Saturday, November 5, 2011

Mises and Hayek - Same Origins, Same Initial Environment, Very Different Worldviews

The more I read of Mises and Hayek, the more I become solidly convinced that their visions of the market, social order and economic exchange are fundamentally different.

Mises is an intransigent rationalist, apriorist, logical deductivist, and methodological dualist. Hayek tries to combine soft rationalism with soft empiricism, wed soft apriorism with soft positivism, and displays some implicit sympathy for methodological monism. For Mises the market order is a composition of innumerably many individual, dovetailing conscious plans and designs. For Hayek the market order emerges from the interaction of unplanned, undirected, evolutionary forces. For Mises it is crucial to consciously understand how the market works if it is to be saved from destruction by collectivist demagogues. For Hayek it is crucial to understand that we do not fully understand how the market works if the same task is to be accomplished. For Mises the reason for the impossibility of a rational centrally planned economy is logical, conceptual, and qualitative, independent of the contingencies of skills and technologies at the disposal of the would-be central planners. For Hayek it is empirical, practical, and quantitative, rooted in the communicational and cognitive shortcomings of humanity as it has been up to now and will likely be for the foreseeable future. For Mises any analogies between biology and economics are misleading. For Hayek they are instructive and illuminating. For Mises the collectivist economic doctrines and the central planning mentality are outgrowths of irrationalism. For Hayek they are outgrowths of hyperrationalism. Further differences between the two could be multiplied ad infinitum.

Though in the abovementioned respects I consider myself a Misesian, I deeply respect Hayek's scholarly output and consider him one of the champions of the Austrian School, albeit of a different strand of it than that advanced by Mises. Plus, I remain cautiously optimistic about the prospects for the further cross-fertilization of their respective bodies of thought.

However, for the same reason I would advise anyone interested in studying, developing, and/or promoting the Austrian tradition against speaking of the Mises-Hayek paradigm or the Mises-Hayek approach. As shown above, there is simply no such thing, and there is certainly nothing wrong about it. Quite the opposite - varietas delectat.

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