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

History, as it comes into our daily lives, is charged with surprise and shock.

One accumulates or one gets accumulated.

To one American family out of four, the idea of capitalism as a benign system of comfort, dignity, and personal advance is only a myth, or worse, a bitter mockery.

If an economy in the doldrums could drift indefinitely, the price of government inaction might be graver by far than the consequences of bold unorthodoxy.

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.

Today and over the foreseeable future, traditional capitalism throughout most of the world has been thrown on a defensive from which it is doubtful that it can never recover.

In the end the question is: Who is to be master, man or his machines? As long as the control over technology rests primarily on economic calculation, the victor is not likely to be man.

Socialism... must depend for its economic direction on some form of planning, and for its culture on some form of commitment to the idea of a morally conscious collectivity... If tradition cannot, and the market system should not, underpin the socialist order, we are left with some form of command as the necessary means for securing its continuance and adaptation. Indeed, that is what planning means... The factories and stores and farms and shops of a socialist socioeconomic formation must be coordinated... and this coordination must entail obedience to a central plan... The rights of individuals to their Millian liberties [are] directly opposed to the basic social commitment to a deliberately embraced collective moral goal... Under socialism, every dissenting voice raises a threat similar to that raised under a democracy by those who preach anti-democracy.

Understanding of the difficulties of central planning was slow to emerge. In the mid-1930s, while the Russian industrialization drive was at full tilt, few raised their voices about its problems. Among those few were Ludwig von Mises, an articulate and exceedingly argumentative free-market economist, and Friedrich Hayek, of much more contemplative temperament, later to be awarded a Nobel Prize for his work in monetary theory. Together, Mises and Hayek launched an attack on the feasibility of socialism that seemed at the time unconvincing in its argument as to the functional problems of a planned economy. Mises in particular contended that a socialist system was impossible because there was no way for the planners to acquire the information??produce this, not that??needed for a coherent economy. This information, Hayek emphasized, emerged spontaneously in a market system from the rise and fall of prices. A planning system was bound to fail precisely because it lacked such a signaling mechanism.

In the late 1980s, absolute economic disaster arrived in the Soviet Union and its Eastern former satellites, and those countries are still trying to construct some form of economic structure that will no longer display the deadly inertia and indifference that have come to be the hallmarks of socialism. It is too early to predict whether these efforts will succeed. The main obstacle to real perestroika is the impossibility of creating a working market system without a firm basis of private ownership, and it is clear that the creation of such a basis encounters the opposition of the former state bureaucracy and the hostility of ordinary people who have long been trained to be suspicious of the pursuit of wealth. In the face of such uncertainties, all predictions are foolhardy save one: no quick or easy transition from socialism to some form of nonsocialism is possible. Transformations of such magnitude are historic convulsions, not mere changes in policy. Their completion must be measured in decades or generations, not years.

Socialism?defined as a centrally planned economy in which the government controls all means of production?was the tragic failure of the twentieth century. Born of a commitment to remedy the economic and moral defects of capitalism, it has far surpassed capitalism in both economic malfunction and moral cruelty. Yet the idea and the ideal of socialism linger on. Whether socialism in some form will eventually return as a major organizing force in human affairs is unknown, but no one can accurately appraise its prospects who has not taken into account the dramatic story of its rise and fall.

Unlike modern man, who dreams of the world he will make, pre-modern man dreamed of the world he left.

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.?

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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"