Economics in One Lesson

by Henry Hazlitt

A Note on Books

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Those who desire to read further in economics should turn next to some work of intermediate length and difficulty. I know of no single volume in print today that completely meets this need, but there are several that together supply it. There is an excellent short book (126 pages) by Faustino Ballvé, Essentials of Economics (Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Foundation for Economic Education), which briefly summarizes principles and policies. A book that does that at somewhat greater length (327 pages) is Understanding the Dollar Crisis by Percy L. Greaves (Belmont, Mass.: Western Islands, 1973). Bettina Bien Greaves has assembled two volumes of readings on Free Market Economics (Foundation for Economic Education).

The reader who aims at a thorough understanding, and feels prepared for it, should next read Human Action by Ludwig von Mises (Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1949, 1966, 907 pages). This book extended the logical unity and precision of economics beyond that of any previous work. A two-volume work written thirteen years after Human Action by a student of Mises is Murray Rothbard’s Man, Economy, and State (Mission, Kan.: Sheed, Andrews and McMeel, 1962, 987 pages). This contains much original and penetrating material; its exposition is admirably lucid; and its arrangement makes it in some respects more suitable for textbook use than Mises’ great work.

Short books that discuss special economic subjects in a simple way are Planning for Freedom by Ludwig von Mises (South Holland, Ill.: Libertarian Press, 1952), and Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962). There is an excellent pamphlet by Murray N. Rothbard, What HasGovernment Done to Our Money? (Santa Ana, Calif.: Rampart College, 1964, 1974, 62 pages). On the urgent subject of inflation, a book by the present author has recently been published, The Inflation Crisis, and How to Resolve It (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House, 1978).

Among recent works which discuss current ideologies and developments from a point of view similar to that of this volume are the present author’s The Failure of the “New Economics”: An Analysis of the Keynesian Fallacies (Arlington House, 1959); F. A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (1945) and the same author’s monumental Constitution of Liberty (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960). Ludwig von Mises’ Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis (London: Jonathan Cape, 1936, 1969) is the most thorough and devastating critique of collectivistic doctrines ever written.

The reader should not overlook, of course, Frederic Bastiat’s Economic Sophisms (ca. 1844), and particularly his essay on “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen.”

Those who are interested in working through the economic classics might find it most profitable to do this in the reverse of their historical order. Presented in this order, the chief works to be consulted, with the dates of their first editions, are: Philip Wick-steed, The Common Sense of Political Economy, 1911; John Bates Clark, The Distribution of Wealth, 1899; Eugen von BohmBawerk, The Positive Theory of Capital, 1888; Karl Menger, Principles of Economics, 1871; W. Stanley Jevons, The Theory of Political Economy, 1871; John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy, 1848; David Ricardo, Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, 1817; and Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776.

Economics broadens out in a hundred directions. Whole libraries have been written on specialized fields alone, such as money and banking, foreign trade and foreign exchange, taxation and public finance, government control, capitalism and socialism, wages and labor relations, interest and capital, agricultural economics, rent, prices, profits, markets, competition and monopoly, value and utility, statistics, business cycles, wealth and poverty, social insurance, housing, public utilities, mathematical economics, studies of special industries and of economic history. But no one will ever properly understand any of these specialized fields unless he has first of all acquired a firm grasp of basic economic principles and the complex interrelationship of all economic factors and forces. When he has done this by his reading in general economics, he can be trusted to find the right books in his special field of interest.

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