Amid a heated election year, the teachings of economist Friedrich Hayek provide a guiding beacon, urging us to transcend partisan lines and champion free-market capitalism that benefits everyone. 

I recently interviewed Dr. Bruce Caldwell of Duke University about his book, Hayek: A Life, 1899-1950, who helped shed light on Hayek’s views on pressing issues today. As we navigate the complex landscape of governance, we should heed Hayek’s call for market-based approaches, especially with trade and immigration, where the clash of political ideologies often obscures the path to rational decision-making.

Hayek’s teachings underscore the need for policy approaches prioritizing broader economic health rather than conforming to the whims of political affiliations or interest groups. He did not advocate for simplistic labels like “left and right” but viewed political thought as a triangle, with socialism, conservatism, and liberalism representing the three points. He favored liberalism, in the classical sense.

His writings compel us to consider whether policies align with our principles and values. One example is trade protectionism, with tariffs enacted while president and pushed again by Donald Trump. Hayek’s book, The Road to Serfdom, cautioned against the pitfalls of protectionism and advocated for free-market principles that embrace competition in free trade. 

While protectionist measures like tariffs may appeal to certain political bases, they come at the expense of economic efficiency and growth. They ultimately cost us more for purchases and inhibit our choices as competition is artificially manipulated where it would otherwise organically select the best providers of resources. A Hayekian approach to trade involves understanding that dynamic economies thrive on diversity and exchanging goods and services across borders.

Another issue at the forefront of political debates that Hayek’s approach helps shed light on is immigration.  

He recognized that allowing the free movement of individuals fosters economic dynamism and innovation. Policies that restrict immigration solely for political gain risk stifling economic growth and impeding the exchange of ideas that fuels progress.

A Hayekian perspective on immigration advocates for policies that acknowledge the economic benefits of a diverse and dynamic workforce. Instead of succumbing to populist narratives that frame immigration as a threat, Hayek prompts us to view it as an opportunity. An influx of skilled and motivated individuals can contribute to a vibrant economy, filling gaps in the labor market and injecting fresh perspectives that drive entrepreneurship.

Too often, misinformation about immigration has led even conservatives to favor more government involvement in tightening borders and deportation. However, as Hayek outlined in his development of “the knowledge problem,” expecting a government of people with limited knowledge of the issue and tradeoffs from policy choices too often results in worse outcomes.  

The people in government do not and never will have all the answers. Instead, collecting everyone’s ideas in the market leads to having the most available knowledge and, therefore, better outcomes.

In short, government failures are worse than any perceived market failures. 

Taking a cue from Hayek, we should strive for more free trade agreements, especially with our allies, which means an end to all tariffs and other barriers. We should also enact market-based immigration policies that balance national security concerns with the economic advantages of attracting talent from diverse backgrounds. 

As we prepare to select our nation’s president for the next four years, Hayek’s teachings serve as a guidepost, urging us to prioritize people’s well-being over the allure of party-centric agendas.  Embracing a Hayekian perspective requires a willingness to critically evaluate policies based on their economic merit rather than their alignment with partisan ideologies. 

Only by doing so can we navigate the complex economic landscape and ensure a prosperous and dynamic future for all.


Vance Ginn, Ph.D., is the president of Ginn Economic Consulting, host of the Let People Prosper Show, and was previously the associate director for economic policy of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, 2019-20. Follow him on at @VanceGinn.