Don Lavoie

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Don Lavoie was the David H. and Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics at George Mason University, where he taught from 1981 until his death in 2001. Beginning in the early 1970s, Lavoie was a crucial figure in the revival of the Austrian school of political economy, and he played an important role in building the Austrian economics program at George Mason University. His research focused on comparative economic systems, the use of knowledge in economic and organizational contexts, and the implications of hermeneutical philosophy for economics.

Lavoie received a BS in computer science from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1973 and a PhD in economics from New York University in 1981.

In the sphere of economics, Lavoie is perhaps best known for his reexamination of the socialist calculation debate. In his first book, Rivalry and Central Planning: The Socialist Calculation Debate Reconsidered (1985), he argued against the standard history of the debate and made a compelling case that market socialists had not in fact adequately answered the Austrian economists’ chief concerns about central planning. His account of the debate inspired a generation of Austrian economists and emphasized their unique understanding of how markets work. His second book, National Economic Planning: What Is Left (1985), continued to elaborate on the Austrian school’s critique of centralized economic planning.

Lavoie’s later research focused on cultural studies, philosophy, and organizational learning. He edited two volumes: Economics and Hermeneutics (1991), a collection of essays exploring the implications of hermeneutical philosophy for economics, and Expectations and the Meaning of Institutions (1994), a collection of essays in economics by his teacher, Ludwig Lachmann. He also coauthored Culture and Enterprise: The Development, Representation, and Morality of Business (2000) with Emily Chamlee-Wright.

Through research in his many fields of interest, Lavoie sought to reveal the fundamental nature of social learning processes. Along with Jack High, he cofounded the interdisciplinary Program on Social and Organizational Learning at George Mason University.

Professor Lavoie was twice the recipient of George Mason University’s Distinguished Faculty Award and was one of the university’s leading innovators in teaching methods, developing new ways to use software to enhance the learning experience of his students. He developed and used groupware and hypertext software environments to enhance communicative processes and promote interactive learning in both organizations and in the field of teaching. He was also an active faculty member of the Economics, Public Policy, and Cultural Studies PhD programs at George Mason University, where he influenced a generation of contemporary Austrian economists. Don Lavoie’s legacy continues in the ongoing contributions of the students he mentored.

Publications & Appearances

Rivalry and Central Planning

This study represents a serious challenge to conventional thinking in contemporary comparative systems, and the economics of socialism. It disputes the commonly accepted view of both the nature of the 'socialist calculation debate' of the 1930s and the lessons to be derived from it.