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Henry Hazlitt’s Enormous Contribution

Written by Gary North on September 19, 2015

I started writing Christian Economics in One Lesson in late March. It took Hazlitt six weeks to write Economics in One Lesson in early 1946. If he devoted 40 hours a week, that would have been about 240 hours. It took me under 100 hours to write my book. I had the advantage of having access to all of his book, and I also had the advantage of 69 years of materials that have been published since the time that he wrote his book. An enormous amount of material has been published.

There are very few, if any, people alive today who read his book when it first came out. It has gained a lot of readers, but initially there were not very many. I don’t think there are many people alive today who were part of the libertarian movement in 1946 as a result of either Hazlitt’s book or Hayek’s Road to Serfdom (1944). Therefore, people do not appreciate the remarkable nature of Hazlitt’s efforts in 1946.

He could not refer to a developed body of materials on the topics he covered in his book. There was no such body of materials. Today, we have more than we can possibly read.

Today, we are the beneficiaries of the World Wide Web. This includes PDF’s, websites, YouTube, Amazon, Facebook, WordPress.com, and all of the other tools of communication. It is extraordinary what has taken place since 1999. I first went online with my site in 1996, and the change since then has been mind-boggling.

We are told that Hazlitt’s book has sold something in the range of 700,000 copies. This means about 10,000 copies a year for almost 70 years. Yet I will mail out the final chapter of my book to something in the range of 90,000 people. That will cost me a few dollars. The technology today enables people to communicate ideas on a scale never imagined by Hazlitt or anybody else in 1946.

When he wrote his book, he was almost alone. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises were in the United States, but Mises was virtually unknown. In the same year that Hazlitt wrote his book, Leonard Read started the Foundation for Economic Education, which was a tiny operation. There were no Washington Beltway think tanks that promoted free-market ideas.

Communications among libertarians barely existed. For that matter, there really wasn’t anything known as libertarianism. Conservatives in 1946 were mainly besieged holdouts of the late 1930’s political opposition of Franklin Roosevelt, but there was no developed conservative philosophy. There was no conservative magazine. The Saturday Evening Post did occasionally publish articles by free market advocates, but there was nothing ideological about that magazine.

In 1946, a conservative could hardly find materials to read. Today, he could not possibly read in a year more than a tiny fraction of the materials that are published every day on the Web.

In 1955, William F. Buckley started National Review. The next year, the Foundation for Economic Education began publishing The Freeman. Up until that time, there was almost nothing to read. Reading materials were limited to newsletters, and only a handful of people had ever heard of any of these newsletters. You don’t know what the blackout was like in 1955, unless you were there, and those of us who were there don’t remember 1946.

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 précis of it in 1945. You can read that précis here.

The good old days were bad. 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.

(for the rest of my article, click the link.)

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