Economics in One Lesson is a book written by Henry Stuart Hazlitt, the former New York Times’ “principal editorial writer on finance and economics” during the crucial years of 1934-1946. Hazlitt was a well-known journalist who started his career as a teenager while working as secretary to the managing editor of The Wall Street Journal. He went on to work for The New York Evening Mail, The New York Sun, The Nation, and The American Mercury before working as an editorialist for the Times. In 1936, in the midst of the Great Depression, English economist John Maynard Keynes published The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, considered by many to be his magnum-opus. According to
. . . a time when a great many people were beginning to doubt the merits and resilience of capitalism. It was a work of economic theory, but its boosters insisted that it also offered practical answers to urgent, contemporary questions like: how had the Depression occurred, and why was it lasting so long?
The answer to both questions, according to Keynes and his followers, was the same: not enough government intervention.
Now as Murray N. Rothbard showed in his 1963 bookÂ Americaâ€™s Great Depression, and as Lionel Robbins and others had written at the time, the Depression had certainlyÂ notÂ been caused by too little government intervention. It was caused by the worldâ€™s government-privileged central banks, and it was prolonged by the various quack remedies that governments kept trotting out. 1
Economics in One Lesson was written in 6 weeks and at the height of the “new economics” of Keynesianism which was used as justification for increasing government intervention in the markets. Of this period Gary North wrote, “In January 1946, the only free market book that non-economists had heard of was Hayek’s Road to Serfdom. That was because the Reader’s Digest published a prÃ©cis of it in 1945 . . . If we are talking about materials that could be used to defend the free market, 1946 was a wasteland. Hazlitt’s book was an oasis in the midst of the Gobi desert.” North posited that over 700,000 copies had been sold by 2015 – or about 10,000 copies per year since its initial publication.
Available as a PDF on Mises.org, the Ludwig von Mises Institute republished the book in 2008 and incorporated an introduction by Walter Block, the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair in Economics at the J. A. Butt School of Business at Loyola University New Orleans. Block explained one of the purposes for its republication:
Every widespread economic fallacy embraced by pundits, politicians, editorialists, clergy, academics is given the back of the hand they so richly deserve by this author: that public works promote economic welfare, that unions and union-inspired minimum wage laws actually raise wages, that free trade creates unemployment, that rent control helps house the poor, that saving hurts the economy, that profits exploit the poverty stricken, the list goes on and on. Exhilarating. No one who digests this book will ever be the same when it comes to public policy analysis.
The summary to the book on The Ludwig von Mises Institute site2 states Hazlitt’s,
. . . hope was to reduce the whole teaching of economics to a few principles and explain them in ways that people would never forget. It worked. He relied on some stories by Bastiat and his own impeccable capacity for logical thinking and crystal-clear prose.
He was writing under the influence of Mises himself, of course, but he brought his own special gifts to the project. As just one example, this is the book that made the idea of the ‘broken window fallacy’ so famous. Concise and instructive, it is also deceptively prescient and far-reaching in its efforts to dissemble economic fallacies that are so prevalent they have almost become a new orthodoxy.
This is the book to send to reporters, politicians, pastors, political activists, teachers, or anyone else who needs to know. It is probably the most important economics book ever written in the sense that it offers the greatest hope to educating everyone about the meaning of the science.
Many writers have attempted to beat this book as an introduction, but have never succeeded. Hazlitt’s book remains the best. It’s still the quickest way to learn how to think like an economist. And this is why it has been used in the best classrooms for more than sixty years.
After 80 years of increasing government intervention, Hazlitt’s book on economics is as timely as ever.