Printer Friendly

Hayek, Co-ordination, and Evolution: His Legacy in Philosophy, Politics, Economics, and the History of Ideas.

This volume of essays (which grew out of a small conference quickly arranged after Hayek's death in 1992) offers a variety of assessments, mostly by European academics, of the entire range of Hayek's work across a number of disciplines. The variety of contributions prevents any short review from dealing with specific papers in any great detail, but does allow one to take stock of what might best be called "the Hayek project." What emerges from this volume, along with several other similar ones published since Hayek's passing, is a sense of the generally well-integrated inter-disciplinary (or perhaps trans-disciplinary) project in social theory that Hayek's life's work lays out. The Hayekian themes of dispersed knowledge, social evolution, coordination and the limits of intentional political direction pervade the book. Jack Birner captures this "project" well in his informative introduction: "All of these elements lead to an explanation of social institutions as undesigned, spontaneously grown mechanisms that by discovering and coordinating dispersed knowledge reduce the complexity facing individuals with limited knowledge and thus allow their actions to be coordinated" [pp. 7-8].

Although Hayek's contributions to economics have still yet to be fully digested and have had only a fairly superficial effect on mainstream neoclassical thought, they have been much more influential in the other disciplines represented in the five discipline-oriented sections of this book. One recurring theme of the economics papers is that it is time to bring Hayek's broader intellectual themes, and the economics he developed along with them, back into the economics mainstream.

This point is made very well by the papers by Peter Rosner, Rudy van Zijp and Hans Visser, and Harry Garretsen who attempt to assess the relationship between Hayek's work and mainstream economics, specifically the New Classical school. The first two papers argue quite cogently that there are very essential differences between Hayek's macroeconomics and that of the New Classicals, despite the latter's claim to an Austrian heritage. Both papers point out that notions of disequilibrium and genuine discovery, which are central to Hayek's work, are ruled out by assuming rational expectations. Van Zijp and Visser explicitly argue that the New Classical preference for highly stylized mathematical models forces them to overlook many of the ideas (in particular the non-neutrality of money) that were foundational for Austrian cycle theorists. Garretsen offers some more general observations about the differences between Hayekian and general equilibrium approaches and how Hayek's work could improve the latter.

Marina Bianchi's excellent paper also explores Hayek's relationship to the mainstream, in this case game theory and the explanation of institutions and norms. She argues that modern game theory "suffices to describe the conditions under which mutual expectations are matched, but not the process" [p. 241]. To explain the learning process by which game-theoretic equilibria (such as institutions) are discovered, one needs to invoke a Hayekian learning process. One implication of Bianchi's argument is that Hayek's work on the evolution of institutions can provide the same process-orientation that Kirzner's theory of the entrepreneur does for the theory of competition. Viewing the relationship between Hayekian social theory and game theory in this light opens up a broader and more fruitful approach to the evolution of institutions. Ulrich Witt's contribution offers some further thoughts on Hayek's work on social evolution that, while critical of the details, is sympathetic toward the project as a whole.

The papers on Hayek's political theory and philosophical work bring out the influence of the Scottish moral philosophers (Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, and especially David Hume) on Hayek's social theory. Papers by van Dun and Roos explore the linkages between Hayek's legal philosophy and so-called "natural law" theories. In particular, the relative influences of Kant and Hume on Hayek is a topic of some controversy. What Hayek took from the Scots was the broad emphasis on the role of social institutions and the limits of human rationality. These are themes that pervade the work of Smith, yet have been largely lost in the way economics has developed since. In this way, one can see "the Hayek project" as an attempt to continue the social-theoretic line of inquiry began by the Scots (but abandoned in the early 20th century rush to positivism and scientism) by infusing it with the marginalism and subjectivism of Austrian economics.

The contributions of de Vries and Milford examine these themes in their assessments of Hayek's theory of mind and his work on social science methodology. The de Vries paper would be an excellent choice to read before tackling Hayek's The Sensory Order. The Milford paper gives a good overview of Hayek's attacks on scientism and historicism, although he gives Hayek an overly Popperian interpretation which misses Hayek's roots in the Continent, especially the influence of Mises and Weber.

D. P. O'Brien's closing paper on Hayek's work in intellectual history rounds out the collection nicely by offering an overview of the major themes of Hayek's lifework. He rightly emphasizes the importance of Carl Menger's work for Hayek. One can see Menger's thought as the connection between the broad project of the Scots (as seen in Menger's Investigations) and Hayek's more narrow work in economic theory, which derives from the Austrian approach begun in Menger's Principles of Economics. As several commentators have argued, the recent resurgence in Austrian economics and Hayekian social theory reflects a recovery of several major Mengerian themes.

The overall quality of the papers in this collection is very good, with several being excellent contributions to the quickly growing Hayek literature. If there is one shortcoming that appears in several papers, it is the attempt to distance Hayek's work from that of Mises. Whatever differences the two had (and in some cases they were substantial), there is no doubt that both were engaged in the same general project. The evidence for that claim is how both root themselves in Menger's economics and social theory which originate the characteristically Austrian themes that Mises and Hayek share. There is no doubt that there is a distinct research program that can be labeled "the Hayek project," but that project would not exist if it were not for Mises' work extending Mengerian economics into a broader theory of society. The Birner and Van Zijp collection offers a scholarly and comprehensive overview of Hayek's work which has much to offer for both those new to the literature and those who are participants in it.

Steven Horwitz St. Lawrence University
COPYRIGHT 1996 Southern Economic Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Horwitz, Steven
Publication:Southern Economic Journal
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1996
Previous Article:Biography of an Idea: John Maynard Keynes and The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money.
Next Article:Adam Smith's Discourse: Canonicity, Commerce, and Conscience.

Related Articles
Perspectives on the History of Economic Thought, vol. 5-6.
Hayek on Hayek.
Austrian Economics: Tensions and New Directions.
The Economics of Friedrich Hayek.
Hayek, Co-ordination and Evolution: His Legacy in Philosophy, Politics, Economics, and the History of Ideas.
Economics and Evolution: Bringing Life Back into Economics.
Economic Thought and Political Theory.
Hidden Order: How Adaptation Builds Complexity.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters