Monday, October 6, 2008

Hayek As Infiltrator

The great economist Friedrich Hayek has often been considered "weak" by many hardcore free market advocates for being soft in his opposition to bad economics, as compared to Murray Rothbard, who was extremely confrontational in both the style and the topics he chose to debate.

In a recent post, Bob Murphy takes a different view of Hayek's "softness". He proposes a calculating Hayek carefully choosing his style of debate and topic of debate in order to infiltrate mainstream economics:

I try, whenever possible, to criticize Tyler Cowen. This is because he has established unbelievable credibility for himself, and he has done this necessarily by knowing the mainstream material SOOOO thoroughly that no one on their side would have the audacity to dismiss him as an ideologue. This is exactly what Hayek did--they actually gave him the Nobel (Memorial) Prize, for crying out loud, even though he had the testicles to put "Serfdom" in his title. Do you know how "unscientific" that was? C'mon folks, Hayek really put in the time to infiltrate the mainstream, and then dropped a bomb within their worldview, the implications of which rippled out in all directions. That's why there are so many diverse applications of "Hayekian" thought. He shattered the dominant worldview in which he grew up. Whom else could you want him to attack, than his powerful contemporaries--which he did?

Murphy has opened up a major point for future Hayek biographers to investigate. Did Hayek simply have a personality that avoided confrontation or was he extremely calculating in his method of approach to mainstream economists? Perhaps a combination of the two?

To the degree Hayek carefully calculated his infiltration of mainstream economics to blow it up, as Murphy contends, Hayek is even a greater genius than I already thought he was.

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