Bursts of insight
For six years now, at my blog Café Hayek , I've featured a “Quotation of the Day.” Each is a concentrated nugget of wisdom, insight, or historical perspective from books, articles and blog posts I've read, offered as quick and eloquent sources of deeper understanding of economics, politics or history. Here are some of my favorites.
“The fundamental problem is that we believe that health insurance is something that only should be received as a gift — never obtained for oneself. Thus, we immediately assume that when a family does not have health insurance, they are to be pitied for not having received the gift, rather than being blamed for not having taken responsibility.” — Arnold Kling, “Learning Economics” (2004)
“Economics is haunted by more fallacies than any other study known to man. This is no accident. The inherent difficulties of the subject would be great enough in any case, but they are multiplied a thousandfold by a factor that is insignificant in, say, physics, mathematics or medicine — the special pleading of selfish interests.” — Henry Hazlitt, “Economics In One Lesson” (1946)
“The crossroads of trade are the meeting place of ideas, the attrition ground of rival customs and beliefs; diversities beget conflict, comparison, thought; superstitions cancel one another and reason begins.” — Will Durant, “The Life of Greece” (1939)
“Thus politics, under democracy, resolves itself into impossible alternatives. Whatever the label on the parties, or the war cries issuing from the demagogues who lead them, the practical choice is between the plutocracy on the one side and a rabble of preposterous impossibilists on the other. … It is a pity that this is so. For what democracy needs most of all is a party that will separate the good that is in it theoretically from the evils that beset it practically, and then try to erect that good into a workable system. What it needs beyond everything is a party of liberty.” — H. L. Mencken, “Notes on Democracy” (1926)
“In spite of popular myths about capitalism oppressing the poor, the poor are worse off in those things provided by government, such as schooling, police protection, and justice. There are more good cars in the ghettos than good schools.” — David D. Friedman, “The Machinery of Freedom” (1973)
“Freedom is not simply the right of intellectuals to circulate their merchandise. It is, above all, the right of ordinary people to find elbow room for themselves and a refuge from the rampaging presumptions of their ‘betters.'” — Thomas Sowell, “Knowledge and Decisions” (1980)
“It is not by the intermeddling of ... the omniscient and omnipotent State, but by the prudence and energy of the people, that England has hitherto been carried forward in civilization; and it is to the same prudence and the same energy that we now look with comfort and good hope. Our rulers will best promote the improvement of the nation by strictly confining themselves to their own legitimate duties, by leaving capital to find its most lucrative course, commodities their fair price, industry and intelligence their natural reward, idleness and folly their natural punishment, by maintaining peace, by defending property, by diminishing the price of law, and by observing strict economy in every department of the state. Let the Government do this: the People will assuredly do the rest.” — Thomas Babington Macaulay, “Southey's Colloquies on Society” (1830)
Donald J. Boudreaux is a professor of economics and Getchell Chair at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. His column appears twice monthly.