F A Hayek, the Anglo-Austrian Nobel economist and liberal thinker, was born yesterday in 1899.
Hayek’s economic works in the 1930s, researched with his mentor Ludwig von Mises, showed how boom and bust cycles arose from the inept government manipulation of credit; and he became the leading critic of collectivism, central planning and the expansionist interventionism of John Maynard Keynes (1883–1946), arguing that the latter would lead to inflation and economic dislocation.
The Second World War turned his attention to political science, and his bestselling The Road to Serfdom (1944) traced the roots of totalitarianism, arguing that central planning, being counterproductive, requires increasing compulsion to maintain.
In The Constitution of Liberty (1960), he set out ideas for a free social and economic order. He updated the classical liberal idea of self-regulating, spontaneous social orders, showing how they emerge from the regular behaviour (or ‘rules’) followed by individuals. He argued that these orders, though unplanned, could process a huge amount of knowledge – held by individuals but dispersed, partial, personal and often ephemeral – more knowledge that any planning agency could process, even if it could access it.
In The Fatal Conceit (1988), he argues that it is a delusion to imagine that we could shape such complex orders using the tools of the physical sciences, and that conscious attempts to redesign them would destabilise them and lead to social and economic disaster.
Hayek also founded of the Mont Pelerin Society, which has become a powerful international forum for classical liberal thinking.
Eamonn Butler is author of Friedrich Hayek – His Ideas and Influence.