From 1934 to 1946, the self-taught free market economist Henry Hazlitt was the main economics writer at The New York Times. He also wrote some of the editorials. That means that Hazlitt was a voice against Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal for all but one year of Roosevelt’s revolution. He was also there through the early years of Truman’s creation of the American surveillance state.
This came out at the end of libertarian Ilana Mercer’s interview of Ben Steil, the author of an important new book on John Maynard Keynes, the Communist spy and senior Treasury official Harry Dexter White, and the creation of the Bretton Woods monetary agreement of 1944. Bretton Woods shaped post-War international monetary policy until Richard Nixon unilaterally killed it on August 15, 1971. Nixon’s decision removed the last faint trace of the international gold standard of the nineteenth century. Bretton Woods was part of that weaning process.
Mercer: The American press’ commentary throughout the battle of Bretton Woods is quite a shock to the system for what it reveals about the same press’ prevailing intellectual bankruptcy in 2013. Back then, the New York Times was scathing about “the British financial expert’s” advocacy of “deficit financing and cheap money.” Other major media had mocked the worthless “product of the printing press.” The same sources lambasted “currency devaluation and credit expansion,” and warned against helping a debtor nation (Britain) at the expense of U.S. solvency (Page 166)? Have at it.
Steil: The famed Henry Hazlitt, a 19th-century style classical liberal, was from 1934 to 1946 the New York Times’ principal editorial writer on economics; he wrote a weekly column along with many of the unsigned economics editorials. This almost certainly explains the Times’ hostile position on Bretton Woods. It also seems fair to say that a Hazlitt could never reprise such a role at the Times today.
Hazlitt was the top man in economics at the most influential newspaper in the world during the most important period of revolution in the history of the United States. This is not a story that the American Left is aware of. Hazlitt was the most prominent disciple of Ludwig von Mises in the United States during these years. He was by far the most effective voice of liberty in the country, both in his ability to write and the influence of his position. The American Right forgets this. In an era of neoconservative dominance, Hazlitt’s libertarianism is not part of an intellectual legacy that the leadership of the conservative political movement chooses to highlight.
His Times articles have never been cataloged, as far as I know, let alone published in a collection. Some enterprising young historian or economist would do the libertarian movement a great service to locate them, convert them into digital text, and post them on the website of the Mises Institute. If the Mises Institute has to pay a royalty to the Times, I would make a donation. I am sure that these articles would provide the most coherent commentary on the economic policies of the New Deal that were published during the New Deal. They would serve as the foundation of half of a multi-volume revisionist critique of the New Deal’s foreign policy and domestic economic policies, a project that has been needed since 1945. I can think of no better way to begin to identify the soft economic underbelly of the New Deal than the collected columns of Henry Hazlitt.