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“In the evening, I feel tired!” – remembering Friedrich Hayek

This was posted today by Alan Forrester on the Libertarian Alliance Forum, but is perhaps better suited to a blog such as this. It deals with one of the great issues of our time: Which one is better, Salma or Friedrich?

I once met Friedrich Hayek. Some time in the early to mid nineteen eighties he tottered into the Alternative Bookshop (where all his books were on sale and were among our least-worst sellers), at the age of about ninety five. I got him a chair. (It was a very wobbly chair, one of our worst, and terrible headlines flashed through my mind: “Free market bookshop kills world’s greatest free market economist.” Luckily the chair did not collapse.) “How are you?” seemed like the proper thing for me to say, so that’s what I did say.

Being Friedrich Hayek he took this question very seriously. He apparently took all questions seriously, from everybody, no matter how seemingly insignificant. One of his life principles, deeply embedded both in his personal behaviour and in his theoretical ideas and writings, was that the opinions of non-academics (“tacit economic knowledge” and all that) are just as important as academic opinions like his, and often more so for some important purposes, quite possibly even those of an insignificant assistant bookseller like me. (Leon Louw once told me about a South African expedition with Hayek during which Hayek cross-examined game wardens and park keepers for hours on end about the mysteries of their various trades.) So: here was this young person, perhaps a young person who was deeply knowledgeable in new and surprising ways that he, Hayek, had not yet heard about, asking him, Hayek, how he was. So: how was he? He gave it some thought.

Eventually he answered roughly as follows. Well, he said. I get up in the morning, and I do some work on my book, and then I write a letter to The Times and then I write an article and then I have breakfast, and then I work some more on my book and then I go to see some politicians, and then I prepare my talk for the next Mont Pelerin Conference, and then I have lunch and give a talk at the Institute of Economic Affairs, and then I write another letter to the newspapers and talk with some more politicians and do some more work on my book and then I talk to a journalist … It went on like this for several more minutes. What did this have to do with how he was?

Eventually this was revealed. After he had finished describing all his activities for one entire day, a look of extreme resentment came over his face. “…and in the evening”, he said plaintively, “I feel tired!” This was evidently a new experience for him and he didn’t like it one bit.

I felt tired just listening to him. Moral: great men are not just great for doing great things. They are great because they do a lot of great things.

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