I think I finally understand the source of my frustrations in trying to engage Hazlitt’s arguments. Each of the policies he analyzes is an effort to improve on the behavior of laissez-faire economics, and he is quite right in pointing out that such efforts invariably lead to worse results that simply letting the market operate freely—at least as laissez-faire economics defines “worse”.
I’m also sympathetic to the fact that, wherever the policies that Hazlitt examines are implemented, you are sure to find special interests involved who are unfairly benefiting from them. Thus it is tempting to put two and two together, and conclude that these policies are primarily efforts on the part of unscrupulous people to gain unfair benefits.
But as I run down the list of chapter titles in Hazlitt’s book, it strikes me that every one of these misguided policies can be viewed as a response to human misery that is caused by the operation of the free market. Is it really the case that, after two hundred years of experimenting with laissez-faire economics in various contexts, we simply can’t get it through our heads to just step back and let the machine operate without interference? Or is it possible that we continue to interfere with its operation because we simply can’t stand to see what it does to people when uncontrolled?
In any case, a discussion of Hazlitt’s book isn’t the proper place to confront those particular questions, and so I think I’ll save myself further frustration by dropping out at this point.