The economics instructor at my school uses this book as a part of her curriculum; and as I respect her opinion and scholarly knowledge of the subject, and as H.L. Mencken says of the author “He is one of the few economists in human history who could actually write.”, I will be working my way through Economics in One Lesson, with commentary as the spirit moves. Please feel free to jump into the ring and start throwing your weight about.
Preface to the First Edition
In order to understand where Hazlitt is coming from, one should apparently start by reading Frederic Bastiat’s Ce qu’on voit et ce qu’on ne voit pas (in translation for moi), Philip Wicksteed’s Commonsense of Political Economy, and the work of Ludwig von Mises.
I appreciate Hazlitt’s realistic understanding of “traditional” thought:
The present essay is, I suppose, unblushingly “classical”, “traditional”, and “orthodox”…But the student whose aim is to attain as much truth as possible will not be frightened by such adjectives. He will not be forever seeking a revolution, a “fresh start,” in economic thought. His mind will, of course, be as receptive to new ideas as to old ones; but he will be content to put aside merely restless of exhibitionistic straining for novelty and originality (10).
Couldn’t be more true, though whenever someone claims to be “orthodox” or “traditional,” a good question to ask is “which tradition?”; or, as Doug Wilson might say, “by what standard” do they measure their relative “orthodoxy?” Keep yer eyes peeled.
And finally, an explanatory statement of purpose, which is simultaneously sensible and revealing of some of the presuppositions that Mr. Hazlitt is going to be working from:
The object of this book is not to expose the special errors of particular writers, but economic errors in their most frequent, widespread or influential form. Fallacies, when they have reached the popular stage, become anonymous anyway. The subtleties or obscurities to be found in the authors most responsible for propagating them are washed off. A doctrine becomes simplified…It is the beliefs which politically influential groups hold and which governments act upon that we are interested in here, not the historical origins of those beliefs [emphasis mine] (11).
Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics, (New York: Three River’s Press, 1979).