Early Years

Born Friedrich August von Hayek on May 8, 1899, in Vienna, Austria (then the Austro-Hungarian empire), F.A. Hayek became one of the most influential classical liberal economists of the 20th century.

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Hayek during WWI (photo courtesy of Hayek on Hayek)

Although a bright, top-notch student, Hayek was unable to finish his last year at his Gymnasium due to his recruitment in World War I. He fought in an artillery regiment on the Italian front, battling

not only the Allies, but also against starvation and disease. It was the pandemonium and complexity of war that shifted Hayek’s scholarly attention away from the natural sciences towards the social sciences. WWI was a revelation for him as he “saw the great [Austrian] empire collapse over the nationalist problem” drawing his “attention to the problems of political organization” (Hayek 2).


Academics

Upon his return from the war, Hayek enrolled at the University of Vienna and earned doctorates in both law and political science in 1921 and 1923, respectively. Hayek also studied biology, psychology and philosophy intensely, which proved crucial elements to many of his later academic assertions.

In 1931, he began his professorship at the London School of Economics, where he was in constant contact with other leading economists of the time. It was here that he published, The Road to Serfdom, a critique on collectivism and the perils of planned economies.

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Hayek in his later years (photo courtesy of Nobelprize.org)

Hayek moved to the United States in 1950 to take a position at the University of Chicago. There he held seminars for other professors on the philosophies behind economic thought and politics. Hayek went on to teach at three more universities: the University of Freiburg (1962-1968), the University of California, Los Angeles (1968-1969), and the University of Salzburg (1969-1977). Hayek regarded his time at the University of Freiburg as being the most “fruitful” (Hayek 3).


Scholarly Contributions

In 1944, Hayek published The Road to Serfdom, an attack on the planned economies and socialist tendencies that were becoming increasingly prevalent in the Soviet Union and its satellites. In his book, he advocates governments allowing the invisible hand of the market to stabilize itself, while enforcing nominal, but necessary laws and regulations to protect constituents against abuses by businesses and the state (Messiah 1984). He argues that if citizens are demanding too many securities (economic, medial and social), they will ultimately sacrifice their liberty, reducing them to serfdom (Alberta 1996). The Road to Serfdom was an instant success and instigated great political and economic debate on the role of governments.

The Constitution of Liberty, although not nearly as popular as his first book, was published in 1960. It is regarded as one of the most thorough analyses of the neoliberal philosophies concerning the free market system. In this work, Hayek stressed not the follies of classical socialism (as he did in The Road to Serfdom), but rather the “material productivity of a political-economic order in which the rule of law, private property, contract and freedom of exchange lead to the highest standard of living possible” (Ebenstein 197).

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Hayek's The Road to Serfdom (1944)

Hayek’s overall prescription for securing a country’s prosperity in the long run was that of a classical liberal; e.g. to allow for a free market, a stable monetary policy, minimal taxes, limited government and appropriate regulation of the market. In the years following WWII, Hayek’s models were disregarded, as the world began to shift towards more Keynesian ideals. It was not until the mid 1970’s that he received a revival of influence as a result of his Nobel Prize.


Awards and Recognition

In 1974, Hayek was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize for Economics. He shared this honor with Gunnar Myrdal, a Swiss socialist economist.

Hayek’s models have been admired and followed by many influential politicians. Most notably, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher requested Hayek’s advice for Great Britain’s unemployment quandaries in the late 1970’s. As a result, he was made a Buckingham Palace Companion of Honor for “services in the study of economics” in 1984.

In 1991, Hayek was also given the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom by the United States President at the time, George H. W. Bush.


Personal Life

In August, 1926, Hayek married Helen Berta Maria von Fritsch with whom he had two children. He was later divorced and remarried to Helene Bitterlich. He died in Freiburg, Germany in 1992 at the age of 92.

References

Ebenstein, Alan. Hayek: A Biography. New York: Palgrave Publishing, 2001.
"Friedrich August von Hayek - Curriculum Vitae". Nobelprize.org. 13 Nov 2010. http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economics/laureates/1974/hayek.html
Hayek, F. A. Hayek on Hayek. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994.
“Messiah of the Market.“ Time. 27 Aug 1984. 13 Nov. 2010. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,926831,00.html
“Road to Serfdom.” Alberta Report. 4 March 1996. Academic OneFile. Gale. Jacksonville Public Library (FL). 13 Nov. 2010.
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