One of the benefits of an iPad (or Kindle, or similar device) is that I end up reading books I would never get to if I had to order them in hard copy or check them out of the library. Yes, you can tell I am pretty indolent these days; I don’t like romping around library stacks very much. The cost difference is also notable: the Kindle edition of the book below cost $3 compared to the paperback at $28 and the hardcover at $58, not including shipping.
One recent Kindle acquisition is the classic text by the Austrian School economist Henry Hazlitt, Time Will Run Back (originally published in 1951). In this dystopic novel a communist state has won the Cold War and now controls all of humanity. To assert control over everyone’s minds, all previous written works on economics, social science, history, and philosophy are destroyed.
Through a quirk of fate, a young man of compassion becomes the dictator and seeks to discover how to make life better for the citizens. Along the way he discovers the power of freedom and the marketplace through experimentation and deductive logic. It is a clever and insightful premise.
The virtues of capitalism may seem obvious to readers of the 21st century—but certainly may not have been at mid-20th century when the Soviet Union was perceived to be booming. Hazlitt provides a fascinating introduction to the ethics behind market systems and the powerful intuition that command economies will lag behind and ultimately fail.
The book is recommended as an introductory guide to students seeking to understand why markets can produce good outcomes using a fair process.
One should not conclude that laissez faire is the best policy (indeed Adam Smith never made that claim). Rather, through books like this, one can demonstrate at a deep emotional level why and how markets are important to society. If markets worked perfectly life would be pretty easy for the economist. Reality is more complex and students ultimately need more than platitudes about how property rights and competition will automatically solve all problems, including environmental problems. Lingering questions address the form and function of a mixed market system, under various institutional rules and assuming different degrees of ethical norms among the populace.