Justin Wolfers, a clever up and coming economist, thinks that Friedrich von Hayek was not an important enough economist to be included in the company of Adam Smith, Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman.
He basis this on a search on JSTOR, that shows Hayek to have the same influence as Larry Summers.
But Wolfers methodology is faulty. First of all, it seems to be very sensitive to wording. Second, it does not tell us the influence of the most important idea.
I instead use Google Scholar to look at the number of citations for the 20 most cited works of each economist. Since I can see exactly who wrote what, this does not have the problem associated with Wolfer’s method.
The result confirms what (at least my) common sense tells me, Hayek is very influential.
First, number of citations of most cited work (regardless of spelling):
1. Adam Smith (15616).
2. John Maynard Keynes (11445)
3. Friedrich von Hayek (5397)
4. Milton Friedman (3528)
5. Karl Marx (3210)
6. Larry Summers (2082)
Which confirms another point, Hayek’s theory on dispersed knowledge is more important than any *single* article Milton Friedman wrote, even though Friedman was a broad guy who made contributions in several parts of economics. Marx does not do as well here, because his followers made their strongest impression conducting revolutions (and more recently analyzing language as a tool of oppression) rather than doing mainstream economics.
Second, number of citations of 20 most cited work:
1. Milton Friedman (35867)
2. Adam Smith (22997)
3. Friedrich von Hayek (22668)
4. John Maynard Keynes (21679)
5. Karl Marx (19695)
6. Larry Summers (13039)
(for those curious, and as a measure of how much a “normal” top economist gets, Wolfers himself has 3170 citations).
By Wolfer’s own criteria, a quantitative measure of scholarly influence, Hayek beats or ties with Keynes and with Milton Friedman, and beats Marx in both measures. He is far above Larry Summers (an unfair comparison, since prolific Summers is contemporary, which boosts you in this type of count.).
What Wolfers also fails to take into account is the diversity of the idea. Hayek is extremely original, and his insights about decentralized knowledge and spontaneous order are quite different from mainstream neoclassical arguments for the market.
This is a *plus* for putting him in the textbooks. You don’t want a dozen more neoclassical intellectuals who make the exact same argument Adam Smith and Milton Friedman made. Hayek had a unique mind and offered unique insights.