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Home | Blog | A Message From Lew Rockwell

A Message From Lew Rockwell

  • Henry Hazlitt young
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Tags U.S. HistoryHistory of the Austrian School of Economics

When I first met Henry Hazlitt, I was, of course, in awe. After all, a birthday gift of Economics in One Lesson had changed my life.

I was then an editor at Arlington House Publishers, where I worked with Mises. Arlington brought Hazlitt back into print, and published his new works as well. He was 73, I was 24. Little did I suspect that this extraordinary man still had 20 years of work to do.

Of course, I knew of Hazlitt’s vast achievements for Austrian economics and freedom, of the barriers he had faced and overcome, and of his courageous and learned battles against the anti-capitalists. I knew that the death of his father when he was a baby meant he had had to go to work at an early age, and lacked a formal education. Neither had hindered him. For he read and studied deeply and systematically on his own.

Indeed, he became one of the most brilliant and prolific public intellectuals of the 20th century. And he was influential. His review of Mises’s first book to be translated into English, for example, made Socialism an instant hit in this country.

How did it begin?

“I had no skills whatever,” he said. “So I would get a job, and I would last two or three days and be fired. It never surprised me or upset me, because I read the Times early in the morning, went through the ads, and I’d practically have a job that day. This shows what happens when you have a free market. There was no such thing as a minimum wage at that time. There was no such thing as ... welfare. You had a free market. And so I usually found myself at a job the next day, and I’d get fired about three or four days after that. ... I didn’t have the skills. But each time I kept learning something, and finally I was getting about $3 or $4 a week. ...”

“I wanted to be a newspaperman because it was the only way I could see to get into writing.” At the age of 20, when he finally got a job at the Wall Street Journal as a stenographer, he had already published his first book, on how to think clearly and effectively. It was the first of 21.

Whatever Hazlitt wrote, it was always in unsurpassed English. He adhered strictly to the rule he set for himself: “coherence, clarity, precision, simplicity, and brevity.”

In 1916, he left the Wall Street Journal to write editorials for the New York Evening Post and other papers.

Throughout his life, Hazlitt became more and more opposed to government intervention in the economy, and time and again he refused to give in to pressure from publishers and editors to change his views. He always put principle and integrity first, and as a consequence, lost a series of prestigious jobs. When the New Deal brought peacetime state planning to America, Hazlitt used his post as literary editor at The Nation to attack Roosevelt’s regimentation. He was through when the magazine joined FDR’s bandwagon.

In the early thirties, H.L. Mencken, founding editor of American Mercury, decided to turn his journal over to a new editor, he named Hazlitt, calling him the “only competent critic of the arts that I have heard of who was at the same time a competent economist, of practical as well as theoretical training.” Mencken added, “he is one of the few economists in human history who could really write.”

Hazlitt eventually decided to go back into newspaper work. He wanted to write. In those days, the New York Times was not nearly as left-wing as it is today, and the paper hired Hazlitt to write unsigned editorials and signed review essays, which he did from 1934 to 1946. Appearing almost daily, he covered such subjects as the dangers of economic intervention, the evils of wartime price controls, the glories of Chesterton, the fallacies of Keynesian economics, the futility of foreign aid, the importance of a free market in securities, the stupidity of socialism and inflationism, and the ill-effects of unionization.

During this time he also met Mises, whose work Hazlitt had admired. They became fast friends, and Mises thrilled to Hazlitt’s editorial blasts against government planning and often consulted him on editorial matters as well as contemporary politics.

As with his previous positions, Hazlitt eventually came under pressure from the publisher to compromise himself. Hazlitt had taken on Keynes’s scheme to reconstruct the monetary system after the war, and predicted world-wide inflation in the decades ahead. The Times, however, was moving to the left and so wanted to endorse the Bretton Woods agreement, including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

“Now Henry,” Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger said to him, “when 43 governments sign an agreement, I don’t see how the Times can any longer combat this.”

Hazlitt, who would not write what he knew to be wrong, was through, but he landed a job with Newsweek, where he became one of the most influential financial writers in the country. His weekly column was tremendously popular. I know it led my dad to subscribe to a magazine he otherwise disliked.

While at Newsweek, Hazlitt also wrote Economics in One Lesson, which has sold more than a million copies. Hazlitt argued that government intervention focuses on the consequences that are seen and ignores those that are not. The latter includes wealth not created and even destroyed by regulation, inflation, and taxation.

He also wrote Will Dollars Save the World?, a book attacking the Marshall Plan, which he correctly saw as an international welfare scheme. Hazlitt wrote a novel, Time Will Run Back, showing how a country can move from communism to capitalism at a time when most people thought socialism was the unstoppable wave of the future.

In 1959, Hazlitt came out with The Failure of the “New Economics,” an extraordinary line-by-line refutation of John Maynard Keynes’s General Theory. And though it was panned by the academic journals at the time, it enlivened a growing movement favoring free markets. A year later, Hazlitt collected a series of scholarly attacks on Keynes as The Critics of Keynesian Economics.

In the mid-sixties, Hazlitt turned his attention to the ethical basis of capitalism. Thus his book The Foundations of Morality, which Hazlitt called his proudest achievement, is the final product of a lifetime of thinking about philosophy. Also notable was his book Man vs. the Welfare State, which demonstrated that welfare promotes what it pretends to discourage. His last published scholarly article appeared in 1987 in the first volume of the Mises Institute’s new scholarly journal. He passed away in 1993 at the age of 99.

In 1964, a group of friends had gathered on the occasion of Hazlitt’s 70th birthday. It was only weeks after the evil LBJ had been elected.

Mises rose to pay tribute to his “distinguished friend.” “In this age of the great struggle in favor of freedom and the social system in which men can live as free men, you are our leader. You have indefatigably fought against the step-by-step advance of the powers anxious to destroy everything that human civilization has created over a long period of centuries. ... You are the economic conscience of our country and of our nation.”

“Every friend of freedom may today, in this post-election month, be rather pessimistic about the future. But let us not forget that there is rising a new generation of defenders of freedom.”

If we succeed, Mises said, “this will be to a great extent your merit, the fruit of the work that you have done in the first 70 years of your life.”

Hazlitt then spoke about the many assaults on liberty. Yet, “none of us are yet on the torture rack; we are not yet in  jail ...; what we mainly risk is merely our popularity, the danger that we will be called nasty names.”

So long as this is true, he said, “We have a duty to speak even more clearly and courageously, to work hard, and to keep fighting this battle while the strength is still in us. ... Even those of us who have reached and passed our 70th birthdays cannot afford to rest on our oars and spend the rest of our lives dozing in the Florida sun. The times call for courage. The times call for hard work. But if the demands are high, it is because the stakes are even higher. They are nothing less than the future of liberty, which means the future of civilization.” How much more true is this today?

Henry never retired to the beach, and his great voice, “the economic conscience of our country and our nation,” lives on at the Mises Institute. He was a founding member of our board, along with Mises’s widow Margit, Rothbard, Hayek, and Ron Paul. Today we publish his books and are grateful for the bequest he left us in his Will.

Henry didn’t live to see the internet, but he would have loved it, and especially our spectacular website. Already, Mises.org is the best-read economics site in the world. We want to lengthen our lead.

Not only are the great Austrian and libertarian classics available to the world for free, but we also have hundreds of other important books, the entire print runs of key scholarly journals, many thousands of articles applying Austrian theory to great and important issues, in the Hazlitt tradition, and audio and video of all the seminars and conferences we conduct at the Institute and around the world. Not to speak of other publications such as The Austrian.

Hazlitt loved our signature program, the Mises University, and the smart and dedicated students who throng to it from all over America and many foreign countries. He thought it essential that we keep the libertarian and Austrian classics in print, publish an academic journal, and reach out in every way possible to scholars and students, and the general public.

He wanted smart Fellows in residence, a brilliant and productive faculty, and courage by all in carrying the fight to the opposition. He would have loved our immense social media presence, our timely YouTubes and podcasts, our thousands of daily articles.

With the Mises Academy, we offer online teaching in a host of areas. I see it as the model for future, free-market higher education amidst the ruins of the old ways. We hope to offer diplomas in Austrian economics that would be valued the world over.

But we need your help to keep going. Indeed, it’s essential.

We live at a historic moment. The state preens and grows, yet its lies are believed by a smaller percentage of the public than ever before, especially by good young people. The Mises Institute, with the example of men like Hazlitt, our technological know-how, an unbeatable network of scholars, and the great body of work that constitutes our heritage, is uniquely poised to take advantage of this crucial opportunity.

Please commit to helping us spread the message of freedom and inspire the coming generations to carry forth the great edifice of truth that is Austrian economics and freedom. Never has this been more needed.

As Hazlitt said, “The times call for courage. The times call for hard work. But if the demands are high, it is because the stakes are even higher. They are nothing less than the future of liberty, which means the future of civilization.”

Help us seize the future, and promote the ideas we cherish, with your generous donation. We need your help, now more than ever. The work we must do is clear. Join us in helping us carry it out.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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