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The relevance of Hayek’s theory of the trade cycle for
understanding the United Kingdom business cycle

Whittle, Richard Robert

The relevance of Hayek’s theory of the trade cycle for
understanding the United Kingdom business cycle Thumbnail


Richard Robert Whittle


The ‘Great Recession’ has brought about a justified critique of the neoclassical economic model. It is within the context of this shock to the mainstream that the economic orthodoxy can be queried. The calls for a new economic paradigm request the mainstream’s acceptance of heterodox ideas creating a pluralist approach to economic theory, research and teaching.

Following the shock of the financial crisis, UK government economic institutions indeed appear more pluralist than before the crisis. The Bank of England’s One Bank Research Agenda (2015) aims to remove its institutional ‘group think’ to incorporate different economic perspectives to better allow its efficient monitoring of the UK economy. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs have embraced pluralist economics, Senior Ministerial Advisors within HMRC learn Behavioural Economics, the work of Hyman Minsky, Jesus de Soto and Fredrich Hayek alongside neoclassical economics and fiscal sociology to gain a thorough understanding of economic phenomena. Andy Haldane, Director of Financial Stability at the Bank of England, has called for a pluralist economic methodology and in 2010, Conservative MPs proposed a Financial Services Bill based on the work of Hayek.

Given this willingness for Policy at least to accept a pluralist economic approach, alternative economic theories must be evaluated to determine their relevance. Calls for a pluralist economic paradigm do not simply seek to replace one orthodoxy with another or indeed abandon entirely neoclassical economics. A pluralist economic paradigm is one where numerous explanations of economic phenomena are considered and policy is based on the most appropriate rather than the default. The thesis contributes to knowledge by providing an evaluation of Hayek’s theory of the trade cycle using a testable model and both reduced form and structural analysis, this is the first time this has been explicitly done addressing the shortfall in the literature identified in Kuehn (2013). Furthermore the thesis provides a consideration of the relevance of Hayek’s theory of the trade cycle for the UK addressing this gap in the Austrian Empirical Literature. The chosen analysis of a variety of models and tests also contributes to the Austrian methodological literature providing a comprehensive approach to the evaluation of Hayek’s theory. The UK data used for the empirical evaluation does not feature in any of the reviewed literature and thus its use represents a further contribution toward the UK gap in the Austrian Econometric Literature.

An empirical evaluation of Hayek’s theory of the trade cycle using UK timeseries data contributes to the pluralist debate by determining the relevance of the theory for future policy consideration. A testable model of Hayek’s theory is developed and examined with various econometric tests to determine the support present in the data. Primarily Vector-Auto Regression, Vector Error Correction and Granger Causality Tests were used in the evaluation alongside Finite-Distributed Lag Models and an initial statistical evaluation of the theory and data. Within the calls for pluralism all empirical evaluation is conducted in a manner acceptable to the majority of Hayekian economists, yet utilising standard econometric tests to provide a persuasive and universally accessible evaluation of the theory.

Whilst some evidence for Hayek’s theory of the trade cycle is found, the results show strong support for individual components of the theory, but limited support for the central tenet of the Theory, that of the unsustainable boom sowing the seeds of its own destruction. Yet, evidence is found for the predicted effects of the interest rate and of predicted endogenous turning points in the data, which are seen by several Austrian economists to be unique features of Hayek’s theory. A replication study of a key empirical study supporting Hayek’s theory with US timeseries data is also conducted with UK data, finding less support for the theory than its US counterpart.

Given the calls for a pluralist economic paradigm, perhaps it is time to isolate the valid components of Hayek’s theory and incorporate them with other heterodox and orthodox theories. After all a true pluralist paradigm does not mean the primacy of a single approach.


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