More Appreciation of Hazlitt
By David Henderson
In his excellent post this morning on Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson, Bryan Caplan, in my opinion, slightly understated the case for Hazlitt. I agree with everything Bryan said, but he gives the impression that Hazlitt’s treatment is simplistic. It sometimes is, but it mainly isn’t. In other words, although Hazlitt leaves out some “ifs,” to use Brad DeLong’s formulation, he doesn’t leave out many.
Here’s a paragraph from my November 2004 review of Economics in One Lesson:
Although professional economists might be tempted to dismiss a book that claims to teach economics in one lesson, the fact is that few professional economists have ever read Hazlitt’s book. More’s the pity. Even some professional economists who pick it up might, I suspect, dismiss it as obvious and unsubtle. But what it really is is obvious and subtle–obvious because Hazlitt makes things so clear; subtle because his clarity helps him untangle otherwise complicated issues, such as the one discussed in the previous paragraph. As the famed H. L. Mencken wrote about Hazlitt on the book’s jacket, “He is one of the few economists in human history who could really write.” Indeed, were 100 professional economists to stop writing their abstract economics articles and, instead, start writing as clearly as Hazlitt on the same subjects he wrote on, the world would become dramatically more informed about economics, and well could become freer as a result. I’d settle for ten such economists.
Moreover, on top of that, Hazlitt explains why there is so much misinformation in economics. I wrote:
Hazlitt does more than lay out basic economics and explode the fallacies behind various beliefs in government intervention. He also explains why much of the bad thinking is so widespread. In chapter 1, “The Lesson,” Hazlitt notes that the inherent difficulties in understanding economics are multiplied a thousand times “by a factor that is insignificant in, say, physics, mathematics or medicine–the special pleading of selfish interests.” No group is out lobbying for us to doubt whether gravity exists, some California bumper stickers to the contrary. But slick, well-paid, plausible-sounding lobbyists do try to make us doubt whether we’re better off buying goods cheaper from foreign countries, because these spokesmen represent powerful interests whose jobs and wealth depend on persuading us that free trade causes losses.