Friedrich Hayek, Digital Nomads, And Your Opportunity
Friedrich A. Hayek was an economist. Whether you believe what he had to say or lean towards the Keynesian perspective, Hayek was undeniably an influential man who left a strong impression on the economic systems of the world.
I read a collection of his essays titled ‘The Trend Of Economic Thinking” which explains his main theories of economics as well as a few short tangents on other topics.
One of these essays, “On Being An Economist” gave some advice to young college-bound individuals who wanted to study and build careers in his field. He begins with a rather dismal message…
“If it is meant to suggest that the study of economics is a sure path to personal happiness, I am afraid I have no such cheerful message for you.”
He goes on to say that if you desire any sense that you are helping humanity or any feeling of success and progress, prizes or awards, you had better forget economics and choose one of “the more fortunate sciences” such as biology, chemistry, or physics. The study of economics affords no such pleasures.
It seems that he had a rather gloomy view of his own profession. But he also stressed the importance of the work of economists and didn’t tell students to avoid it outright. Here was some of the advice he gave to those who wanted to walk in his footsteps.
A Lesson From F.A. Hayek
Hayek explains that it takes no less than 10-15 years of study and analysis before one can call themselves a ‘creative economist’. Only after that time are you able to produce new, innovative ideas in the field that other economists and laymen will be interested in reading and that politicians will be interested in applying.
I thought that his advice would be to study economics as deeply as possible, to read every economics textbook, and to live and breath the subject in order to master the technical concepts and ideas as quickly as possible.
Here’s the advice he actually gave:
“You will not become a useful member of society if you know only economics or political science and nothing else.”
Speaking of youth, and specifically the 3 years most students spent in college during the 1940’s…
“But you will find it will for long be the only opportunity you have to collect a great deal of varied knowledge whose meaning and significance you will recognize only later… It is important that during your undergraduate years you let your interests range rather widely”
“It is in the years before you become specialists, before you have tied yourself to a particular field or a particular purpose, that you must acquire what general education you will have to guide you in the most active and productive part of your life.”
“What I want to plead of you here is that in this you should let yourself be guided not by any fixed purpose but mainly by intellectual curiosity and a spirit of exploration.”
These are the lessons from the renowned economist Hayek to the youth of 1944.
With all of his quotes about ‘varied knowledge’, the importance of letting your interests range widely, ‘general education’, curiosity, and exploration, I couldn’t help but wonder…
Would Hayek Want You To Become A Digital Nomad?
Hayek wants you to follow your own curiosity before you ‘tie yourself to a particular field or purpose’. Would that not include your curiosity about the world as a whole?
Does it sound like Hayek wants you to lock in your educational path at 18 and never waver? It sounds more like he’s in favor of following your interests wherever they lead and keeping yourself free to make unexpected, exploratory decisions.
His advice was directed to students entering the complex, esoteric field of economics. Wouldn’t he value the opportunity to see first-hand the capitalism of America contrasted with the communism of China and the mixed economies of Europe.
Would he have urged (perhaps pleaded) that anyone who had the desire and ability to travel should follow their curiosity?
Would he have encouraged the restless, curious, bored-in-class college-bound youth of 2016 that it’s okay to become a digital nomad?
Read his quotes again if you think this renowned economist, a master in a highly technical field, wouldn’t support your decision to follow your curiosity.
He would probably support you even more if he knew about the technology you have today. You computer and cell phone provide all of the information you could ever want, anywhere in the world, neatly categorized in MIT MOOC’s, interviews, e-books, audiobooks, blogs, podcasts and more.
It’s now easier than ever to get the varied knowledge and general education he speaks in favor of.
I think Hayek would be in favor of your world education. The countries of the world are laid out before you, the information of previous generations (and long-dead economists) is one click away, and excitement, novelty and adventure are around every corner.
Hayek might agree that becoming a digital nomad and following your own curiosity may be one of the best ways to find what Hayek, in his own words, cherished most…
“The discovery that to learn, to come to understand things, can be the greatest of human pleasures, and the only one that will never be exhausted.”