Twenty years after his death, Nobel Laureate F.A. Hayek's ideas still reshaping the world
OTTAWA, May 8, 2012 – Anyone looking for evidence of Victor Hugo's proposition that ideas are the most powerful force in the world need look no further than the impact of the ideas of one of the 20th century's most celebrated economic and social thinkers, F.A. Hayek, who died 20 years ago this year.
In The Man Who Changed Everyone's Life, a retrospective essay by Macdonald-Laurier Institute's Managing Director Brian Lee Crowley, Hayek's seminal contributions to our world's intellectual and policy life are analysed, including:
- His long but ultimately successful battle with John Maynard Keynes over what was to become known as Keynesianism;
- Hayek's debunking of the myth of central planning, most particularly in his classic postwar bestseller, The Road to Serfdom;
- His championing— including in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech— of the idea that economists and other social scientists claim knowledge that they cannot possibly possess about the operation of the economy and society and that they should therefore be much more humble about their ability to redesign social institutions for the better;
- The roots in Hayek's thought of reforms with far-reaching implications, such as privatisation, property-owning democracy and competition among providers of public services; and
- The degree to which the leaders of post-Communist societies in eastern Europe and elsewhere drew inspiration from Hayek's insights into the failings of central planning and the long road to the development of the institutions of a free society.
Any man of ideas would doubtless consider his work vindicated if he accomplished any one of these feats. But a life that encompassed them all, that influenced the thinking of people as diverse as Margaret Thatcher, Vaclav Klaus, Ronald Reagan, Helmut Schmidt and John Maynard Keynes, to name but a few, must surely be counted as one of the most intellectually momentous of the last century.
Nor is Hayek's influence now relegated to the past. The recent recession, for example, revived the debate between Hayek's ideas and the Keynesians as to the efficacy of stimulus spending and the causes and consequences of economic slowdowns.
Let no one be under any illusion, however, that Hayek's triumphs were the effortless fruit of a life of popular acclaim. On the contrary, he paid a heavy personal and professional price for differing vocally with the mainstream opinion of his time. He went from being one of the most influential young economists of the early 20th century, to the isolation and ostracism reserved for the unfashionable, to the pinnacle of his career and the ultimate vindication of his ideas thanks to the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1974 and the fall of European Communism in 1989. Yet throughout his career he never wavered in his commitment to the ideas he believed were right no matter how it affected his reputation.
All those interested in how powerful ideas shape the events of human history, and how they can triumph over the disdain of elites and the brute power of the Berlin Wall will want to read the story of the man who changed everyone's life: F.A. Hayek.
Brian Lee Crowley is Managing Director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.
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