A Tale of Two Hazlitts

I had no idea that the great economic journalist Henry Hazlitt was indeed related to the great essayist William Hazlitt. Turns out, according to this archival Time article about H. Hazlitt succeeding H.L. Mencken as editor of the American Mercury, William was Henry’s great-great-great uncle. I’m grateful to Scott Lahti for bringing this to my attention.

The “FairTax” Fraud

Bruce Bartlett tax a look at the latest scam to harness the power of antitax sentiment without actually cutting taxes, the so-called FairTax. Something in general that the not-very-rich, which is most of us, should keep in mind: any revenue-neutral tax reform is going to be a massive tax hike on people like you and me. If it’s revenue neutral, it must bring in as much revenue as the current system, which disproportionately taxes the wealthy. Basic math: if you keep that equals sign and you lower the amount the rich are paying, somebody has to make up the shortfall. Usually the revenue-neutralists say that they’ll do that by getting rid of loopholes and exemptions — such as the home mortgage tax exemption. You can see that that’ll be a political non-starter.

These kinds of things make me see blood red. The conservatives and libertarians who get behind them are the worst sorts of frauds. The problem with our current tax system is not that it’s “unfair” (boo hoo!) or imposes a lot of external costs (which it does), the problem is that the taxes are too high across the board and government at every level is as bloated and inefficient as you would expect of any socialist institution. “Reform” ought to be a dirty word; we want cuts. Slash, eviscerate, take a chainsaw to present levels of spending and taxation. Productive Americans should not be yielding up a third of their incomes (which is about what taxation at all levels amounts to, in my experience) to finance bombs, bums, and collapsing bridges.

By the way, a point that Bartlett doesn’t raise–perhaps the FairFraudsters address this themselves–is that you can’t slap a tax on a product and expect it to sell as well as it does when it’s untaxed. Sprockets at a FairTax price of $1.30 or $1.57 are not going to sell in the quantities of sprockets at $1.00. So to meet the sacred goal of “revenue neutrality” — God forbid the state should have to tighten its belt! — the tax might have to be higher still.

Addendum: Here’s a classic Lew Rockwell article on the “Tax Reform Racket.”

Democratic Capitalism Rides Again

Finished copies of Brian Anderson’s Democratic Capitalism and Its Discontents arrived at the ISI Books offices yesterday. It’s a handsome book, if I do say so myself, and while I’m skeptical of any concept that originates with Michael Novak, I’m looking forward to seeing what Anderson has to say. His earlier South Park Conservatives wasn’t the trendy cash-in that its title might lead you to expect. (Oddly enough an event I helped put together, a lecture by Paul Cantor at Washington University in 2002, is a notable episode in the history of “South Park conservatism”; Anderson interviewed my friend Matthew Arnold about it for his book. For more on Professor Cantor’s take on South Park, see “Invisible Gnomes and the Invisible Hand” on LRC.)

Anderson’s new book includes chapters against Rawls and for Bertrand de Jouvenel, which I expect I’ll find congenial. He also notes in his introduction, with some surprise, that an excerpt from Benjamin Barber’s Consumed ran in The American Conservative. I’m even less sympathetic to Barber’s nostrums than I am to “democratic” capitalism, but I find the whole debate rather interesting.

Two (or Four) Interesting Economists

Both of whom I hope to write about in the not-too-distant future. Here’s Roger Kimball in The New Criterion on Hayek. And here are a couple of links to reviews of the new Thomas McCraw bio of Joseph Schumpeter, which looks to be excellent: The Economist, NY Sun. I hadn’t known that Schumpeter is now more cited than Keynes. That’s a step in the right direction.

To add some updates on a couple more interesting economists: later this year Jorg Guido Hulsmann’s full-scale biography of Ludwig von Mises is being published by the Mises Institute, and David Gordon’s intellectual biography of Murray Rothbard is already in print, and highly recommended too.

Something For the Weekend: Thomas Woods on Culture and Enterprise

Last Thursday I attended the Culture of Enterprise event at the Cato Institute, “What Should Be a Culture of Enterprise in an Age of Globalization.” Thomas Woods gave a talk that was an absolute tour de force and, fortunately, it’s available on-line. Hear it here (MP3), or watch it here (Real video). Those links also inclue Olaf Gersemann’s talk following Tom’s; Gersemann was thought-provoking in his own right, though he acknowledged that coming after Tom’s talk put him at a tremendous disadvantage.

The later panel with Ed Stringham, Bryan Caplan, and the Acton Institute’s Kevin Schmiesing is also worth a viewing or a listen, particularly for Caplan’s discussion of “political culture” versus “personal culture” as factors in producing prosperity.

Invasion of the Hermeneuticians

A classic from Murray Rothbard (who also takes a well-deserved shot at economists /econometricians invading other fields):

In recent years, economists have invaded other intellectual disciplines and, in the dubious name of “science,” have employed staggeringly oversimplified assumptions in order to make sweeping and provocative conclusions about fields they know very little about. This is a modern form of “economic imperialism” in the realm of the intellect. Almost always, the bias of this economic imperialism has been quantitative and implicitly Benthamite, in which poetry and pushpin are reduced to a single level, and which amply justifies the gibe of Oscar Wilde about cynics, that they [economists] know the price of everything and the value of nothing. The results of this economic imperialism have been particularly ludicrous in the fields of sex, the family, and education.

So why then does the present author, not a Benthamite, now have the temerity to tackle a field as arcane, abstruse, metaphysical, and seemingly unrelated to economics as hermeneutics? Here my plea is the always legitimate one of self-defense. Discipline after discipline, from literature to political theory to philosophy to history, have been invaded by an arrogant band of hermeneuticians, and now even economics is under assault. Hence, this article is in the nature of a counterattack.

[Read the whole thing here.]

Save the Penny

Clifford Thies’s Mises.org article on the penny — which John Fund and other ne’er-do-wells would like to abolish — isn’t quite the defense that I’d like to see, but it’s a start.  Then penny is indeed nearly worthless and actually costs more to mint than it’s worth. But tax money wasted on ineffecient minting is actually less harmful than tax money used to bribe voters or bomb foreign countries. It’s also a useful reminder to the public of just what the government has done to “our” money.