Robert Leeson (ed.). Hayek: A Collaborative Biography. Part I: Influences, from Mises to Bartley.
This is an interesting and unusual volume that brings together twelve essays by fifteen authors on a number of themes in the life of Friedrich von Hayek. The chapters range in length from three pages (David Laidler, Werner Erhard) to 42 and 66 pages (Robert Leeson). Thus Leeson's two chapters occupy not much less than half of the book. The first of them is slightly mistitled, since it is much more than an 'Introduction' to what follows. After a brief outline of the Austrian background to Hayek's thought, Leeson draws on several interviews in the Hayek archives to examine his influence before and after the foundation of the Mont Pelerin Society in 1947. There is some awkwardness here, as readers looking for a summary of the other 11 chapters will need to thumb through it until they reach page 26 (for chapters 2-4) and pages 35-6 (for chapters 5-12).
The remaining chapters are somewhat uneven in quality as well as in length. Melissa Lane's account of 'The Genesis and Reception of The Road to Serfdom' in chapter 2 cites Keynes's relatively favourable verdict but overlooks both George Orwell's even more surprising approval and the harsh criticism meted out to Hayek by Herman Finer. In chapter 3, Gabriel Soderberg, Avner Offer and Samuel Bjork use citation data to demonstrate that Hayek's influence was at a very low ebb in the early 1970s and was dramatically increased by the award of the Nobel Prize in 1974. 'The prize came early enough in the rise of neo-liberalism to reinforce his authority with a citation boost. His late career might have been different had he not received it' (p. 69). David Laidler, in his all-too-brief chapter 4, sheds some light on the circumstances, reporting on a 1973 exchange between Herbert Giersch and Erik Lundberg on the need to compensate for the award of the Prize to Gunnar Myrdal by finding a joint recipient who was neither Swedish nor social democratic. Then, in chapter 5, our own Selwyn Cornish dissects Nicholas Wapshott's Keynes Hayek: the Clash that defined Modern Economics, which he finds to be defective in many respects.
In chapter 6 Douglas French writes on the relationship between Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, which he believes to have been much friendlier than is often supposed; but he also describes Hayek as a 'Wiesarian' [sic] rather than a follower of Mises. In the long, well-documented and extremely interesting chapter 7, Viktor J. Vanberg explains how Hayek came to the University of Freiburg in 1962, left for Salzburg eight years later and, then, in 1977, returned to Freiburg, where he spent the last 15 years of his life. 'The Freiburg connection', Vanberg concludes, 'is not only an important part of Hayek's biography; it is also of paradigmatic significance because of the characteristic mix of commonalities and differences between the ordo-liberal research program of the Freiburg School and the theoretical core of Hayek's own approach' (p. 110).
Similar questions are addressed in chapter 8 by Nils Goldschmidt and Jan-Otmar Hesse, who explore the points of agreement and the substantial areas of disagreement between Hayek and the prominent Ordoliberal, Walter Eucken. Goldschmidt and Hesse show how Hayek took the Chicago position on collusion, cartels and intellectual property rights, rejecting the Ordoliberals' insistence on the need for firm regulation by the state to ensure the survival of competition. It is a pity that none of Leeson's contributors has much to say on the relationship between Hayek and Milton Friedman, who seem not to have been personally at all close despite their very similar, and very strong, pro-business political views.
Leeson's own second contribution is a long study, in chapter 9, of Hayek's official biographer, the American philosopher William Warren Bartley III. Bartley seems to have been a very strange individual indeed, and it is hard to disagree with Leeson's conclusion that he should have stuck to analytical philosophy and left the writing of biographies to others. Whether he deserved a 66-page chapter in a book supposedly devoted to Hayek is a moot point. The final three contributions are much shorter. In chapter 10 Rafe Champion writes about Hayek, Bartley and Karl Popper in the specific context of Hayek's critique of constructivist rationalism. There follows an unfortunately brief interview conducted by Leeson and Steven Dimmick with Stephen Kresge, who was Bartley's life partner and also the second general editor of Hayek's Collected Works. The book concludes with another (very short) piece on Bartley, this time by the US training entrepreneur, Werner Erhard.
There is a great deal of useful information in this book. My favourite revelation comes from Leeson, who tells us that in 1931 the German conservative Othmar Spann 'adopted the derogatory label "neoliberal" to assault the Austrian School and engaged in anti-Semitic diatribes about marginal utility' (p. 21). A book-length history of this elastic concept seems long overdue. Whether Leeson's own volume can really be described as part one of a 'collaborative biography' of Hayek is less clear. A second volume is promised as part II of this project, with a third book (both edited by Leeson) on 'Hayek and the Austrian School'. Perhaps these volumes will touch on important areas of economic theory that Hayek wrote a lot about--the theory of money, capital theory, the business cycle--but which are almost entirely absent from the book under review.
J.E. King, Adjunct Professor, School of Economics, La Trobe University, Victoria 3086, Australia. Email: email@example.com.
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|Publication:||History of Economics Review|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2013|
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