Hayek’s “Rejuvenating Event”

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Today is the 40th anniversary of F.A. Hayek’s Nobel Prize. My article in The Freeman tells the story behind the so-called Nobel, the controversy around Hayek’s winning it (and sharing it with a socialist economist), and what the prize did for Hayek’s personal life, his reputation, and his impact on the fall of European communism.

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Hayek’s defense of tradition

20140401-071447.jpgF.A. Hayek considered himself a liberal, as do I. But in the United States, he was and is called a conservative. This irked him enough that he wrote an article called “Why I Am Not a Conservative.”Download PDF

But while it may have been wrong to associate Hayek’s thought with the political conservatism of the 20th century, there is at least one powerful argument Hayek contributed to the cause of cautious traditionalism.

Tradition isn’t quite the dirty word today that it once was for most post-Enlightenment intellectuals, but it does still have the reputation of being irrational — and it’s certainly still considered inadequate cause to stand in the way of centrally engineered social progress.

Hayek argued, however, that tradition was often an economically efficient way to transmit hard-won lessons from the past into the future. Rational arguments take time and effort, and they rarely have the effect on behavior that we rationally argumentative types wish they had. Tradition, on the other hand, is very effective and relatively cheap. The “transaction costs” — to use econ-geek language — are considerably lower for tradition than they are for propositional logic.