Hayek Propped Up by Government Intervention

Sunday’s?New York Times reported on attempts by the Texas Board of Education to rewrite the high school curriculum in accordance with its conservative values.? While there’s always an element of ideology involved in economics-my personal beliefs shape what I choose to research- I regard my job as generating truths.? I’m interested in either generating facts which have the virtue of being true, or theoretical frameworks to better help us understand those facts. So I find the raw ideological force exerted by these “educators” to be both striking and dispiriting.

How do they plan to rewrite high school economics?

In economics, the revisions add?Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek, two champions of free-market economic theory, to the usual list of economists to be studied – economists like Adam Smith,?Karl Marx and?John Maynard Keynes.

Taking social science seriously surely means teaching the insights of the most prominent, most important, or most influential economists.? This involves teaching important theories-even those you disagree with.? There’s no doubt about the influence of Smith, Marx and Keynes; Friedman also belongs.? But does Hayek belong on this list?

Let’s use data to inform this debate.? I counted the number of references to each economist in the scholarly literature indexed by?JSTOR, finding 30,708 articles mentioning “Adam Smith”; 25,626 articles mentioning “Karl Marx”; and 4,945 mentioning “John Maynard Keynes” (the middle name was required to avoid articles by his father, John Neville Keynes).? “Milton Friedman” sits easily with this group, and was mentioned in 8,924 articles.

But searching for “Friedrich von Hayek” only yielded 398 articles; adding “Friedrich Hayek” raised his total to 1242 mentions; also allowing “FH Hayek” raised his count to 1561.

By the way, “Lawrence Summers” was mentioned 1712 times, adding “Larry Summers” raises his score to 1972 mentions; and also including “LH Summers” raises his score to 2064.

I also tried searching only on surnames, and received roughly similar rankings (although the counts of Smith, Summers and Friedman were grossly inflated by?eponymous?authors).

This exercise suggests that Larry Summers is more influential than Hayek, and so I’m led to conclude that teaching “insights from Larry Summers” involves less of an ideological subsidy than teaching “insights from Hayek.”

“I’m not suggesting we do either, only that we set the bar for teaching economic ideas at a uniformly high level.”

I’m not suggesting we do either, only that we set the bar for teaching economic ideas at a uniformly high level.? If this cuts out Summers, it cuts out Hayek.

These data suggests that Hayek just doesn’t belong with Smith, Marx, Keynes, or Friedman.? In fact, it seems that despite having enjoyed a much longer period to accumulate citations, he is still much less widely cited than Larry Summers.? Sure, Hayek was an insightful economist.? But insisting that high schools teach Hayek is a clear statement of ideology, not of economic science.

The message from the Texas Board of Education seems to be: If you can’t win in the marketplace of ideas, turn to government institutions to prop you up.? I don’t think Hayek would approve.

7:19 p.m. | Updated

Peter Klein writes to let me know that “Hayek published most of his English-language papers and books as ‘F. A. Hayek,’ not ‘F. H. Hayek.'” Thanks Peter, that’s useful. (Now, if only he was taught in the high school curriculum, perhaps…) Taking Peter’s suggestion seriously, I amended my search to include: “Friedrich von Hayek” OR “Friedrich Hayek” OR “FH Hayek” OR “FA Hayek” OR “F.A. Hayek” OR “F.H. Hayek.” This still yields only 1745 Hayek references. While his total count is now slightly higher, the main conclusions remain unchanged: Hayek rates slightly fewer mentions than Larry Summers, and many fewer than Smith, Marx, Keynes or Friedman. (Aside: JSTOR counts citations across many disciplines, not just economics.)

What’s the point of this analysis, anyway? My personal sense is that Hayek belongs among the 64 Nobel Laureates in Economics. Equally, I don’t think he has had the influence of Smith, Marx, Keynes or Friedman. But that’s just my opinion, and my conjecture isn’t worth much-hence the need to gather data instead. So I came up with my simple comparison. Sure, it’s not perfect, but now at least we’re talking about data, instead of opinions. My findings are stark enough that I suspect more sophisticated analyses will yield similar findings. But again, that’s an empirical question. So if you, dear reader, can find a more useful way to quantify the influence of Hayek relative to others, I’m sure this will be a richer conversation with your comments.


owinok

Second last statement really true. Especially for people who claim to want small government.

bcamarda

I think you can make the case that social scientists with enormous influence outside the discipline deserve to be mentioned, and after 30 years of conservative ascendancy, Hayek probably now qualifies on that score. It probably also wouldn't be a bad idea to expose high school students to Schumpeter's ideas about creative destruction.

I can't believe I'm defending the know-nothings on the Texas School Board, but merely counting citations in social science journals seems an awfully poor way to evaluate what ought to be taught.

tom

How is JSTOR a reliable measure of influence? Even undergrads know that many of the most important journals are not in the JSTOR catalog. This article is just another one of your trite studies where you use flawed data to come to banal conclusions.

Henry Hazlitt

So...which school of economics consistently predicted the current economic conditions due to policies of government and central banking? The monetarists? The Keynesians? Nope, it was the Austrian school, one of its biggest proponents arguably is FA Hayek.

I, too, am surprised that Hayek is mentioned with these other economists, especially in a textbook approved by "government". As for the "marketplace of ideas", it would be interesting to see which economic schools of thought are producing the most converts. I believe the Austrians we be at the top.

EH

A few points of clarification:
1. The board is not comprised of educators, it is comprised of elected representatives. None of the current board members have ever been k-12 educators.
2. The curriculum applies to all grade levels k-12. The standard and amendment you mention spans grades 6-12.

Ryan

Since when does getting a "good education" mean learning what's popular?

If the statement "we're all Keynesians now" is at all accurate, then you would have to find someone "unpopular" to get an alternative view of say, the cause of the Great Depression.

Patrick

The only problem is that you have never justified why number of citations is a good or even useful metric for measuring the notability of an economist. The reason to teach Hayek is precisely because he is not as cited as many other more "mainstream" economists. He won the Nobel Prize for a theory that the overwhelming majority of mainstream economists disagree with. Summers might be cited more often, but if all you do is regurgitate what other economists have said, its hard make a good argument as to why you belong in the textbooks.

David L

"Number of references in JSTOR articles" is not a very rigorous measure of influence or relevance.

Colin

This is a great argument for limited government. Those who advocate for expanded government influence are being hoisted by their own petard. This aught to make those who favor more federal influence education pause, but I doubt it will.

Give kids vouchers and let parents decide which schools they want their kids to attend whose curriculum best reflects their own values and ideals.

Just Me

Do you not think that the Austrian School deserves mention in a high school economics class?

I do, and if you are going to teach the concepts espoused by the Austrians, you should mention either Mises or Hayek.

lost_fan

Does jstor count citations for books? I thought it was primarily journal - journal storage, in other words. Hayek's old AER, "The Use of Knowledge in Society", is probably picking up the lionshare of those cites if I had to guess, but what of his books? Here's what I am finding in google scholar.

1. The Constitution of Liberty (3059 cites)
2. The Road to Serfdom (2758 cites)
3. Individualism and Economic Order (1707 cites)
4. "The Use of Knowledge in Society," (5397 cites)
5. Economics and Knowledge (1142 cites)
6. Law, Legislation and Liberty vol. 1 (2014 cites)

and so on. There's several others with over 1000 cites and others with between 500-1000 cites, but you get the picture.

A better test would have been to use the web of science, which I think might encompass more publication outlets.

Also, to Hayek's credit, unlike Larry Summers, Hayek has a nobel prize, which should say something about his influence and accomplishments.

That said, I think a better thing to add to the Texas list would have been Mankiw's principles of microeconomics, Gary Becker's Nobel Prize acceptance speech, or something accessible about econometrics, personally, than anything Hayek wrote. You won't get any price theory from Hayek. You won't get anything on testing economic theories, either. In fact, he seems to like his mentor, von Mises, to have eschewed empirical testing, preferring instead to work with historical episodes.

Still, if you have to put an Austrian on the list, you should put Hayek. He's only beaten out by Tyler Cowen as being the most tempered and mild-mannered of the bunch. You just need to keep Hayek talking about something other than economics for that to show.

Read more...

James Wynn

1) Hayek needs to be understood if only as a foil to understand Keynes. Friedman is only likely to be discussed as an influence on Reagan's reforms. His positions were not really new or ground-breaking--they were primarily *timely*. So it is important to address his sources to add counter-balance to Keynes and Marx...unless you want to make sure students also clearly understand the disastrous economic policies of the UK government in the 1970s.

2) The Tx School Board is NOT REWRITING the text books any more than the Left-leaning unelected "advisory council" is rewriting the text books. They both tasked with WRITING the new text books and setting the priorities of the curriculum.

So this is zero to wet your pants over unless you happen to prefer the priorities of the Leftist unelected board...which you probably do. Tough. You live in NY, we live in TX.

JimBob

1) Your first problem is reading the NY Times. That alone discredits your "neutral" stance of the issues.

2) Perhaps being one of those greedy bankers, I don't understand the ways things work, but how does the # of times an economist shows up in a paper a valid method of justification of the individuals theory? People publish stuff all the time, but just because they publish (or are referenced) multiple times does not get at the validity of their work or the soundness of their theories.

So far, I'm leaning more towards the Texas board than this posting.

gg

What a useless metric. Forget Smith, Marx and Keynes as well as there are probably other authors with more references.

At a high school level, Hayek's ideas, as a contrast to Marx's and Keynes' ideas, does make for a more balanced approach and deserve to be mentioned. One even wonders what Marx is even doing there. He belongs in the history curriculum not the economics one.

TonyW

Three Cheers for Mr. Wynn and JimBob

Brett

I agree with many of the prior comments.

"I regard my job as generating truths." The only way this statement is accurate if you equate popularity with truth rather than truth with truth. The Catholic church of the 16th century would have loved your method of generating truths.

I would imagine that the priority for a board of education would be to expose the students to a wide variety of ideas, rather than just those ideas which are popular among a potentially biased group.

Phil

Speaking of the marketplace for ideas, Hayek's Road to Serfdom is #694 in books on Amazon right now. And that doesn't include additional sales of other editions.

If the guy's still selling this many books after over 60 years then maybe he wrote something worth reading, huh?

Joshua

I think you'd have to compare Hayek not to Mr. Summers, but another dead guy from his era and field of study.

Dan Stewart

I'm a bit surprised and dismayed by your seemingly simplistic approach.

I suggest take time to find a framework in which an economist's influence, relevance and noteworthiness can be objectively and accurately judged.

Counting the number of references in JSTOR is probably not it.

the viking

I would suggest that the progressives in the other states who are disgusted with Texas culture get their legislatures to pass a law prohibiting their state school boards from buying any textbook approved by the Texas school board. Of course history and science are just weapons in the great culture wars just like they were leading up to the Civil war which Texas joined with great enthusiasm. As they like to say in the South, the War of the Confederacy is not over, its just half time.