Robert Heilbroner, fully Robert Louis Heilbroner

Heilbroner, fully Robert Louis Heilbroner

American Economist,Historian of Economic Thought and Author best known for his book "The Worldly Philosophers"

Author Quotes

In the periods of crisis, the bigger firms absorb the smaller ones,and when the industrial monsters eventually go down, the wreckage is far greater than when the little enterprises buckle.

The basic function of the military - to achieve victory over the enemy - has been rendered obsolete by the fact that victory and defeat are almost certain to be achieved simultaneously.

Very few of the heroes of the Golden Age of American finance had much interest in the solid realities of what underlay their structure of stocks and bonds and credits. Later on, a Henry Ford might introduce an era of intensely production-minded captains of industry, but the Harrimans, Morgans, Fricks, and Rockefellers were far more interested in the exciting manipulation of huge masses of intangible wealth than in the humdrum business of turning out goods.

In the schism of realms, it is enough to establish the primacy of capital, not its dictatorship.

The book [Keynes? The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money] was revolutionary: no other word will quite do. It stood economics on its head for the book had a startling and dismaying conclusion. There was no automatic safety mechanism after all! Rather than a see-saw which would always right itself, the economy resembled an elevator: it could be going up or down, but it could also be standing perfectly still. And it was just as capable of standing still on the ground floor as at the top of the shaft. A depression, in other words, might not cure itself at all; the economy could lie prostrate indefinitely, like a ship becalmed.

We may make progress only by freeing ourselves from the rut of the past, but without this rut an orderly society would hardly be possible in the first place.

It is from the scope and wisdom of the economists of the past that we must reap the knowledge with which to face the future.

The book was called Imperialism; it was a devastating volume. For here was the most important and searing criticism which had ever been levied against the profit system. The worst that Marx had claimed was that the system would destroy itself; what Hobson suggested was that it might destroy the world.

Weird and fantastic as it seems, the Fourierist idea took some hold, even in that fortress of practicality and common sense, the United States. At one time there were over forty phalansteries in this country, and if one groups together the Owenite communities and the religious movements of various sorts, there were at least one hundred and seventy-eight actual Utopian groups with from fifteen to nine hundred members each.

It is not surprising that this increasingly Byzantine system began to create serious dysfunctions beneath the overall statistics of growth. During the 1960s the Soviet Union became the first industrial country in history to suffer a prolonged peacetime fall in average life expectancy, a symptom of its disastrous misallocation of resources. Military research facilities could get whatever they needed, but hospitals were low on the priority list. By the 1970s the figures clearly indicated a slowing of overall production. By the 1980s the Soviet Union officially acknowledged a near end to growth that was, in reality, an unofficial decline. In 1987 the first official law embodying perestroika?restructuring?was put into effect. President Mikhail Gorbachev announced his intention to revamp the economy from top to bottom by introducing the market, reestablishing private ownership, and opening the system to free economic interchange with the West. Seventy years of socialist rise had come to an end.

The change began with John Stuart Mill and the Utopians. When Mill pointed out that economics had no ultimate solution to the problem of distribution, that society might do with the fruits of its toil as it saw fit, he introduced into the mechanical calculus of the market a conflicting calculus of moral judgment.

When we estrange ourselves from history we do not enlarge, we diminish ourselves, even as individuals. We subtract from our lives one meaning which they do in fact possess, whether we recognize it or not. We cannot help living in history. We can only fail to be aware of it.

It is often thought that the idea of socialism derives from the work of Karl Marx. In fact, Marx wrote only a few pages about socialism, as either a moral or a practical blueprint for society. The true architect of a socialist order was Lenin, who first faced the practical difficulties of organizing an economic system without the driving incentives of profit seeking or the self-generating constraints of competition. Lenin began from the long-standing delusion that economic organization would become less complex once the profit drive and the market mechanism had been dispensed with??as self-evident,? he wrote, as ?the extraordinarily simple operations of watching, recording, and issuing receipts, within the reach of anybody who can read and write and knows the first four rules of arithmetic.?

The great economists can be called the worldly philosophers, for they sought to embrace in a scheme of philosophy the most worldly of all of man's activities?his drive for wealth.

You cannot get them to talk of politics so long as they are well employed.

David Ricardo saw that the escalator worked with different effects on different classes, that some rode triumphantly to the top, while others were carried up a few steps and then kicked back down to the bottom.

It is one of the dangerous self-deceptions of our society to pretend that mechanisms of control do not really exist, and to maintain, without qualification, that we are an economically "free" people.

The rise of the welfare state, on the one hand, and of the military bureaucracy, on the other, are instances of the manner in which technology is enforcing a socialization of life.

Economic freedom is a highly desirable state - but in bust and boom we must be prepared to face the its consequences.

It may strike us as odd that the idea of gain is a relatively modern one; we are schooled to believe that man is essentially an acquisitive creature and that left to himself he will behave as any self-respecting businessman would. The profit motive, we are constantly being told, is as old as man himself. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The secret to economic growth lay in the fact that that each generation attacked Nature not only with its own energies and resources, but with the heritage of equipment accumulated by its forebears.

Even today-in blithe disregard to his actual philosophy ? Smith is generally regarded as a conservative economist, whereas in fact, he is more avowedly hostile to the motives of businessman then most New Deal economists.

It was the unemployment that was the hardest to bear. The jobless millions were like an embolism in the nation's vital circulation; and while their indisputable existence argued more forcibly than any text that something was wrong with the system, the economists wrung their hands and racked their brains and called upon the spirit of Adam Smith, but could offer neither diagnosis or remedy.

The system that evolved under Stalin and his successors took the form of a pyramid of command. At its apex was Gosplan, the highest state planning agency, which established such general directives for the economy as the target rate of growth and the allocation of effort between military and civilian outputs, between heavy and light industry, and among various regions. Gosplan transmitted the general directives to successive ministries of industrial and regional planning, whose technical advisers broke down the overall national plan into directives assigned to particular factories, industrial power centers, collective farms, and so on. These thousands of individual subplans were finally scrutinized by the factory managers and engineers who would eventually have to implement them. Thereafter, the blueprint for production reascended the pyramid, together with the suggestions, emendations, and pleas of those who had seen it. Ultimately, a completed plan would be reached by negotiation, voted on by the Supreme Soviet, and passed into law. Thus, the final plan resembled an immense order book, specifying the nuts and bolts, steel girders, grain outputs, tractors, cotton, cardboard, and coal that, in their entirety, constituted the national output. In theory such an order book should enable planners to reconstitute a working economy each year?provided, of course, that the nuts fitted the bolts; the girders were of the right dimensions; the grain output was properly stored; the tractors were operable; and the cotton, cardboard, and coal were of the kinds needed for their manifold uses. But there was a vast and widening gap between theory and practice.

Few socialists outside the Communist Party are willing to acknowledge that real socialism means trading our "Millian liberties" for the purported good of economic planning and "a morally conscious collectivity.

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Heilbroner, fully Robert Louis Heilbroner
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American Economist,Historian of Economic Thought and Author best known for his book "The Worldly Philosophers"