December, 2013

The Failed Appropriation of F.A. Hayek by Formalist Economics

  • Peter J. Boettke

    Director, F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics
  • Kyle O'Donnell

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Hayek argued that the central question of economics is the coordination problem: How does the spontaneous interaction of many purposeful individuals, each having dispersed bits of subjective knowledge, generate an order in which the actors’ subjective data are coordinated in a way that enables them to dovetail their plans and activities successfully? In attempting to solve this problem, Hayek outlined an approach to economic theorizing that takes seriously the limited, subjective nature of human knowledge. Despite purporting to have appropriated Hayek’s thought by acknowledging the information-transmitting role of prices, mainstream economists have missed Hayek’s point. The predominant tool of formal economics—equilibrium analysis—begins by assuming the data held by actors to have been pre-reconciled, and so evades the problem to be solved. Even the more advanced tools for modeling knowledge in economic analysis, such as the economics of information, assume away either the subjectivism of knowledge and expectations (rendering the coordination of beliefs and plans a trivial matter) or the frictions and “imperfections” of reality (rendering the coordination problem indeterminate).

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