Hayek's extended mind: on the (im)possibility of Austrian behavioural economics

Originally published in Journal of Institutional Economics

Recent work has argued for a Hayekian behavioural economics, which combines Austrian economics with behavioural economics as developed by Kahneman, Thaler, Sunstein, and others. We suggest that this hybrid is misguided because it relies on individual cognitivism. This view of cognition is incompatible with the Hayekian view of cognition which treats rationality as an emergent phenomenon of social interaction in an institutional environment. This Hayekian view, which we call epistemic institutionalism, is compatible with an alternative prominent perspective in psychology, that of the extended mind, sometimes known as 4E cognition. We demonstrate how the Hayekian perspective on individualism, the price system, and the evolution of rules can be connected to the extended mind programme, through concepts such as the coupling of the individual and their environment, cognitive off-loading, and affordances. We suggest that this alternative combination of Austrian economics and psychology provides a more fruitful way forward, especially because it foregrounds the processes of learning, error-correction, and institutional orders, rather than choice, bias, and individual rationality. To explain why Austrian economists have been receptive to behavioural economics, we distinguish epistemic institutionalism from the (radical) subjectivist approach, which shares key assumptions of individual cognitivism.

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