American Business and Economics Journalist
Henry Hazlitt, fully Henry Stuart Hazlitt
American Business and Economics Journalist
The quickest way to detect error in analogy is to carry it out as far as it will go?and further. Every analogy will break down somewhere. Any analogy if carried out far enough becomes absurd.
The vital consideration of incentives is almost systematically overlooked in the proposals of agitators for more and bigger government welfare schemes. We should all be concerned about the plight of the poor and unfortunate. But the hard two-part question that any plan for relieving poverty must answer is: How can we mitigate the penalties of failure and misfortune without undermining the incentives to effort and success.
There is an excellent short book (126 pages) by Faustino BallvŠ, Essentials of Economics (Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Foundation for Economic Education), which briefly summarizes principles and policies. A book that does that at somewhat greater length (327 pages) is Understanding the Dollar Crisis by Percy L. Greaves (Belmont, Mass.: Western Islands, 1973). Bettina Bien Greaves has assembled two volumes of readings on Free Market Economics (Foundation for Economic Education). The reader who aims at a thorough understanding, and feels prepared for it, should next read Human Action by Ludwig von Mises (Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1949, 1966, 907 pages). This book extended the logical unity and precision of economics beyond that of any previous work. A two-volume work written thirteen years after Human Action by a student of Mises is Murray N. Rothbard?s Man, Economy, and State (Mission, Kan.: Sheed, Andrews and McMeel, 1962, 987 pages). This contains much original and penetrating material; its exposition is admirably lucid; and its arrangement makes it in some respects more suitable for textbook use than Mises? great work. Short books that discuss special economic subjects in a simple way are Planning for Freedom by Ludwig von Mises (South Holland, 111.: Libertarian Press, 1952), and Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962). There is an excellent pamphlet by Murray N. Rothbard, What Has Government Done to Our Money? (Santa Ana, Calif.: Rampart College, 1964, 1974, 62 pages). On the urgent subject of inflation, a book by the present author has recently been published, The Inflation Crisis, and How to Resolve It (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House, 1978). Among recent works which discuss current ideologies and developments from a point of view similar to that of this volume are the present author?s The Failure of the New Economics: An Analysis of the Keynesian Fallacies (Arlington House, 1959); F. A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (1945) and the same author?s monumental Constitution of Liberty (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960). Ludwig von Mises? Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis (London: Jonathan Cape, 1936, 1969) is the most thorough and devastating critique of collectivistic doctrines ever written. The reader should not overlook, of course, Frederic Bastiat?s Economic Sophisms (ca. 1844), and particularly his essay on What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen. Those who are interested in working through the economic classics might find it most profitable to do this in the reverse of their historical order. Presented in this order, the chief works to be consulted, with the dates of their first editions, are: Philip Wicksteed, The Common Sense of Political Economy, 1911; John Bates Clark, The Distribution of Wealth, 1899; Eugen von B”hm-Bawerk, The Positive Theory of Capital, 1888; Karl Menger, Principles of Economics, 1871; W. Stanley Jevons, The Theory of Political Economy, 1871; John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy, 1848; David Ricardo, Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, 1817; and Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776.
Today is already the tomorrow which the bad economist yesterday urged us to ignore.
When I leave for further consideration the tangle of sophistry closely related to public debt and chronic inflation, we shall make it clear through this chapter immediate or remote every dollar the government spends so be inexcusably a dollar earned through the tax. When we consider the question this way, the supposed miracles of state investments appear to a very different light.
The real causes of any existing depression. For the real causes, most of the time, are maladjustments within the wage-cost-price structure: maladjustments between wages and prices, between prices of raw materials and prices of finished goods, or between one price and another or one wage and another.
The volume is therefore primarily one of exposition. It makes no claim to originality with regard to any of the chief ideas that it expounds. Rather its effort is to show that many of the ideas which now pass for brilliant innovations and advances are in fact mere revivals of ancient errors, and a further proof of the dictum that those who are ignorant of the past are condemned to repeat it.
There is no limit to the amount of work to be done as long as any human need or wish that work could fill remains unsatisfied.
unions, though they may for a time be able to secure an increase in money wages for their members, partly at the expense of employers and more at the expense of nonunionized workers, cannot, in the long-run and for the whole body of workers, increase real wages at all.
When people who earn more than the average have their 'surplus', or the greater part of it, seized from them in taxes, and when people who earn less than average have the deficiency , or the greater part of it, turned over to them in hand-outs and doles, the production of all must sharply decline; for the energetic and able who lose their incentive to produce more than the average, and the slothful and unskilled lose their incentive to improve their condition.
The real solution to the problem of poverty consists in finding how to increase the employment and earning power of the poor.
The way to get a maximum rate of 'economic growth' assuming this to be our aim - is to give maximum encouragement to production, employment, saving, and investment. And the way to do this is to maintain a free market and a sound currency.
There is no more certain way to deter employment than to harass and penalize employers. There is no more certain way to keep wages low than to destroy every incentive to investment in new and more efficient machines and equipment.
Up to a certain point it is necessary to produce shoes. But it is also necessary to produce coats, shirts, trousers, homes, plows, shovels, factories, bridges, milk and bread. It would be idiotic to go on piling up mountains of surplus shoes, simply because we could do it, while hundreds of more urgent needs went unfilled.
when personal incomes are taxed 50, 60 or 70 percent. People begin to ask themselves why they should work six, eight or nine months of the entire year for the government, and only six, four or three months for themselves and their families. If they lose the whole dollar when they lose, but can keep only a fraction of it when they win, they decide that it is foolish to take risks with their capital.
The sad fact is that today most of the heads of big businesses in America have become so confused or intimidated that, so far from carrying the free market to argument to the enemy, they fail to defend themselves adequately even when attacked.
The way to maximize production is to maximize the incentives to production. And the way to do that, as the modern world has discovered, is through the system known as capitalism - the system of private property, free markets, and free enterprise.
There is one further reason why we should take as many different viewpoints as possible.
We are so accustomed to the miracle of private enterprise that we habitually take it for granted. But how does private industry solve the incredibly complex problem of turning out tens of thousands of different goods and services in the proportions in which they are wanted by the public? ... It solves these problems through the institutions of private property, competition, the free market, and the existence of money - through the interrelations of supply and demand, costs and prices, profits and losses.
When the economy is free, demand so acts that some branches of production make what some government officials regard as excessive, unreasonable, or even obscene profits. But that very fact not only causes every firm in that line to expand its production to the utmost, and to reinvest its profits in more machinery and more employment; it also attracts new investors and producers from everywhere, until production in that line is great enough to meet demand.
The same reasoning applies to civilian government officials whenever they are retained in excessive numbers and do not perform services for the community reasonably equivalent to the remuneration they receive.
The whole argument of this book may be summed up in the statement that in studying the effects of any given economic proposal we must trace not merely the immediate results but the results in the long run, not merely the primary consequences but the secondary consequences, and not merely the effects on some special group but the effects on everyone.
There may have been somewhere, as a few eighteenth-century philosophers dreamed, a group of peaceful men who got together one evening after work and drew up a Social Contract to form the state. But nobody has been able to find an actual record of it. Practically all the governments whose origins are historically established were the result of conquest-of one tribe by another, one city by another, one people by another. Of course there have been constitutional conventions, but they merely changed the working rules of governments already in being.
We are therefore, with the fallacy overlooking secondary consequences. It is in this where the fundamental difference between the good and the bad economy is based. The bad economist sees only what is seen in an immediate way, while the good also perceives what goes beyond that. The first includes only the direct consequences of the measure to apply, while the second pays attention also to indirect and more distant. It considers the effects of a given policy has had, or may have, on one particular sector only; it is also concerned with the effects that such a policy will have on all groups.
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.