Ten or twelve life-changing books: #7

7. 1980. Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson

Honorable mentions:

Gary North, Christian Economics, and The Dominion Mandate

Ludwig von Mises, Theory and History

I had strong libertarian proclivities von Haus aus. But these three fellows clarified it and drove it deeply into my soul. Indeed, the greatest part of my subsequent life has been the gradual overcoming of the libertarian illusion, which went so deep. So though these books did not so much change my life as pour concrete around it, the subsequent twenty year struggle that led to breaking the concrete off and taking wings makes it so that it must be listed as one of the life milestones.

Gary North is the most brilliant of the three, and, I believe, the only Christian. I list Hazlitt first mainly because he is the most accessible and limpid of the expounders. He shows in a very simple way the absurdity of the Keynesian idea that mere “aggregate demand” is what we need.  He shows this via an extended parable of vandals breaking a window, which “stimulates the economy” and thus supposedly should add to aggregate wealth. The image, and Hazlitt’s relentless deconstruction of it, sticks. Even now, post-libertarian, I can say that there is a great deal of truth to the argument. The reasons one can profit from much of the discourse yet not become a libertarian are two-fold: (1) recognition of all that the libertarians leave out of the picture; (2) the valid insights continue even under a different social arrangement than libertarianism: hedged in by other factors, but true as far as they go.

The true basis for economics is folk-agrarian rooted in the law of God. Only after this larger pattern (including the very notion of property rights) is established on a non-libertarian basis, can the kind of market analysis of this triumvirate have its place. (Then again, the valid parts were true even under Communism.) I am amused to see that even over at the Mecca of respectable libertarianism, lewrockwell.com, there is a strong current in favor of Trump. Which shows that even they, in their bones, realize that if the whole third world moves to America, there will not be any “free market” left except that which exists in Moroccan-style neighborhood bazars. “We believe in open borders in principle, but…”

Theory is one thing; watching the world and learning something about human nature is something else.

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