Does Hayek Still Matter?
| Nicolai Foss |
I may be wrong, but I have the feeling that the thought of Friedrich von Hayek is receiving less and less attention. This worries me for personal reasons — I wrote my Master’s Thesis in economics in 1989 on Hayek’s business cycle theory, and his work has continuously served as an important source of inspiration to me (e.g., this paper) as well as to countless others — and for the reason that Hayek’s thought is too important to vanish in influence.
To be sure, Hayek’s 1945 paper “The Use of Knowledge in Society” has for a long time been a rather standard reference in works on efficient markets, asymmetric information, and the like (it receives a whopping 2,023 citations on Google Scholar). However, it is usually cited when the aim is to discuss the evolution of the relevant field or engage in political discussion (rather, polemics; think Joseph Stiglitz). The paper has also received much attention in management (in fact, in terms of (unweighted) citation counts, much more attention than in economics; see here). All in all, Hayek’s present Google Scholar performance isn’t really bad (although perhaps not that impressive for an econ Nobel Laureate) with 1,029 for the Constitution of Liberty, 841 for The Road to Serfdom, or 256 for “Competition as a Discovery Procedure.” There are also some pretty solid fellows among those who have more recently (i.e., within the last decade) cited Hayek (e.g., here, here and here).
But, still, it seems that among economists and other social scientists Hayek is increasingly attaining the status of a classical writer in the sense of Schumpeter — namely somebody who is cited and invoked, but mainly for ceremonial/ritualistic reasons and more often in footnotes than in the main text. In contrast, little use is made of his work for purposes of actual theory development. So, if I am right, what is happening to Hayek’s is similar to what Ronald Coase once said of his own 1937 paper on the nature of firm: “[Relatively] Much cited, but little used.” In fact, if somebody bothers to do the citation analysis, they may even find that Hayek is actually becoming less cited (I suspect it), at least in economics and political science (if perhaps not in management).
Supposing that I am right, what may have caused this? The optimistic interpretation is that his work has been assimilated by economics to the degree where giving Hayek distinct recognition for a specific point is superfluous (you don’t see many references to Pigou, Viner and Robinson for the construction of neoclassical cost curves, right?). In a more pessimistic interpretation large parts of Hayek’s thought is in a sense passè. For example, while Hayek developed a convincing critique of Soviet-style socialism, critiquing that kind of social organization nowadays is flogging a dead horse (except in Havana and Pyongyang), and the interesting issue is the welfare state to the critique of which it is unclear whether Hayekian arguments apply that well.