An intellectual biography of one of the 20th century’s greatest economists.
In 1944, Friedrich Hayek, then at the London School of Economics, published The Road to Serfdom, which warned of the political consequences (i.e., totalitarianism) of central economic planning. Surprisingly (given the Keynesian climate of the day) it became a runaway bestseller in Britain and a solid success in the US, and it greatly strengthened the efforts of the free-market left wing of what would become a resurgent—and, in the 1980s, triumphant—conservatism on both sides of the Atlantic. In this first full biography of Hayek, Ebenstein concentrates on the development of Hayek’s ideas and on the ups and downs of his intellectual reputation. Born into a noble Austrian family in 1899 (he dropped the “von” upon becoming a British subject), Hayek studied economics at the University of Vienna and came under the influence of Ludwig von Mises, the hyper-rationalist libertarian theorist who led the anti-Marxist “Austrian school” of economics. Hayek made his mark with technical work on the business cycle and on the role of market prices. He left Austria in the 1930s to teach in Britain, and after the war founded the influential Mont Pelerin Society to foster cooperation between classical liberals from a variety of fields. From 1950 he taught at the University of Chicago, returning to Europe in 1962. His later works, particularly The Constitution of Liberty and Law, concentrated on social and political theory and on the role of law in providing the predictability that economic agents need to make reasonable decisions. He received the Nobel Prize in economics in 1974.
A solid and serviceable, if somewhat dry, introduction to Hayek’s life and work.