All species of parasites are inherently greedy for the resources that their hosts naturally accumulate. They suck them dry nearly to death, regardless of the danger to the existence of them both. Such creatures are at odds with the very nature of reality, for they expect something for nothing.
As the author clearly states:
“The welfare state can arise and persist only by cultivating and living on a set of economic delusions in the minds of the voters.”
These delusions are only possible because those voters are gullible and don’t understand the difference between corporatism and capitalism (much less the free market itself). The “monopolistic pricing” that Hazlitt claims is the real problem, as promulgated by the corporations, is only possible because of the undue favor that these corporations receive from the government, at the cost to both customers and actual entrepreneurs. Confusing corporate fat cats, who privatize gains while simultaneously socializing losses, with the truly entrepreneurial industrialists, who privatize both gains and losses, is intellectual dishonesty on its face.
Henry Hazlitt rips apart the welfare State by showing how it is inimical to economic liberty. Currency debasement, minimum wage statutes, price controls, subsidized agriculture, social insurance, guaranteed income, artificial job creation, corporate taxation, central planning, foreign aid, unlimited administrative rule-making, monetary inflation, and perpetual debt all clearly demonstrate how prosperity can not be created out of the barrel of a gun. No one’s liberty is safe when sycophantic totalitarians advocate and enforce their unrealistic desires by way of government.
Take for instance, the utterly fallacious pretext that charity must be provided to the poor through the force of government. As Hazlitt describes it:
“Let me add that the argument that we must respect the liberty of the poor by giving them handouts solely in cash is spurious from still another standpoint. It overlooks the liberties of the industrious and prudent people from whom money is being either withheld or seized, in order to pay the cash handouts. It makes no sense to preserve the ‘liberty’ of the irresponsible at the expense of the liberty of the responsible.”
What is at play here is a lack of understanding about property rights on the part of the welfare statists. If they had wanted to support the poor, they are perfectly at liberty to do so through private charities and the friendly societies of old, but they are not free to infringe on the natural liberty of others by stealing their justly acquired property through government coercion. Hazlitt observes:
“Everywhere we turn today we find the welfare state – the state that promises guaranteed jobs, guaranteed incomes, the guaranteed life, security from cradle to grave, the quick if not overnight elimination of poverty. And the principal way in which it undertakes to achieve these goals is to seize from those who have and give to those who have not.”
The pervasive nature of the Nanny State is paternalistic in the extreme, and is insulting to any notion of responsibility. While some humans unfortunately need to be governed because of their irresponsibility, I don’t think it is fair for those who are responsible adults to be penalized by the government for what the irresponsible children do, or not do.
I find Hazlitt’s support of the night-watchman state to be ironic. On one hand, Hazlitt admits:
“The State is a shadowy entity that apparently gets its money out of some fourth dimension. The truth is, of course, that the government has nothing to give to anybody that it doesn’t first take from someone else.”
But on the other, he seems to radically change his tune:
“The essential function of the State is to maintain peace, justice, law, and order, and to protect the individual citizen from aggression, violence, theft, and fraud. More than a century ago Herbert Spencer was pointing out that ‘in assuming any office besides its essential one, the State begins to lose the power of fulfilling its essential one.’ As more and more functions are assumed by the State, the truth of this becomes more and more obvious.”
So, which is it? Hazlitt also seems pretty confused on how to apply the Non-Aggression Principle:
“Again we need not accept Spencer’s own ‘first principle’ (as laid down in his Social Statics in 1850) for determining the function of law and the limits of the State: ‘Every man has freedom to do all he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man.’ Taken literally, this could be interpreted to mean that a thug has the right to stand at a corner with the club and beat over the head everybody who comes round it, provided he acknowledges the right of any of his victims to do the same.”
Acting on Spencer’s behalf in order to rebut Hazlitt’s interpretation, I will say that the thug with the club beating everybody is a criminal initiating force upon those whom he arbitrarily chooses (much like government), and thus, he is in violation of the Non-Aggression Principle. Probably the reason why Hazlitt views this the way he does is because he gives primary credence to the Common Law:
“At least, Spencer’s principle seems to permit any amount of mutual annoyance except constraint. It is entirely true, as Locke pointed out, that ‘the end of the law is, not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom.’ But the only short formula we can use to describe the function of the law would be that it should maximize liberty, order, and happiness by minimizing constraint, violence, and harm. The detailed application of any such simple formula presents many difficulties and problems. We need not go into them here, except to say that the Common Law, developed from ancient custom and a hundred thousand decisions of judges, has been solving problems through the ages, and that in our age jurists and economists have been further refining these decisions.”
While Hazlitt seems to support the absence of restraint upon economic liberty, he would seem to be more than happy with monopolistic courts and police, which is at the root of statism. It is statism that eventually gave rise to the very existence of the welfare state that he is ostensibly opposed to in the first place! I will give Hazlitt the benefit of the doubt anyway, since he is a minarchist (and thus a lover of liberty), even if his notion of “the rule of law” does absolutely nothing to provide actual justice since the courts are subject to an authoritarian rebel government.
So, what is to be done about this state of affairs? Hazlitt concludes that:
“The condition of poverty, moreover, is relative rather than absolute…. [t]he only real cure for poverty is production.”
Just as there is sliding scale between tyranny and liberty, there is likewise one between poverty and production, in the sense that the more of one there is, the less there is of the other. If you detest tyranny, you must increase liberty; if you loathe poverty, you must increase production. Also be wary of those who advocate or enforce the Galbraith thesis of central planning; they are the statists who want to render you impotent:
“When we discuss ‘economic planning.’ we must be clear concerning what it is we are talking about. The real question being raised is not plan or no plan, but whose plan?….[n]ow the Planner wants to substitute his own plan for the plans of everybody else. At best, he wants the government to lay down a Master Plan to which everybody else’s plan must be subordinated…..[t]he natural conclusion from all this – and Galbraith does not hesitate to draw it – is that consumers ought to be deprived of freedom of choice, and that government bureaucrats, full of wisdom – of course, of a very unconventional wisdom – should make their consumptive choices for them. The consumers should be supplied, not with what they themselves want, but with what bureaucrats of exquisite taste and culture think is good for them.”
Unfortunately, I do take issue with Hazlitt’s other recommendations, especially his notion that if libertarians simply provided a better intellectual defense in more specialized areas of government policy, then that will eventually help us secure our Liberties. What he fails to understand is that at the end of the day, the only thing that counts is force, whether it be the immoral initiation of coercion or morally sound self-defense (and this also includes its collective version, the right of revolution). Sure, other things can serve as support functions, but the crux of this lies primarily in the action and movement within this realm of reality, not clever rhetoric that almost nobody takes seriously. Hazlitt lists his other suggestions thusly:
- We must start reducing the grossly extended powers of all levels of government; local, State, and Federal.
- Stop the profligate spending.
- To stop the inflation, the government must stop expanding the issue of paper money and credit.
- Repeal all minimum wage laws.
- Let the government refrain from all ‘guidelines’ for prices or wages, all controls of prices, wages, interest rates or rents, and all threats of such controls.
- Stop the continuous increase in the national burden of Social Security, housing subsidies, farm subsides, and the rest of the proliferating ‘antipoverty’ programs.
- The graduated personal income tax should be abandoned in favor of a strictly proportional income tax.
- The present appalling power and omnipresence of government must be forced back within tolerable limits.
The fundamental problem here is that Hazlitt is assuming that the mainline political process still works in terms of securing anyone’s liberty. All that this “eight point program” demonstrates is that Hazlitt is no strategist. It is going to take much, much more than simply free market economic analysis to secure our Liberties.
Henry Hazlitt’s Man vs. The Welfare State is an decent examination into the system of welfare benefit entitlement handouts, given from the Austrian perspective. This book is best for those who are still trying to see through the fog, as well as for those dissidents who don’t yet have a firm grasp of market dynamics. Otherwise, Hazlitt’s book is completely useless, especially considering that his suggestions are completely impractical. Assuming that there is somehow a peaceful solution to the problem of statism is naïve in the extreme. Tyrants never give up their power willingly, and betting that by pleading and begging psychopathic authoritarian statists to “please, be nice” to us is a gamble that we are sure to lose.