Hayek in High School

The Texas School Board wants to add Hayek to the high school economics curriculum. This seems to have caused something of a fuss. Justin Wolfers has argued at the Freakonomics site that Hayek is unworthy. This on the basis of a citation search through JSTOR.

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

Oh dear. Friedrich Hayek’s middle initial was A. not H. Okay. Mistakes happen. Jacob Levy then tries to replicate the Wolfers exercise. Afterall this isn’t climate science – replicability is an important aspect of what economists do.

Next step, to get a ceiling estimate:
full-text search on Hayek . 12088 results. Browsing through these yields very few false positives– so now I’m suspicious.

I notice a lot of references to “Professor Hayek.” This seems to have been the convention in some academic journals at midcentury. “Professor Hayek” by itself yields 582 hits, and a quick browse yielded no false positives.

I also notice that the search engine cares about the difference between “F.A. Hayek” and “F. A. Hayek” (with a space between the first period and the A). This makes a big difference. Simply performing the search as “‘F.A. Hayek’ OR ‘F. A. Hayek'” already yields 2219 results– more than Wolfers’ most complete version of his search.

Adding in F. A. von Hayek and Friedrich Hayek as options gets us to 3342.

Proceeding from the other direction: a search just on Hayek restricted to business, economics, finance, law, linguistics, philosophy, political science, psychology, public policy, and sociology eliminated all the false positives I could find. 9385 .

That is a tad more than Wolfers found. Bill Easterly puts in a few words too.

Young Wolfers may not know the history of censorship of Hayek in the other direction. When I was in graduate school in The Middle Ages, Hayek was seen as so Far Right that you would be considered a nut to read him.

It’s sad that Hayek has been the victim of so many violations of the intellectual freedom for which he was one of the most eloquent and courageous spokesmen ever.

I think Easterly is being too kind to ‘young Wolfers’ – who should have wondered why Hayek won the economics Nobel prize.

Speaking of the Nobel Prize, David Skarbek has done an analysis of citations in Nobel Prize lectures and finds that Hayek is the second most cited author.

I think the Wolfers argument relating to Hayek being unworthy is wrong – but I also think Hayek shouldn’t be taught in high school. His arguments are probably too subtle for high school kids.
(HT: Cafe Hayek, Coordination Problem and Marginal Revolution)

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22 Responses to Hayek in High School

  1. jtfsoon says:

    Hayek’s work is a damned sight more profound than that of the pocket calculator set on Freakonomics with their ‘research’ into sumo wrestling, baby names and sports betting.

  2. Sinclair Davidson says:

    I think Hayek’s work will withstand the test of time better than Freakonomics.

  3. Wolfers should know better. A great deal of his own research is proof positive of Hayek’s arguments about dispersed information and the law of unintended consequences.

  4. ken n says:

    Yes but to be fair, W is not suggesting Freakonomics should be in the curriculum.
    I’d certainly vote for Hayek.

  5. ken n says:

    “His arguments are probably too subtle for high school kids.”
    Sinc, do you know any high school kids?
    I’m starting to drip feed my 3 year old grandson as an antidote to what he gets from his socialist parents. Probably not Hayek just yet.

  6. Sinclair Davidson says:

    Ken – yes I do. I also see the damage done to young minds that have studied economics at hgh school.

  7. jtfsoon says:

    . I also see the damage done to young minds that have studied economics at hgh school

    So Homer must’ve started economics in primary.

  8. ken n says:

    Dunno about that Sinc – I learned economics at school and it was like opening my eyes to how the world really worked.
    That was a long time ago of course.

  9. TerjeP (say Tay-a) says:

    I remember studying the Phillips curve in high school and I thought the underlying principles were way too subtle because I couldn’t make sense of it. Once I found out that the Phillips curve moves about I really started to suspect it was a useless concept. And in fact it is.

    I think high school economics should be classical economics. Supply, demand, tariffs and trade, tax, money and inflation. Keynes should be for university students. In fact other than price controls, tax, tariffs and control over the money supply I don’t think high school students need to study a whole lot more regarding government action or policy implications.

  10. jtfsoon says:

    You must mean microeconomics Terje.

    High school economics should be opportunity cost, marginal costs, and deriving demand and supply functions from these first principles.

  11. JC says:

    I learned economics at school and it was like opening my eyes to how the world really worked.

    No kidding, but economics always made me feel hungry. The talk of consumers and consumption had me thinking about morning/afternoon snack or lunch.

  12. Infidel Tiger says:

    I think high school economics should be classical economics. Supply, demand, tariffs and trade, tax, money and inflation.

    I completed high school econs just over a decade ago and that’s all it was. I remember our very first project was to track the price of a basket of goods to assess inflation. Also a lot of stuff on opportunity cost and elasticity of demand. Quite enjoyable.

    Things have changed though since we got the new lecturer, Herr Homer. Now econs is all “Tooze this, liquidity trap that” and the reading list is unbearable

  13. Peter Patton says:

    Sinclair

    While you are no doubt correct that Hayek’s work would be too subtle for high school kids – though it would have been a welcome addition to the syllabus back when the HSC offered the Advanced 3 Unit Economics – surely Road To Serfdom would be a godsend to Modern History students, especially when studying Weimar and Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, the welfare state and subsequent liberalizations.

  14. Tim R says:

    Is number of citings the best way to judge the value of an economist or any scientist?

    Just hearsay, but I was under the impression Freakanomics was quite superficial.

    As a lay-person non economist who reads economics from time to time I was interested in reading something deeper like Mises’ Human Action although I’ve heard it’s heavy going.

    Just out of interest has there ever been a discussion on this blog as to who’s better/more important, Mises or Hayek?

  15. Sinclair Davidson says:

    Peter – I don’t know. I’m not a big fan of Road to Serdom. Yes, it made him famous, but The Constitution of Liberty is his best book and I was heavily influenced by his Individualism and Economic Order.

    Tim R – Not that I can recall. Very much compliments and not substitutes.

  16. jtfsoon says:

    Tim

    Wolfers’ premise that something like how important a thinker is can only be settled by citations and that any more considered qualitative assessment is mere opinion is part of the problem I have with the Freakonomics pocket calculator poindexters. They are data fetishist. It’s also why they end up settling on such uninteresting questions as whether football referees racially discriminate and crap like that.

  17. Steve Edney says:

    Road to serfdom would have made an intersting 20 pages. By half way through I had a strong feeling of deja vu with each new chapter.

  18. Peter Patton says:

    jtfsoon

    That standard adopted by Wolfers is a real worry. It is quite common for academics to have had dozens of papers published in the thousands of academic journals that now exist, without any of those papers saying anything particularly interesting at all, let alone profound. And then we have our JD Salingers. Most of the stuff filling up JSTOR nowadays is at best noise, and more likely pure junk.

  19. Peter Patton says:

    Sinclair

    Having not read Constitution of Liberty, I will take your word for it. But one thing I do know is that right through High School Civics/History/Social Studies/Commerce/Economics/Business syllabuses, there is never any presentation, let alone discussion, of liberalism. Everything is about Aborigines and refugees.

    I have been shown many examples of historical documents and works of literature studied in both high school and university, where the main question posed by the teacher is

    why do you think there is no mention of Indigenous Australians in this ‘text’?

    Jeesus.

  20. conrad says:

    “I think high school economics should be classical economics.”

    Do we need economics at all in high school?

  21. Steve Edney says:

    I liked the comment. “if something isn’t worth doing, it isn’t worth doing well”.

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