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