In the Long Run

On the 22nd of March, Robert Luddy gave a lecture at the Mises Institute, titled, “Henry Hazlitt’s Long-Term Economic Thinking: Foundation of Entrepreneurial Excellence.”  Throughout his 52-minute talk, it is clear that Hazlitt had a profound impact on Luddy – an entrepreneur who has exhibited excellence in the long term.  How does Luddy manage such staying power?  By ignoring the temptation of short-term gains and focusing on the long-term impacts of his decisions.  Writing about his talk in The American Spectator, Luddy informs the reader that Hazlitt’s most famous workEconomics in One Lesson – “was based, in part, on Frederic Bastiat’s essayWhat Is Seen and What Is Not Seen.”  “Hazlitt goes one step further, summing up economics not simply as a series of transactions with hidden implications, but in terms of long-term effects outliving the short-term effects of every economic principle or policy.” 


In Luddy’s talk, he focuses not on Economics in One Lesson, but on a lesser-known work that greatly influenced him.  “Hazlitt’s economic thinking was revolutionary, but his thoughts on morality were paramount.”  It is clear from Luddy’s business acumen and impassioned speech that he strives to embody the wisdom penned in Hazlitt’s The Foundations of Morality.  “As in his understanding of economics, [Hazlitt] realized that the long-term interests of the individual would serve the long-term interests of society.”  Contrary to one of the many stereotypes oddly ascribed to libertarians, Luddy sees value in morality: “The market requires moral leaders because the market cannot function without integrity,” and a moral individual cannot best “serve the long-term interests of society” if he is not free to cooperate with other individuals.  Hazlitt writes in The Foundations of Morality:


“Liberty is the essential basis, the sine qua non, of morality.  Morality can exist only in a free society; it can exist to the extent that freedom exists.  Only to the extent that men have the power of choice can they be said to choose the good.”


For Luddy, freedom and morality are of utmost importance.  “This freedom directly applies to entrepreneurs: In order to have the freedom to succeed, we must have the freedom to fail.”  “This freedom” does not only apply to the business world; it permeates all aspects of life.  Voluntary exchange need not describe only “the free market;” the distinction from the social realm is an unnecessary distraction.  During his talk, when Luddy speaks to Hazlitt’s understanding of morality, he said, “If it’s moral, it’s very likely to hold up for the long term; conversely, if it holds up long-term, it’s very likely moral.”  Though its implications may seem obvious in the business world, they have universal value.  Businesses do not “have the freedom to fail” when the negative effects of their short-term thinking can be socialized, or even promoted, by the regulations that allegedly protect individuals from immoral businesses (Are all banks free to fail?).  Once enshrined into law, freedom is lost, so morality is likely lost as well, regardless of the intentions that gave rise to the law.  Could Luddy’s mindset of “moral thinking is long-term thinking” also be applied to everyone’s favorite subject?


It is difficult to name a topic more divisive than abortion.  Is it immoral, amoral, or moral?  Are you “pro-life” or “pro-choice”?  Do those two terms fully capture your thoughts on the matter?  Are you likely to change your opinion?  At what point does the infant’s life begin – at conception or after, including after birth?  Are these questions even relevant?  The following will not assist one side of the debate, but they will potentially change how you think of the debate; they might even alleviate some of your anxiety over the debate.  The problem with the life-versus-choice debate is that the adherents of both sides favor coercion; the pro-choicers aim to force you to subsidize abortion, and the pro-lifers aim to force you to abstain from it.  Even the supremely logical Dave Smith – overcome with emotion from witnessing the birth of his daughter – has appeared to have fallen into the trap of picking a side and has not been “the most consistent [guy] you know” when it comes to this issue.  These are false choices, and you need not feel compelled to choose one; however, due to the law, one side clearly has the upper hand.


Back to Luddy’s understanding of morality, if abortion is subsidized, the practice is bound to persist longer than if it were not subsidized; in that scenario – the present situation – morality is irrelevant.  If abortion is subsidized by the State, meaning, if others – even those against abortion – are forced to pay for one’s abortion, how is it possible for the practice to dwindle from existence if the practice is immoral?  Conversely, if the law were to forbid abortion, would the practice cease entirely?  Of course not; prohibition does not work.  People drank when drinking was illegal; some kill when killing is illegal; some rape when raping is illegal; some consume drugs when those substances are illegal (talking to you, Denver stiffs), and some speed while driving.  If you think abortion is immoral, don’t do it and convince others to abstain from it, but if you think it is not immoral, don’t force others to help you do it; put simply, mind your own business.  You own yourself, not others.  Lefties, how would you like it if you were forced to subsidize gun ownership?  Righties, what would you like to do, imprison everyone who doesn’t think like you?  Both ‘sides’ are authoritarian, which is why their arguments are morally bankrupt.


Laws tend to shield immoral practices from their inevitable end – extinction.  As in business, if an immoral practice is free to fail, then it will not last in the long term; however, if it is subsidized or prohibited, the State, in effect, tells us what is or is not moral.  Do we want the State to dictate morality?  Of course not; if individuals are free to choose, the moral practices will “rise to the top,” just as the best products and services rise to the top when individuals are able to voluntarily choose among them.  Only without laws restricting or promoting abortion will abortion be able to align with or disassociate from “the long-term interests of society.”  Under this scenario, if abortion is immoral, less doctors will wish to provide that service as the demand for abortion declines, and if abortion is moral, the inverse will occur, naturally.  What is clearly immoral today, however, is the State – a vile mob to which we are forced to pay tribute – telling us what is right and what is wrong, what is “the good” and what is bad.  No, lefties, ending the subsidization of abortion is not “an attack on women,” and no, righties, abortion is not “murder” just because you deem it so.  Only if abortion is treated like any other elective surgery, only if abortion has “the freedom to fail” will it ever be able to prove its morality.