Libertarian History/Philosophy

Hayek's Legacy

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“The Road to Serfdom was really critical to spreading libertarian and free market ideas in the 20th century,” Nobel laureate Milton Friedman told Reason in 1995. “I think the most influential person was Hayek.”

On the 60th anniversary of the publication of Hayek’s best-known book, reason asked several writers, thinkers, and researchers to suggest what they thought his legacy to this century would be.

Friedrich Hayek will probably not be as remembered for his work in technical economic theory as in political and pure philosophy. Hayek’s achievement was to verbalize the idea of a “universal order of peace.” This would be a social order in which the ability to exchange goods and services freely with each other would unite all mankind.

Alan Ebenstein, author of Friedrich Hayek: A Life

While stressing that social institutions cannot and should not be simply thrown out and redesigned at will, Hayek insisted that we run terrible risks when we seek to limit the choices people make. That’s because the act of choosing is the very basis of a flourishing society. In a world in which markets have triumphed, in which technology and trade allow for ever-greater mixing and exchange, in which basic identities and customs are up for grabs in a way they never have been before, Hayek helps to explain the ground rules. And to show why we’ve got it as good as we do.

Nick Gillespie, editor of reason and the new anthology Choice: The Best of Reason

Hayek is one of the very few economists to take seriously Adam Smith’s notion that language matters. Since this is the chief finding of the humanities in the 20th century, I would bet that in the 21st century it will start revising our calculative, allocative, easily-socialist view of the economy. Socialism doesn’t work, Hayek said, because it treats humans as rats. Rats don’t talk, and cannot be free.

Contributing Editor Deirdre McCloskey, a professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago and Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam, is the author of Crossing: A Memoir, Knowledge and Persuasion in Economics, and other works

Hayek was among the first to call attention to the emergence of large-scale order from individual choices. The phenomenon is ubiquitous, and not just in economic markets: What makes everyone suddenly drive SUVs, name their daughters Madison rather than Ethel or Linda, wear their baseball caps backwards, raise their pitch at the end of a sentence? The process is still poorly understood by social science, with its search for external causes of behavior, but is essential to bridging the largest chasm in intellectual life: that between individual psychology and collective culture.?

Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and author of The Blank Slate

Hayek placed knowledge and discovery at the center of economics and the market process. That profound insight is not the end but the beginning of a fascinating and important line of research: How is knowledge shared both within organizations and across them? Markets obviously incorporate hierarchy and planning within organizations; when is hierarchy appropriate and when isn’t it? How does economic discovery take place?

Virginia Postrel, former editor of reason and author of The Substance of Style and The Future and Its Enemies

Hayek was a true prophet of what we now call self-organization, making clear how and why order and intelligence can emerge out of the interaction of myriad individuals, even (or especially) without a planner or boss in charge. In the 20th century, this insight helped change the way people thought about markets. In the next century, it should change the way people think about organizations, networks, and the social order more generally. The most interesting question is whether organizations from government agencies to corporations will start to take Hayek’s ideas seriously and recognize that by tapping the knowledge of their decentralized, locally informed workers, they can (just as markets do) produce a whole that’s significantly better than its parts.

James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds