F.A. Hayek: A Personal Appreciation

by Mario Rizzo

Hayek at the London School of Economics
Hayek at the London School of Economics


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.

19 thoughts on “F.A. Hayek: A Personal Appreciation

  1. Mario:

    This was a touching and wonderful tribute.

    Well, I was a summer fellow at the Institute for Humane Studies out in Menlo Park during the summers of 1975 and 1977 when Hayek was also out there.

    And I was a bit more “pushy” than you, Mario.

    I would go into Hayek’s office almost every day, to have him autograph another of his books, and to bombard him with questions on economics, politics, and old Vienna.

    I’m sure he found me a terrible pest. Yet, he was always kind and generous with his time — even when I was trying to point out his “errors and omissions”! He treated each question or critical comment as if he was hearing it for the first time, though I’m sure he had heard many of them many times over the years.

    I last saw him in Freiburg, Germany in the early 1980s. I met him in his office and he kindly spent about four hours with me talking about the things he was still trying to work on, the terrible mess Europe was in, and the continuing meed to oppose the “fatal conceit” of the rational constructivists who believed they had the wisdom and “scientific” ability to plan and regulate society.

    Not only as a profound scholar, but as a human being who was willing to share his ideas and patiently give his time to answer questions and explain things for hours, Hayek remains in my mind the “ideal type” of what one thinks a Nobel Prize winner should be.

    Richard Ebeling

  2. Thank you, Mario and Richard, for such poignant tributes to a man whose work has touched each of us profoundly. My great regret is that Austrian economics didn’t come into my life until 2005. It has been one of the great intellectual journeys for me, a non-economist. Suffering through macro and micro, first as an undergraduate in the 1960s, and then as a Ph.D. student (strategic management) in the mid-1980s, I was sure that the end-state theory I was being fed was not the only way to look at economics. Yet my professors didn’t have the intellectual honesty to disclose that the “mainstream” view was not the ONLY view. Shame on them.

    Last June at the annual Atlanta Competitive Advantage Conference @ Emory U., I bounced my displeasure off a prominent scholar who shall remain unnamed. He said, and I quote, “It [Austrian economics] is not rigorous.” I said, “My good friend, what good is rigor if it’s not relevant?” He stared at me. I let that sink in and then asked, “How on earth can economics ignore the very different perspective of a Nobelist in economics?” Another long stare. After a few moments, I figured I’d made my point and changed the subject.

    I don’t know who said this, but I once heard that an economist is someone with a Phi Beta Kappa key at one end of his watch chain. . .and no watch at the other. Surely whoever said that was talking about “mainstream” economists.

    So, thank you, Mr. Hayek, for your unflinching courage and perseverance in the face of overwhelming opposition. And thank you, too, for enriching my life and changing my perspective about how things work in the world.

    I would also like to take this opportunity to wish a Happy Birthday on this same May 8 to a wonderful and generous scholar, Peter Klein of the U. of Missouri. He is my good friend, a kind and warm man who has helped me understand the Austrian perspective, including Hayek’s, in ways that I never would have come to on my own. Like Mario and Richard, Peter has a fondness for Hayek that comes through in his writing. I’ll bet you didn’t know that he once claimed the “Hayek Chair”: http://organizationsandmarkets.com/2006/05/08/happy-hayek-klein-day/.

    Thanks to all of you wonderful scholars who keep Hayek’s spirit alive. You are unfailingly kind, generous, warm, and patient, much as Mr. Hayek himself was. It is an honor for this pointy-headed “practitioner” to stand with you in these turbulent times.

    Warren Miller
    Beckmill Research, LLC
    Lexington, Va.

  3. Mario and Richard – Thank you for giving your charming personal reminiscences, and happy birthday, Peter Klein.

    I regret that I have no personal reminiscences to share – I got all of my Hayek from reading his books and working in the archives. Still, one can learn a lot from a person’s letters. I’ll give just one example: Hayek had a very nice “form letter” that he used to reply to the literally hundreds of people who, after he had gotten the Nobel, felt obligated to send him, unsolicited, their work, asking for his comments. It went something like this: “Thank you for your paper. I have put it on the stack of them on my desk, and when I get to it if I have anything to say I will be sure to write you.” I daresay that most people in his position would simply not even bother to acknowledge unsolicited papers. This reinforces Richard’s point about Hayek’s underlying patience and scholarly decency.

    A final anecdote: my son Sam was born two days after Hayek died in 1992, and shared at birth a little of Hayek’s prominent nose. I confess I asked when I first saw my son, “Is that you in there, Fritz?”

    Happy birthday!
    Bruce Caldwell

  4. Mario,

    I was at the IHS summer seminar held on the grounds of Mills College that summer. I do recall you speaking directly to Hayek during a reception. After your conversation, including your questioning him, you turned to a friend and said, mostly out of my earshot, “So that’s what he means by..” and I did not catch any more.

    LOL, I was the young college student then, and when I excitedly asked, “What did he mean about what?” You kind of half looked at me and shook me off as though it wasn’t worth explaining something complicated to an acne faced kid. So unfortunately, I am unable to help you with what you discussed with Hayek 🙂

  5. “Ultimately, Rothbard was wrong in his assessment of Hayek’s importance, as I came to realize.”

    I’d appreciate a pointer to a good online or printed discussion of this point.

  6. Thank you for your personal reflections and reminicences, Mario. Here are mine.

    Hayek spoke at Hillsdale College in 1976 at which time he signed my copies of LLLv1 and Road to Serdom. He was quite approachable, but the students who were given a “private audience” were so awed I don’t think we asked many questions, at least I don’t remember doing so myself.

    When I was a grad student at NYU, however, I had a chance to meet him a second time when he gave an evening talk to the econ department. What was special about that night was that after the talk Israel Kirzner asked Esteban Thomsen and me to fetch a cab for Hayek and accompany him back to his hotel. Steve and I quickly huddled and came up with a list of questions — ranging from methodology to his relationship with Mises post-Economics and Knowledge — to ask him on the cab ride home. I’m sure he must have been very tired from his talk (he was of course not a young man) and must have heard the kind of questions we were asking him, if not exactly the same ones, many times before. Nevertheless, he was again very gracious, took us and our questions seriously, and answered them with his customary care.

    Those fifteen minutes rank among the peak moments of my intellectual life (although my afternoon with Jane Jacobs is still number one). Short, but very sweet, indeed.

  7. Sandy,

    I think my recollection of Hayek stems most from my 1967 pre-Nobel Prize meeting with him. I am told that he became much less aloof after the prize — no doubt because he felt more appreciated. I may have simply fixed this earlier conception of him in my mind and saw everything through that lens. This seems consistent with Hayek’s psychological theory!

  8. Richard,

    I do not know of such an online discussion but I haven’t looked. My point is that Rothbard was quite upset over Hayek’s Constitution of Liberty insofar as the policy section endorsed many aspects of the welfare state. This was perfectly legitimate. And in fact I agree with Rothbard that Hayek was mistaken in this. But there was a time (in the late 60s, especially) when this is all Rothbard could see of the value of Hayek’s work outside of his business cycle analysis. (In those areas of economic theory where Hayek and Mises seemed to disagree Rothbard almost always took Mises’s side.)I don’t really want to make a big point of all this. However, I do believe that Rothbard, and some of his followers, went out of their way to stress differences between Hayek and Mises — with Mises invariably coming out on top. Sometimes the differences were real and sometimes not.

  9. […] several writers have posted personal reminisces of F. A. Hayek. Here are two by David Gordon and Mario Rizzo. The boys at orgtheory will get a kick out of the Merton reference in Gordon’s […]

  10. Mario:

    Thank you for your reflections on Hayek. Much of it was a trip down memory lane for me, too. I can remember talking to Hayek at Menlo park in 1977 but cannot remember anything he told me–with one exception. We were all at a pool party at Ken Templeton’s house. Wanting to keep the discussion light, I told Hayek that I’d heard [from David Gay] that he had once taught at the University of Arkansas. In retrospect, I realize that his answer was well rehersed. “Yes, yes,” he said—going on to explain that he had taken a job at the University of Chicago in 1950. He had arrived at Chicago too early and so spent the summer earning some income in Fayetteville. It was probably all to the good that I didn’t have a follow-up question ready. But it’s amusing to realize that there are undoubtedly a few 70-odd year olds in Razoeback country who learned their Econ from Hayek. Our chat ended when Lowell Mason (an Eisenhower-era FTC Chief, I think) turned the discussion to more serious matters. I excused myself and snapped this picture before departing:

  11. Thanks to Mario and everyone else for their posts. I first met Hayek at a dinner at Ken Templeton’s house in Menlo Park. I recall it being 1975 — after I’d finished my dissertation on Hayek. I believe Hayek and I had began corresponding by that point. He was gracious. Over two summers at IHS in Menlo Park, I spent a number of hours with him. The late Sudha Shenoy organized a dinner for Hayek and and the other summer fellows — a most congenial event. I always took extensive notes of our conversations. If others were present, I’d ask some to check my notes. Copies of my correspondence and notes are archived at Hoover’s library. Ken Templeton, George Pearson, Lou Spadaro and Leonard Liggio all played important roles in these seminars. Thomas Sowell came and spoke to the group in 1977 — a rare appearance. He was writing Knowledge and Decisions at the time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s