Hayek on the Business Cycle


Introduction to Prices and Production and Other Works by F.A. Hayek.

Friedrich A. Hayek was barely out of his twenties in 1929 when he published the German versions of the first two works in this collection, Monetary Theory and the Trade Cycle and "The Paradox of Saving." The latter article was a long essay that was to become the core of his celebrated book and the third work in this volume, Prices and Production, the publication of which two years later made him a world-renowned economist by the age of thirty-two. But the young Hayek did not pause to savor his success. He was already hard at work on "Reflections on the Pure Theory of Money of Mr. J.M. Keynes," a lengthy critical review of John Maynard Keynes’s two-volume Treatise on Money, which had been published in 1930. Hayek’s two-part review appeared in late 1931 and 1932. There followed within a few years the other three works collected in this volume. "The Mythology of Capital" appeared in 1936 and was a response to Frank Knight’s hostile criticisms of the Austrian theory of capital. A short article on "Investment That Raises the Demand for Capital" and the monograph Monetary Nationalism and International Stability were published in 1937.

These seven works taken together represent the first integration and systematic elaboration of the Austrian theories of money, capital, business cycles, and comparative monetary institutions, which constitute the essential core of Austrian macroeconomics. Indeed these works have profoundly influenced postwar expositions of Austrian or "capital-based" macroeconomics down to the present day. The creation of such an oeuvre would be a formidable intellectual feat over an entire lifetime; it is an absolute marvel when we consider that Hayek had completed it in the span of eight years (1929–1937) and still well shy of his fortieth birthday.

Hayek’s amazingly precocious intellect and creative genius are on full display in these works. Thus, before the age of thirty, Hayek already had fully mastered and begun to synthesize and build upon the major contributions of his predecessors in the Austrian tradition. These included, in particular: Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk’s theory of capital and interest; Knut Wicksell’s further elaborations on Böhm-Bawerk’s capital theory and his own insights into the "cumulative process" of changes in money, interest rates and prices; Ludwig von Mises’s groundbreaking theories of money and business cycles; and the general analytical approach of the broad Austrian school from Menger onward that focused on both the subjective basis and the dynamic interdependence of all economic phenomena.

There is something else about Hayek that becomes apparent when reading his contributions in this volume. The young Hayek was a great economic controversialist, perhaps the greatest of the twentieth century. His entire macroeconomic system was forged within the crucible of the great theoretical controversies of the era. His opponents were some of the great (and not so great) figures in interwar economics: Keynes, W.T. Foster and W. Catchings, Ralph Hawtrey, Irving Fisher, Frank Knight, Joseph Schumpeter, Gustav Cassel, Alvin Hansen, A.C. Pigou, Arthur Spiethoff to name a few. Hayek took on all comers without fear or favor and inevitably emerged victorious. As Alan Ebenstein notes, "Hayek came to be seen in Cambridge, as Robbins and LSE’s point man in intellectual combat with Cambridge."

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October 9, 2008