This week I went through a classic, yet extremely simple work on economics by Henry Hazlitt entitled “Economics in One Lesson”. In this 200 page work Hazlitt puts forth some very important economic ideas for a long term prosperous country. He starts with this “one lesson” by saying: “The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.” (pg. 1). Simply he wants the greatest possible good for the greatest group of people and not limited economic scope on one people group.
From there he touches up on topics such as: tariffs, rent controls, taxes, unions, wages, profits, savings, minimum wage, unemployment, etc, etc.
This is a must read foundational book for those of Austrian persuasions and also for those who want to understand Austrianism in a nutshell.
Hazlitt also spends a lot of times critiquing socialism and all other forms of “legal plunder” to use Bastiat’s terminology, even though he makes clear that the book is not meant to be an exhaustive excursus on socialism or fallacious economics.
Hazlitt is very readable and the majority of other book reviews concur. It is not intended to be long and deep but is still potent in presentation and teaching.
One place that Hazlitt was spot on was the relationship of technology and economic growth. He plays devil’s advocate and says that technology is actually bad for the economy as it creates unemployment. However, when arguments about technology being a hindrance toward growth because of its lifeless pursuit toward unemployment are engaged, two things are forgotten. Firstly, the person themselves are inconsistent because any technological advance would be bad, a reductio (ex: A: “We shouldn’t use trucks to move dirt, we should use shovels!” B: “Why stop at shovels, we should use our hands…”). Secondly, the person (thanks to technological advancements) would have more money left-over because of those very same technological advances cutting the price of a certain products tremendously, leaving the person with money to spend on other products that also require labor.
Here are some of my favorite quotations from Hazlitt:
“government aid” to business is sometimes as much to be feared as government hostility” –Hazlitt, Economics, pg. 35
[Regarding the taxes paid by the business owners] “But the government can give no financial help to business that it does not first or finally take from business… [thus] When the government makes loans or subsidies to business, what it does is to tax successful private business in order to support unsuccessful private business” –Hazlitt, Economics, pg. 35
[On the improvement of technology and the fallacy of non-sequitir with regards to unemployment.] “Not only must we be causing unemployment with every technological improvement we make today, but primitive man must have started causing it with the first efforts he made to save himself from needless toil and sweat.” –Hazlitt, pg. 36
[On profits he writes] “The function of profits, finally, is to put constant and unremitting pressure on the head of every competitive business to introduce further economies and efficiencies, no matter to what stage these may already have been brought.” –Hazlitt, pg. 147
All in all the book was very helpful but not craving to my economic hungry and leaves me to go to men of equal repute and read their works.
I gave this work a 4.5/5