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Hear Hazlitt

July 30, 2007

Tags Austrian Economics Overview

In "Remembering Henry Hazlitt" (7/27), Bettini Bien Greaves lays out Hazlitt's importance. However, something important was left out of that account. Out of some 10 million words he wrote, nothing of what he said about liberty was included. Therefore, to provide a taste of some of the words that made Hazlitt so important, consider just a few:

"Liberty is the essential basis, the sine qua non, of morality."

"Those of us who place a high value on human liberty...find ourselves in a minority (and it sometimes seems hopeless minority) in ideology...we are the true adherents of liberty...who believed in limited government, in the maximization of liberty for the individual and the minimization of the coercion to the lowest point compatible with law and order. It is because we are the 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..."

"The 'private sector' of the economy is, in fact the voluntary sector...the 'public sector' is, in fact, the coercive sector."

"The future of human liberty...means the future of civilization."

"Only if the modern state can be held within a strictly limited agenda...can it be prevented from regimenting, conquering, and ultimately devouring the society which gave it birth."

"I've been preaching liberty against coercion; I've been preaching this doctrine in every form without any excuse, and yet the world is more socialized than when I began..."

"The ideas which now pass for brilliant innovations and advances are in fact mere revivals of ancient errors, and a further proof of the dictum that those who are ignorant of the past are condemned to repeat it."

"There is a passion built into a very large number of men to rule over others. In established democracies this takes the form of candidates for office determined to outbid their rivals in promising handouts or other favors to pressure groups in their districts at the expense of some unnamed minority."

"Government has nothing to give them without first taking it away from somebody else—or from themselves."

"The mounting burden of taxation not only undermines individual incentives to increased work and earnings, but in a score of ways discourages capital accumulation and distorts, unbalances, and shrinks production. Total real wealth and income is made smaller than it would otherwise be. On net balance there is more poverty rather than less."

"The 'conquest of poverty' is a product of the capitalist system which protected private property..."

"Government can't give us anything without depriving us of something else."

"[Forgotten are] the ones who are always called upon to stanch the politician's bleeding heart by paying for his vicarious generosity."

"The first requisite of a sound monetary system is that it put the least possible power over the quantity or quality of money in the hands of the politicians."

"Capitalism, the system of private property and free markets, is not only a system of freedom and of natural justice — which tends in spite of exceptions to distribute rewards in accordance with production — but it is a great co-operative and creative system that has produced for our generation an affluence that our ancestors did not dare dream of." "The superior freedom of the capitalist system, its superior justice, and its superior productivity are not three superiorities, but one. The justice follows from the freedom and the productivity follows from the freedom and the justice."

Henry Hazlitt's most famous line, from Economics in One Lesson, is that: "The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing that policy not merely for one group but for all groups." By itself, that recognition, echoing Frederic Bastiat, is an important antidote to the recycled errors in understanding government and its effects that he continually battled. But his recognition of liberty as the only approach that can ultimately benefit all groups was just as important. And in a world where, unfortunately, those errors have just been pursued with ever more resources taken from others without their consent, his words are certainly no less important today.

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