by Mario Rizzo
Today is the birthday of Friedrich A. Hayek: born May 8, 1899.
It would be difficult to imagine my intellectual life and career without Hayek. I have learned more from him than from any other single thinker. This is in the areas of economics, the philosophy of science and the philosophy of law. I remember discovering – thanks to Henry Hazlitt – Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom in high school. It took me a long time to read the book; I didn’t understand everything in it but it left a deep impression upon me. I still have, somewhere, my carefully underlined paperback edition of the book from those high-school days.
I met Hayek in New York City before he received the Nobel Prize. I think it was in 1967. Hayek did not pay me much attention. I did go up to him with a copy of Prices and Production and asked for his autograph. He had been talking to a group of “adults.” He turned around to look at this (then) college kid. He took the book, turned back to the group and said that “It gives me great pleasure to sign this book because it has been continually in print for over thirty years.” He signed it. Then he partially turned around and handed me the book. I was grateful.
I met him several times later. After the Nobel Prize, he and I were at the 1976 Windsor Castle conference on Austrian economics. He was given the “president’s medal” at NYU at the suggestion of Fritz Machlup and Israel Kirzner. He spent some time at a summer seminar at the Institute for Humane Studies in 1977. I was fortunate enough to be there. But I don’t remember ever having a conversation with him either at the seminar or anywhere else. I am sure that this cannot be accurate, but I do not remember any words he uttered to me personally. So everything I learned from him was through his writings. Hayek didn’t need to be the friendly, accessible professor. His ideas attracted the serious and left behind the unserious – as things should be, perhaps.
Despite Hayek’s aloofness, he was so very influential in the intellectual lives of the first and second wave Austrian “revivalists.” I recall, however, that Murray Rothbard had problems with Hayek’s impure libertarianism and impure Misesianism. (Hayek never pretended to be a libertarian in the anarcho-capitalist sense nor a strict follower of Mises.) For a while, I was influenced by this criticism. Ultimately, Rothbard was wrong in his assessment of Hayek’s importance, as I came to realize.
It is a testament to the importance of Hayek that he and John Maynard Keynes have been the two great economists most invoked in contemporary efforts to understand our current financial and economic problems. In all of this, the monetarists unfortunately seem to have been sidelined. I suggest that this is because Hayek and Keynes represent the fundamental economic and philosophical challenges to each other. The question today is as it was in the thirties: Hayek or Keynes. All else is footnote.
To see a photo of Hayek’s grave stone, go here.
The photo of Hayek at the LSE accompanies the London Telegraph blog entry “Financial crisis shows why we should admire Friedrich Hayek” posted by Philip Booth.
HT: Greg Ransom at Taking Hayek Seriously.