Have you ever been confused when politicians speak of tariffs and subsidies? Does talk of inflation make your head spin? Henry Hazlitt helps clear away the fog of economics in his book, “Economics In One Lesson".
The one lesson is very simple: It’s all about looking at the unseen, as well as the seen. It’s about considering the opportunity costs. When considering any economic policy, we must not only look at the short-run effects on some groups, but we must also look at the long-run effects on all groups. One prominent example of this is the broken window fallacy.
Even though the book was written quite a while ago, I found it to be a highly illuminating read. All of the examples still make sense even today, and perhaps even more so, given the recent financial crisis and the failure of western economics to find their way forward.
Some sections of the book are quite telling, like this excerpt from chapter six: “Government-guaranteed home mortgages, especially when a negligible down payment or no down payment whatever is required, inevitably mean more bad loans than otherwise. They force the general taxpayer to subsidize the bad risks and to defray the losses. They encourage people to “buy” houses that they cannot really afford.” This is wisdom that we had available to us, and that we unfortunately chose to ignore.
Hazlitt’s book “Economics In One Lesson” is just as highly relevant today as it was when it was written; I would recommend it to anyone looking to decode the unseen consequences of the proposed actions of politicians and economists. From the Mises Store: “Written for the non-academic, it has served as the major antidote to fallacies in the popular press, and has appeared in dozens of languages and printings. It’s still the quickest way to learn how to think like an economist. And this is why it has been used in the best classrooms more than sixty years.”
“This book is an analysis of economic fallacies that are at last so prevalent that they have almost become a new orthodoxy. The one thing that has prevented this has been their own self-contradictions, which have scattered those who accept the same premises into a hundred different ""schools” for the simple reason that it is impossible in matters touching practical life to be consistently wrong. But the difference between one new school and another is merely that one group wakes up earlier than another to the absurdities to which its false premises are driving it, and becomes at that moment inconsistent by either unwittingly abandoning its false premises or accepting conclusions from them less disturbing or fantastic than those that logic would demand.
There is not a major government in the world at this moment, however, whose economic policies are not influenced if they are not almost wholly determined by acceptance of some of these fallacies. Perhaps the shortest and surest way to an understanding of economics is through a dissection of such errors, and particularly of the central error from which they stem. That is the assumption of this volume and of its somewhat ambitious and belligerent title.”
Henry Stuart Hazlitt (November 28, 1894 – July 9, 1993) was a libertarian philosopher, an economist, and a journalist for various publications including The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, and Newsweek. He was the founding vice-president of the Foundation for Economic Education and an early editor of The Freeman magazine, an important libertarian publication. In 1946 Hazlitt wrote Economics in One Lesson, his seminal text on free market economics, which Ayn Rand referred to as doing a "...magnificent job of theoretical exposition." Hazlitt is credited with bringing his ideas and those of the so-called Austrian School to the American economics scene and his work has influenced the likes of economist Ludwig von Mises, novelist and essayist Ayn Rand, and 2008 Libertarian Party Presidential nominee and congressman, Ron Paul.
Hazlitt was a prolific writer, authoring 25 works in his lifetime.
Ludwig von Mises said at a dinner honoring Hazlitt: "In this age of the great struggle in favor of freedom and the social system in which men can live as free men, you are our leader. You have indefatigably fought against the step-by-step advance of the powers anxious to destroy everything that human civilization has created over a long period of centuries... You are the economic conscience of our country and of our nation."