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The UCLA Interviews with Friedrich Hayek

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03/23/2009

The 1978 interviews with Friedrich Hayek conducted by Earlene Craver, Axel Leijonhufvud, Leo Rosten, Jack High, James Buchanan, Robert Bork, Thomas Hazlett, Armen Alchian, and Robert Chitester in 1978 are now available on the internet. The interviews are available in these formats: pdf, text, flip book, and others. There is perhaps no better introduction to the man and the context of his contribution to science than you get in these interviews. I've posted a few excepts from the interviews at the "Taking Hayek Seriously" blog, and I'll post more over the next few days. For a sense of contents, here are some remarks from Hayek on Ludwig von Mises:

[Ludwig Mises] wrote that article [on socialist calculation] and then particularly a book. Die Gemeinwirtschaft: Untersuchungen liber den Sozialismus, which had the decisive influence of curing us [of our infatuation with socialism], although it was a very long struggle. At first we all felt he was frightfully exaggerating and even offensive in tone. You see, he hurt all our deepest feelings, but gradually he won us around, although for a long time I had to -- I just learned he was usually right in his conclusions, but I was not completely satisfied with his argument. That, I think, followed me right through my life. I was always influenced by Mises's answers, but not fully satisfied by his arguments. It became very largely an attempt to improve the argument, which I realized led to correct conclusions. But the question of why it hadn't persuaded most other people became important to me; so I became anxious to put it in a more effective form.

LEIJONHUFVUD: You have developed your own views on methodology over the years. Did you have a conflict with Mises on methodological matters?

HAYEK: No, no conflict, although I failed in my attempt to make him see my point; but he took it more good-naturedly than in most other instances. [laughter] I believe it was in that same article on economics and knowledge where I make the point that while the analysis of individual planning is in a way an a priori system of logic, the empirical element enters in people learning about what the other people do. And you can't claim, as Mises does, that the whole theory of the market is an a priori system, because of the empirical factor which comes in that one person learns about what another person does. That was a gentle attempt to persuade Mises to give up the a priori claim, but I failed in persuading him. [laughter]

LEIJONHUFVUD: And you would not share his reliance on introspection?

HAYEK: Well, up to a point, yes, but in a much less intellectual sense. You see, I am neither a utilitarian nor a rationalist in the sense in which Mises was. And his introspection is, of course, essentially a rationalist introspection.

ROSTEN: ... if you look back over your own background, your own reading, which five or ten books would you say most influenced your thinking?

HAYEK: There is no doubt about both [Carl] Menger's Grundsetze and [Ludwig von] Mises's On Socialism . Menger I at once absorbed; Mises's was a book with which I struggled for years and years, because I came to the conclusion that his conclusions were almost invariably right, but I wasn't always satisfied by his arguments. But he had probably as great an influence on me as any person I know.

HIGH: Your name, of course, is closely associated with [Ludwig von] Mises's. What do you feel were the most important influences he had on you?

HAYEK: That's, of course, a big order to answer. Because while I owe him a great deal, it was perhaps most important that even though he was very persuasive, I was never quite
convinced by his arguments. Frequently, I find in my own explanations that he was right in the conclusions without his arguments completely satisfying me. In my interests, I've been very much guided by him: both the interest in money and industrial fluctuations and the interest in socialism comes very directly from his influence. If I had come to him as a young student, I would probably have just swallowed his views completely. As it was, I came to him already with a degree. I had finished my elementary course; so I pushed him in a slightly more critical fashion. Being for ten years in close contact with a man with whose conclusions on the whole you agree but whose arguments were not always perfectly convincing to you, was a great stimulus .

As I say, in most instances I found he was simply right; but in some instances, particularly the philosophical background -- I think I should put it that way -- Mises remained to the end a utilitarian rationalist. I came to the conclusion that both utilitarianism as a philosophy and the idea of it -- that we were guided mostly by rational calculations -- just would not be true.

That [has] led me to my latest development, on the insight that we largely had learned certain practices which were efficient without really understanding why we did it; so that it was wrong to interpret the economic system on the basis of rational action. It was probably much truer that we had learned certain rules of conduct which were traditional in our society. As for why we did, there was a problem of selective evolution rather than rational construction.

ROSTEN: Let me go back to something you just said, which interested me very much, on Ludwig von Mises, when you said you agreed with his conclusions but not with the reasoning by which he came to them. Now, on what basis would you agree with the conclusions if not by his reasoning?

HAYEK: Well, let me put it in a direct answer, I think I can explain. Mises remained to the end a strict rationalist and utilitarian. He would put his argument in the form that man had deliberately chosen intelligent institutions. I am convinced that man has never been intelligent enough for that, but that these institutions have evolved by a process of selection, rather similar to biological selection, and that it was not our reason which helped us to build up a very effective system, but merely trial and error.

So I never could accept the, I would say, almost eighteenth-century rationalism in his argument, nor his utilitarianism. Because in the original form, if you say [David] Hume and [Adam] Smith were utilitarians, they argued that the useful would be successful, not that people designed things because they knew they were useful. It was only [Jeremy] Bentham who really turned it into a rationalist argument, and Mises was in that sense a
successor of Bentham: he was a Benthamite utilitarian, and that utilitarianism I could never quite swallow. I'm now more or less coming to the same conclusions by recognizing that spontaneous growth, which led to the selection of the successful, leads to formations which look as if they had been intelligently designed, but of course they never have been intelligently designed nor been understood by the people who really practice the things.

at the same time [we were] very much aware of the division between not only Meyer and Mises but already [Friedrich von] Wieser and Mises. You see, we were very much aware that there were two traditions -- the [Eugen von] Bohm-Bawerk tradition and the Wieser tradition -- and Mises was representing the Bohm-Bawerk tradition, and Meyer was representing the Wieser tradition.

[Ludwig Mises] was always a little doctrinaire. I think he was not so susceptible to take offense as he was later. I think he had a period of -- Well, he always had been rather bitter. He had been treated very badly all through his life, really, and that hard period when he arrived in New York and was unable to get an appropriate position made him very much more bitter. On the other hand, there was a counter- effect. He became more human when he married. You see, he was a bachelor as long as I knew him in Vienna, and he was in a way harder and even more intolerant of fools than he was later. [laughter] If you look at his autobiography, the contempt of his for most of the German economists was very justified. But I think twenty years later he would have put it in a more conciliatory form. His opinion hadn't really changed, but he wouldn't have spoken up as openly as in that particular very bitter moment when he just arrived in America and didn't know what his future would be.

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