Easterly on Hayek

by Don Boudreaux on January 6, 2009

in Complexity & Emergence, Foreign Aid, Growth, History, Hubris and humility, Law, Myths and Fallacies, Standard of Living

Today’s Dean of development economists, William Easterly, won the inaugural Hayek Prize, offered by the Manhattan Institute, for his splendid book The White Man’s Burden.  Congratulations Bill!

Here’s the Hayek Lecture that Bill delivered this past October when he was awarded the prize formally.  Like all of Bill’s work, it is written in a lively, engaging, fast-flowing style, filled with humor and important facts and insights.  I whet your appetite with the opening paragraph:

Tonight we find ourselves in a moment similar to that in which Hayek wrote The Road to Serfdom in 1943. Then, as now, a great financial crash was seen as a failure of freedom. Actually, things were even worse then for Hayek’s point of view. In the aftermath of the Depression, many pointed out the apparent success of centrally planned industrialization in the Soviet Union in outperforming markets. As Hayek wrote in 1943, democracy barely existed outside of a few English-speaking societies. Even in the U.S., people noted the apparent success of government top-down planning for wartime production of arms. Under these circumstances, Hayek knew he would be caricatured as a right-wing ideologue, even though his ideas did not fit into the stale partisan debate about markets versus government. He argued that the best system in the long run relied upon the creativity of individuals at the bottom who had both political and economic freedom. In a way I will describe below, Hayek saw both government and markets as functioning better the more they were the outcome of spontaneous development from the bottom up, with nobody in charge. It took courage to criticize top-down control after the scary calamities of the Depression, yet Hayek’s vision would be vindicated by subsequent events. How many of us will show similar intellectual courage in the midst of today’s financial crash?


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