stories | Faculty

The Continuing Relevance of F.A. Hayek

November 30, 2018 | Rebecca Au-Mullaney

Peter Boettke with book

On November 28, The King’s College hosted Dr. Peter Boettke, a university professor of economics and philosophy at George Mason University, to speak on the continuing relevance of F.A. Hayek. Boettke directs the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at George Mason’s Mercatus Center.

The lecture was part of a year-long series of lectures, symposia, and debates organized by Dr. Paul Mueller, assistant professor of economics at The King’s College. During each semester in the 2018-19 academic year, King’s hosts two senior scholars and two to four junior scholars, with the goal of connecting these scholars with students and faculty in both formal and informal settings. Besides the speaker series, these grant-funded events also include a student reading group and student research assistant hours, among other things. This grant expands upon a similar grant Mueller received in 2017-18.

[Read about Dr. Khalil Habib’s visit in October, the first senior scholar lecture of the academic year.]

Boettke’s lunchtime lecture centered around his recent work, F. A. Hayek: Economics, Political Economy and Social Philosophy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018). Part of the Great Thinkers in Economics series edited by A.P. Thirlwall, the book shows how Hayek developed his ideas alongside the politics and philosophies of his time.

“Economics has always intersected with moral philosophy and theology,” Boettke said. The first group of thinkers to pursue economics as a discipline, the School of Salamanca, developed the concept of inflation because the church in Spain needed a way to reconcile their philosophy of “just price” with the price increases that resulted from new supplies of gold entering the country.

In a similar way, Boettke argued, Hayek’s writings responded to the philosophical issues of the twentieth century. Born in 1899, Hayek learned to think in the shadow of the Great War. During the middle of his career, he experienced the discouragement of seeing many of his students convert to the ideas of his intellectual adversary John Maynard Keynes. In the lecture, Boettke laid out what he sees as the major movements in Hayek’s work, each with parallels to his cultural milieu.

Boettke left the audience with three areas where Hayek’s insights have great potential for application today. First is the use of prices as “guides to consumption and investment decisions.” Prices, when set by the market, help people to produce goods efficiently and make mutually beneficial exchanges. A second major insight is that institutions structure how we make choices. Just as a student needs certain environmental conditions to learn — adequate light in the classroom, quiet space to concentrate — an economy must have the right institutional frameworks to allow productive choices. These frameworks include sound money, security of persons and property, and responsibility for both the gains and the losses of doing business.

Finally, Hayek’s economics caused him to invite innovation and exchange between nations, what Boettke called the “cosmopolitan liberal project.” Core to this project is the belief that “we should live in a world where we treat people with dignity and respect, where we can offer compassion even to people coming from far social distances.”

Peter Boettke

That evening, a small group of King’s students, faculty, and staff joined Boettke at a dinner hosted at the Princeton Club to discuss further applications of Hayek’s thought. Conversation topics ranged from family as a unit in society to the rising costs of college tuition. NYU faculty Mario Rizzo and Nick Cowen also attended.

Some of the students who came to the dinner are members of Mueller’s reading group, funded by the same grant that brought Boettke to campus. Michalah Bell (MCA ’19) has participated in the reading group for the last two years, and has read Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty and Law, Legislation, and Liberty along with a dozen of other students.

“One of Hayek’s ideas is that there are different ways we interact in the world,” Bell says. “There is something different in the relationships of family versus the relationship between the government and the governed.” An implication of this idea that came up at dinner is that a family-centric approach to raising children will differ from an “it takes a village to raise a child” attitude that puts government in the role of “village.”

Kyle Kendrick (RTS ’19) also attended the lunch and evening events. Kendrick says, “I had just learned about the Vienna Circle, Wittgenstein, and the rise of central planning in my modern philosophy class, so I enjoyed hearing Dr. Boettke incorporate the background of modern philosophy in his discussion of Hayek’s economics.”

Boettke served on Mueller’s dissertation committee at George Mason University and has had fellowships at universities around the world. Besides authoring or coauthoring hundreds of journal articles, Boettke has also been the chief editor of multiple economics journals and book series and has published many books, including Living Economics, Institutional Analysis and Development: The Bloomington School (Routledge, 2009) and Why Perestroika Failed: The Economics and Politics of Socialism Transformation (Routledge, 1993).

Mueller says, “Peter Boettke is an interdisciplinary thinker, an excellent scholar, and a wonderful teacher and mentor. He has trained many graduate students who now hold academic positions at universities across the world. I am excited that our students could hear about his work on Hayek and had a chance to talk with him about graduate school and Austrian economics.”