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Hazlitt and Engels

Summary:
Henry Hazlitt was born on November 29th, 1894. He shared a birthday with Friedrich Engels, who was born on the same day in 1820. Hazlitt is most remembered and appreciated for his classic work, “Economics in One Lesson,” first published in 1946. For many free market advocates, this has been a gateway book, introducing them to the basic ideas of economics in clear, simple prose.The book starts with the observation of Frédéric Bastiat in his essay, "What is Seen and What is Not Seen." It makes the point that we have to look beyond the immediate impact of economic activity to the longer-term consequences. Bastiat points out that the broken window appears to provide money for the glazier, who spends it to augment the local economy, but we too easily forget that the owner of the window is

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Henry Hazlitt was born on November 29th, 1894. He shared a birthday with Friedrich Engels, who was born on the same day in 1820. Hazlitt is most remembered and appreciated for his classic work, “Economics in One Lesson,” first published in 1946. For many free market advocates, this has been a gateway book, introducing them to the basic ideas of economics in clear, simple prose.

The book starts with the observation of Frédéric Bastiat in his essay, "What is Seen and What is Not Seen." It makes the point that we have to look beyond the immediate impact of economic activity to the longer-term consequences. Bastiat points out that the broken window appears to provide money for the glazier, who spends it to augment the local economy, but we too easily forget that the owner of the window is poorer by the cost of replacing the window. He or she might otherwise have spent that money boosting the local economy.

Hazlitt takes us elegantly through the idea of opportunity cost, or what might have happened otherwise. Government projects might look good and draw applause, but they are paid for by taking tax money from people who might otherwise have spent it on projects of their own. Government seems to create employment and wealth, but all it really does is redistribute those things from one group to another, taking its cut in the process.

Government might seem to be helping business with loans or subsidies, but all it is really doing is taking money from successful businesses to support unsuccessful ones. Similarly, price controls and rent controls seem to support needy groups, but in reality, they have negative effects on the wealth of the community, and the longer they are continued, the greater are the bad effects they have.

Hazlitt’s book has the advantage of its straightforward simplicity. It has been widely praised by thinkers as diverse as Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand. Those who look to government for the goodies it purports to hand out learn from Hazlitt that everything it does has to be paid for. What it mostly does is redistribute, making some a little richer by making some a little poorer by doing so, and it distorts people’s ability to give expression to their own preferences.

Engels, alas, had a more baleful impact. His book, "The Condition of the Working Class in England," looked at the poor conditions in Britain’s industrial towns in the 1840s and concluded that only a proletarian revolution could improve their lot. He had no inkling how wretched and squalid their previous rural existence had been. He went on to use his inherited cotton mill wealth to fund Karl Marx to write the books that inspired people to unleash the horrors of communism on the world, with its stunting of human aspiration and achievement, and the mass murders that accompanied it.

Of the two men who shared the same November birthday, one taught how to let people develop and improve the human condition, while the other inspired people to constrict it, and to oppress them while doing so.

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