Hayek, of course, was more than economist. He also had profound things to say about the mind, the rule of law, and ethics. Recently, I saw a stark example of the difference in ethical thinking between Hayek and more conventional moralists. This was in the case of the tragic fire in a Bangladeshi factory making clothes for western companies. The new Pope Francis condemned it as an example of corporations only caring about their bottom-line.
The morality of the extended order that is, the world-wide system of social cooperation, cannot be a morality simply of the seen. We can eliminate fires in factories producing western goods by eliminating the production of western goods in Bangladesh. Not good. We can reduce these by requiring higher safety and this labor costs but then there will be fewer people employed in the best alternatives. Who will examine the health and safety consequences of the employment to which the poor are driven?
Perhaps the pope believes that people should not be concerned with profit and loss signals. We can focus on this one issue in Bangladesh only because it is right before us. But, in general, we do not have the epistemic capacity to investigate all of the circumstances of supply and demand with simple moralisms.
Morality is not equivalent to advocating feel-good courses of action when something bad happens. Sure, we can and should be beneficent. It is good to help fire victims. But it is a good thing in the long run to understand economics. As Jean-Baptiste Say said: A good book on economics should be the first volume of a treatise on ethics.