You don't often get the sense when reading about economics that you'd like to sit around with the author and just talk. Hazlitt is a rare exception (perhaps the exception). As H.L. Mencken (the original grumpy old man) put it, "He is one of the few economists in human history who could really write." Other admirers include Steve Forbes and *gasp* F.A. Hayek.
Ludwig von Mises was Hazlitt's mentor in economic theory, and the master's fingerprints are all over the apprentice's work. Here's the whole lesson in economics (very anti-Keynesian): 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 the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.
Just because you've heard the lesson doesn't mean you don't need to buy the book. Most of the 200+ pages are exposition on the lesson, as the author presents a number of economic fallacies based on ignorance of this single principle. Things like government spending, price fixing, tariffs, etc. are shown to be bad ideas because they're attempts at immediate solutions rather than the result of taking the long view.
This isn't the best place to learn the jargon and conceptual intricacies of economic policy and practice, but it is the best place to start your study of economics. Keynesian theory (the dominant capitalist theory in the West; in other words, the dominant capitalist theory) is predicated on the short view—destruction means reconstruction, therefore destruction (i.e. war) is the best and surest means of economic growth. Thinkers like von Mises, Hayek and Hazlitt ably demonstrate that peacetime production is actually the surest means to economic growth.
Those are nutshell descriptions, but you get the idea. Adherents of Keynes' ideas rely on taxation, job "creation," and other New Deal-esque policies to help citizens' financial interests. Economics in One Lesson shows how such thinking is fundamentally flawed, and why a more libertarian free market approach actually means more opportunity, better wages, and improved standard of living for the most people.
Each chapter is relatively short and all of them are easy to follow. Hazlitt is accessible and proves that economics isn't rocket science. This 50th anniversary edition includes a foreword by Steve Forbes which is actually informative and fun to read. Which is a great way to start one of the best books on capitalist economics ever written. Highly highly recommended.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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