attended the University of Vienna, earning doctorates in law and economics in 1921 and 1923. He became a participant in Ludwig von Mises's private economics seminar and was greatly influenced by von Mises's treatise on socialism and his argument about the impossibility of economic rationality under socialism due to the absence of private property and markets in the means of production. Hayek developed a theory of credit-driven business cycles, discussed in his books Prices and Production (1931) and Monetary Theory and the Trade Cycle (1933). As a result he was offered a lectureship, and then the Tooke Chair in Economics and Statistics at the London School of Economics and Politics (LSE) in 1931. There he worked on developing an alternative analysis to the nascent Keynesian economic system, which he published in The Pure Theory of Capital in 1941, by which point the Keynesian macro model had already become the accepted and dominant paradigm of economic analysis.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Hayek made his major contribution to the analysis of economic systems, pointing out the role of markets and the price system in distilling, aggregating, and disseminating usable specific knowledge among participants in the economy. The role of markets as an efficient discovery procedure, generating a spontaneous order in the flux of changing and unknowable specific circumstances and preferences, was emphasized in his "Economics and Knowledge" (1937), "The Use of Knowledge in Society" (1945), and Individualism and Economic Order (1948). These arguments provided a fundamental critique of the possibility of efficient economic planning and an efficient socialist system, refining and redirecting the earlier Austrian critique of von Mises. They have also provided the basis for a substantial theoretical literature on the role of prices as a conveyor of information, and for the revival of non-socialist economic thought in the final days of the Soviet Union.

Hayek worked at LSE until 1950 when he moved to Chicago, joining the Committee of Social Thought at the University of Chicago. There Hayek moved beyond economic to largely social and philosophic-historical analysis. His major works in these areas include his most famous defense of private property and decentralized markets, The Road to Serfdom (1944), New Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (1978), and the compilation The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism (1988). These works, more than his economic studies, provided much of the intellectual inspiration and substance behind the anti-Communist and economic liberal movements in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1962 Hayek left Chicago for the University of Freiburg in Germany, and subsequently for Salzburg, where he spent the rest of his life. The Nobel Prize in 1974 significantly raised interest in his work and in Austrian economics.

See also: liberalism; socialism


Bergson, Abram. (1948). "Socialist Economics." In A Survey of Contemporary Economics, ed. H. S. Ellis. Home-wood, IL: Irwin.

Blaug, Mark. (1993). "Hayek Revisited." Critical Review 7(1):5160.

Caldwell, Bruce. (1997). "Hayek and Socialism." Journal of Economic Literature, 35(4):18561890.

Foss, Nicolai J. (1994). The Austrian School and Modern Economics: A Reassessment. Copenhagen, Denmark: Handelshojskolens Forlag.

Lavoie, Don. (1985). Rivalry and Central Planning: The Socialist Calculation Debate Reconsidered. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Machlup, Fritz. (1976). "Hayek's Contributions to Economics." In Buckley, William F., et al., Essays on Hayek, ed. Fritz Machlup. Hillsdale, MI: Hillsdale College Press.

O'Driscoll, Gerald P. (1977). Economics as a Coordination Problem: The Contribution of Friedrich A. Hayek. Kansas City: Sheed, Andrews and McMeel.

Richard E. Ericson

Hayek, Friedrich August von

views updated May 11 2018

Hayek, Friedrich August von (1899–1992) British economist, b. Vienna. He was professor at London (1931–50), Chicago (1950–62), and Freiburg (1962–69). He wrote many books on law, economics, and philosophy, and received the 1974 Nobel Prize in economics.

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