The Dusty Den Book Club

Discussing Literature and Anything Else We Want

Category: Old Posts

Hazlitt’s, “Economics in One Lesson,” Part II

This is the second blog entry on Hazlitt’s book, Economics in One Lesson.  In the first entry we discussed the general format of the work, and some of the basic principals and high points of the first half.  In this entry I aim to highlight only a few more points, discuss some of the recommended reading and credit given by Hazlitt, include some quotes that deserve memorization,  and talk about why this book is important and what place and function it will hold in my personal library.

Working through the rest of part 2 of Economics in One Lesson, wasn’t difficult, but it was more involved.  The principles build on each other in some chapters, demanding a little more patience than the beginning of the book.  Even so, it is probably still the most concise text your going to find on the particular economic questions it discusses.  There are several chapters that highlight current issues facing the United States and other countries around the world today.  The chapters on minimum wage and tariffs come to mind.  The chapter on the price system is very understandable, and praised by Milton Friedman in a quote on the back cover (current edition).  Hazlitt explains why the free market is, “incomparably better than any group of bureaucrats,” at solving questions surrounding the needed amount of commodoties and services in a society, and he explains why the price system shouldn’t be, “vilified.”  There are so many great gems and quotes in the book that it’s difficult to even get started on them.  He discusses the historical, landmark work from Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, and has a great excerpt from Grahm Sumner’s essay, The Forgotten Man.

As soon as A observes something which seems to him to be wrong, from which X is suffering, A talks it over with B, and A and B then propose to get a law passed to remedy the evil and help X.  Their law always proposes to determine what C shall do for X or, in the better case, what A,B and C shall do for X.                                                                           …What I want do do is look up C….I call him the Forgotten Man.  He is the man who never is thought of.  He is the victim of the reformer, social speculator and philanthropist, and I hope to show you before I get through that he deserves your note both for his character and for the many burdens which are laid upon him.

The references Hazlitt makes always translate clearly back to his original thesis from part 1, encouraging long-term consequences, and all parties of an economic system be given their due consideration, instead of only looking at one group over the short term.  It makes for a clear message and also provides the reader with a spark of inquiry into further exploring different authors discussing similar economic logic.

I think his chapter on tariffs, Who’s “Protected” By Tariffs? pairs well with Bastiat’s, The Candle Maker’s Petition.  Reading both, the later a satire, gives a more complex understanding of the issue, which is today so very relevant.  One of the beauties of the Austrian School of economics is how simply it can be explained and how it can expound to the most complex of market understandings.  The book helps develop the basic lexicon it takes to discuss free market economics with all your classical-liberalism loving friends, or those who opinions differ.  Since reading the book, I have found myself better able to convey a particular point in an economic debate, which I previously believed, but lacked the prowess to properly articulate.

In the final part of the book, The Lesson After Thirty years, Hazlitt takes quick aim at inflation, and insists, “[It] is not only a policy imposed for its own sake, but an inevitable result of the other interventionist policies.”  He questions why modern politicians embrace Keynes’ General Theory, despite its having been, “thoroughly discredited by analysts and experience,” and compares American pressures on other countries to adopt the same inflation inducing policies to, “Aesop’s fox, who, when he had lost his tail, urged all his fellow foxes to cut off theirs.”  He provides some basic figures and calculations which relate to his lessons in a, “I told you so,” succinct finale, but he does it without being condescending.

Ultimately Economics in One Lesson, will take a permanent fixture in my library.  It will serve as a primer-reference text.  By that, I mean if a particular economic subject arises or becomes the target of conversation or topical interest, I will find the corresponding chapter and get Hazlitt’s take.  It will serve as a more than adequate primer to reintroduce the specific topic and provide, not only a basic understanding, but also a further interest and ability to digest more elaborate and involved texts on the subject.  Reading Economics in One Lesson, will make you a more critical thinker in the realms of current economic policy, and you will enjoy the way such an often dry subject is presented by Henry Hazlitt with basic language and relatable, understandable examples.

 

Hazlitt’s, “Economics in One Lesson” Part 1

 

 

There is something about economics, economic literature more specifically, that just makes many people intimidated, bored, or frustrated.  It’s easy to put a book on economics or finances to the back burner.  Economic philosophy…even worse.  Henry Hazlitt, however, in 1946, published the small but mighty, Economics in One Lesson.  It is a masterpiece which holds up incredibly well, and is completely enguaging in the way it breaks down economic ideas.  Hazlitt gives deserved credit to French economist and author Frederic Bastiat who wrote about economics much earlier, but the simplicity in Hazlitt’s work and the clear digestibility it caries makes it a fantastic read, and a must for readers desiring education and enlightenment in overall economic theory.  The Austrian economic view is more enguaging and gives a much clearer picture of the economy as a whole and how it actualy works, and it is represented here with mastery.  This impression comes immediately.  Not even half-way through the book, you understand the crux of the matter.  Hazlitt actually lays out the book in an interesting and simple format that explains economics in everyday language with every day and historical examples.  He makes the subject of economics organic, living and breathing.

The book, in this edition, revamped in 1978, is broken into three parts.  PART ONE: THE LESSON, PART TWO: THE LESSON APPLIED, and PART THREE: THE LESSON AFTER THIRTY YEARS.  Part one is brief and is merely the lesson, which Hazlitt writes in thrift, and eventually boils down to one sentence:

“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.”

Part two, is subdivided into chapters applying the one sentence theory to different questions of economics.  A few of the chapters for example, some which are titled in the contrary of the Austrian (Hazlitt’s) opinion, are:  The Blessing of Destruction, The Curse of Machinery, and Who is “Protected” by Tarifs?.  There are 24 applications of the lesson based on chapters in Part Two.  It starts off with, The Broken Window.  This chapter is a parable first examined by Bastiat in, Ce qu’on voit et ce qu’on ne voit pas, That Which Is Seen and That Which Is Unseen.  It is a thought experiment exploring what a single action does to the economy following not only the direct parties involves, but also the indirect parties affected, and economic health as a whole.  It adheres to the examination of the lesson, looking at a singular act, and its ripple effect to all groups.  It sets the tone as a text that is relatable and interesting, as well as simple, all without being condescending or juvenile.

It is Hazlitt’s belief that many economists grossly neglect the “unseen” in their economic policy, and therefor they are in violation of the lesson and their theories are unsound.  Hazlitt and the Austrian school are often critiqued by the keyenesian economists.  This beginning chapter, and subsequent chapters, help the reader build on an understanding that the “fallacy of overlooking secondary consequences,” is a much damaging factor of many popular economic principals held by those economists, and he dissects the arguments simply, practically and quickly.      

I am currently only half way through Part Two, and fully disclose that many of the principals of Austrian economics are in my belief system already.  Some of Hazlitt’s concepts are not new to me, but I believe that he lays them out in such simplicity that someone unfamiliar will quickly grasp the material without being bored or confused.  Reading it will actually excite you, because your confidence in discussing economic policy and more closely understanding the full implications of current policy will grow.  I consider myself an “advanced beginner” in the study of basic economic principals, but believe this book reads well across the spectrum of scholarly levels due to its historical examples and simple approach.  It makes thinking about economics and drawing things to their logical conclusion fun!  Even the Keynesian may enjoy it because the examples set forth are well defined and clearly positioned, offering opportunity for rebuttal (which I propose would ultimately be exposed as false).  It will challenge any economic view and even if you are from a different school, provokes critical thinking and demands clear, detailed arguments.

I was listening to a “libertarian” podcast the other day that was philosophical in nature as opposed to current politics, and the host commented that they were not as up to snuff on the understandings of economic parts of libertarian arguments as other parts.  While the host certainly is intelligent, I think this admission, while honest, quickly lends itself to showing a lack of credibility.  Many economic principals are very important, and in fact cornerstones of liberty-based arguments and beliefs.  That is why it is so important for everyone to educate themselves in economics.  Not understanding something so integral to the workings society makes you more susceptible to being fooled by cleverly disguised economic fallacies.

I’ll be back with a part 2 as soon as possible.  Get Economics in One Lesson!  I think you will enjoy it.

 

“Brave New World”..Thoughts

 

I know it has been a while, but many life changing things have kept me from the blog. A few housekeeping items before diving into my thoughts on Huxley’s work are in order. First, I have decided doing an entire book and commenting all at once is just too much. I think it will be more constructive to blog as I go, and tackle a work in chunks. Second, I am trying to persuade my dear friend into joining me on this venture and starting a podcast which is where I see The Dusty Den going in the near future. Third, and finally, I am going to try and establish a better presence on twitter with focus on quotes from specific texts chosen to provoke particular thoughts and interest in the principal work. Now…..onto the meat and potatoes….

Despite the relatively small size of Brave New World, there is a ton in there for analysis and debate. Off the top I would say, because the two authors are so often compared, I prefer Orwell. I think that is more of a preference on writing style and narrative clarity; that is to say, I like Orwell’s actual stories better. That aside I believe the gradualism in society today lends itself to a more direct parallel of the collective, human, backwardness in Brave New World. The absurd can’t be seen by those living in it due to the gradualist nature of society. Only from a historical perspective or satirist work can the absurd be totally consumed. That is the beauty here. Essays can be written about the character names in the work, which are staggeringly deliberate, and in depth commentary can be constructed regarding the Shakespearian quotations, but it is the bold absurdity of it that is so memorable and unsettling. From the opening paragraph the words are unapologetic, and jettison the reader into Huxley’s world. “A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories. Over the main entrance the words, CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE, and, in a shield, the World State’s motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY.” Immediately you understand your direction. “CENTRAL,” “World State’s..,” “CONDITIONING,” “COMMUNITY,” “STABILITY.” Quickly the story guides you through the process which all humans are grown from a disturbing engineering sequence where they are conditioned from the embryo stage to include the intentional damaging of some to create inferior specimens; through childhood with state education (brainwashing), mandatory erotic sexual play, sleep massaging, pavlovian techniques and shock conditioning; and placed into a caste system for which they were specifically designed and programmed to accept without question. Organic, natural childbirth is no longer accepted and words like “Mother,” are considered vulgar and filthy. Any type of individualism is regarded as sinister and detrimental to the delicate, forced collective balance ensuring a false utopia. Family has been replaced with the state, and a form of group altruism is the prevailing religious philosophy.

To give an extreme, crude, inarticulate, and rushed oversimplification of the plot…There is a futuristic society where family is nonexistent. There is a caste system in place sustained by the only acceptable means of reproduction which are mechanized and controlled in the absolute. Embryos, infants, and children are subject to bombardment of various techniques to prepare the humans to obey and even love their place in society. The society is immersed in pleasure, sexual perversion, and distraction, with no free thought. Individualism and spending time alone is seen as disgusting and terrible. Religious organizations are nonexistent. There are indigenous peoples still in certain areas called, “Savage Reservations,” the central one in the book being Malpais. A natural born human named John is brought back to civilization form the reservation by a man named Bernard Marx because he is found to be the actual son of one of London’s important “Alpha” citizens conceived naturally by a woman who was lost and abandoned on the reservation. John is excited to see this Brave New World, but soon realizes he hates it. There is a final act in which Bernard is ostracized, as is one of his contemporaries and John tries to assimilate but ends up with a tragic Shakespearian fate. Of course there is much more, but just to give some of the following remarks a loose framework, there you have it.

One of the more interesting aspects of how society maintains this bizarre existence is what sets it apart from dystopian works of other authors.  It is a combination of gradual conditioning and withheld knowledge coupled with self-inflicted assimilation. There is an overwhelming sense of social pressure suppressing what desires of individuality remain after the conditioning process. The population’s lust for leisure, acceptance, entertainment, and physical pleasures takes the place of militaristic, evil forces in other stories. The sheer commitment to the will of the social majority forces obedience. Soma, a drug, helps suppress any distress, including the burden of individualism which creates depression and isolation in such a world, by sending the user on a “holiday.” It is dispensed generously to combat any loss of happiness and satisfaction which could threaten the questioning of social order. Distraction is what is lived for.  It is this absurdity in Brave New World, which is so chilling. When compared to todays society by those who choose to look from afar, at themselves and the current state of our world, there are more parallels than one might be comfortable with. Soma is ever-present and inescapable. Most studies indicate well over 10% of the American population is currently prescribed antidepressant medication. People also find their soma in illegal drug use. Binge-watching Netflix and obsessing over celebrities’ trends and opinions is more important to many than their own family or developing their “self” in any fruitful and productive way. Our pair of protagonists engage in this without full realization. Bernard is treated completely different upon his return from the reservation. His relationship with John has given him a voice, made him important, made him a celebrity. It relates well to the amount of importance our society places on the words and thoughts of the celebrity. Without their status (achieved by a singular talent, or not even that in most cases) they would not be given a second thought. Their political, religious, and philosophical beliefs would not matter to the masses. It is the status which is worshiped, not the individual or prowess of thought. The world’s worship of entertainment is glaring. You only need to turn on one of the many television channels dedicated to athletics to see it.  You get analysis of a fantasy game about an actual game! You get commentators debating various points on the appropriateness of what a particular player said or did.  Analysis about other analysis wrapped in a debate! Not even the game itself is focal, but the inconsequential social behavior of its participant who are celebrated and defended with more passion and ferocity than most would feel comfortable displaying in loyalty to their God or political ideals.  If looked at from afar, how out of control is it?

The modern goal is one of relaxing instead of achieving. Just like the world state of Huxley’s. It is more important to agree than to have any conflict or disturbance in the social calm. Discussing politics and religious ideas is frowned upon socially and discouraged all in the name of not upsetting another. Conformity over individuality. The progress obtained through vigorous conversation and debate and challenge…..lost. Hard to tell which world is being discussed? Some would submit that MOST of what should be discussed by persons of a certain age is political theory, religion, and philosophy. They would argue it is more valuable, healthy, productive, and gratifying to the self and society as a whole to engage in constructive and conflicting conversation, in the name of progress and self realization. They would be right. However, the dawn of a brave new world discourages it, and prefers the even keel of fruitless conversation and thoughtless, distracting interaction. It was satire in Brave New World, to repeat the quote, “Everyone belongs to everyone else.” Yet in our modern times that mantra has found its way into many socio-political ideologies which discourage property rights and the fundamental, natural right of self-ownership and governance.

The imigery and wordplay have an absurdist, mechanized tone. Ford replaced Lord. Ford is worshiped for his industrial accomplishment of mass production and assembly. Machine equals spirit. Mechanizations replaces individual ambition, curiosity, accomplishment, and progress. The growth nurtured by free thinking and human feeling…absent. Is that so absurd? So different than our path? Does John the savage contrast nearly as much with us as he does with Huxley’s future London, year 632 (After Ford)? Liberalism (of the classical verity to be sure), is scoffed at as a malfunctioned relic and as the, “Liberty to be inefficient and miserable,” and, “Freedom to be a round peg in a square hole.” It is seen as evil and immoral. “In the end…the Controllers realized that force was no good. The slower but infinitely surer methods…,” were the instruments of the cultural change and suppression of freedom. Gradualism. Inches taken at a time. Inches taken that seem insignificant but add up to the loss of self. Today, regulation after regulation, and a slow, media-driven, entertainment and leisure fueled brainwashing whisper…just relax…let it go…as long as you can, and enjoy the moment. Self-indulgence has slowly taken the place of any spiritual devotion or quest for philosophical understanding. In the novel, the drug Soma and ridiculous games like “Obstacle Golf,” are the substitution. Soma has, “All the advantages of Christianity and alcohol, [and] none of their defects.” Henry Foster tells Bernard Marx, who are both members of the highest (Alpha) caste that, “Old men in the bad old days used to renounce, retire, take to religions, spend their time reading, thinking – thinking!” The thought of those things brings recoil and disgust. Anything base, instinctual, primal, and natural is treated with complete contempt and horror. Everything in Brave new world is over-complicated, excessive, and contraptionized. Stuff over soul. Copious and needless consumption and wastefulness keep the utopia running, just for the sake of itself.

The hardest thing for me to get around in the book is the absence of anyone to like or root for. I enjoy that in a read like this, and there isn’t one. There is a small glimpse of humanity with your primary protagonist, Bernard Marx, when he takes council with his friend Helmholtz Watson. They both feel the need to exercise individuality. Their craving for individuality keeps them isolated from the rest of their contemporaries to a degree, and they take comfort in the company of each other as outcasts. It is an interesting component to the story, and if anything it illustrates the power and hold of society’s collectivism in the book. So, while there isn’t the type of protagonist one might typically appreciate, it stays faithful to the rules of society Huxley has set up. If there were a character that could defy the rules of the caste society more, the book probably wouldn’t hold up quite as well. Even when John enters the story there isn’t a clear path for a protagonist.  John is not only an outsider from the modern , world-state, caste society of London, but he is an outsider from the occupants of the “Savage Reservation,” of Malpas. While he serves as a sharp contrast in some regards, his incompatibility with either world makes him too difficult to relate to. But that isn’t his purpose. Huxley isn’t going for that. His motives are too pure to pervert with appeasing the reader.

The pinnacle of the story is when John, Bernard, and Helmholtz are summoned to the office of Mustafa Mond, the “Resident World Controller of Western Europe.” If there is one part of the book that sums the ideals up completely it is this confrontation. We see Bernard crumble at the order of him being sent to an island and being stripped of the comformity and comforts of society. The controller remarks that the banishment is actually a, “gift.” Bernard will be in the company of individuals and free to develop as he wishes intellectually. Helmholtz requests banishment to a harsh climate, so that he may have a sort of forced adversity, which he believes will improve his thinking and writing.  Mustafa Mond and John then talk, and I can help but vaguely be reminded of Ivan’s poem “The Grand Inquisitor,” in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. I believe just by reading this final section of Brave New World and reading Ivan’s poem in The Brothers Karamazov, a reader can grasp fully the author’s intentions. Particularly in Huxley’s case. The lack of free choice, and the controlling and suppression of human thought, emotion, and will, is evil. It is evil even when performed under the guise of benevolence for the sake of ease or stability. John has such a struggle with this benevolent suppression in his new world that he ultimately kills himself.  He is unable to exist in such a conflicted state of self-hatred and confusion.

Ultimately, Brave New World, is one of the most praised pieces of modern literature tackling the future dystopia of ultra-socialism there is. It is historic, enjoyable, and prophetic. The reader isn’t sucked into the story, at least I wasn’t, but instead is viewing the world as a third party.  It is a powerful but detached read due to Huxley’s style.  As stated earlier, I reach for Orwell to satisfy my literary dystopia-hunger, but Huxley is a nice change of pace and journey into the absurd.  They approach it differently, which is nice.  Huxley always makes me ask, “How absurd is the world I live in?” Knowing full well that being in the middle of it, even looking for it, I could never fully see or understand the severity of it. “How conditioned am I?” “How has the ever-growing world state educated individuality out of me?” Its a scary and interesting question.  It demands the quest for the understanding and pursuit of liberty and individuality, and allowing other cultures and people to do the same without interference.

Please Be Patient!

Please be patient as I develop the site.  It is a work in progress.  Hopefully I will have a post up about Brave New World soon.  Thanks for stopping by!

The First Book Selection…

Brave New World Cover

Despite my burning desire to choose The Revolution by Ron Paul, we will be reading something different.  I decided to wait until October or November for that one if I am disciplined enough.  While I believe it has never been more relevant than right now, it will be a more appropriate read closer to election time.  So, for now, we will start with the wonderful classic Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

Welcome to The Dusty Den!

Welcome to The Dusty Den!  Take a stop by the ‘What is The Dusty Den?‘ page.  Hopefully it will answer some of your questions!