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Trend of Economic Thinking, The

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In The Trend of Economic Thinking Hayek presents many of the figures that influenced the development of his economic thought.
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The Trend of Economic Thinking: Essays on Political Economists and Economic History

Editorial foreword by W. W. Bartley, III, introduction by Stephen Kresge, chronological list of contents, bibliographical note, editor's acknowledgements by W. W. Bartley, III, index.

Hayek was not only a seminal thinker in his own right. As a critic, commentator, guide, and teacher of ideas in general, he was a master of the history of ideas in general. This volume collects his writings on the ideas of others, and through his commentary we learn of the depth of Hayek's own perspective.

Here we have several important unpublished essays on the meaning of being an economist. These alone are priceless contributions. But also we have essays on Francis Bacon, Bernard Mandeville, David Hume, Adam Smith, Richard Cantillon, Frederic Bastiat, Jules Dupuit, Heinrich Gossen, and several extended and detailed essays on all the major thinkers of the 19th century English debate between the Currency and Banking School.

Of all the books in the collected works, it is likely that this one contains the largest amount of inaccessible, unpublished, and previously untranslated work. In this sense, the book is full of surprises.

Here is a quotation from a previously unpublished lecture to students in 1944:

There is at least one kind of happiness which the pursuit of most sciences promises but which is almost wholly denied to the economist. The progress of the natural sciences often leads to unbounded confidence in the future prospects of the human race, and provides the natural science with the certainty that any important contribution to knowledge which he makes will be used to improve the lot of men. The economist's lot, however, is to study a field in which, almost more than any other, human folly displays itself.

The scientist has no doubt that the world is moving on to better and finer things, that the progress he makes today will tomorrow be recognised and used. There is a glamour about the natural sciences which express itself in the spirit and the atmosphere in which it is pursued and received, in the prizes that wait for the successful as in the satisfaction it can offer to most. What I want to say to you tonight is a warning that, if you want any of this, if to sustain you in the toil which the prolonged pursuit of any subject requires, you want these clear signs of success, you had better leave economics now and turn to one of the more fortunate other sciences.

Not only are there no glittering prizes, no Nobel prizes [1944], and—I should have said till recently—no fortunes and no peerages [Keynes was first], for the economist. But even to look for them, to aim at praise or public recognition, is almost certain to spoil your intellectual honesty in this field. The danger to the economist from any too strong desire to win public approval, and the reasons why I think it indeed fortunate that there are only few marks of distinction to corrupt him, I shall discuss later.

But before that I want to consider the more serious cause for sorrow to the economist, the fact that he cannot trust that the progress of his knowledge will necessarily be followed by a more intelligent handling of social affairs, or even that we shall advance in this field at all and there will not be retrograde movements. The economist knows that a single error in his field may do more harm than almost all the sciences taken together can do good—even more, that a mistake in the choice of a social order, quite apart from the immediate effect, may profoundly affect the prospects for generations. Even if he believes that he is himself in possession of the full truth—which he believes less the older he grows—he cannot be sure that it will be used. And he cannot even be sure that his own activities will not produce, because they are mishandled by others, the opposite of what he was aiming at.

…The reason why I think that too deliberate striving for immediate usefulness is so likely to corrupt the intellectual integrity of the economist is that immediate usefulness depends almost entirely on influence, and influence is gained most easily by concessions to popular prejudice and adherence to existing political grounds. I seriously believe that any such striving for popularity—at least till you have very definitely settled your own convictions, is fatal to the economist and that above anything he must have the courage to be unpopular.

…I think as economists we should at least always suspect ourselves if we find that we are on the popular side. It is so much easier to believe pleasant conclusions, or to trace doctrines which others like to believe, to concur in the views which are held by most people of good will, and not to disillusion enthusiasts, that the temptation to accept which would not stand cold examination is sometimes almost irresistible.

It is the desire to gain influence in order to be able to do good which is one of the main sources of intellectual concessions by the economist. …

…There are now, and probably always will be, any number of attractive jobs, such as various sorts of research or adult education, in which you will be welcome if you hold the right kind f 'progressive' views, and will have a better chance of getting on various committees or commissions if you represent any known political programme than if you are known to go your own way. … I don't think that the work of the politician and the true student of society or compatible. Indeed it seems to me that in order to be successful as a politician, to become a political leader, it is almost essential that you have no original ideas on social matters but just express what the majority feel.

…I have never really regretted that I became an economist or really wish no change with anybody else.

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ISBN 9780865977426
Publisher Liberty Fund Inc.
Publication Date 2009
Binding PB
Page Length 400
Dimensions 6" x 9"