A Man for Many Seasons
Henry Hazlitt, author, journalist, editor, reviewer, economist, has written or edited 18 books and countless articles, columns, editorials, and book reviews. He has gained renown in at least three areas: as a popularizer of sound economic thinking, as a critic of John Maynard Keynes, and as a contributor to moral philosophy. His Economics in One Lesson (1946), a long-time best seller, is one of the finest introductions there is to sound economics. His critique of Keynes,The Failure of the “New Economics” (1959), and his explanation of moral philosophy, The Foundations of Morality (1964), are valuable contributions to knowledge and understanding, to economic theory and the principles of social cooperation. Henry Hazlitt is a man for many seasons. His writings will live for generations.
Early Childhood and Youth
Henry Stuart Hazlitt was born in Philadelphia on November 28, 1894, the son of Stuart Clark Hazlitt and Bertha (Zauner) Hazlitt. His father died when Henry was a baby. His first years in school were spent at Girard College, a school in Philadelphia for poor, fatherless boys.
When Henry was 9, his mother remarried and their fortunes revived. The family moved to Brooklyn, New York, and it was there, at Public School 11 and Boys’ High School, that Henry received most of his formal education. Henry has apparently always had a gift for writing. His high school English teacher recognized his talent and appointed him “chief critic” of his fellow students’ test papers. This was “not an entirely gratifying distinction,”1 Henry wrote later, for it did not endear him to his classmates.
When Henry finished high school, he entered New York City’s free-tuition City College of New York (CCNY), but was forced to drop out after a few months. His stepfather had died and he had to support his widowed mother.
An inexperienced high school graduate wasn’t worth much on the job market. The only work for which Henry was then qualified was as an office boy at $5 a week. He was fired from his first job after only two days. But that didn’t faze him. He simply went out and got another job.
At that time there were no legal obstacles to hiring and firing—no minimum wage with which an employer had to comply, no Social Security or unemployment taxes to pay, no income taxes to withhold, no restrictions on hours or working conditions. Any would-be employer could hire anyone who wanted to work. If the arrangement didn’t work out, the employer could let the employee go without penalty. Or the employee could leave, confident that he could easily find other employment.
Henry had a succession of jobs at $5 per week. When he learned that secretaries could earn $15 per week, he determined to learn shorthand and typing. For several weeks he attended a secretarial school. With his newly acquired skills, he could command $10 to $12 per week. But again none of his jobs lasted very long—he hadn’t yet found his niche. Finally he decided he wanted to be a newspaper reporter. He applied for a job and was hired by The Wall Street Journal.
The Journal at that time was much smaller than it is now, and it reported primarily Wall Street news. Hazlitt’s bosses at The Journal dictated editorials to him on the typewriter and reporters called in their stories to him over the phone. Gradually he learned through on-the-job training.
Although he still knew very little about economics or the market, he was assigned to be the reporter in charge of following a half dozen small companies. When he attended one annual meeting, he learned how very little he knew. The management voted unexpectedly to “pass” its dividend, that is to pass over or to omit it. Hazlitt assumed “passing” a dividend meant “approving” the dividend. Fortunately for him, however, when he turned in his report he used their term; he said the dividend had been “passed.” His on-the-job training proceeded apace; he promptly learned the investment definition of that word, and no one was the wiser.
The Journal at that time had a “By-the-Way” column, composed of brief quips about current events. Members of the staff were encouraged to submit entries anonymously. To collect payment if an entry was used (75 cents per published entry), the author turned in the carbon copy of his entry. With Henry’s gift for expression, he soon became a persistent contributor and in time almost doubled his income with what he received for his short, clever “By-the-Way” paragraphs.
Hazlitt’s Do-It-Yourself Education
Henry Hazlitt was energetic, ambitious, and industrious. On-the-job training wasn’t enough for him. He was determined to get the education he had missed when he had to drop out of college. So he started his own reading program. He read about Shakespeare and the Marlowe controversy. He learned about evolution and the role of the state by reading Herbert Spencer. He began to read about economics and the stock market. In time, the depth and breadth of his reading gave him a broad liberal arts education. A book titled The Work of Wall Street made him realize the importance of economics and philosophical reasoning. From then on he read with a purpose—concentrating on economics. He read a couple of college texts. Although he lacked sophistication in economics, his natural good sense warned him to be on guard against socialist ideas.
One book he ran across while browsing in a library, The Common Sense of Political Economy (1910) by Philip H. Wicksteed, a British Unitarian minister, had a profound influence on him. Wicksteed had become acquainted with the Austrian School of Economics, the first school of economics to recognize that “value” is subjective and that market prices stem from the subjective values of individuals. This insight helped to shape Hazlitt’s intellectual development and led him to a firm understanding of market operations and the marginal utility theory of economics.
In addition to reading, young Henry also devoted some time every day to writing. He set out to write a book on a very ambitious subject, Thinking as a Science, and before many months had passed, it was finished. He submitted the book to five publishers, received five rejections, and got discouraged. Then a friend urged him to send it out once more. He did—and this time it was accepted by the well-known firm of E. P. Dutton & Co. In 1916, at the age of 22, Henry Hazlitt became a published author.
In 1916, Hazlitt left The Wall Street Journal and moved to the New York Evening Post, where he put his Wall Street experience to use writing “Wall Street Paragraphs.” He was working at the Post in 1917 when the United States entered World War I.
World War I
Henry wanted to volunteer, as some of his friends were doing, but he couldn’t afford to do so. The Army paid only $30 per month, not enough for him to support his mother. Then the Air Force announced that it was offering enlistees $100 per month. Henry volunteered, only to discover that, in spite of their published offer, the Air Force paid enlistees no more than the Army did. But once in the Air Force, he couldn’t get out. Henry’s mother had a rough time financially while he was away.
The Air Force sent Henry to Texas, to Princeton for ground school studies, and then back to Texas for flying instruction; he didn’t get overseas. Hazlitt was still in Texas when the war ended.
A few days after the Armistice was signed, the New York Evening Post wired Hazlitt that his successor in writing “Wall Street Paragraphs” was leaving. He could have his old job back if he could be there in five days. Hazlitt took off almost immediately for New York by train, went directly to the office, suitcase in hand, and worked in uniform his first day back on the job.
Hazlitt soon returned to his old regimen of reading and writing for his own education and edification. Before long he had written a second book, The Way to Will Power, published in 1922. At that time, Who’s Who had a policy of automatically listing any author who had had two books published by reputable firms. So at 28, Henry was a two-time author and his name appeared in Who’s Who.
Benjamin M. Anderson
After Hazlitt returned from the Air Force, he continued his pursuit of economic understanding. Among other books on monetary theory, he read Benjamin M. Anderson’s The Value of Money (1917). Hazlitt considered that book “profound and original” and he learned a great deal from it. Anderson, then teaching at Harvard, later became economist with the Bank of Commerce and then with the Chase National Bank. When Hazlitt was financial editor for the New York Evening Mail (1921–1923), he occasionally interviewed Anderson in connection with articles he was writing, and the two men soon became friends. Hazlitt wrote the foreword to Anderson’s important work, Economics and the Public Welfare: Financial and Economic History of the United States, 1914–1946 (1949).
In The Value of Money, Anderson had reviewed a large number of writers, American and foreign, most of them rather critically, on the subject of money. But when he came to the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, he wrote that he found in his work “very noteworthy clarity and power. His Theorie des Geldes und der Umlaufsmittel [later translated into English as The Theory of Money and Credit] is an exceptionally excellent book.” This was the first time Hazlitt had heard of Mises, but he remembered his name and Anderson’s comment. Years later when Mises’ works became available in English, Hazlitt made it a point to read them.
A Career of Reading and Writing
Throughout his life, Henry Hazlitt has spent most of his time at the typewriter and with books. From age 20, he wrote something almost every day—news items, editorials, reviews, articles, columns. By his 70th birthday, he figured he must have written “in total some 10,000 editorials, articles, and columns; some 10,000,000 words! And in print! The verbal equivalent of about 150 average-length books.” Hazlitt has also written or edited 17 books. (See the list at the end of this article.) His early works were literary and philosophical, his later books largely economic.
After leaving The Wall Street Journal, Hazlitt worked in various capacities—as economic commentator, financial editor, book reviewer, editorial writer, literary editor, columnist, and editor—for five different newspapers including The New York Times (1934–1946), a monthly financial letter, and three magazines, including Newsweek (1946–1966) for which he wrote the “Business Tides” column. In 1950, while still writing for Newsweek, Hazlitt and John Chamberlain became editors of the newly founded biweekly magazine, The Freeman, predecessor of this journal. (See the note at the end of this article for a list of the publications with which Hazlitt has been associated.) After he left Newsweek in 1966, he became an internationally syndicated columnist.
Hazlitt’s reading and studying over the years to satisfy his own intellectual curiosity spanned a broad spectrum of subjects. His vast reading, especially when he was a literary editor and book reviewer, is evident in The Anatomy of Criticism (1933), in which he discussed the critic’s role, the influence of the critic on the public, and the influence of the times on the critic. Hazlitt’s prodigious reading and prolific writing throughout these years were preparing him for the important contributions he was to make to the understanding of economic theory and social cooperation.
As a result of Hazlitt’s various assignments writing about financial and stock market news, his interests had been gradually directed toward business and economics. He read many books on economics, and he became knowledgeable as an economist. But he did not write a book on the subject until 1946.
The New York Times
As a patriotic gesture, The New York Times had made a promise not to fire anyone during the Depression. This proved a very costly promise to keep. It meant for one thing that The Times did no hiring for a couple of years. By 1934 they were in dire need of someone who knew economics. Thus, in the midst of the Depression, Hazlitt was hired by The Times as an editorial writer.
The Times was then being run by Arthur Sulzberger, son-in-law of the fairly “conservative” publisher and controlling owner, Adolph S. Ochs. Management seldom interfered with Hazlitt’s editorials, although Ochs’ daughter, Mrs. Sulzberger, would occasionally call Hazlitt and suggest some “leftist” idea. Hazlitt would explain, “The trouble with that, Mrs. Sulzberger, is …” She would reply, “Well, you know best.” Thus, The Times pretty much published what Hazlitt wrote—at least until 1944. More about this later.
Mises and Hayek
Hazlitt is proud of his role in helping to introduce two economic giants to readers in this country—Ludwig von Mises, leading spokesman for the Austrian school of economics for many years, and Friedrich A. Hayek, also an Austrian economist, Mises’ protegé, and Nobel Prize Laureate in 1974.
As mentioned above, Hazlitt first heard of Mises through Benjamin Anderson’s The Value of Money. Years later when Hazlitt came across Mises’ Socialism, he reviewed it in The New York Times. His review appeared in the January 9, 1938, Book Review Section: “[T]his book must rank as the most devastating analysis of socialism yet penned. Doubtless even some anti-Socialist readers will feel that he occasionally overstates his case. On the other hand, even confirmed Socialists will not be able to withhold admiration from the masterly fashion in which he conducts his argument. He has written an economic classic in our time.”
Mises was then living and teaching in Switzerland. As a courtesy, Hazlitt mailed a copy of his review to the author and the two men exchanged a couple of brief letters. Two years later Mises came to the United States to escape the strife of World War II. Hazlitt was one of Mises’ few contacts in this country and Mises telephoned him. To Hazlitt, Mises was a “classic,” an author from a previous era. Mises’ call, Hazlitt recalled later, was almost as much of a surprise as if he had heard from such a legendary economic figure as Adam Smith or John Stuart Mill.
In 1944, Hazlitt reviewed F. A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom in The New York Times. As a young man in his native Austria, Hayek had come to know Nazism firsthand. In England where he was living and teaching just before the start of World War II, he observed the same interventionist trends that he had seen on the Continent. In 1944, in a devastating critique of Nazism, The Road to Serfdom, he warned the British that they were heading down the same path.
The book stunned academia and the political world. Hazlitt’s review, featured on page one of The Times’ Book Review Section (September 24, 1944), compared Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom to John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. Hazlitt described it as “one of the most important books of our generation.” The University of Chicago Press had printed only 3,000 copies, and when the book made the best-seller list the publisher’s stock was soon exhausted, and they had to begin reprinting right away.
When John Maynard Keynes’ scheme for the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank) was under discussion in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, The Times offered to send Hazlitt to the conference. But Hazlitt saw no reason to go. He was opposed to the discussions. He said he could learn more by reading about them than he could by going there and talking with participants. Besides, if he stayed in New York he could also write editorials on other subjects. So he didn’t go.
While editorial opinion across the nation was largely favorable to the Bretton Woods discussions, Hazlitt was criticizing them. His editorials were the only “sour note.” When it was announced that 43 governments had signed the “marvelous” Bretton Woods Agreement, Sulzberger called Hazlitt to his office. “Now, Henry, when 43 governments sign an agreement, I don’t see how The Times can any longer combat this.”
“All right,” Hazlitt said. “But in that case I can’t write anything further about Bretton Woods. It is an inflationist scheme that will end badly and I can’t support it.” After that Hazlitt wrote no more editorials on the subject for The Times. However, Hazlitt was also writing a Monday column for the paper’s financial page, and there he continued to criticize Bretton Woods. At that point, Sulzberger suggested he might include a line at the end of Hazlitt’s Monday column: “The opinions of Mr. Hazlitt are not necessarily those of The New York Times.”
“You can do that, Mr. Sulzberger. But,” Hazlitt warned, “one consequence of such a disclaimer will be that, if you don’t print a similar line on other columns, the assumption will be that they are necessarily in agreement with the views of the editor of The Times.”Sulzberger understood Hazlitt’s reasoning and dropped the idea.
Economics in One Lesson
For some time Hazlitt had been mulling over the possibility of writing a “little book” on the fallacies of short-run economic interests. He discussed the idea with Mises, by then a close friend. He also told Harper’s editor for economics books about his idea. The editor offered to publish the book when it was written. The New York Times, for which Hazlitt was still working as an editorial writer, agreed to give him every other day off without pay to write the book. Economics in One Lesson was the result.
To Hazlitt, writing that book “came so easily,” he said later, “that I couldn’t take it very seriously.…“[W]riting these chapters was almost like writing daily editorials.… It took … about three months of alternate days off.” On the in-between days he was thinking about the book. “That meant one and a half months of actual writing.”
Reader’s Digest published two excerpts before the book’s publication, and the book promptly became a best seller. Hazlitt had suggested that the print run be increased to satisfy the additional demand anticipated from the Reader’s Digest publicity. Yet the publisher printed only 3,000 copies. The first week the book was out it was fifteenth on the New York Times best-seller list for non-fiction; the second week it was fourteenth, and then the third week it was seventh, disappearing from the list altogether in ensuing weeks—there just were no more books to be sold. After some time, when it had been reprinted and was available once more, it began to sell again, although it didn’t make the Times list again.
Writing Economics in One Lesson may have come easily to Hazlitt, but its impact has been enormous. It has been translated into eight languages. By 1977 it had sold 50,000 copies in hard cover, 700,000 in all editions, and it still sells at the rate of a few thousand per year, attracting new readers to economics with its delightful style and its simple explanations and illustrations of economic fallacies.
Economics in One Lesson is clearly Hazlitt’s most popular book. It established him as an economic journalist par excellence, the modern counterpart of the Frenchman Frédéric Bastiat (1801–1850), author of The Law. H. L. Mencken was quoted on the book jacket of the first edition as saying that Hazlitt was “the only competent critic of the arts … who was at the same time a competent economist, of practical as well as theoretical training, … one of the few economists in human history who could really write.” The book has introduced countless individuals to sound economic theory.
Harper & Brothers published the first 1946 hardcover edition of Economics in One Lesson. Harper arranged for later paperback editions, and kept the book in print until 1974. Then, without telling Hazlitt, it let the book go out of print and canceled the contract with the paperback publisher.
When Hazlitt learned this, he approached Harper and asked about reprinting in paperback. They hesitated but said, “If you bring it up to date, we’ll publish a new edition in hardback.” Hazlitt revised the book. Still “they dilly-dallied,” Hazlitt said, and didn’t publish it in either hardback or paperback. According to Hazlitt, “They said they didn’t think it would sell in paper. Hazlitt believed their real objection must have been ideological, since the book had been selling several thousand paperback copies a year. In time Hazlitt obtained the rights to the book, and in 1979 Arlington House put out a paperback edition.
Hazlitt left The Times for Newsweek about the time Economics in One Lesson came out. In Hazlitt’s view his situation was improved; his “Business Tides” columns in Newsweek would be signed; he would no longer be writing anonymously.
Critique of Keynes
Hazlitt had been impressed with John Maynard Keynes’ The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919) when it first came out. At that point, Hazlitt took everything Keynes said as “gospel.” But in 1923, Hazlitt read Keynes’ A Tract on Monetary Reform. By that time Hazlitt had done a fair amount of reading in monetary theory and could recognize economic errors when he read them. He was “appalled” by how “bad” a book it was and from that time on, Hazlitt “distrusted every statement Keynes made.”
B. M. Anderson commented to Hazlitt later that when Keynes discussed the quantity theory of money in A Tract on Monetary Reform, “he even states that upside down.” Which he did! The actual reason prices go up is that the government prints new money and distributes it to people who spend it. As the spenders compete for goods and services by bidding against other would-be spenders they make prices go up. Yet Keynes had said that when prices go up, the government must print more money to keep pace with the prices. The great German inflation was then raging (1923) and this was precisely what the German authorities were saying, that there was (as Hazlitt later paraphrased the Germans’ position) “no real inflation because the present volume of currency … had actually a smaller purchasing power than the former volume of currency because the depreciation per unit was greater than the multiplication of units.” Keynes agreed with the Germans “that it was necessary for them to keep printing marks to keep pace with the rising prices.”
Whether Keynes’ success was due to personal charisma, his prestigious positions with the British government, or to the “scientific” sanction his works gave politicians to do what they wanted to do anyway—that is to spend without taxing—is immaterial. The fact remains that from the 1930s on Keynes’ influence was enormous. And through it all, Hazlitt continued to be amazed by Keynes’ growing reputation.
In Economics in One Lesson, Hazlitt demolished various Keynesian programs in a rather low-key manner. Then in 1959, in The Failure of the “New Economics,” he critiqued Keynes’ major work, The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (1936) in detail, citing chapter and verse. The Failure of the “New Economics” (1959) is much more scholarly than Economics in One Lesson, its market narrower, but it is by no means less important.
To refute each Keynesian error, Hazlitt expounded sound economic theory in a way academia couldn’t ignore. John Chamberlain, who reviewed the book in The Freeman, tided his review, “They’ll Never Hear the End of It.” The dean of the Department of Economics at a leading university questioned Hazlitt’s credentials for critiquing the noted Keynes. Mises came to Hazlitt’s defense. Hazlitt, Mises responded, was “one of the outstanding economists of our age,” and his anti-Keynes book was “a devastating criticism of the Keynesian doctrines.”
Henry Hazlitt was a personal friend of Mises. But he was also a student of Mises in the sense that he carefully studied his work. He attended Mises’ seminar at New York University quite regularly for several years. Although Hazlitt was himself an economist and author of note by then, he said about the Mises seminars that he always found that “no matter how many times I would go, no matter how often I heard in effect the same lectures, there would always be some sentence, some incidental phrase that threw more light on the subject.”
One remark by Mises which impressed Hazlitt was that questions of morality and justice always refer to social cooperation. Hazlitt agreed. But he thought the statement needed elaboration. This was a subject close to Hazlitt’s heart, for he had longed to write a book on ethics since he was a youngster.
As he pondered the subject he was struck by the insight of a statement by Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832): “Legislation is a circle with the same center as moral philosophy, but its circumference is smaller.” This idea became the theme of Hazlitt’s book on ethics, The Foundations of Morality (1964).
In this book, Hazlitt sought to unify law, ethics, morality, and manners, and to show their relation to social cooperation. Following Bentham, Hazlitt presented law, ethics (morality), and manners as three aspects of the same thing. “[B]oth manners and morals rest on the same underlying principle. That principle is sympathy, kindness consideration for others. … Manners are minor morals.” Law, he maintained, might be called “minimum ethics” with “the same center as moral philosophy.” Ethics and morality cover more territory than law; they have a “far wider sphere [than law]. … Morality,” he wrote, “certainly calls for active benevolence beyond that called for by the law.”
In The Foundations of Morality, Hazlitt discussed the literature on ethics and morality throughout the ages. And he described the way ethical and moral principles had been put into practice. He pointed out that the moral codes of many religions are similar and consistent with peaceful social relations. Yet their differences, as well as the cruelty and suffering inflicted on men in the name of organized religion, raise doubts as to the reliability of religious faith as a guide to ethical conduct.
Thus, Hazlitt offers a utilitarian basis for morality. The moral philosopher, he writes should seek a “foundation” for morality that does not rest on a particular religion. “[I]t is not the function of the moral philosopher, as such,” Hazlitt concludes, “to proclaim the truth of this religious faith or to try to maintain it. His function is, rather, to insist on the rational basis of all morality to point out that it does not need any supernatural assumptions, and to show that the rules of morality are or ought to be those rules of conduct that tend most to increase human cooperation, happiness and well-being in this our present life.”
In the course of his career, Hazlitt met many of the great and near great. As has been mentioned, he knew the economist, B. M. Anderson. He knew H. L. Mencken personally, and it was Mencken who recommended that Hazlitt succeed him as editor of American Mercury in 1933. Hazlitt was a frequent guest on the radio, debating face-to-face such socialist luminaries as former Vice President Henry A. Wallace, the late Secretary of State Dean Acheson, former U. S. Senators Paul H. Douglas and Hubert Humphrey. He is a Founding Trustee of The Foundation for Economic Education. He was, of course, a close friend of Mises and Hayek, but he also knew well all of the important personages in the libertarian/conservative movement—Leonard E. Read, Isabel Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane, John Chamberlain, William F. Buckley, Ayn Rand, Lawrence Fertig, and others.
Over the years, Hazlitt perfected a clear and lucid writing style. Writing so many editorials and short columns disciplined him to express himself succinctly and simply. Even his most important and profound books are composed of short, easy-to-understand chapters. Everything he writes may be read with pleasure and profit.
Throughout his career, Hazlitt has been an advocate of a minority point of view. He has been a constant critic of government intervention, inflation, and the welfare state, and he wrote books attacking them. His anti-Keynes, anti-Bretton Woods editorials, first published in The New York Times, also appeared later as a book (From Bretton Woods to World Inflation, 1984).
Hazlitt has spoken out repeatedly and untiringly in behalf of the freedom philosophy, limited government, free markets, and private property. At a banquet in 1964, honoring him on his 70th birthday, he spoke of the freedom movement and his part in it:
Those of us who place a high value on human liberty … find ourselves in a minority (and it sometimes seems a hopeless minority) in ideology. … We are the true adherents of liberty. … We are the ones who believe in limited government, in the maximization of liberty for the individual and the minimization of coercion to the lowest point compatible with law and order. It is because we are true liberals that we believe in free trade, free markets, free enterprise, private property in the means of production; in brief, that we are for capitalism and against socialism. …
I will confess … that I have sometimes repeated myself. In fact, there may be some people unkind enough to say I haven’t been saying anything new for 50 years!
And in a sense they would be right … I’ve been preaching liberty as against coercion; I’ve been preaching capitalism as against socialism; and I’ve been preaching this doctrine in every form and with any excuse. And yet the world is enormously more socialized than when I began. …
Is this because the majority just won’t listen to reason? I am enough of an optimist, and I have enough faith in human nature, to believe that people will listen to reason if they are convinced that it is reason. Somewhere, there must be some missing argument, something that we haven’t seen clearly enough, or said clearly enough, or, perhaps, just not said often enough. A minority is in a very awkward position. The individuals in it can’t afford to be just as good as the individuals in the majority. If they hope to convert the majority they have to be much better; and the smaller the minority, the better they have to be. They have to think better. They have to know more. They have to write better. They have to have better controversial manners. Above all, they have to have far more courage. And they have to be infinitely patient. …
Yet, in spite of this, I am hopeful.… [We are] still free to write unpopular opinion.… So I bring you this message: Be of good heart; be of good spirit. If the battle is not yet won, it is not yet lost either.
Henry Hazlitt’s Journalistic Career
1913–1916—The Wall Street Journal
1916–1918—New York Evening Post
1919–1920—Mechanics & Metals National Bank (monthly financial letter)
1921–1923—New York Evening Mail (financial editor)
1923–1924—New York Herald (editorial writer)
1925–1929—The Sun (literary editor)
1930–1933—The Nation (literary editor)
1933–1934—American Mercury (editor)
1934–1946—The New York Times (editorial staff)
1946–1966—Newsweek (associate & “Business Tides” columnist)
1950–1952—The Freeman (co-editor)
1952–1953—The Freeman (editor-in-chief)
1966–1969—Columnist for the international Los Angeles Times Syndicate
A Bibliographical Sketch
Thinking as a Science (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1916; 2nd ed., Los Angeles: Nash Publishing Corp., 1969)
Thinking clearly and logically is the secret of learning, Hazlitt says. He offers the reader many ideas for developing his powers of thinking—by concentrating, talking, and keeping a notebook handy to jot down ideas. He recommends books on how to reason and think.
In Hazlitt’s 1969 epilogue, he said if he were to revise the book he would further stress, among other things, the importance of language, perseverance, learning what has already been discovered, and writing. “Good writing is the twin,” he wrote, “of good thinking. He who would learn to think should learn to write.” Again he recommends books.
The Way to Will Power (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1922)
After asserting that there is no such thing as the “Will,” young Hazlitt proceeds to offer a sensible guide for developing “will power”—by choosing worthy goals, aiming at them with determination, and developing good study and work habits.
A Practical Program for America, ed. by Henry Hazlitt (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1932)
When this book was published, the economy was in the midst of depression and Franklin Delano Roosevelt was governor of New York and had not yet run for President. Hazlitt was then editor of The Nation, from which these essays were taken. Except for Hazlitt, the authors were all looking for ways to improve the economy by amending national legislation. Hazlitt advocates free trade and recommends the repeal of all barriers to trade.
The Anatomy of Criticism (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1933)
Written at a time when Hazlitt was doing many book reviews, this book presents his philosophy of criticism. The discussants in a trialogue, a three-sided conversation, present their rationales for criticizing books, novels, poetry, paintings, sculpture, and the like. After discussing the relative merits of seeking objective standards, or relying exclusively on a critic’s subjective values, the discussants recognize that certain standards evolve on the basis of tradition, public opinion, ideas, ethical and moral views, and so on.
A New Constitution Now (New York: Whittlesey House/ McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1942; 2nd ed., revised, New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House, 1974)
Hazlitt deplores our constitutional checks and balances that divide power and authority and make it difficult to assign responsibility. He prefers a parliamentary form of government with executive and legislative powers combined more or less as in the British cabinet system, not fully developed until well after our Constitution was written. With no fixed period of office in a parliamentary form of government, the people may throw the “ins” out if they are dissatisfied. Hazlitt suggests various changes in the franchise, the make-up of Congress and the Supreme Court, methods for amending the Constitution, and so on. He quotes John Stuart Mill, Walter Bagehot, James Bryce, and other thinkers.
In 1974, when Hazlitt revised this book, he dropped some of the minor reforms he had suggested in order to concentrate on his advocacy of a parliamentary form of government. With a parliamentary form of government, popular disaffection with an administration at any time would require it to face the electorate promptly. Then if the voters expressed a lack of confidence, that administration would fall and have to relinquish control. Hazlitt contends that this would have saved us the “nightmare” of Watergate and Richard Nixon’s near-impeachment. Control would have passed from Nixon’s hands without a serious crisis. Whether or not one agrees with Hazlitt, his views are worth studying.
Economics in One Lesson (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1946; Pocket Books, 1948; special edition for The Foundation for Economic Education, 1952; revised and updated paperback, New York: MacFadden-Bartell Corp., 1962; Westport, Conn.: Arlington House, 1979)
An economic “classic.” The role of an economist, Hazlitt says, is to consider not only the consequences of an action that are “seen,” but also its “unseen” consequences. Hazlitt proceeds to analyze the “unseen” consequences of various government programs such as legally-fixed minimum wage rates, price controls, government spending, and the like.
Will Dollars Save the World (Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: The Foundation for Economic Education, 1947)
After World War II, when the productive machinery of the warring nations was in a shambles, the world clamored for U.S. grants and loans. But, Hazlitt points out, the harm had been done not only by enemy bombing but also by inflation and economic controls. Hazlitt gives 17 reasons why Marshall Plan dollars will not save the world.
To restore production, radical policy changes must be made to repeal government interventions. “The supreme irony is that the only country in the world today that is really producing anything—and for whose goods the rest of the world is therefore clamoring—is almost the only country that does not have government production ‘targets,’ but merely turns out goods in the volumes and proportions determined by supply and demand, free prices and free profits.” (p. 53) Hazlitt outlines a positive program to restore production in the devastated countries.
The Great Idea (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1951; rev. ed., published as Time Will Run Back: A Novel About the Rediscovery of Capitalism (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House, 1966; Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, Inc., 1986)
A fictional account set in the future when the entire world is under a single Communist dictator. His only son, Peter, heir to the dictatorship, had been raised by his mother who opposed Communism. When Peter’s father dies and he takes over, he encounters problems due to central planning. Conservatives in the Politburo oppose changes. But with the support and advice of one sympathetic Politburo member, he succeeds in introducing private property, free market prices, competition, and freedom of opportunity. Step-by-step they dismantle the controls. Fighting erupts between the two factions and there is a mild love story. A delightful way to learn some economics. The ending of the 2nd edition is modified slightly to make it somewhat more optimistic.
The Free Man’s Library (Princeton, N.J.: D. Van Nostrand Co., 1956)
An annotated bibliography of books that Hazlitt recommends to gain an understanding of the philosophy of the free market, limited government, private property system.
The Failure of the “New Economics”: An Analysis of the Keynesian Fallacies (Princeton, N.J.: D. Van Nostrand Co., 1959; Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, Inc., 1983)
John Maynard Keynes’ The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936) became the “gospel” on which practically all post-depression economic instruction has been based. Yet even Keynes’ followers found it “a badly written book, poorly organized … not well suited for classroom use.” (Paul Samuelson, quoted by Hazlitt, p. 2.) Moreover, when Hazlitt analyzed it, he was “unable to find in it a single important doctrine that is both true and original. What is original in the book is not true; and what is true is not original.” (p. 6) Nevertheless the book has had a tremendous influence. Hazlitt, therefore, proceeded to do something that had never been done before, to critique the Keynes book, chapter by chapter, on the basis of subjective, marginal utility (Austrian) economic theory.
The Critics of Keynesian Economics, ed. by Henry Hazlitt. (Princeton, N.J.: D. Van Nostrand Co., 1960; Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, Inc., 1984)
In the course of writing The Failure of the “New Economics,” Hazlitt encountered several noteworthy articles that criticized Keynes’ ideas. This anthology of the best of those includes essays by such well-known economists as B. M. Anderson, Arthur F. Burns, F. A. Hayek, W. H. Hutt, Frank H. Knight, and Ludwig von Mises. As if to underline Keynes’ lack of originality, two papers by pre-Keynes critics—Jean Baptiste Say (1767–1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) are included.
What You Should Know About Inflation (Princeton, N.J.: D. Van Nostrand Co., 1960; 2nd ed., with statistics and tables updated to 1964, D. Van Nostrand Co., 1965)
Hazlitt defines inflation as an “increase in the supply of money and credit.” (p. 1) A general increase in prices, he says, is “made possible … only by an increased supply of money.” (p. 6) To dramatize the unreliability of governments to “manage” money and maintain its value, Hazlitt quotes 12 denials by Chancellor of the Exchequer Sir Stafford Cripps that the British government would devalue the pound (pp. 22–24), denials made during the 20 months immediately prior to the British government’s September 18, 1949, devaluation. Hazlitt then proceeds to attack one inflationist fallacy after another.
The Foundations of Morality (Princeton, N.J.: D. Van Nostrand Co., 1964; 2nd ed., Los Angeles: Nash Publishing, 1972)
“[M]orality is older,” Hazlitt says, “than any living religion and probably older than all religion.” (p. 352) The role of the moral philosopher, therefore, is not to proclaim or maintain any particular religious faith. “His function is rather, to insist on the rational basis of all morality.” (p. 353)
Hazlitt sees a common denominator in law, morals (ethics), and manners. Manners are “minor morals”; they rest on the same principles as do morals or ethics—sympathy, kindness, consideration of others, (p. 75) Law is a “minimum ethics,” a circle with the same center as moral philosophy, (p. 69)
Hazlitt covers a great deal of material in this book. He reviews the classical literature on morality and ethics, and examines the teachings of the various religions. He discusses social cooperation and the need for general rules. The moral philosophy he sets forth is “utilitarian … [i]n the sense that all rules of conduct must be judged by their tendency to lead to desirable rather than undesirable social results.” (p. xii)
Man vs. the Welfare State (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House, 1969; Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, Inc., 1983)
The welfare state encompasses a mix of popular government interventions. In this book Hazlitt analyzes many of them—government spending, social security, progressive taxation, foreign aid, price controls, negative income taxes, planning, guaranteed employment—and he describes their devastating effects on incentives, savings, investment, and production.
As a warning of what can happen, he points to Uruguay, a “welfare state gone wild.” He writes also of Herbert Spencer’s prescient warning of “the coming slavery” (1884) due to Britain’s incipient government intervention. In his final chapter, ‘What We Can Do About It,” he recommends among other things that persons on relief be denied the vote so long as they remain on relief.
The Conquest of Poverty (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House, 1973; Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, Inc., 1986)
“The history of poverty is almost the history of mankind.… [U]ntil about the middle of the eighteenth century, mass poverty was nearly everywhere the normal condition of man.” (pp. 13, 178) Attempts to alleviate poverty by government welfare and poor relief failed wherever and whenever tried—in Rome, in England, in France, in Germany, and in the United States. The “conquest of poverty” is a product of the capitalistic system which protected private property and enabled people to “save and invest their savings in industries producing goods for the masses.” (p. 214)
The Inflation Crisis, and How to Resolve It (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House, 1978; Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1983)
Part I incorporates several of the more important chapters of What You Should Know about Inflation. In Part II Hazlitt analyzes and criticizes additional inflationist fallacies. Here are some of the chapter titles: “What Spending and Deficits Do,” “What Spending and Deficits Do Not Do,” “Where the Monetarists Go Wrong,” “Inflation and Unemployment,” “The Specter of ‘Unused Capacity,’” “Indexing: The Wrong Way Out,” “Why Inflation Is Worldwide,” “The Search for an Ideal Money,” “Free Choice of Currencies.”
From Bretton Woods to World Inflation: A Study of Causes and Consequences (Chicago: Regnery Gateway, 1984)
Hazlitt’s New York Times editorials, written at the time of the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference, form the nucleus of this book. Hazlitt pointed out then that the International Monetary Fund (IMF), established at Bretton Woods, would be inflationary, hamper world trade, and retard economic recovery. Hazlitt was distrustful of any state or bank, including the IMF, which was empowered to issue paper money. Also included in this book are several later articles by Hazlitt which amplify his 1944 conclusions.
The Wisdom of the Stoics: Selections from Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. Edited and with an introduction by Frances and Henry Hazlitt (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1984)
In the course of Hazlitt’s lifelong studies, he was impressed by the philosophy of the Stoics. Mrs. Hazlitt, Frances, researched their writings. Stoicism, founded by Zeno (c. 320–250 B.C.), a Phoenician, the editors write in their introduction, “is one of the permanent philosophies of life.… an indispensable element in any rational philosophy.” Stoicism deals with the good and virtuous life. This book is a collection of aphorisms by three great Stoics from vastly different backgrounds. Seneca (c. 4 B.C.–65 A.D.), born in Spain, studied in Rome, gained favor, fame, fortune, then the enmity of Emperor Nero and was ordered to commit suicide. Epictetus (c. 55–130 A.D.), an ex-slave, became a favorite of Nero’s, received his freedom, and later was expelled. Marcus Aurelius (121–180 A.D.) was an Emperor. The maxims assembled here offer guidance to everyday living and are suitable for daily reading.
November 28, 1992 marked the 98th birthday of the noted author and economist Henry Hazlitt who has served with great distinction as a Trustee of The Foundation for Economic Education since FEE was founded in 1946, and whose personal papers and library are now housed at FEE. To mark his 95th birthday in 1989, Bettina Bien Greaves, a member of the Senior Staff of FEE and long-time admirer of Hazlitt, wrote this essay.
- 1. Phrases within quotation marks attributed to Hazlitt are taken either from his autobiographical notes or from transcripts of interviews with him.