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Errors Versus Truths

Post #1527 • March 1, 2012, 10:43 AM • 3 Comments

Henry Hazlitt on a problem not unique to economics:

It is often sadly remarked that the bad economists present their errors to the public better than the good economists present their truths. It is often complained that demagogues can be more plausible in putting forward economic nonsense from the platform than the honest men who try to show what is wrong with it. But the basic reason for this ought not to be mysterious. The reason is that the demagogues and bad economists are presenting half-truths. They are speaking only of the immediate effect of a proposed policy or its effect upon a single group. As far as they go they may often be right. In these cases the answer consists in showing that the proposed policy would also have longer and less desirable effects, or that it could benefit one group only at the expense of all other groups. The answer consists in supplementing and correcting the half-truth with the other half. But to consider all the chief effects of a proposed course on everybody often requires a long, complicated, and dull chain of reasoning. Most of the audience finds this chain of reasoning difficult to follow and soon becomes bored an inattentive. The bad economists rationalize this intellectual debility and laziness by assuring the audience that it need not even attempt to follow the reasoning or judge it on its merits because it is only "classicism" or "laissez faire" or "capitalist apologetics" or whatever other term of abuse may happen to strike them as effective.

This is from Economics in One Lesson (also available as a PDF), from 1946.

Comment

1.

Warren Craghead

March 1, 2012, 11:05 AM

(insert obligatory Yeats quote)

2.

Franklin

March 1, 2012, 1:13 PM

Darby, I think that's your cue.

3.

Walter Darby Bannard

March 1, 2012, 3:33 PM

Well, I think Mr. Craghead is being facetious, and he may have Yeats and Keats mixed up. Keats wrote “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” which is a famous poetic line I happen to disagree with, to wit:

Chapter 81. Art is not truth.

Truth is expressed in words; art is expressed in feeling.

Truth conforms to reality; art invents reality.

Truth is subject to proof; art has nothing to do with proof.

And so forth.

Yes, I know, "Art" and "Truth" are both noble and high-minded and all that, and therefore they are often associated, in a hopeful way. But they are apples and oranges.

Clarity is important. Keep things where they belong.

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