Economic thinking

economic thinking for the theologically minded and economic way of thinking examples
RobertPacino Profile Pic
Published Date:07-07-2017
Your Website URL(Optional)
EDITORIAL FOREWORD I The Trend of Economic Thinking, a new collection of essays by Hayek concerning political economists and economic history, is the third volume of The Collected Works of F.A.Hayek, a new standard edition of his writings, and the second volume in order of appearance. The first volume, The Fatal Conceit, was published in Britain in 1988 and in the United States in 1988. Of the work’s fifteen chapters, five have never previously been published, and another two have never before been published in English. Most of the remaining chapters are difficult to obtain, only three of them being readily available in other Hayek collections. These three essays are placed here as part of the more systematic presentation aimed for in the Collected Works. II The Collected Works of F.A.Hayek attempts to make virtually the entire Hayek corpus available to the reader for the first time. The chief organisation is thematic, but within this structure a chronological order is followed where possible. The series opens with two closely-related books on the limits of reason and planning in the social sciences—The Fatal Conceit, a new work, and The Uses and Abuses of Reasons: The Counter-Revolution of Science and Other Essays, a work never previously published in Britain. The series continues with two collections of historical and biographical essays (The Trend of Economic Thinking: Essays on Political Economists and Economic History and The Fortunes of Liberalism and the Austrian School).ix The bulk of Hayek’s contributions to economics are contained in the four volumes Nations and Gold; Money and Nations; Investigations in Economics; and Monetary Theory and Industrial Fluctuations. These volumes are followed by two volumes of documentation, historical record, and debate: Contra Keynes and Cambridge and Socialism and War. The texts will be published in corrected, revised and annotated form, with introductions by distinguished scholars intended to place them in their historical and theoretical context. It is the intention of the editors that the series of volumes be complete in so far as that is reasonable and responsible. Thus essays which exist in slightly variant forms, or in several different languages, will be published always in English or in English translation, and only in their most complete and finished form unless some variation, or the timing thereof, is of theoretical or historical significance. Some items of ephemeral value, such as short newspaper articles and book notices of a few lines written when Hayek was editing. Economica, will be omitted. And of course the correspondence to be published will be mainly that which bears significantly on Hayek’s literary and theoretical work in economics, psychology, biography and history, political theory, and philosophy. III The preparation of a standard edition of this type is a large and also expensive undertaking. First and foremost amongst those to be thanked for their very great assistance are W.Glenn Campbell, Director Emeritus of the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace, Stanford University, and John Raisian, Acting Director of the Hoover Institution, for the generous decision to provide the principal underlying support for this project. The presiding genius behind the larger project, without whose advice and support it never could have been organised or launched, is Walter S.Morris, of the Vera and Walter Morris Foundation. Another institution whose directors watched carefully over the inception of the project, and whose advice has been invaluable, is the Institute for Humane Studies, George Mason University. The editor is particularly indebted to Leonard P.Liggio, Walter Grinder, and John Blundell, of the Institute for Humane Studies. Equally important has been the unflagging support and advice of Norman Franklin, former Head of Routledge & Kegan Paul, who had been Hayek’s publisher for many years. I should also like to express my deep thanks to Mrs. Penelope Kaiserlian, Associate Director of the University of Chicagox Press, and to Mr. Peter Sowden, of Routledge. Finally, the project could not have been carried through successfully without the generous financial assistance of the supporting organisations, whose names are listed prominently at the beginning of the volume, and to which all associated with the volume are deeply grateful. The support of these sponsors—institutions and foundations from six continents— not only acknowledges the international appreciation of Hayek’s work, but also provides very tangible evidence of the ‘extended order of human cooperation’ of which Hayek writes. W.W.Bartley, IIIF.A.HAYEK THE TREND OF ECONOMIC THINKING Essays on Political Economists and Economic HistoryINTRODUCTION Friedrich August von Hayek was born in 1899 in what was then Vienna. The name is still in use, unlike, say, Saigon; and, unlike, say, Angkor Wat, there is still an inhabited city in the same location; but the Vienna into which Hayek was born, the city which that name conjures up in our memory and imagination, survives no more than the fabled Trebizond. Hayek has lived most of his life, as have many civilised people of the twentieth century, in a kind of exile. England is his adopted country, but he made his last home in Freiburg. “What a small group” Hayek has recalled, of his family and friends in that long-lost Vienna. “Konrad Lorenz I first encountered when he was a boy of four or five; Otto Frisch, the youngest brother of friends of my father; Ludwig Wittgenstein, a second cousin of my mother whom I first remember in 1918 when we were both ensigns in the artillery of the Austro-Hungarian army; Böhm-Bawerk, my maternal grandfather’s colleague and mountaineering companion; Erwin Schrödinger, the son of my father’s botanical colleague who occasionally accompanied his father to the botanists’ teas at our house….” What made Vienna the distinctive city that it was, as much as any other the fount of Western culture, is a question to be kept in mind, but it is not the subject here under discussion. What we might observe is that a milieu such as that in which Hayek spent his childhood and youth, a society in which family and associates, position and accomplishment, knowledge and history were so tightly intertwined, meant that the members of such a society were quickly and always apprised of what mattered. This is no small feat, as any teacher of the present generation of youth knows too well. It is the significance of knowledge and information that leads to the evolution of understanding. Indifference cannot produce the sort of inquiry, the criticism and dissent that is necessary for the growth of knowledge.INTRODUCTION 3 What has given Hayek’s writing its enduring value is this sense of what matters. Economists cannot point to a sterling record of prescience. Classical theory foundered on the rocks of a world depression; Keynesian economics on the phenomenon inelegantly referred to as ‘stagflation’; and as for Marxism, the year of 1989 has finally brought the collapse of a system that extracted inhuman costs to enforce a fanatical blunder. For Hayek, it is no consolation to have been right all along. It is in his criticisms of socialism, of the attempt to control by fiat the relations among human beings, that Hayek has demonstrated his keen sense of significance, of the compelling need to define the problem faced. Only if a problem has been clearly defined can we know if we have found an answer. This is by no means the simple practice the statement suggests. In wanting the world to conform to our expectations, we too often craft a problem to accept the solution we want, rather than face an unacceptable truth. In his preface to Conjectures and 1 Refutations, the work which Sir Karl Popper dedicated to Hayek, Popper observes that his book is largely a variation on one very simple theme—the thesis that we can learn from our mistakes. But then, how do we know when we are mistaken, and when can we afford to admit a mistake? The growth of knowledge is forced through a painful need generated by error, and the lessons of economics can be swift and unsparing. Even so, why should we bother with history, particularly with the history of theories, which is what many of the essays collected in this volume are about? There are several aspects to an answer to this question. In the chapter “History and Politics”, Hayek observes that historical myths have perhaps played nearly as great a role in shaping opinion as historical facts; and that even new ideas reach wider circles usually not in their abstract form but as the interpretations of particular events. Is it then not as important to know the lineage of an idea as the idea itself; to be able to assess its staying power and to observe whether the problem addressed has become a problem solved? Herewith, then, to compare, a passage from David Hume and one from Richard Cantillon: Accordingly we find that, in every kingdom into which money begins to flow in greater abundance than formerly, everything takes a new face: labour and industry gain life; the merchant becomes more enterprising, the manufacturer more diligent and skilful, and even the farmer follows his plough with greater4 THE TREND OF ECONOMIC THINKING alacrity and attention…. From the whole of this reasoning we may conclude, that it is of no manner of consequence, with regard to the domestic happiness of a state, whether money be in a greater or less quantity. The good policy of the magistrate consists only in keeping it, if possible, still encreasing; because, by that means, he keeps alive a spirit of industry in the nation, and encreases the 2 stock of labour, in which consists all real power and riches. But Cantillon, foreseeing a less happy outcome, provides an antidote; and completes the economist’s ‘dismal task’: When a State has arrived at the highest point of wealth (I assume always that the comparative wealth of States consists principally in the respective quantities of money which they possess) it will inevitably fall into poverty by the ordinary course of things. The too great abundance of money, which so long as it lasts forms the power of States, throws them back imperceptibly but naturally into poverty. Thus it would seem that when a State expands by trade and the abundance of money raises the price of Land and Labour, the Prince or the Legislator ought to withdraw money from circulation, keep it for emergencies, and try to retard its circulation by every means except compulsion and bad faith, so as to forestall the too great dearness of its articles and prevent the 3 drawbacks of luxury. There is hardly a country in the world today where these two positions are not—still—under interminable debate. The terms in which the debates are conducted do change, as politics and economic theory continue their three-legged race to define terms of success and escape the rude revelation of a problem for which no solution ever seems forthcoming. The problem is the determination of monetary standards; the rise and fall of prices must be conveyed by some instrument, something with more staying power than, say, a tuning fork. There is a 1 K.R.Popper, Conjectures and Refutations (New York and London: Basic Books, 1962).INTRODUCTION 5 difference between money and a monetary standard; and the dawn of the history of the problem is to be found in Hayek’s chapter on the genesis of the gold standard. But it is also in the essay on Dr. Bernard Mandeville where Hayek finds “the definite breakthrough in modern thought of the twin ideas of evolution and of the spontaneous formation of an order”, an order which is the result of human action, but not of human design. England did not establish the gold standard by any conscious and deliberate act. In fact, it came about as the unintended consequence of the attempt to secure a silver standard through the recoinage of 1695, which was a deliberate, and rather costly, act, the result of an argument by John Locke that a monetary standard was a matter of principle, and that a standard once established in which contracts are made should be upheld. The establishment of Locke’s principle did not secure its objective—a silver standard for the shilling, which Sir Isaac Newton, too, tried to secure in his role as Master of the Mint—but it did have the fortuitous outcome of securing for London the leading role in the world’s financial markets, since it led much of the world to believe that if they lent their money to London they could be reasonably assured of getting it back. The principle was invoked in 1844 when England returned to the gold standard after the Napoleonic wars, and again in 1926 with not so favourable an outcome. Alas, the principle, like all such, contained premisses the implications of which were not, perhaps still are not, known. Since the shilling—or any denomination of any currency— must be a fixed number, to fix that number relative to any other convertible value is a mysterious achievement for which there is no reliable recipe. Yet a principle, once accepted, takes on the same objective reality as any other event, thus muddying the ancient distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ laws, the dichotomy which Hayek has found so poisonous in the Aristotelian menu. The lessons of history are not, or not only, to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. Whatever history has left to teach—and that value cannot be over-estimated—derives largely from what was not, perhaps could not have been, understood in the first place. Since we cannot predict all of the consequences of any act, or all of the implications of 2 David Hume, Essays Moral, Political, and Literary, ed. Eugene F.Miller (Indianapolis, Ind.: LibertyClassics, 1985), pp. 286–288. 3 Richard Cantillon, Essai sur la Nature du Commerce en Général, ed. Henry Higgs (London: Frank Cass, 1959), p. 185.6 THE TREND OF ECONOMIC THINKING any theory, and do not, therefore, know what we are doing, we do not 4 know what we have done. Consider the difficulties faced by economic forecasters extrapolating economic trends from estimates of present activity which are derived from statistics which in turn undergo endless revisions. In the words of one, “In theory, you’re trying to find out what the future is going to be 5 like. That’s difficult when the past keeps changing.” The assumption that economists can find predictable solu tions to economic problems is undoubtedly the most inhibiting force in the present curriculum for students of economics. It has led to the increasing isolation of theoretical economists from the day-to-day practitioners of the subject—the actual participants in an economy, the consumers and the producers. It is the growth of their knowledge which is all important both for the success of an economy and the validity of any economic theory. And the fact that this knowledge is so widely dispersed and ever-changing lies at the core of much of Hayek’s most important work, for example his famous 6 essays, “The Use of Knowledge in Society” and “The Meaning of 7 Competition”. Yet it is the unpredictable character of the growth of knowledge which requires that from time to time we return our thoughts to the past, to rediscover in the terms set by our original problems whether we are still on course. We can find no better introduction to the rewards of reading Hayek’s historical studies—many of which are collected in this volume, and some of which appear here for the first time in English—than to repeat the gracious acknowledgement given to Hayek by Sir John Clapham in the preface to his definitive history of the Bank of England. “His masterly knowledge of our economic literature has been at my command; and to him I owe a number of pamphlet and press references. His edition of Henry Thornton’s Paper Credit was always on my table for the period 8 1780–1820.” The essays in this volume—including Hayek’s essay on Henry Thornton—are not printed in chronological order (though for the convenience of students of Hayek’s work a table of the contents in chronological sequence is provided), since Hayek was not primarily concerned with establishing a sequential view of economic cause and 4 For a full discussion of this thesis and its implications for economic theory, see W.W.Bartley, III, Unfathomed Knowledge, Unmeasured Wealth (La Salle, Ill., and London: Open Court, 1990). 5 Martin Zimmerman, chief economist at Ford Motor Co., quoted in The Wall Street Journal, August 31, 1989, p. A2.INTRODUCTION 7 effect. His concern here, and throughout most of his work, is with the development of concepts and their role in determining the evolution of economic and political order. With an historical context in view we may attempt to escape from the limits of our own parochial assumptions about human behaviour; investigating, as it were, the fossil remains for clues about evolution, to try to evade our own extinction. Hayek’s Vienna was not so lucky. The Great War and the Second World War severed Vienna’s links with its former domain. But wars are effects as well as causes, and Vienna’s links with the former provinces of the Austro-Hungarian empire had already begun to loosen. There is perhaps yet another economic history lesson to be found in causes of the eventual collapse of all the great nineteenth-century empires, one that heretofore has not received sufficient attention, one that might reawaken an interest in economic history and the history of economic theory. Hayek, as we have said, had a keen sense of what mattered. In fact, the primary function of the capital city of an empire, such as Vienna or London, has been to bring together all the information necessary to maintain the political and economic order upon which the survival of the empire depends. Understanding the significance of information was the job of everyone in a capital; their own careers depended on it. But an invention of the nineteenth century changed the world forever in ways that we only now—with the development of the computer—begin to comprehend. Economists of the time did not. Ricardo had changed the focus of economic theory to an investigation of how economic gain is shared among the factors of production. Marx compounded the felony with his focus on industrial production. In fact, the investment of capital in manufacturing is but one of a set of interdependent relations which we might call the dispersal of consumption—and, although not identified as such in classical theory, is the necessary condition for the division of labour to be profitable. In short, it was the development of railroads that fundamentally changed the means of production of goods, and necessarily the consumption of those goods. (A thorough discussion of this economic process is beyond the intent of this introduction. 6 In F.A.Hayek, Individualism and the Economic Order, Gateway edition (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1972), pp. 77–91. 7 Op. cit., pp. 92–106. 8 Sir John Clapham, The Bank of England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1944), p. viii.8 THE TREND OF ECONOMIC THINKING However, examples are necessary to understand the importance of our subject, the unlearned lessons of history.) More important than the railroad, ultimately, was the telegraph. For the first time, information could be conveyed over long distances without something or someone having to be physically transported. Once this possibility existed, the financial, political and military justification for empire vanished. Think of the Roman road and the British navy; think of the early banking families, the Rothschilds, for example; think of the incredible intelligence network of Lloyd’s of London. Now consider the instantaneous transmission of financial information by computer and satellite. And consider why this is valuable enough to have repaid the enormous investment it has required to bring it into being. For an explanation, we can retrace the development of economic theory, to writers before Ricardo, to Adam Smith, of course, but also to Richard Cantillon, about whom Hayek’s essay is one of the treasures of this collection. Suppose now that the circulation of money in the provinces and in the Capital is equal both in quantity of money and speed of circulation. The balance will be first sent to the Capital in cash and this will diminish the quantity of money in the Provinces and increase it in the Capital, and consequently the raw material and commodities will be dearer in the Capital than in the Provinces, on account of the greater abundance of money in the Capital. The difference of prices in the Capital and in the Provinces must pay for the costs and risks of transport, otherwise cash will be sent to the Capital to pay the balance and this will go on till the prices in the Capital and the Provinces come to the level of these costs and risks. Then the Merchants or Undertakers of the Market Towns will buy at a low price the products of the Villages and will have them carried to the Capital to be sold there at a higher price: and this difference of price will necessarily pay for the upkeep of the Horses and Menservants and the profit of the Undertaker, or else he would cease his enterprise. It will follow from this that the price of raw Produce of equal quality will always be higher in the Country places which are nearest the Capital than in those more distant in proportion to the costs and risks of transport; and that the Countries adjacent to Seas and Rivers flowing into the Capital will get a better price for their Produce in proportion than those which are distant (OtherINTRODUCTION 9 things being equal) because water transport is less expensive than land transport. On the other hand the Products and small wares which cannot be consumed in the Capital, because they are not suitable or cannot be sent thither on account of their bulk, or because they would be spoiled on the way, will be infinitely cheaper in the Country and distant Provinces than in the Capital, owing to the amount of money circulating for them which is much smaller in the distant Provinces. So it is that new laid eggs, game, fresh butter, wood fuel, etc. will generally be much cheaper in the district of Poitou than in Paris, whilst Corn, Cattle and Horses will be dearer at Paris only by the difference of the cost and risk of carriage and the dues for 9 entering the City. (It should also be observed that in this passage Cantillon points to the source of the seasonal flow of money that so plagued early banking.) And he observes as well: England today consumes not only the greatest part of its own small produce but also much foreign produce, such as Silks, Wines, Fruit, Linen in great quantity, etc. while she sends abroad only the produce of her Mines, her work and Manufactures for the most part, and dear though Labour be owing to the abundance of money, she does not fail to sell her articles in distant countries, owing to the advantage of her shipping, at prices as reasonable as 10 in France where these same articles are much cheaper. Hayek has written at some length about the role of prices as signals for altering economic responses. The primary signal is the existence of two different prices for the same good. If the cost of transport is less than the difference between the two prices, a profit can be made. That profit is the fundamental gain of capitalism. It is why capitalism can improve the welfare of all without shifting the burden of cost within an economy. Agreed, the above discussion is simplified. A price difference cannot always be discovered in an instant. There is the complication of the monetary standard; and prices alone do not tell one all that one needs to know in order to make efficient choices. Most troubling of all, there are unforeseen and unintended consequences which follow from any 9 Cantillon, op. cit., pp. 152–153.10 THE TREND OF ECONOMIC THINKING change in—or from a failure to change— economic behaviour; or from some at once improbable, yet unprepossessing, invention. The troubling history of England in the twentieth century provides an example. For an empire which thrived on its ability to develop knowledge and to comprehend the significance of information, there was a disastrous lapse at the end of the Second World War. Recall the signal flags that Nelson used to win the battle at Trafalgar; the critical role that radar played in the Battle of Britain; and the decisive role that codebreaking played, first against the Japanese in the Pacific by the United States; secondly against the German U-boats by the British in the Atlantic, using a primitive computer developed by Alan Turing. The British failed to understand what they had been given. It was left for an Hungarian refugee, John von Neumann—not in Vienna but in America —to continue the revolution begun by the invention of the telegraph. Of course, the sun did not begin to set on the British Empire because it failed to develop the computer. The empire dissolved when the costs of maintaining the economic and political order embodied in the structure became greater than the benefits: the telegraph, wireless, and then, of course, television so accelerated economic processes that even the Concorde supersonic transport was obsolete by the time Britain and France had developed it at a cost of billions. Widely dispersed information can now be brought together instantly, and new intelligence can be broadcast so efficiently that it is beyond the ability of any central power to control. This has raised ‘opportunity cost’ above any cost of production as the critical factor in the success of any new enterprise, commercial or military. Surprising anyone—except economists—has become more difficult and more costly. Stealth aircraft were the inevitable response to radar, and when fax machines replace posters, dictators learn that the handwriting is on the wall. Has not something been lost in this instantaneous transmission of information? There is now such a welter of facts, images, disasters, space launches, children fallen in wells, dictators shot or not shot, oil prices up and oil prices down, how is anyone to make sense of it all? Will not even the lessons of the present, to say nothing of history, disappear in the banality of ‘sound bytes’, homilies made urgent through a wilful distortion of a sensory order. When we come to the realisation that so many of the enduring economic problems have not been solved, contrary to the assumptions of the economics textbooks, 10 Op. cit., p. 171.INTRODUCTION 11 what will the undignified scramble for the exits leave trampled underfoot? What is becoming a scarce resource is any sense of the significance of this welter of information. We are losing the sense of what matters, of the habits of mind that can identify problems and learn from mistakes. Some of this can be traced to a loss of context; abstract ideas are not easily conveyed absent a recognisable embodiment, and the subtext, that which is not said, may be missing. Hayek’s quarrels with Aristotle are of the same character as his conversations with Sir Karl Popper and Milton Friedman: the welcome criticism of peers, those who can recognise the same premisses needed to define a given problem, however they may come to differ over their conclusions. Only now do we begin to realise that something valuable may have been driven from the world when the continuity and tradition of Western civilisation was shattered in the same blows that destroyed unwanted empires. Now in Eastern Europe there is nostalgic talk of the good old days under the Hapsburg empire. The evolution of knowledge is inseparable from the evolution of language, and something invaluable is lost when ‘sound bytes’ replace the human voice, heard in face-to-face discussion of mutual concerns. Inflection counts for much, and what is not said can only be recognised when allusion and irony are possible. So Vienna waltzes. “Carl Menger”, Hayek has recalled, “I saw only once, shortly after I had read his Grundsätze, when he marched in procession at the unveiling at the university of a monument of his brother Anton. He was so dignified and impressive with his long beard that later in my biographical essay I described him…as tall—the only wrong statement and the only one based on personal knowledge in that essay. I was however later brought in to advise on the sale of his library—so I saw the studies of all three founders of the Austrian school, but two of them only after their deaths…. “The lady, Mrs. Menger, allowed me, as a reward for my efforts, to pick one attractive seventeenth-century duodecimo volume from his shelf of duplicates. It happened to be the to me still unknown essay by Richard Cantillon, which at once greatly fascinated me….” Stephen Kresge PART I THE ECONOMIST AND HIS DISMAL TASKONE THE TREND OF ECONOMIC 1 THINKING I The position of the economist in the intellectual life of our time is unlike that of the practitioners of any other branch of knowledge. Questions for whose solution his special knowledge is relevant are probably more frequently encountered than questions related to any other science. Yet, in large measure, this knowledge is disregarded and in many respects public opinion even seems to move in a contrary direction. Thus the economist appears to be hopelessly out of tune with his time, giving unpractical advice to which his public is not disposed to listen and having no influence upon contemporary events. Why is this? The situation is not without precedent in the history of economic thought; but it cannot be considered as normal, and there is strong reason to believe that it must be the result of a particular historical situation. For the views at present held by the public can clearly be traced to the economists of a generation or so ago. So that the fact is, not that the teaching of the economist has no influence at all; on the contrary, it may be very powerful. But it takes a long time to make its influence felt, so that, if there is change, the new ideas tend to be swamped by the domination of ideas which, in fact, have become obsolete. Hence the recurring intellectual isolation of the economist. The problem of the relation between the economist and public opinion today resolves itself, therefore, into a question of the causes of the intellectual changes which have conspired to bring about this cleavage. It is this subject which I have chosen as the main theme of this lecture.14 THE TREND OF ECONOMIC THINKING II The subject is a vast one, but the aspect which I wish chiefly to emphasise is that which the economist must, naturally, be most anxious to make clear to the public: i.e., the role played by purely scientific progress—the growth of our insight into the interdependence of economic phenomena—in bringing about these changes in his attitude to practical problems. At first sight there seem to be only two reasons why economists should change their attitude towards questions of economic policy: either they may find that their knowledge has been inadequate, or their views on the fundamental ethical postulates (upon which, of course, every practical conclusion is based) may undergo a change. In either case the role played by science would be clear. But, in fact, the cause of the great historical changes which I am discussing seems to me to be of a more subtle kind. It consists neither of a change in the underlying ethical valuations nor of a refutation of the validity of certain analytical propositions, but rather in a change of view regarding the relevance of that knowledge for practical problems. It was not a change of ideals nor a change of reasoning but a change of view with regard to the applicability of such reasoning which was responsible for the characteristic features of the popular economics of today. How did this come about? It is a common belief that, about the middle of last century, perhaps under the influence of socialistic ideas, the social conscience was aroused by the existence of human misery which had previously escaped recognition, and it was decided no longer to tolerate it. Hence the decline of ‘the old political economy’ which had been blind to these considerations. But, in fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. No serious attempt has ever been made to show that the great liberal economists were any less concerned with the welfare of the poorer 1 Inaugural lecture delivered at the London School of Economics and Political Science on March 1, 1933. The Chair was taken by Dr. James Bonar. This essay was published in Economica, vol. 13, May 1933, pp. 121–137. The title of the lecture may possibly allude to an anthology edited by R.G.Tugwell, The Trend of Economics (New York: Alfred A.Knopf, 1924), published when Hayek was a student at New York University and attending seminars at Columbia University, where Tugwell was Assistant Professor of Economics. For a study of the significance of this lecture in the development of Hayek’s thought, see Bruce J.Caldwell, “Hayek’s ‘The Trend of Economic Thinking’”, Review of Austrian Economics, vol. 2, 1988, pp. 175–178. -Ed.THE TREND OF ECONOMIC THINKING 15 classes of society than were their successors. And I do not think that any such attempt could possibly be successful. The causes of the change must be sought elsewhere. III It is probably true that economic analysis has never been the product of detached intellectual curiosity about the why of social phenomena, but of an intense urge to reconstruct a world which gives rise to profound dissatisfaction. This is as true of the phylogenesis of economics as of 2 the ontogenesis of probably every economist. As Professor Pigou has aptly remarked: “It is not wonder, but the social enthusiasm which revolts from the sordidness of mean streets and the joylessness of 3 withered lives, that is the beginning of economic science.” The mere existence of an extremely complicated mechanism which led to some kind of coordination of the independent action of individuals was not sufficient to arouse the scientific curiosity of men. While the movement of the heavenly bodies or the changes in our material surroundings excited our wonder because they were evidently directed by forces which we did not know, mankind remained—and the majority of men still remain—under the erroneous impression that, since all social phenomena are the product of our own actions, all that depends upon them is their deliberate object. It was only when, because the economic system did not accomplish all we wanted, we prevented it from doing what it had been accomplishing, in an attempt to make it obey us in an arbitrary way, that we realised that there was anything to be understood. It was only incidentally, as a by-product of the study of such isolated phenomena, that it was gradually realised that many things which had been taken for granted were, in fact, the product of a highly complicated organism which we could only hope to understand by the intense mental effort of systematic inquiry. Indeed, it is probably no exaggeration to say that economics developed mainly as the outcome of the investigation and refutation of successive Utopian proposals—if by ‘Utopian’ we mean proposals for the improvement of undesirable effects of the existing system, based upon a complete disregard of those forces which actually enabled it to work. 2 Arthur C.Pigou (1877–1959), Professor of Political Economy, Cambridge University, 1908–1944. -Ed.16 THE TREND OF ECONOMIC THINKING IV Now, since economic analysis originated in this way, it was only natural that economists should immediately proceed from the investigation of causal interrelationships to the drawing of practical conclusions. In criticising proposals for improvement, they accepted the ethical postulates on which such proposals were based and tried to demonstrate that these were not conducive to the desired end and that, very often, policies of a radically different nature would bring about the desired result. Such a procedure does not in any way violate the rule, which 4 Professor Robbins has so effectively impressed upon us, that science 5 by itself can never prove what ought to be done. But if there is agreement on ultimate aims, it is clearly scientific knowledge which decides the best policy for bringing them about. No doubt the economist should always be conscious of this distinction; but it would certainly have been nothing but intolerable pedantry if, in discussing practical problems, the economist had always insisted that science by itself proves nothing, when in fact it was only the newly gained knowledge which was decisive in bringing about the change in their attitude towards practical affairs. The attitude of the classical economists to questions of economic policy was the outcome of their scientific conclusions. The presumption against government interference sprang from a wide range of demonstrations that isolated acts of interference definitely frustrated the attainment of those ends which all accepted as desirable. 3 Arthur C.Pigou, The Economics of Welfare, fourth edition (London: Macmillan, 1932), p. 5. -Ed. 4 Lionel Robbins (1898–1984), later Lord Robbins of Clare Market, Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics and Political Science, University of London, 1929–61; later chairman of the Financial Times and President of the Royal Economic Society; for many years one of Hayek’s closest friends and associates. Among his works are An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science (London: Macmillan, 1932), The Great Depression (London: Macmillan, 1934), and Autobiography of an Economist (London: Macmillan, 1971). -Ed. 5 Lionel Robbins, An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science (London: Macmillan, 1932). -Ed.