The Foundations of Morality

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Excerpts (loosely edited) and quotes from The Foundations of Morality by Henry Hazlitt, 1964.

Pseudo-Rights

[Another example of pseudo-rights is] the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [adopted by UN, 1948, including] “everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.” Assuming this is even possible for everyone, whose obligation is it to provide all this?
What makes them pseudo-rights is that they imply that it is somebody else’s obligation to supply those things [without specifying] whose obligation, or precisely how it comes to be his. My “right to a job” implies that is somebody’s else’s duty to give me a job, apparently regardless of my qualifications or even whether I would do more damage than good on the job.

Suppose we test the Golden Rule: Do onto others as you would have others do unto you. [The problem is] there is practically no limit to the benefits that most of us would be wiling to accept from others, at whatever cost to them. Regarding the extent of our obligations to others, the opinions of different individuals are bound to vary widely. This is one of the unsettled problems of ethics.

“It is quite as destructive … to be taught that one is responsible for everything as to be taught that one cannot be responsible for anything. Responsibility, to be effective, must be individual responsibility. As everybody’s property in effect is nobody’s property, so everybody’s responsibility is nobody’s responsibility.” — FA Hayek

“There is no contrast between moral duty and selfish interest. What the individual gives society … he gives, not for the sake of aims that are alien to himself, but in his own interest.” — Ludwig von Mises

Free Market

Only through the free market [and] the interplay of prices, wages, costs, profits and losses is it possible to determine what consumers want … and therefore what is to be produced, and in what relative proportions. Socialism cannot solve the problem of “economic calculation.”

Under [the free market] material rewards correspond to the value that a man’s particular services have to his fellows.

“In civilized society [Man] stands at all times in need of the cooperation and assistance of great multitudes [and] it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest.” — Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (1776)

“Free competition tends to give to labor what labor creates, to capitalists what capital creates, and to entrepreneurs what the coordinating function creates … to give to each producer the amount of wealth that he specifically brings into existence.” — John Bates Clark, The Distribution of Wealth (1899)

Socialism

The central issue between capitalism and socialism is liberty. Coercion is the essence of socialism and communism. Economic life under socialism is organized on a military model.

It is only collectivists who assume that the interests of the individual and of society (or the State) are fundamentally opposed, and that the individual can only be led to cooperate in society by Draconian compulsions.

Practically all arguments for the equal distribution of income tacitly assume that such an equal division would do nothing to reduce the average income. This assumption is one of unsurpassable naivete.

[The Marxists] slogan is “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”. [But] human nature is such that unless each is paid and rewarded according to his contribution he will not make his maximum contribution [thereby reducing] the production out of which everybody’s needs are to be supplied.

Communism

Treating “socialism” and “communism” as practically synonymous … was the practice of Marx and Engels. Bernard Shaw [said] “A communist is nothing but a socialist with the courage of his convictions.”

When the Pilgrims landed they established a communist system [and] set up a system of rationing. A vicious circle seemed to set in. They were too weak from want of food to tend the crops [and] took to stealing from each other. Governor Bradford writes,

“The young men … did repine that they should spend their time and strength to worke for other men’s wives and children [and] for men’s wives to be commanded to doe service for other men.  [So they] began to think how they might raise as much corne as they could. [In 1623 they decided] that they should set corne every man for his owne perticuler, and in that regard trust to them selves … And so assigned to every family a parcell of land. This had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious. The women now went willing into the field. By this time the harvest had come [and] now God gave them plenty … wante or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day.”

Marxism

“Power over man’s subsistence is power over his will.”  — Alexander Hamilton

“In a country where the sole employer is the State, opposition means death by slow starvation.” — Leon Trotsky

“We must be ready to employ trickery, deceit, law-breaking, withholding and concealing the truth. We can and must write in a language which sows among the masses hate, revulsion, scorn, and the like, toward those who disagree with us.” — Vladimir Lenin

“Marx hated deity, and regarded high moral aspirations as an obstacle. That mystical and anti-moral faith is the one wholly original contribution of Karl Marx to man’s heritage of ideas. The notion of an earthly paradise is used to justify crimes and depravities surpassing anything the modern world has seen.” — Max Eastman

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