Monday, April 16, 2012

The Importance of Henry Hazlitt

When it comes to underrated economists, Henry Hazlitt is right up there with Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard. Although he did not make the original contributions that Mises and Rothbard made, his devastating critique of Keynesian economics make him an important figure as an economic scholar, and his skill as a popular writer make him an important figure as a disseminator to the general public of sound economic understanding.

Therefore, it is good to see the Peter Boettke paper which reviews Hazlitt's lifetime achievements. The paper can be found here.

The only significant problem I have with Boettke's paper is when he writes this:

Public intellectuals in economics live off their ability to write or speak to a wide audience about economic issues. This is their primary employment and thus their primary responsibility is to make economic arguments to non-professional economists. They write free of scientific jargon, they do not make extensive use of mathematical formulas, nor employ sophisticated statistical tests – not because they are necessarily incapable, but because those tools of reasoning are often impediments to understanding for the wider audience with which they seek to communicate. So while they may be aided in their thought process by the most sophisticated tools utilized in the current practice, it is not their primary purpose to communicate with their intended audience via those tools of reasoning.
Although Boettke tends to claim Misesian credentials from time to time, I have no idea how he could have written this sentence and claim to be a Misesian at the same time.

Sophisticated statistical tests? Mises consistently argued that the science of economics is a deductive science, with no room for empirical tests. Indeed, Mises wasn't exactly fond of mathematical formulas in general. He wrote:
As a method of economic analysis econometrics is a childish play with figures that does not contribute anything to the elucidation of the problems of economic reality.
And so, while Boettke may want to use Hazlitt's failure to use mathematical formulas as one reason to identify him at times as a "public intellectual" as opposed to a scholar, it may very well be that Hazlitt just wasn't intimidated by absurd mathematical formulas (which as can be seen by Boettke's comment continue to find support today),  anymore than he was intimidated by Keynesian gobbledygook.

Ignore this paragraph in Boettke's paper and you have a very good history of Hazlitt as a "public intellectual" and as a scholar.

1 comment:

  1. No one commented on this so I'll just off topic say...

    I finished Human Action tonight after about 3-4 months of reading (after first finishing Economics In One Lesson and What Has Government Done To Our Money) - thanks to your recommendations!

    Feels good man