Hazlitt, Henry Stuart

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Hazlitt, Henry Stuart

(b. 28 November 1894 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; d. 9 July 1993 in Fairfield, Connecticut), journalist and author who wrote extensively in favor of a free market economy, including the popular title Economics in One Lesson.

Hazlitt was born to Stuart Clark, who died when Hazlitt was still a baby, and Bertha Zauner. Hazlitt started school at Girard College in Philadelphia, a school for poor, fatherless boys. When he was nine years old, his mother remarried. The family then relocated to Brooklyn, New York, where Hazlitt was enrolled at Public School 11. In 1912, upon graduation from Boys’ High School, he entered City

College of New York. He dropped out after a few months, however, to look for work after his stepfather died.

After trying various low-paying, menial jobs, Hazlitt discovered that if he learned typing and shorthand, he could secure a better-paying position. For several weeks he attended a secretarial school and, with his newfound expertise, in 1913 finally found a position that he liked—as a reporter with the Wall Street Journal. His job was to prepare reports on small companies.

The job at the Journal made Hazlitt realize how little he knew about the world of business and economics. Being an avid learner, he began a rigorous self-study program, concentrating on philosophy and economics, and soon caught up with much of what he had missed by dropping out of college. One of the books he read, The Common Sense of Political Economy (1910) by Philip Wicksteed, made a special impression on him. The book was the first English exposition of the Austrian school of economics, which had laid the foundation for the modern theories of free markets.

Hazlitt soon began his prolific book-writing career with Thinking as a Science (1915) at the age of twenty-two. By this time he had left the Wall Street Journal and was writing editorials for the New York Evening Post. He worked for the Post until 1917, when the United States entered World War I and Hazlitt enlisted in the Army Air Corps.

Before Hazlitt had a chance to go overseas, the war ended and he returned to his routine of reading and writing. In 1922 he published his second book, The Way to Will Power. By this time he had been employed for a year with the New York Evening Mail as a financial editor, a post he held until 1923. During the next ten years, Hazlitt changed jobs five times, working for various periodicals including American Mercury, for which he served as editor in 1933, taking over for H. L. Mencken. He wrote on a wide variety of subjects—from politics and economics to philosophy and literature. A Practical Program for America, which he edited in 1932 in the midst of the Great Depression, shows how the scholars of free market economics influenced him. In that book he prescribes the repeal of all barriers to free trade as the way to economic recovery.

Hazlitt married Frances S. Kanes in 1936. They had no children. Two years earlier, he had joined the editorial staff of the New York Times, a relationship that would last for twelve years. He mostly wrote about economic issues. He wrote reviews of Ludwig Von Mises’s Socialism and Fried-rich von Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. Both men were prominent scholars of the Austrian school, to which Hazlitt was very much attuned.

At the same time that the laissez-faire economics of the Austrian school was slowly developing, almost every government in the world seemed to have embraced the teachings of John Maynard Keynes, the English economist who provided the intellectual support for President Roosevelt’s New Deal policies. To Hazlitt, Keynesian policies were nothing but short-run fixes benefiting special interests. In his view, such policies would eventually bring about chronic inflation and recession and would damage the spirit of entrepreneurship and economic freedom. Hazlitt set out to educate the general public about free market economics and warn of the perils of government intervention in 1946, publishing Economics in One Lesson, which soon became a best-seller.

The next venue for Hazlitt’s regular commentary on current business and economic issues was Newsweek. He joined the magazine’s staff in 1946 and was given his own column, “Business Tides.” There were also other, albeit less regular, venues for Hazlitt’s teachings. In Will Dollars Save the World? (1947) he explained why the Marshall Plan would not be ideal for economic growth without inflation in Europe. In The Great Idea (1951), he contrasted the weaknesses of socialism with the merits of capitalism. From 1950 to 1954 he edited The Freeman, the flagship publication of the Foundation for Economic Education, of which he was a founding trustee. In The Failure of the “New Economics”: An Analysis of the Keynesian Fallacies (1959), he presented a devastating review of Keynes’s famous book The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (1936).

By the late 1950s this slim, courtly, humble, and witty writer had become a national champion of free enterprise and human liberty. In 1958, Grove City College in Pennsylvania conferred upon him an honorary doctorate degree. Two years later the Freedom Foundation awarded him a Medal of Honor.

Hazlitt stayed with Newsweek until 1966. At the age of seventy-five he decided to retire from active journalism, but he continued writing books until he was ninety years old. In 1986 he was admitted to Carolton Chronic Convalescent Hospital in Fairfield, Connecticut. After nearly seven years in residence at this facility, he died in 1993, two years after the death of his beloved wife, Frances.

Hazlitt was one of the early champions of free enterprise. Through his lucid writings, he promoted the principles of free market economics among the American public and influenced conservative economic thinking in the United States in the late twentieth century.

Hans F. Sennholz, ed., The Wisdom of Henry Hazlitt (1993), is the best source of information on Hazlitt’s life, career, and thought. It contains three tributes (one of which provides an annotated bibliography) and many of Hazlitt’s own articles. In “Henry Hazlitt: In One Lesson,” National Review (31 Dec. 1985), W. F. Rickenbacker gives an account of the events that led to the publication of Economics in One Lesson. Obituaries are in the New York Times (10 July 1993) and National Review (9 Aug. 1993).

Mojtaba Seyedian