Hayek in New York

Friedrich Hayek, born into a noble family in Austria, lived a fascinating life.  Educated in Austria, he moved to the London School of Economics in 1931.  In 1950, he accepted a position at the University of Chicago on the Committee on Social Thought (after the free market economics department refused to extend an offer to the future Nobel Laureate).  And then in 1962, he returned to Europe, first in Freiburg and then in Salzburg.

But in 1923, in the middle of the hyperinflation in Germany and Austria, Hayek travelled to New York City to work with a NYU economics professor.  But when the professor left to write a book, Hayek was on his own and struggled for resources.  Over at Austrian Information, they have excerpts from Hayek’s letters that he sent home during his stay in New York.  They are fascinating, especially given their European cultural criticism of capitalist New York from this free market thinker.  For example:

Oh, this America, magnificent and outrageous, the latter perhaps even more. In the long term, I think it is unbearable for Europeans (…) I’d rather die than be a New Yorker my whole life. For that, I’m not enough of a businessman (here even the intellectual has his own business!), and I still don’t love the dollar enough.

And this:

The whole thing is a machine with people as exchangeable parts, one just like the other. Even when unwillingly caught up in it, one has to go along with the flow because it becomes difficult and costly to live any other way since everything is tailored to the same interests. Ice cream, candy, chewing gum, movies, newspapers are all cheap because they are mass produced. A book, or a theatre ticket is exorbitant because they are meant only for a few….so, there is little else one can do other than join the masses, pushing to get into the subway, taking sometimes up to many hours to arrive at one’s job and returning home exhausted in the evenings after having travelled in the same packed subway.

Interestingly, Hayek ultimately would spend a year living in Los Angeles.  Given his concerns about the subway, I wonder what he would have thought of the car culture and traffic of that city (although it might not have been so bad in those days).

The Austrian Information post is not long and well worth reading if you are a fan of Hayek.