Economics in One Lesson, Chapters 13-18

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.

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5 thoughts on “Economics in One Lesson, Chapters 13-18

  1. Good point Rick. I have the Hazlitt book but haven’t read it. In pondering free markets and democracy, I’ve wondered if the bloated bureaucracies (public and private) we have in the US are indeed what the “free” market has produced. After all, our freely elected representatives have implemented this. We say we don’t like the result, but we have freely chosen it. So I’m thinking a free people will freely choose to implement complex, encumbering practices.
    If our democracy is “free” then whatever exists now can only be a result of free political choices, free markets, etc. The unjust, binding, foolish system we have freely built simply proves the Proverb that “there is a way that seems right to man, but it leads only to death”.

  2. Rick, I respectfully disagree that a discussion of this book isn’t the place to confront your questions. A book discussion ought not to be just praising and agreeing, reading and regurgitating (my daughter said that last word out loud with 2 hard ‘g’s when reading about how honey is made to her little brother). Analyzing is a skill that is rare, and I appreciate hearing your concerns, though I am only an agrarian sympathizer. I would like to hear more about what would be a good alternative to free market economics which would not be statist idolatry? How would it work? Steve says, “You can’t put the genie back in the bottle.” My thinking is that Hazlitt’s analysis of the disaster of government tinkering with our money system is right. I am not always comfortable with his positive solutions as I think he believes too much in the goodness of man when left to his own devices, something as a Calvinist that I know will lead to tyranny just as surely. Big business can be just as despotic as big government.

    So I would love to hear more from you. I hope you will reconsider!

  3. Carmon,

    So far I’ve been reluctant to write in any detail about agrarian-flavored alternatives to free market economics because I haven’t found definitive sources, only scattered bits and pieces that I’m struggling to fit together in my own mind. But I suppose it’s not very kind to drop a few broad hints about them, as I did in this discussion, and then simply drop the topic. I’ll try to put together a series of posts which describe what I’ve read on the topic so far, and what tentative conclusions I’ve drawn.

  4. You pose some good questions in your third paragraph and I will check back for your further agrarian musings.

    It seems to me that *some* cant seem to stand the unfortunate consequences that happen in a free market. They want to be in control. But that doesnt mean they should be or that we should let them.

  5. Company gone and I am trying to play catch-up today. Rick, I love that there are other sides to hear. It really helps me sort my thoughts. Whenever I want to see a movie or read a book, I find that negative reviews help me decide far more than the positive ones, even when I disagree with the review. So I would love to hear more. I love your posts on oil and the housing market which really shows me that you have a background to bring to the discussion.

    I love Wendell Berry even though sometimes he makes me uncomfortable.

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