Reading Hayek in Graduate School
About a month ago, economists on Facebook were talking about whether Friedrich Hayek‘s classic 1945 article “The Use of Knowledge in Society” was taught in many Ph.D. economics programs in the United States. The consensus was that it isn’t. I have a personal experience from my Ph.D. program and a conversation with professors from more-mainstream Ph.D. programs to report.
My Experience at UCLA
In my first year of the UCLA program, 1972-73, Hayek’s article was on 3 syllabi. One was Armen Alchian’s first-quarter price theory course. A second, I think, was on Axel Leijonhufvud’s and Robert Clower’s 2-quarter macroeconomics sequence. I don’t remember the 3rd.
In June 1998 I was at a 14-person seminar in Tokyo run by David Weinstein of Columbia University and a University of Michigan finance professor. If I remember correctly, the U of Mich professor was E. Han Kim. Each of us had written a paper on some aspect of government controls on international capital movements or was a discussant of someone else’s paper. With a group that small, we got into a lot of interesting side discussions. More than one participant commented on how eye-opening Hayek’s article had been. No one seemed to disagree.
So one of the participants asked for a show of hands from the various academics about whether they covered Hayek in their classes and/or whether Hayek’s article was covered in the classes they took as Ph.D. students. If I recall correctly, I was the only one who had the article on any of the syllabi of courses I took as a Ph.D. student.
One person, not me, said that it was a bad idea not to cover such an important article. I’ll never forget the response of Jagdish Bhagwati of Columbia University, one of the 14 participants. He agreed that the article was important, but, he said, he and his colleagues expected the students to cover it on their own The participant who said it should be covered asked Jagdish how he and his colleagues expected the students to know about the article. He said he thought they would know but admitted that he never even mentioned it to students.
Note: If you think I have an axe to grind against Jagdish, keep in mind that I thought that because of his work in trade and protectionism, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, he should have shared with Paul Krugman the 2008 Nobel Prize in economics. I still think Jagdish is long overdue.
The picture at the top is of Hayek and me at the second Austrian economics conference in Hartford, CT in June 1975.