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CSAD hosts lecture on “The Life and Ideas of F.A. Hayek.”

CSAD hosts lecture on “The Life and Ideas of F.A. Hayek.”

COURTESY OF THE CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY

Bruce Caldwell, research professor of economics at Duke University, gave a lecture on Tuesday titled “The Life and Ideas of F.A. Hayek.” Sponsored by the Center for the Study of American Democracy (CSAD), the talk provided an overview of the Austrian-born economist Friedrich Hayek’s life and major contributions to the fields of economics and political theory.

The event was held in the Community Foundation Theater with more than 50 students and professors in attendance. CSAD Student Associate Olive O’Riordan ’25 introduced Caldwell as the director of the Center for the History of Political Economy at Duke and the co-author of Hayek: A Life, 1899-1950, the first book of a two-volume biography.

Caldwell said that Hayek appealed to him as an economic historian because his life spanned the course of almost the entire 20th century, making him a useful resource in examining the development of 20th-century economics. Hayek contributed to several different areas of study — including monetary theory, political philosophy, theoretical psychology and economic methodology — making him a challenging person to study.

“It pushed me far beyond my capabilities to try to understand [Hayek’s] thought,” Caldwell said. “As someone who is trying to understand this person and write a biography that will make him understandable to other people, I had to try to grapple with this.”

Caldwell briefly summarized Hayek’s adult life: After fighting on the Italian front in World War I, he studied at the University of Vienna and joined a discussion circle led by Ludwig von Mises, another pioneer of the modern Austrian school of economics. In the early 1930s, he began teaching at the London School of Economics, where he debated with his ideological opponent John Maynard Keynes and published his most famous work, The Road to Serfdom. He then taught at the University of Chicago after World War II and received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1974.

According to Caldwell, Hayek became interested in monetary theory partly because of the hyperinflation in Austria following World War I, and he attempted to show how money could become a “loose joint” in an otherwise well-functioning market economy. He rejected ideas of socialism that gained traction during the Great Depression and wrote The Road to Serfdom to advocate for liberal, free-market democracy in the West.

“He was worried about the enthusiasm that he experienced in various countries that he visited for the idea that science and socialist ideas are marching together through time,” Caldwell said. “He’s saying, if we look at a lot of the socialist experiments, in fact, that’s not the kind of results that you’d get.”

A Q&A session with Caldwell followed the lecture. Director of CSAD and Professor of Political Science and International Studies Joseph Klesner shared his thoughts in an email to the Collegian: “Caldwell’s talk was a great introduction to the life and ideas of one of the great thinkers of the twentieth century,” he said. “As Hayek’s biographer, he brought an incredible knowledge of the vast corpus of Hayek’s writing and teaching to his talk.”

The next event in CSAD’s spring lecture series, “Ours was the Shining Future,” will take place on Wednesday in Oden Auditorium at 7:30 p.m.

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