Hayek's Epistemic Theory of Industrial Fluctuations

History of Economic Ideas (1):101-122 (2015)
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F.A. Hayek essentially quit economic theory and gave up the phenomena of industrial fluctuations as an explicit object of theoretical investigation following the publication of his last work in technical economics, 1941’s The Pure Theory of Capital. Nonetheless, several of Hayek’s more methodologically-oriented writings bear important implications for economic phenomena, especially those of industrial fluctuations. Decisions (usually, for Hayek, of a political nature) taken on the basis of a “pretence” of knowledge impede the operation of the price system’s belief-coordinating function and thereby contribute to episodes of economic disequilibrium. Moreover, this later account – which I call Hayek’s epistemic theory of industrial fluctuations – implies certain aspects of his earlier theory. The two accounts are connected in virtue of the role that ignorance and the limits of human knowledge play in each. Indeed, it turns out that – substantively, if not methodologically – Hayek’s early theory of the cycle is a special case of the more general epistemic account.

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Scott Scheall
Arizona State University


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