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Category — Hazlitt, Henry (economist)

Saving the Wind Industry: Henry Hazlitt’s Lesson Applied Today

“Economics is haunted by more fallacies than any other study known to man. This is no accident. The inherent difficulties of the subject would be great enough in any case, but they are multiplied a thousand fold by a factor that is insignificant in, say, physics, mathematics or medicine – the special pleading of selfish interests.”

- Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson (1946)

Henry Hazlitt (d. 1993) was born on this day in 1894. As has been done with other great classical liberal thinkers at MasterResource, this post celebrates Hazlitt’s birthday by applying his thinking to the current policy debate.

Specifically, Chapter 14 of Hazlitt’s book Economics in One Lesson, “Saving the X Industry,” despite being published in 1946, enlightens the current discussion about the wind production tax credit, which is set to expire at the end of this year unless Congress extends it.

I first read Hazlitt’s book while studying economics in college. It was a refreshing departure from the textbooks I was reading at the time, which were more numbers-focused and removed from reality. Economics in One Lesson is easy reading (some might say that’s because the truth is easy to understand), but for me it carried much more weight than the average textbook. It reframed my thinking and showed how widespread the broken window fallacy (the fallacy of believing that destruction creates positive net economic activity) is in our energy debates.

Economics in One Lesson traces through the many applications of the broken window fallacy, as they arose in past debates over economic policy. Those selfish interests repeated the same argument for nearly all industries that struggled to succeed in a competitive environment, so Hazlitt devoted a chapter to the “X” industry (the fill-in-the-blank industry). [Read more →]

November 28, 2012   3 Comments

U.S. Oil Exports: Open Letter to Bill O’Reilly from Economist Donald Boudreaux (Keystone XL a-okay)

“[T]here is a second main factor that spawns new economic fallacies every day. This is the persistent tendency of men to see only the immediate effects of a given policy, or its effects only on a special group, and to neglect to inquire what the long-run effects of that policy will be not only on that special group but on all groups. It is the fallacy of overlooking secondary consequences.”

- Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson. quoted here.

At Cafe Hayek, economist Donald Boudreaux, Professor of Economics at George Mason University, wrote an open letter to Fox News host Bill O’Reilly’s opposition to exporting U.S. oil to other countries. O”Reilly has a populist streak, and he is prone to seeing the seen and not the unseen when it comes to economics, a sin indeed to economics as a science.

Professor Boudreaux is a master educator and prolific letter writer on behalf of common-sense economics. Read his explanation about why the namesake of the O’Reilly Factor 1) gets his economics wrong and 2) fails to see the implication of his own argument to himself as exporting his services

Dear Mr. O’Reilly:

You’re all lathered up because U.S. oil companies are exporting much of their refined gasoline and heating oil to other countries and thereby putting upward pressure on fuel prices here in America.  You conclude that these companies have a moral obligation not to export so much….

Economics

First some economics.  Selling in the global market encourages firms to build larger factories and refineries that, in turn, enable outputs to be produced at lower costs per unit.  So while in the short-run rising exports of oil products can cause fuel prices here to spike, the long-run effect might well be lower prices because of larger, more-efficient scales of operation.  [Read more →]

February 28, 2012   3 Comments

“The Lesson” Applied to President Obama’s State of the Union Speech Last Night

“[D]emagogues and bad economists are presenting half-truths. They are speaking only of the immediate effect of a proposed policy or its effect upon a single group…. [The correction is] showing that the proposed policy would also have longer and less desirable effects, or that it could benefit one group only at the expense of all other groups.”

- Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson, p. 6.

There are many analyses of the President’s address to the nation last night. As last year, Obama has opened himself up to ridicule and parody (see what MasterResource did).

For this year, in what could well be his last such speech, MasterResource presents timeless logic to unmask the fallacies spewed by our quick-fix, anti-market commander-in-chief.

“Green jobs’? The government-created ones for industrial windpower and for on-grid solar power?

Enter Henry Hazlitt, whose Economics in One Lesson, first published in 1946 and last revised in 1988 (Hazlitt died in 1993), exposes the fallacy of government-as-jobs-creator.

This excerpt is from chapter 1, “The Lesson,” of Hazlitt’s classic of 2oth century economic literature.

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Economics is haunted by more fallacies than any other study known to man. This is no accident. The inherent difficulties of the subject would be great enough in any case, but they are multiplied a thousandfold by a factor that is insignificant in, say, physics, mathematics, or medicine — the special pleading of selfish interests. [Read more →]

January 25, 2012   4 Comments

‘Green Jobs’: An Application of the Broken Window Fallacy (Henry Hazlitt speaks to us today)

The broken window…. An elementary fallacy. Anybody, one would think, would be able to avoid it after a few moments’ thought. Yet the broken window fallacy, under a hundred disguises, is the most persistent in the history of economics. It is more rampant now than at any time in the past. It is solemnly reaffirmed every day by great captains of industry, by chambers of commerce, by labor union leaders, by editorial writers and newspaper columnists and radio commentators, by learned statisticians using the most refined techniques, by professors of economics in our best universities. In their various ways they all dilate upon the advantages of destruction.

- Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson, chapter 4.

Henry Hazlitt (1894–1993) was a journalist turned economist and philosopher and overall giant of free-market thought. He was best known for his regular Newsweek column, “Business Tides” (1946–66), but also wrote for The Wall Street Journal, Nation, American Mercury, and New York Times, among other publications.

His list of books is impressive, and he became a great economist in his own right with the single work, The Failure of the ‘New’ Economics: An Analysis of the Keynesian Fallacies, a book which influenced this writer greatly in college.

For more description of Hazlitt’s career, which spanned a very dark time for classical liberalism, see here.

The Fallacy Explained

Henry Hazlitt described the broken window fallacy in chapter 11 of his classic, Economics in One Lesson: [Read more →]

March 18, 2011   4 Comments