Peter Boettke’s new book on F. A. Hayek’s intellectual legacy

The summer term for the PPE program just ended in August and students had an excellent opportunity attending classes with Professor Peter Boettke from George Mason University.

On top of that, students had the exclusive opportunity to read his latest book before publication. His latest book is in the Great Thinkers of Economics series:  F. A. Hayek: Economics, Political Economy and Social Philosophy, published this September with Palgrave Macmillan.Here, I want to give a glance at the course Boettke taught, as well as disucss his book. First, why did Boettke write this book in the first place? I remember sitting down with him before class. When a classmate asked him why he wrote this book, since he had already written extensively on Hayek; his response was that he was asked to contribute to this series on great thinkers in economics.

The aim of the book is to communicate to young students the continuing relevance of the ideas of F. A. Hayek. It is primarily directed towards students from the social sciences and humanities. Boettke gave us an example that it is directed to undergraduate students that are trying to decide what kind of economist to be or recent graduates that are considering a Master’s degree in economics.

This book is Boettke’s personal account of working on F.A. Hayek’s scholarly legacy, taking readers on a historical intellectual journey through Hayek’s ideas and their evolution.

In the history of ideas, F. A. Hayek’s scholarly contributions are without a doubt significant. However, the impact of Hayek’s ideas was limited. At least, this was the case during the Keynesian consensus that arose after WWII and lasted until the 1970s. Just imagine the historical circumstances that Hayek’s ideas faced, they were disregarded by mainstream economics. In the history of economic thought you can categorize two interpretations of economic discourse in Whig and Contra-Whig. In history the Whig view is perceived as the intellectual winners of key debates, whereas Contra-Whig is perceived as the intellectual losers of key debates. In other words, Hayek’s ideas represented a rather Contra-Whig view of economic ideas but the Whig view dominated among his professional peers. After receiving the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 1974, Hayek’s ideas began to be reconsidered.

The aim of the book is not to discuss Hayek the man, but to set forth the legacy of Hayek’s ideas. Economics as discipline developed a narrow focus on economic life by excluding institutional contexts, among other things. Economics was impoverished to an abstract discipline based heavily on math. In 1971 Kenneth Boulding wrote an important paper criticizing the narrow scope of economics with an accurate title After Samuelson, Who Needs Adam Smith? Boulding’s title is closely related to Hayek’s scholarly venture to fill that void in economics.

Boettke treats Hayek’s intellectual journey in the areas of economics, political economy and social philosophy. A key aspect in the book is what Boettke defines as epistemic institutionalism, or Hayek’s arguments about the contextual nature of knowledge. This is a central theme throughout the book. Hayek’s application of the knowledge problem to economic life, for example in the famous socialist calculation debate and in discussing the importance of the price system.

Hayek’s epistemic institutionalism is not limited to economic life and elaborated the epistemic role of institutions that underpin market processes such as the rule of law, among other things. In other words, how institutional arrangements affect the coordination of dispersed knowledge and their impact of productive specialization and peaceful cooperation. In this respect, Hayek’s work is a continuation, refinement and extension of classical political economy of Adam Smith and David Hume.

Boettke categorizes Hayek’s intellectual path in four phases with the following focus of work:

  1. Economics as a Coordination Problem between 1920-1945;
  2. The Abuse of Reason Project between 1940 and 1960;
  3. The Restatement of the Liberal Principles of Justice between 1960 and 1980;
  4. Philosophical Anthropology and the Study of Man after 1980 until his pass away in 1992.

In the book, Peter Boettke focuses on the first three phases of Hayek’s intellectual legacy. What I found intriguing about the book is reading about Hayek’s legacy within its historical context and seeing Boettke skillfully connect Hayek’s ideas with current issues and recent thinkers.

Boettke is a prolific writer in writing an analytical narrative that demonstrates the continuing relevance of Hayek’s work. From a reader’s point of view, I was engaged throughout the book from start to finish. Boettke contextualizes Hayek, which makes the book accessible for students of different disciplines. Along these lines, I highly recommend reading F. A. Hayek: Economics, Political Economy and Social Philosophy.

 

 

 

References

 

Boeetke, Peter. (2018) F. A. Hayek: Economics, Political Economy and Social Philosophy. Great Thinkers in Economics. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

 

Boettke, Peter. (2000) “Why Read the Classics in Economics?” The Library of Economics and Liberty. https://www.econlib.org/library/Features/feature2.html.

 

Boulding, Kenneth. (1971) “After Samuelson, Who Needs Adam Smith?” History of Political Economy, 3 (2): 225-237.

 

Conway, Frank. “Peter Boettke on Hayekian Economics, Political Economy and Social Philosophy”. Economic Rockstar. Podcast audio, September 1, 2018. http://www.economicrockstar.com/peter-boettke-hayekian-economics-political-economy-social-philosophy/.

 

The National Review. “Arnold Schwarzenegger Is Not a Monetarist”. The Remnant with Jonah Goldberg. Podcast audio, September 5, 2018. https://www.nationalreview.com/podcasts/the-remnant-with-jonah-goldberg/episode-58-arnold-schwarzenegger-is-not-a-monetarist/.

 

 

Note: If you are interested in buying the book it is expensive. If your university has a Springer subscription, you can order a print-on-demand version MyCopy for 25$ which is a good alternative.

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