Freakanomics Blog Freaks Out That Texas Economics Classes will Teach Hayek

March 15th, 2010

I won’t wade into the quagmire of Texas redesigning their history curriculum to reflect a certain view of the American founding.

But I would like to draw some attention to the economics curriculum.

On the Freakanomics blog, Justin Wolfer writes:

How do they plan to rewrite high school economics? In economics, the revisions add Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek, two champions of free-market economic theory, to the usual list of economists to be studied – economists like Adam SmithKarl Marxand John Maynard Keynes.

Taking social science seriously surely means teaching the insights of the most prominent, most important, or most influential economists.   This involves teaching important theories—even those you disagree with.  There’s no doubt about the influence of Smith, Marx and Keynes; Friedman also belongs.  But does Hayek belong on this list?

Let’s use data to inform this debate.  I counted the number of references to each economist in the scholarly literature indexed by JSTOR, finding 30,708 articles mentioning “Adam Smith”; 25,626 articles mentioning “Karl Marx”;  and 4,945 mentioning “John Maynard Keynes” (the middle name was required to avoid articles by his father, John Neville Keynes).  “Milton Friedman” sits easily with this group, and was mentioned in 8,924 articles.

But searching for “Friedrich von Hayek” only yielded 398 articles; adding “Friedrich Hayek” raised his total to 1242 mentions; also allowing “FH Hayek” raised his count to 1561.

These data suggests that Hayek just doesn’t belong with Smith, Marx, Keynes, or Friedman.  In fact, it seems that despite having enjoyed a much longer period to accumulate citations, he is still much less widely cited than Larry Summers.  Sure, Hayek was an insightful economist.  But insisting that high schools teach Hayek is a clear statement of ideology, not of economic science.

The message from the Texas Board of Education seems to be: If you can’t win in the marketplace of ideas, turn to government institutions to prop you up.  I don’t think Hayek would approve.

As a graduate of George Mason Law School, where Hayek is treated as a gift from above, perhaps I am biased. So is this nothing more than “ideology”? Should Hayek be taught to students in high school?