Bruce Caldwell (economist)

economic historian

Bruce J. Caldwell (born 1952) is an American historian of economics, Research Professor of Economics at Duke University, and Director of the Center for the History of Political Economy.


  • There are two elements of Hayek’s background that justify our considering him an Austrian economist: first, that he was raised and went to university in Vienna in the first three decades of the twentieth century, and second, that when he finally decided on economics as his field of study, he was trained within the Austrian tradition in economics.
    • "Hayek and the Austrian tradition", in Edward Feser(ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Hayek (2006)
  • Some may wish to argue that Hayek was simply born with a sort of natural pessimism or cynicism, and that this generated his long standing belief in the inherent limitations that humans face when they try to intervene in social phenomena. Perhaps. But it is also possible that this view was the product of his having come of age during the final collapse of an already broken-down empire, of having experienced the multiple forms of disaster that surrounded postwar Vienna and enveloped interwar central Europe, and of having witnessed the failures of various high-minded social experiments to achieve anything like what their exponents had promised. In bearing witness to so much tragedy Hayek was again very much a part of the larger Austrian tradition. His famed ‘‘epistemic pessimism’’ may well have been another result of that larger experience.
    • "Hayek and the Austrian tradition", in Edward Feser(ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Hayek (2006)
  • It is probably best to start off by noting that Hayek knew a lot about Mill, probably for a time more than any other contemporary scholar. So we should not underestimate him.
    Next, what he had to say about Mill, what portion of Mill’s work he drew upon, was very much dictated by the sort of project he was working on. When he was making an argument about how the British liberal tradition lost its bearings, or about how Comtean positivism came to be known and gained influence across Europe, Mill was classed among the perpetrators. When he was writing about what made the British liberal tradition great, Mill could be one of the heroes. There is, I think, no inconsistency in the fact that Hayek could hold both views simultaneously.
    • "Hayek and Mill", History of Political Economy (2008)
  • It seems evident from his unpublished piece that his reading of the Mill-Taylor letters gave Hayek a bit of a shock. He knew, of course, from the Autobiography that Mill had an elevated opinion of Mrs. Taylor. The letters seem to have convinced Hayek that she dominated him. Hayek would doubtless have seen this as a weakness, and he might well have lost some respect for Mill as a result. It may also have provided a convenient explanation for Hayek for why a great mind like Mill might nonetheless “desert” the liberal camp. (Hayek’s hope to lead others to the same conclusion might have helped motivate him to write the book on the correspondence between Mill and Taylor.) Given what has sometimes been said about the dominating personality of Hayek’s second wife, one wonders whether Hayek would later in his life have felt even more commonalities with Mill.
    • "Hayek and Mill", History of Political Economy (2008)
  • In his discussions of spontaneous orders, sometimes Hayek was simply trying to make the point that they exist; that is, he was trying to counter the claim that any beneficent social order needed to be constructed. This view was widespread when he first was writing; the mania for planning was then ubiquitous, so it was a point worth making. In later writings, Hayek sometimes did say, let’s trust to evolved orders rather than constructed ones, but then allowed that sometimes we needed to make piece-meal changes, and he gave no criteria for deciding.

Hayek's Challenge: An Intellectual Biography of F. A. Hayek (2004)

  • Hayek is a puzzle. Certainly he started out as one for me, now some twenty-odd years ago.
    • Introduction
  • He linked the notion of a spontaneous order that forms when agents follow (often simple) rules with the idea of complex systems in the 1950s. This was a critical breakthrough, for it allowed him to drop the old natural science-social science dichotomy ...
    • Ch. 14 : Journey’s End—Hayek’s Multiple Legacies
  • Critics argue that Hayek mixed a number of ethical and political philosophies in constructing his system, positions that do not necessarily cohere one with another and all of which have been independently criticized. … There are evident tensions as well between his earlier advocacy of planning a framework of law and his later enthusiasm for the gradual evolution of judge-made common law. Finally, Hayek's opinion that judges operating under the common law tradition are bound to draw "conclusions that follow from the existing body of rules and the particular facts of the case" has struck more than one observer as naive. If one is judging his work against the standard of whether he provided a finished political philosophy, Hayek clearly did not succeed.
    • Ch. 14 : Journey’s End—Hayek’s Multiple Legacies

See also

Friedrich Hayek
Concepts and career Business cycle theory · Dispersed knowledge · Extended order · Spontaneous order
Books Prices and Production (1931) · The Road to Serfdom (1944) · Individualism and Economic Order (1948) · The Counter-Revolution of Science (1952) · The Sensory Order (1952) · The Constitution of Liberty (1960) · Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (1967) · Law, Legislation and Liberty (1973) · The Denationalization of Money (1975) · New Studies in Philosophy, Politics, Economics and the History of Ideas (1978) · The Fatal Conceit (1988)
Notable essays "The Use of Knowledge in Society" (1945) · "Why I Am Not a Conservative" (1960) · "The Pretence of Knowledge" (1974)
Commentators Alan O. Ebenstein · Bruce Caldwell
Other topics On evolution · On dictatorship · On John Maynard Keynes
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