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Monday, March 09, 2009

The untold story by Ronald Kitching as to how Friederich von Hayek caught inflation by the balls

My dear friend Chandrasekhar sporting the name of Hayek Order sent me an interesting email relating an anecdote about the Nobel price winning Austrian economist Hayek. Thanks. Pending its blogging in Tamil I am posting this item here too in bold italics. The 'I' in the following paras refers to Ronald Kitching of course.

The great Nobel Prize winning economist/social scientist F. A. Hayek made a month long lecture tour of Australia in October 1976. There is a bit of an inside story to this tour which so far few know about. Hayek was invited to Australia for a lecture tour by economist Mark Tier. However, Hayek, at that time, had to decline, but as circumstances changed and as he did not know anybody else in Australia, he wrote a note to Sydney Economist/Barrister Roger Randerson, whom he once tutored at The London School of Economics, saying that he could squeeze in a month before going on previously scheduled visits to new Zealand and Japan.

Roger and I were good mates so he rang me with the good news. I then suggested to Roger that he immediately write back to Hayek and ask what his fee would be. I can still quote the answer. Hayek replied saying:

Should first class return airfares be provided for my wife and myself both internationally and nationally, and first class accommodation be provided for us, and also providing that my lectures are confined to no more than two per week, there will be no fee.

Roger estimated that the total cost would be approximately $25,000. As he was well connected in the commercial world and I was well connected with the Australian Mining Industry, we thought that it would be an easy matter to get the tour underwritten. So we set off to see what we could do. After a week’s travelling and lobbying, I could not find a single executive willing to undertake part in such a ‘revolutionary’ activity. I returned to my home rather dispirited about it all. I rang Roger to see how he was doing.

He replied to my query, “My boy, nobody wants to know me. They are all running for cover.” I then went on to say that the average answer I got was, “We cannot be seen to be endorsing the right wing views of such a radical figure.” He replied that that was precisely the response he got too.

So, I said, “Bugger it all Roger, I’ll underwrite the tour myself”. He replied, “I won’t see you do that my boy, I’ll go you halves”.

So, with that settled, I suggested that we again go around the traps, and, seeing the tour was underwritten by somebody who wished to remain anonymous, try to see what could be raised for the venture. We were ably assisted in this effort by Mr. Ref Kemp, Director of The Institute For Public Affairs in Victoria, Mr. Viv Forbes in Brisbane, and Mr. R. H. (now Sir Robert), Norman OBE of Cairns. Roger published a booklet titled Social Justice Socialism and Democracy featuring three of Hayek’s most important lectures. In that small book he said,

Many publicly spirited citizens, institutions and organisations donated, (numbering no fewer than 62, in sums ranging from $50 to $2,000) towards the visit, but no list is given because some wish to be nameless. Their generosity is, however, gratefully acknowledged.

The Hayek visit was a co-operative private enterprise. Indeed it had to be, because approaches at high levels for concessions from government owned or controlled internal and external airlines were refused.

There were complaints from high level ‘intellectuals’, that the visit was everything from a white washing of dangerous capitalist ideology, a political plot of ever devious Jews, to a ‘bankers plot’. Hayek incidentally was a non- practising Catholic. He was in great form and he appeared as Guest of Honour on the hour long Monday Conference with Robert Moore, and televised by the ABC network in all states on October 11th 1976. In addition, in total he kept no less than 60 appointments, including visits to heads of state, seminar and lecturing engagements. A very heavy schedule for anybody, but at that time Hayek was 76 years of age. He was in scintillating form.

Roger decided that in the middle of the tour he would give him four days off on the Atherton Tableland. I had a spacious home there and as half of my six children were away at boarding school, we had ample room to accommodate Roger, and Professor and Mrs. Hayek. When he arrived we had a celebratory drink of his favourite tipple, Johnny Walker black label. “When ever I drink this brand of Scotch” Hayek announced, “I get ideas beyond my station”. He was a past master at putting people at ease.

He then noticed hanging on the wall of the bar, a large picture of a magnificent Brahman Bull I owned. He asked about the Bull, so I told him he was a prize winning show bull which I had nicknamed Inflation as he would not stop growing. “He weighs 3,000 pounds in his working clothes,” I told the small gathering present.

Hayek laughed and said that he knew a bit about inflation and that he would like to meet this one. I told him that compared with the inflations he had witnessed, that this one was rather tame and that my boys jumped on to his back in the paddock. “I even jump on his back when he is in the yard and I can climb up the rails to do so,” I told him.

“Well, while I am here, I would like to meet him,” Hayek exclaimed. So I put that on the agenda.

I got this bright idea that I’d put the bull in the yard, get a step ladder put Hayek on the bull, (if he agreed), and take a picture which would carry the caption Hayek’s on Top Of Inflation. I told my wife and that was the end of it. She would not under any circumstances countenance such a move. “What if the Professor fell off and was injured,” and all of that sort of chatter. So that project was abandoned.

Nevertheless Hayek still wanted to meet the bull. Next day I took him down the paddock and took several pictures of him and the bull when another idea popped into my head and I quietly mentioned it to him. He was delighted to have a bit of fun. The caption of course was to beHayek¹s Got Inflation By The Balls.

Well the old boy was delighted. He was quite at home with animals and had palled up with the bull, which was an easy matter with this particular animal. So he posed and I took the picture. He predicted that if the Americans got hold of a copy, the picture would become famous.

I am happy to announce that not long ago, I heard from Dr. Eamonn Butler of the Adam Smith Institute in London. He told me that at a recent luncheon in London, Mrs. Thatcher, much to her delight, had a picture presented to her of her favourite Economist/Philosopher and with Inflation by the balls. Hayek’s grand daughter was present and read out the above story.

Hayek with Inflaton the bull

Ronald Kitching is a life member of the Mont Pelerin Society who made a major contribution to F.A. Hayek’s lecture tour of Australia in 1976 . He also authored the book “Understanding Personal and Economic Liberty”.

Back to Dondu N. Raghavan.

In the face of widespread discouragement to the entire idea of Hayek's tour, it is heartening to see the initiative of the author and his friend in making it possible.

Dondu N. Raghavan

1 comment:

Jay said...

Thanks a lot for the post. Looking forward to the tamil version....