The More Things Change . .

By Richman, Sheldon | Freeman, November 2004 | Go to article overview

The More Things Change . .


Richman, Sheldon, Freeman


Economie fallacies die hard, which is why reading Henry Hazlitt today is as worthwhile as it ever was. There is certainly a better understanding of the virtues and benefits of markets than there has been in many years-and Hazlitt's work is surely part of the reason. But freedom will not be achieved by one man, no matter how prolific and articulate. Many people must assimilate such a man's writings and pass their lessons along to others, in whatever way is fitting.

Opening the newspaper almost any day, one finds the same subjects that occupied Hazlitt for many decades: inflation-that is, government control of money; trade restrictions; business regulation; taxation; deficit spending; the minimum wage; labor unionism; agricultural and business subsidies; price controls; the welfare state; the presumption that government can intelligently guide economic affairs.

Why haven't these issues been put to rest once and for all? There are many reasons. The political incentive to perpetuate economic fallacies is potent. Most people attracted to careers in government are uninterested in a platform that would reduce their own power and prestige. The voters to whom they appeal are rarely equipped to detect those fallacies. How many would see a problem in a law mandating longer paid vacation or other employment benefits?

Then there is the age-old temptation to get what one wants with the least exertion; the political means makes it possible to do so by having the government transfer other people's money to oneself. A host of influences, including the government's own schools, encourage us in the delusion that this is not, as Frederic Bastiat called it, "legalized plunder."

Another impediment to economic understanding is that the market does not have to be understood for it to work. This is both its strength and weakness. If everyone had to have a Ph.D. in economics for the marketplace to run smoothly, we'd be in deep trouble. But because specialized economic knowledge isn't required, most people take prosperity for granted and never achieve even a basic understanding of the free market-which is why they can blithely favor measures that would undermine the very process that makes their comfortable lives possible.

The upshot is that the job of promoting freedom is nowhere near finished, and so Henry Hazlitt's work is as valuable as ever.

We honor Henry Hazlitt this issue with an assortment of recollections of his life, analyses of his work, and samples of his writing. The special issue, commemorating the 110th anniversary of his birth, begins with a reminiscence and brief biography by Bettina Bien Greaves, who became a friend of Hazlitt's during her many years at FEE as a staff member, senior resident scholar, and trustee. …

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