Happy Birthday! 7 Great Quotes from Friedrich Hayek


Friedrick-HayekYesterday, May 8, marked the 117th birthday of the great economist and philosopher Friedrich Hayek, who died in 1992. That’s as good a reason as any to offer up some of his wisdom:

1) “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.” – The Fatal Conceit

2) “To act on the belief that we possess the knowledge and the power which enable us to shape the processes of society entirely to our liking, knowledge which in fact we do not possess, is likely to make us do much harm.” – The Pretence of Knowledge

3) “If in the first attempt to create a world of free men we have failed, we must try again. The guiding principle that a policy of freedom for the individual is the only truly progressive policy remains as true today as it was in the nineteenth century.” – The Road to Serfdom

4) “The disdain of profit is due to ignorance, and to an attitude that we may if we wish admire in the ascetic who has chosen to be content with a small share of the riches of this world, but which, when actualised in the form of restrictions on profits of others, is selfish to the extent that it imposes asceticism, and indeed deprivations of all sorts, on others.” – The Fatal Conceit

5) “The creation of wealth is not simply a physical process and cannot be explained by a chain of cause and effect. It is determined not by objective physical facts known to any one mind but by the separate, differing, information of millions, which is precipitated in prices that serve to guide further decisions.” – The Fatal Conceit

6) “The power which a multiple millionaire, who may be my neighbour and perhaps my employer, has over me is very much less than that which the smallest functionaire possesses who wields the coercive power of the state, and on whose discretion it depends whether and how I am to be allowed to live or to work.” – The Road to Serfdom

7) “If man is not to do more harm than good in his efforts to improve the social order, he will have to learn that in this, as in all other fields where essential complexity of an organized kind prevails, he cannot acquire the full knowledge which would make mastery of the events possible. He will therefore have to use what knowledge he can achieve, not to shape the results as the craftsman shapes his handiwork, but rather to cultivate a growth by providing the appropriate environment, in the manner in which the gardener does this for his plants.

“There is danger in the exuberant feeling of ever growing power which the advance of the physical sciences has engendered and which tempts man to try, ‘dizzy with success,’ to use a characteristic phrase of early communism, to subject not only our natural but also our human environment to the control of a human will. The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson of humility which should guard him against becoming an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society – a striving which makes him not only a tyrant over his fellows, but which may well make him the destroyer of a civilization which no brain has designed but which has grown from the free efforts of millions of individuals.” – The Pretence of Knowedge

Published in Economics
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There are 8 comments.

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  1. RyanM Member

    #1 might be one of my favorite quotes all time.

    I use it a lot.

    • #1
  2. BrentB67 Inactive

    I wonder if I am the only one that sees the irony here.

    • #2
  3. Tyler Boliver Inactive
    Tyler Boliver

    F.A. Hayek is one of my personal heroes.

    • #3
  4. Joe P Member
    Joe P

    BrentB67:I wonder if I am the only one that sees the irony here.

    At the wonderful road trip we’re all taking?

    • #4
  5. Trink Coolidge

    Thank you for this post.  I know so little about Hayek and the quotes you’ve shared have greatly encouraged me to learn more about the man his theories.

    • #5
  6. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron


    What a wonderful good vibe. Please do this as often as possible. It lifts us from the pettiness of everyday politics and reminds us that we too have a mission. To protect Liberty for America and for all mankind.



    • #6
  7. Clay Inactive

    I see #7 everywhere. Lefties have been trying to don they mantel of science for 150, 200 years, but always after pulling out the skepticism that gives it shape. Too constraining! It’s a cargo cult, as that other genius put it. I think the latest wave of this began about 15 years ago — you might have noticed the proliferation of snarky websites devoted to popular “science,” and the emergence of the hip nerd. What accounts for it? My theory: The devotees had been discouraged from putting their faith in any of the time-tested doctrines that were their inheritance; indeed the idea of faith had been scorned; but the need must be satisfied, so they made a religion of science, the anti-faith, whose immense power is manifest in the many electronic toys that provide immediate, if  shallow, satisfaction. No one knows how these toys work, but hey, it’s Science, so anyone with a mobile plan can be a scientist. Don’t call it faith when they touch the call button and expect their friends to appear on the screen. If you look at how everything fits together, however, the iPhone might as well be a hierophany, the battery charge a sacrament, and Bill Nye the Science Guy an itinerant priest begging for alms and spreading the good word — and that word is not humility.

    • #7
  8. I Walton Member
    I Walton

    BrentB67:I wonder if I am the only one that sees the irony here.

    Exactly, but an encouraging one I think.  Macro economists are wounded in the crib when they’re told they’re studying economics not accounting yet can evolve toward economics if they read enough Hayek.

    • #8
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