Revisiting Hayek’s Political Economy: Volume 21

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Subject:

Table of contents

(8 chapters)

Prelims

Pages i-xvii
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Abstract

The paper offers a number of vignettes surrounding Friedrich A. Hayek’s receipt of the Nobel Prize. It examines Hayek’s life before he got the prize, describes the events in Stockholm, and offers a summary of the main themes of his Prize Lecture. It then examines the subsequent impact on Hayek’s life and career. It concludes by looking at the impact of the Prize on scholarship about Hayek and the Austrian movement.

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An underappreciated aspect of F. A. Hayek’s mature views about rationality is the inter-relation of the “pure logic of choice” and rule-following behavior. Sometimes it is asserted that Hayek abandoned his earlier understanding of individual rationality and replaced it with a completely rule-oriented conception of decisionmaking. In fact, however, the analysis in Hayek’s Sensory Order gives us the framework in which the relative roles of explicit choice-logic and rule-following can be discerned. Furthermore, this framework also shows that his fundamental conception of individual rationality is pragmatic, contextual, modifiable, and ecological. While standard neoclassical economists were axiomatizing the explicit logic of choice, Hayek was decades ahead of these economists in understanding the nature of decisionmaking outside of completely artificial worlds in which there are no cognitive limits and in which the structure of the environment is simple. This paper attempts to lay the foundation for an integrated understanding of Hayek’s pragmatic rule-following rationality and the “ecological rationality” of Gerd Gigerenzer and other researchers.

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F. A. Hayek’s macroeconomic theory and policy ideas have gained renewed attention since the cheap-money boom until 2007, and subsequent bust, followed the basic Hayekian narrative. Only to a very limited extent, however, do we find Hayek’s ideas on the agenda of mainstream macroeconomic researchers since Robert Lucas’s research program gave way to “Neoclassical” and “New Keynesian” DSGE models. We find examples of deeper interest on the periphery of the mainstream. Hayek’s influence on today’s macroeconomic policy discussions remains similarly limited, although he has become an icon to some opponents of loose monetary policy.

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Certain elements of Hayek’s work are prominent precursors to the modern field of complex adaptive systems, including his ideas on spontaneous order, his focus on market processes, his contrast between designing and gardening, and his own framing of complex systems. Conceptually, he was well ahead of his time, prescient in his formulation of novel ways to think about economies and societies. Technically, the fact that he did not mathematically formalize most of the notions he developed makes his insights hard to incorporate unambiguously into models. However, because so much of his work is divorced from the simplistic models proffered by early mathematical economics, it stands as fertile ground for complex systems researchers today. I suggest that Austrian economists can create a progressive research program by building models of these Hayekian ideas, and thereby gain traction within the economics profession. Instead of mathematical models the suite of techniques and tools known as agent-based computing seems particularly well-suited to addressing traditional Austrian topics like money, business cycles, coordination, market processes, and so on, while staying faithful to the methodological individualism and bottom-up perspective that underpin the entire school of thought.

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The notion of constitutionalism and federalism as principal devices for limiting the power of government is central to F. A. Hayek’s political philosophy. A number of political scientists have recently criticized Hayek’s (as well as J. M. Buchanan’s and B. R. Weingast’s) reasoning on this subject for its presumed “neoliberal bias.” This paper reviews this critique and takes it as a challenge to clarify certain ambiguities in Hayek’s – and, more generally, in liberal – accounts of constitutionalism and federalism.

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F. A. Hayek was a throwback to the time when economics was a part of philosophy, and the questions and approaches used by scholars were ecumenical. This paper asks a specific question: Was Hayek “really” a political scientist? Political science is the older discipline, and was traditionally concerned with society and norms as well as laws. The comparative analysis is mostly qualitative, though a quantitative comparison between citation patterns for Hayek and another “political” economist and Nobelist, James Buchanan, is also presented. My conclusion is that, to the extent that Hayek considered institutions that are collective and non-market (i.e., do not work primarily through the price mechanism), Hayek might indeed be considered to have made substantial contributions in political science. The fact that political scientists seem to disagree may say more about the discipline than the man.

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Hayek’s “Use of knowledge in society” is often misunderstood. Hayek’s point is not just that prices aggregate dispersed knowledge, but also that the knowledge embedded in prices would not exist absent the market process. Later, in The Constitution of Liberty, he argues that this same idea can also be applied to the study of political and collective choice phenomena. Democracy is not just about aggregating preferences. Absent the democratic process, the knowledge necessary to solve collective problems is not generated. We compare this perspective on democracy to Bryan Caplan’s and Helen Landemore’s theories, and we argue that Hayek’s account focused on “opinion falsification” is richer. Unlike Caplan or Landemore, who adopt a static perspective, Hayek is more interested in the long-term tendencies and feed-back mechanisms. For example, why do Western democracies seem to have gradually moved away from the most deleterious types of economic policies (such as price controls)? Hayek’s conjecture is that the democratic process itself is responsible for this. We connect Hayek’s conjecture about democracy to the broader argument made by Vincent Ostrom, who has claimed that public choice should study not just incentive structures, but also collective learning processes. We believe that this line of research, that is, comparative institutional analysis based on the collective learning capacities embedded in alternative institutional arrangements, merits a lot more attention than it has received so far. The question “Which collective choice arrangements have the best epistemic properties?” is one of the most important neglected questions in political economy.

Cover of Revisiting Hayek’s Political Economy
DOI
10.1108/S1529-2134201721
Publication date
2016-11-30
Book series
Advances in Austrian Economics
Editors
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
ISBN
978-1-78560-988-6
eISBN
978-1-78560-987-9
Book series ISSN
1529-2134