[This never-published manuscript was written in 1985. Henry Hazlitt (born 1894) was 91 years old at the time of writing, and his memory was failing. He died in 1993. Herein, he recalls his childhood, his early education, his decision to not become a professional dancer, his time in the military during World War I, his first jobs and interactions with managers, the founding of the Mont Pelerin society, and the big highlights of his career that followed.
The reader will enjoy first-hand reports of his years at the New York Times, the writing of Economics in One Lesson, his time at Newsweek, the founding of the Mont Pelerin Society, and his major influences.
What is missing is frustrating as well. He offers no details of his time with, and eventual departure from, The Nation. We learn nothing of his friendship with H.L. Mencken or his editorship at the American Mercury (from which he was apparently pushed out), and we do not know more about his long friendship with Leonard Read, the founder of the Foundation for Economic Education. In some ways, this manuscript leaves the reader desperately hungry for more. And it ends far too early and abruptly. Clearly, this was intended to become a larger autobiography but his hope was not realized.
Nonetheless, this is a charming and revealing historical document, one that only sees the light of day now. It provides keen insight into this amazing, erudite, and humane man who wrote what is perhaps the best-selling economics book of the 20th century. ~ Jeffrey Tucker]
These notes are written in ninety-first year -- much too late. I'm afraid they will lack any of the liveliness or even the lightness that they might otherwise have had. But I still hope this record of my experience and reflections will prove useful and informative.
From Birth to High School
I was born in Philadelphia on November 28, 1894. My father was Stuart Clark Hazlitt, my mother Bertha Zauner. Her last name was originally spelled Zaüner, because her parents, who migrated to this country, were German-speaking Alsatians.
My father died of diabetes when I was only twenty-eight months old. The medical profession had no idea of how to treat this disease at that time. He was still in his twenties. His death had a profound effect upon my economic future. His income could not have been large in any case. He was a salesman for my maternal grandfather, who owned a large factory that produced children's hats, then a substantial business.
The first effect of his death was to cut my mother and myself off from my father's family. This was unfortunate in many ways. I grew up knowing very little about them. I know that my paternal grandmother was of Irish origin and my paternal grandfather of English stock. In fact, the Hazlitts I knew (I got to meet a few of them when I was still a young child), though not themselves literary, boasted relationship with the eminent British critic and essayist William Hazlitt (1778-1830). Though I have reason to think that they were justified about this, I have never hired a genealogist to trace the exact relationship. (There are an interesting two volumes on this: The Hazlitts in England, Ireland and America by (author,publisher, date).
But because of my father's early death many of the traditions in which I was brought up were German. I called my aunts "Tante" -- Tante Emmy, Tante Mimmie, Tante Nelly. My mother had to go to work to earn her living, and she worked in her father's children's hat factory. I was sometimes left with my Tante Emmy, (Mrs. Eugene Hirner) and their son, Edgar (about a year-and-a-half older than myself) but more often at Tante Mimmie's (Mrs.George Breuker) and their daughters, Edna and Mildred. (Edna was three years older than myself, Mildred one.)
At the age of six, when I became eligible, my mother entered me in Girard College, a home founded in Philadelphia by Stephen Girard (1750-1831) for fatherless white boys. Later, by a court decision, the college was ordered to admit blacks also.
I was there three years. When I was nine my mother was married again to Frederick Piebes (pronounced Peebs), who owned the children's hat factory in which she was then employed as a designer. She took me out and my stepfather legally adopted me, and my last name was changed to Piebes. (I have forgotten to say that the full name given to me at birth was Henry Stuart Hazlitt -- my middle name was my father's first name.)
I was then moved to Brooklyn where my stepfather and mother had taken up residence at 149 St. James Place. This was then a prosperous upper middle class white neighborhood (though the last I heard of it, even then a long time ago, it was almost entirely occupied by poor blacks). I was entered in Public School Number 11. I have only the vaguest memory of how I did there or how good a school it was, but I have a strong impression that in comparison with what there was to learn then, it was much better than the Brooklyn public schools are today.
As soon as I was brought to Brooklyn, my mother's problem was to find me a Sunday School. She was walking me one Sunday morning, when I recognized a boy ahead of me with his parents. I pointed him out.
"That's Stanley Gibson," I said. "He's in my class in Public School 11." He was being taken to a nearby Baptist Sunday School, and I was entered in the same class. It was a very lucky accident. He became my closest friend in the following years till we both reached our early twenties, when he enlisted in the Army at the earliest opportunity and was killed in World War I. He had many fine qualities; I shall have more to say about him later.
To come back to my religious education. My mother had been a Protestant but had recently been converted to Catholicism. She wanted me to make my own choice, and decided I should have Catholic instruction. A priest made frequent visits (or perhaps I visited him; my memory is unclear). The chief result was to confuse me, and finally make me skeptical. The priest at one time told me, for example, that ten thousand angels could dance on the point of a needle. This gave me the idea that angels were tiny microscopic creatures, as small as atoms.
High School to College
My stepfather, Fred Piebes, was well off. While he was alive our family lived in a comfortable style. Our house was roomy. we kept servants, a cook and an "upstairs girl". But though Piebes was a kindly man, he was also, as I soon became aware, an alcoholic. As time went on the addiction gained on him; every so often someone would bring him home late at night from the nearby saloon. In 1907 he made a business trip to Buffalo, New York. When he had been there a few days, we learned (I think by telephone) that he had died in a hotel while intoxicated. I think he was in his middle fifties. This degree of alcoholism is very rare today, but it was then much more widespread. The drug habit that has taken its place is, of course in some respects, much worse, but the drugs taken are very hard to obtain. The alcohol then could be openly bought at almost every second or third street corner.
My stepfather's life was insured for what today would be considered a very nominal amount -- I think only $5,000. But such a sum then was perhaps the equivalent of $25,000 today. In addition this was the panic year 1907 when actual cash was hard to get hold of. And my memory may be wrong; the life insurance may have been larger.
In any case, my mother considered herself a rich women. She took up or continued various luxuries. She attended a riding academy and sometimes took me there, though I do not remember liking horseback riding very much. The instructor at the academy was a man named Elmer Jarvis.
One day my mother informed me that Elmer had proposed to her and that she was going to marry him. I burst out crying. He was younger than she was -- perhaps by as much as ten years. I did not like him. I immediately took it for granted that he was marrying her for her money. On the day after the wedding, one of the Brooklyn newspapers carried the report under the headline: "Riding Master Marries Rich Widow." He immediately gave up his job and moved into the house.
My memory is vague concerning how long this marriage lasted. It was not ended by divorce. Elmer hung around about two or three years (he and I quarreled frequently) and then drifted off. My mother's income or assets must have been falling. This was one of the most unhappy periods of my life.
There must have been some assets left because my mother and I continued to live on them for several more years.
Some time during these years. I had an experience that strongly affected my economic outlook. My maternal uncle, Fred, was an electrician. In the summer I am recalling, he was working as the electrician at an amusement park for a spectacle called "The Galveston Flood," depicting the disaster that struck that city in 1900. He was in charge of the electrical effects the simulation of thunder, lightning, rain, waves, whatever.
It must be remembered that this was in the days before movies were available. When Uncle Fred reported for work, he would bring me with him. I was on my summer vacation from school. Though they had a barker for the spectacle, they allowed me to relieve him with some voluntary barking of my own. The weather had been bad and the customers few. But all of us began looking hopefully toward the Fourth of July. Then the crowds would begin. On the Fourth of July it poured all day long. The amusement part was practically deserted.
This, except for my stepfather's business, was my first close up experience of the fate of an entrepreneur. His investment was wiped out. I was about fourteen at the time. The experience prevented me in later life from ever embracing the widespread popular assumption that owners, employers, "capitalists," invariably made money from their investments and could always afford to pay higher wages than they actually did.
When I graduated from Public School 11, I entered Boys' High School. If my memory is right, the students then consisted entirely of white boys. There was a large proportion of Jewish students. This may have been one reason why it enjoyed a high scholastic standing among the high schools of New York City. Its teachers were amazingly good by present standards. Our German teacher was a born German, our French teacher a born Frenchman (though obstreperous when angry; he would throw a ruler at a poor student; I do not remember its ever hitting anyone).
We had a good chemistry teacher. I was deeply impressed by our teacher of physics; he was lucid and painstaking; and for what it is worth I think most of the students, like myself, were convinced he knew his subject. I find myself assuming here that high school students are able, most of the time, of making a fairly good judgment of the competence of their instructors. I could be wrong; but my guess is that their consensual judgment is usually not far off. They at least can judge whether or not he is a good teacher, even though they may be far off in sensing the extent of his, knowledge of his subject.
I remember very little about my relative standing as a student at Boys High. But I must have had a good standing in my English class in my last year. Our English teacher appointed three critics of other students' test papers, or some of them; and I was appointed Chief Critic. But this was not an entirely gratifying distinction. I feared it would make me very unpopular among my fellow students. I strove to give them high marks or favorable decisions whenever I defensively could; and I was immensely relieved at the end of the course when my honor came to an end.
It is now time to say a word about how I spent my leisure during my high school years. I did some bicycling and skating, played some baseball and some tennis. The latter was then considered a sissy game; groups of boys walking by or going by on street cars would call out, "La-dee'da!"
One activity stands out. In the spring and fall a group of us would meet early on Sunday mornings, often with our lunches strapped on our backs, and go for long hikes, not getting back except for a late supper. I cannot remember how this group was formed, who initiated it, or even how I myself became a member. Though it varied in size from only about eight to a dozen, it included a few who later became prominent. The one I remember most distinctly was Lewis Mumford. But the group contained at least a couple who later became outstanding radicals. I wish I could recall their names with confidence. We argued constantly, but never bitterly. Most of us were still groping for confident opinions on social, political, and wider philosophical problems.
I've forgotten what age I was or what year it was when I graduated from high school. It had long been my dream to go to Harvard. But I had the problem then not only of supporting myself but my mother as well. I was able to attend The College of the City of New York (usually called "City College") daytime classes for perhaps as long as a year; and later, after I had started working, evening classes for six or nine months more. I found myself too tired from my day's work to get much from these evening classes. Among other problems, attendance required a long trip by subway to the college and back. It was hard to find time to do much homework.
I do not know what the situation is today, but City College at that time enjoyed a high academic standing. It contained some eminent professors. I seemed to be able to choose my classes freely, and I was taught the history of philosophy by Turner (I've forgotten his first name) and philosophy by Morris Cohen. When I was attending his class, I knew little about him. He seemed to have come from a poor Jewish family. In any case, he retained a heavy East Side Jewish accent. His lectures did not seem to be very earnest. When his students made a statement, his typical response was, "So what?" But years later, when I was literary editor of The Nation, his book, Reason and Nature, was published and I reviewed it. It revealed one of the outstanding philosophers of our time.
During this period when I was attending City College and just before and after it, I was reading a great deal on my own. My reading was of a very miscellaneous nature. For example, I read a book by an author whose name now completely escapes me which put forward the theory that Christopher Marlowe was the real author of the Shakespearean plays. The standard account is that Marlowe was accused of heresy, but before he could be brought to trial he was killed in a tavern brawl. My author's theory (and I do not remember how much my own speculations extended and elaborated it) was that, to escape this trial, someone else's body was falsely identified as Marlowe's. Marlowe and Shakespeare were then about the same age -- 25; Marlowe had already written five or six plays, Shakespeare nothing. Shakespeare was a theatrical producer. Marlowe, who had written only tragedies, started writing comedies for Shakespeare's signature. I have never quite given up this theory of my youth.
One writer who at that time was having a great deal of influence on me was Herbert Spencer. I was particularly influenced by his First Principles. It was through Spencer, and not Darwin, that I first learned about and adopted the theory of evolution, not only as regards the origins of animal species and man, but the stars and the planets. It was through Spencer that I first acquired my distrust of the State, and of the extension of its power. In fact, Spencer had hardly to utter an idea for me to accept it. When I first came across his formulation of the concept of The Unknowable, I embraced that also. (I later began to suspect that Spencer knew too much about the Unknowable; he seemed to know, for example, just where it began and ended.)
I have, however, remained an agnostic, for the reasons first clearly put forth by Thomas Huxley in his famous essay of 1889. The denials of atheists have no more justification than the most sweeping claims of deists. In a world full of endless misery, disease, agony, mass starvation, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, and the like, however, it is impossible to believe in the existence of a God both benign and omnipotent. Yet, there are hundreds of millions of people who believe exactly this.
Getting A Job
The economic condition of my mother and myself had reached a point where I had to look for a job.
Two things about this will probably astonish the present-day reader. The first is the low pay prevailing at that period; the second the freedom of the market.
Being completely inexperienced the only job I could hope to find was as an office boy. I looked for openings for such a job in the Help wanted advertising columns in The New York Times. I made a list and started to make my rounds before 9 A.M. My memory is that I found a job the first day at $5.00 a week. I was fired at the end of a couple of days. Undiscouraged, I read the ads the next morning, made the rounds again, and had another job the first day of looking, again at $5.00 a week. This process went on for perhaps five or six times. But after about the third or fourth time (I never remember, during this period, being out of a job for a single full day!) I began lasting a few days longer, as I slowly learned what was required of me.
I finally stayed in one such job for a comparatively long time. There was a girl secretary in the office who was being paid $15.00 a week. I decided that this was where the money was. There was a nearby secretarial school in Brooklyn, The Heffley Institute, and I arranged to attend one of their evening classes. The course, as I recall, lasted eight or nine weeks. For some reason that I cannot remember, I never completed the final week. (Illness? Or did I run out of funds?)
Nevertheless, I soon started looking for work as a secretary. Here my experience was quite similar to that as an office boy. I would be taken on, and soon fired because I was a bad secretary: neither my shorthand nor my typing was accurate or fast enough. But again I do not remember being without a job for more than a day or so; and at each job, as I gained experience, I was able to improve. The starting salary at my first secretarial job was $10.00 a week, and soon after $12.00. Around this time a series of articles appeared in The Saturday Evening Post called "The Newspaper Game," depicting the author's experience as a reporter on various newspapers. I do not remember the author's name but the series implanted an ambition in me to become a reporter.
Apart from my inheritance of family poverty, my career seems to have been blessed at crucial times with extraordinary luck. I must have been rather persistently on the alert, for my eye fell on an ad in the Help wanted columns of The New York Times for a secretarial job on The Wall Street Journal. I applied. The job offered was that of secretary to the managing editor, Lockwood Barr. We seemed to take to each other immediately.
"How much are you getting at your present job?" he asked..
"Twelve dollars a week."
"I like that."
"You're telling me the truth. All the other applicants tell me they were getting fourteen."
I was hired at $12.00. That was the beginning of my journalistic career.
I believe I remained another week with my previous employer. When I reported for work on the Journal, I was turned over to a Mr. Cashman (I forget his first name) who was then treasurer of the company. He explained the nature of my future work.
"Some day, I hope, you will become a reporter. Our reporters know how, for example, to analyze a railroad report. You, too, will want to learn how to analyze a railroad report…."
"The hell I will," I thought to myself. Nothing then seemed to me a duller occupation. My head was in the clouds, dreaming of Philosophy.
I remained with The Wall Street Journal for several years, from 1913 to 1916. I must have made any number of mistakes, but I cannot remember Lockwood Barr ever speaking angrily to me.
I improved my technical skills in several respects, particularly typewriting speed. At some time W. P. Hamilton, the editor of the paper, seems to have drafted my services. He dictated his editorials directly to me on the typewriter.
Hamilton was an irritable Scotsman, born in Scotland, and educated at one of the great British universities. (I'm surprised that I didn't bother to learn more about his background; if I did I have forgotten it.) He was a cultivated man, unusually well-versed in English literature, and he gave Wall Street Journal, even then, a distinguished editorial page.
I would like to mention one feature of that page. At the bottom of the last editorial, the Journal would run about three to six one, two, or three-line paragraphs, which it called "By-the-Ways." The staff was encouraged to contribute these, and as a small sum was paid for each one accepted, I did. I was a persistent would-be contributor.
The method was for the contributor to write his one- or two-sentence paragraph on the blank back of a Dow-Jones (the company that published the Journal) bulletin page, to make a carbon, and to turn in his carbon for payment if his paragraph was accepted. One day Hamilton, choosing the "By-the-Ways," showed one to me and said, "That's first rate, that's deadly." "Thank you," I replied, "that's mine."
It is hard to describe how upset he was at having paid me this unintended compliment. But thereafter it seemed to me that he paid a little more respect to me, and sometimes spoke to me on a man-to-man basis.
My typewriting speed continued to improve. Soon I was asked to type reporters' stories taken directly over the telephone, using earphones.
I was finally given a job as a reporter in charge of half a dozen relatively small companies. It was then the practice of the Journal to assign each reporter a certain number of companies for him to cover. As I remember, these might run from a dozen up to twenty. I was assigned, as a beginning, about a half-dozen relatively minor companies.
One of these was Diamond Match. It was the first of my assigned companies to hold a quarterly directors' meeting. Reporters were not allowed at the meeting itself, but waited in a room outside.
At the end of the meeting the door burst open and a spokesman shouted to the reporters: "The Directors have passed the dividend!" The reporters, including myself, rushed to the phone: "The Diamond Match directors have passed the dividend," I reported to the desk at the Journal, who answered.
"Passed it?" he asked, incredulous.
"Yes, passed it!" I answered, with some irritation.
I thought then that a corporation passed a dividend as it passed a resolution. I did not realize that "passing" a dividend meant omitting a dividend.
I learned my error before the end of the day, and thanked God I had not altered the wording the corporation's announcement as I had heard it.
But at least I had learned a lesson. I suddenly realized the extent of my ignorance, and how costly it might prove to me. I got hold of a book that I think was entitled, The Work of Wall Street, by an author whose name I have forgotten. Then I began to recognize also that understanding what went on in Wall Street required a knowledge of a much wider subject -- economics. But I liked this prospect, because I understood that this involved abstract reasoning for which my earlier interest in general philosophy had whetted my appetite.
The first economics book that I remember getting hold of was S.J. Chapman's Political Economics, a small volume in the University Library. It was written by an Englishman who was a disciple of Alfred Marshall. I was now ready for a larger text. The two most used American college texts at that time were E. R. A. Seligman's Principles of Economics and H. R. Seager's book of the same title. Seligman's text was more widely used, I think, so I chose that.
Thinking As a Science
I remember my job on The Wall Street Journal as beginning in 1913, when I was 18 or 19 years old. I had been working on a book manuscript with the modest title of Thinking As a Science and my impression is that I had finished it before I took my job on the Journal. In any case, I had turned the completed manuscript over to my friend, Lewis Mumford, whom I have previously mentioned, for his comments. He had duly returned it, but I don't remember precisely what his comments were.
I submitted it to publishers -- to at least five of them --and it as regularly came back, each time accompanied with a printed rejection slip, and no written note of any kind. Finally discouraged, I put it away in a drawer where it lay for many months.
One day I got a letter from Lewis Mumford. "Whatever became of your manuscript on thinking?" he asked. He told me that had just finished reading a book on thinking that he had taken out of the public library, and that it wasn't nearly as good as mine.
I was ashamed to tell him of all my rejections and final discouragement. So I mailed the manuscript off to still another publisher, E. P. Dutton & Company, then wrote Lewis admitting the previous rejections, but telling him the book was now in Dutton's hands.
It must have been a month or more afterwards when I was about to take a piece of copy from Lockwood Barr's desk to the press room that the telephone rang. It was my mother. "Dutton's has taken your book!" she exclaimed. "They've written you a letter of acceptance." "Oh, no, Mother," I answered. "You must have read it wrong. Read me the letter." She read it to me. They had indeed accepted, suggesting the terms and inviting me to come to their office. I thanked my mother and hung up.
The piece of copy was still in my hand. I turned again to deliver it. My first step was a completely spontaneous leap in the air, followed by a sobering and self-conscious resumption of my walk.
I was afraid to accept Dutton's invitation to come to their office. I was sure that when they saw this kid they would try to get out of their offer. But I finally overcame my reluctance.
The terms they had offered would be considered incredible today. There would be no royalties at all, for example, on the sale of the first thousand copies. I do not believe the royalty rate rose above 10 percent. I did not quarrel with any of the contract provisions, not only because I did not want to queer the deal, but because I had no idea of what a book contract then customarily provided.
A Mr. Acklom, who interviewed me, seemed to feel at one point that I did not sufficiently realize the chance they were taking on me. "You know, we make money on only one out of five of the books we print," he said.
I must have looked at him as if he were a fool. "Why do you publish the other four?" I asked incredulously.
He was taken aback. "Well," he explained awkwardly, "we think they will make money."
My book sold well for the market in these days, as I recall, but I do not remember the number of copies.
So I was an author. The notion went a little to my head, and it lead me to make a serious mistake.
I was then avidly reading the self-improvement books of the British writer, Arnold Bennett, How to Live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day, The Human Machine, etc. I was fascinated by his literary style and began to imitate it.
Then I wrote a full length book, The Way to Will Power, in direct imitation of his style and themes, and submitted it to Dutton's. They published it! They had hardly done so when I realized that I had done the wrong thing; and for years, up to the present writing, I did not list the book among my writings in Who's Who entry.
But the publication of the book did have one important result. Who's Who then had a policy (of which I was unaware) of including in their volume the name of any author who had more than one book issued by a recognized publisher. This led to the first appearance of my name in Who's Who, before I was 25. The entry sobered me, and made me decide to act more responsibly
Dancing in the Dark
I find it very difficult in these recollections to pinpoint either the year of my own life, or the calendar year, when I was mainly doing this or that in my early life. This is especially true of my dancing career.
It was the years of the dance craze, the hero and heroine of which were Vernon and Irene Castle. I was deeply involved.
My chief dancing partner was a girl named Margorie Napier. This exactly describes our relationship: we were dancing partners. There was no romance. I never even kissed her. She was not very pretty, but she was an amazingly graceful ballroom dancer. We entered dancing contests, and won any number of silver cups. As the usual prize was only one cup, and by custom the girl got it, her collection became quite large. I remember only one case in which the prize was a cup for each partner. This remained my only trophy.
The high point of my dancing career came when Margorie and I danced in a contest in Castles-by-the-Sea, the summer place maintained by Vernon and Irene Castle at Manhattan Beach on Coney Island. We won the contest and, as part of the prize, Margorie got to dance with Vernon and I with Irene Castle.
Toward the end of this period, I remember being at a summer resort hotel at which a girl was employed to give dancing exhibitions and to supervise the social dancing. I danced with her a few times. One evening, while we were dancing, she told me that she could get plenty of dancing contracts and that she was looking for a male partner. would I be interested? I told her I would give her an answer the next morning.
I am ashamed to confess how much time and wakefulness I spent that night coming to a decision. I decided, of course, against a professional dancing career.
As I recall, that decision marks nearly the end of my competitive dancing history.
It may be that, in memory, I greatly exaggerate the time and energy that my dancing occupied. Did I dance with Margorie, or go to dances, more than an average of once a week? Was my evening dancing exhausting (apart from the late hours it took) or was it a useful and healthy exercise? I do not find these questions easy to answer.
But something happened toward the close of this period. One evening, at a party given by Margorie, a friend of hers, Dorothy, drew me aside and asked whether I could come to a party she was giving on an evening a week from then. Dorothy was a pretty girl, with a lovely figure. I said I could come. When the evening arrived, after I had rung the bell and was mounting the stairs to her apartment, Dorothy carne out, leaned over the bannister and shouted, "Hello, party!" I then realized that I was the sole guest. Dorothy's mother was out for the evening. It was my belated admission to the mysteries of sex.
World War I
World War I broke out in Europe in August, 1914. I was then 19. Its immediate effect on myself and my friends was slight. We read about it. Our sympathies were with Britain and the Allies. This was true of Americans as a whole, except for some German immigrants and their descendants. But most of us looked upon the war in Europe as something far away.
Suddenly all this changed. Germany announced unrestricted submarine warfare. On April 6, 1917, we found ourselves in the struggle.
My closest friends, such as Jefferson Healey and Stanley Gibson, enlisted almost immediately and were sent to officer's training schools. But I held back. I needed my job to support my mother.
(I then had a relatively good and well-paying job. I was on the New York Evening Post writing the "Wall Street Paragraphs" column. I had been recruited for The Wall Street Journal for it by my friend, Palmer Harmon, who had himself left the Journal to take his own job there. He had been writing the "Wall Street Paragraphs" and now been promoted to writing the daily stock market column.)
But I seldom told my friends or acquaintances of my need to support my mother. I was afraid they would regard it as a lame excuse. I do not remember that any of them questioned me critically about the matter, but my guilty feelings kept growing, and were further increased when the conscription law was passed on May 18. I would have been deeply ashamed of having had to be conscripted.
Finally, a way out seemed to open up. Privates and conscripts who became privates were paid, as I remember, $30.00 a month (of which 15.00 a month could be assigned to a dependent mother). I knew this would not be nearly enough to take care of my mother. But suddenly I learned that the Air Force was offering recruits $100 a month. This would be enough to take care of my mother, I figured, and I immediately applied. I was quickly accepted; but then told that there was a shortage of training planes, trainers, airfields, and the like, and that I would be called when I was needed. Meanwhile, I would be well advised to keep my job if I had one.
I waited many months; I've forgotten exactly how many, but at least my guilt feelings were gone. Two things happened during this period that remain in my memory. I think I have remarked that my friend, Jefferson Healey, the son of the owner of Camp Androscroggin in Maine, where I had gone on vacation in I think my tenth, eleventh, and twelfth years, had enlisted very early, been sent to an officers' training camp, then shipped overseas. He was killed in the first month there. Another friend, my closest, Stanley Gibson, had also enlisted very early, also earned a lieutenant's commission in the army and came to say goodbye before going overseas.
He made a confession: "You know," he said, "before it's too late, before getting into this fight, I've been hoping to know what it's like to lie with a woman. Fine ambition, isn't it?" he added, self-deprecatingly.
I cite this because I think it is typical of the attitude of the "respectable" male youngsters of my generation. We had been brought up to believe that sexual desires were in themselves something shameful. I am certainly not trying to argue that the present easy promiscuity between the unmarried and the married, for that matter, is any improvement. It is obviously doing immense harm. But the contrast is worth pointing out.
It must have been toward the end of the year -- December that I received notice to appear at a ground school in Dallas, Texas.
This is my memory. But after writing about my remembered experiences at Dallas and Houston, Texas, I came across a Pilot's Book recording my three months' record of ground school studies at the u.s. School of Military Aeronautics at Princeton University, New Jersey.
Even after seeing this, I find it hard to fit it into my wartime memories. I can think of no self-serving reason for this memory lapse, as the book notes that I "graduated 3 out of a class of 40." So I duly insert the record here.
There were a few changes in the expectations, however, of all of us who enlisted. When we arrived at our assigned destination, we learned that the contract we had signed on enlisting was completely ignored. We were paid, like all privates, $30.00 a month. What happened was precisely what I had feared when I did not immediately enlist. My mother was assigned only $25.00 a month. (After all deductions I was left with $3.00 a month spending money.) If there was a single one of us who had the courage to protest against this breach of contact to his Congressman or anyone else, I never heard of him. All indignation was finally buried in the sentence, "You're in the army now."
My mother wrote no complaints about this to me. It was only much later, after the armistice, that I learned anything specific about the deprivations and the humiliations in taking jobs, and the like, that she was put through.
After a few months at Dallas, I was assigned, with the rest of my class there, to Ellington Field in Houston, Texas. My recollections of what happened do not always clearly differentiate between the two cities.
One incident clearly happened at Dallas. My squadron had been awakened and called out for its morning drill. I was tired and did not respond. (How I got the nerve to do this I cannot remember.) I continued napping. Finally I woke up. I had nothing to do and started making my bed, which the rest would do when they got back from the morning drill. As I had nothing else to do, I became very meticulous about my bed making, tightening each sheet like a drum-top, and the spread as well. Finally, the other men returned from drill, hastily made their beds, and there was Inspection. The lieutenant carne to me and my bed. "That's a well-made bed," he said. "That's the way I'd like to see all the beds made."
The next day I found myself promoted, almost certainly because of this, to student battalion sergeant-major. I was allowed to give orders to the others -- after lunch and, I think, breakfast -- such as, "Battalion commanders, take your battalions and march them to the parade grounds for parade!"
This not only gave me prestige; it was also a convenience. I was a slow eater. This call had previously come when I had not quite finished my meal. Now I could finish and then call.
I retained this title and these duties, as I remember, until the end of our stay at Dallas ground school.
My stay at Ellington Field was mainly marked by frustration and boredom. Our country had been dragged into a war for which it was unprepared, especially in the air; and our leaders in that branch seemed determined to do all the wrong things. Instead of deciding to build replicas of the existing training and fighting planes already being used on the French front, our leaders were determined to build their own Curtiss planes. They had developed the Liberty Motor, and though these motors were too heavy for the existing frames in which they were installed, they went ahead.
This had two results. The first was that the casualty rate at Ellington Field was roughly equivalent to that of the Allied foot soldier on the French front. The second was that there was a chronic shortage of planes on which to train, with the consequent frustration, boredom, and sense of uselessness that the cadets felt. Some of us, including myself, begged for rides as passengers on the planes on which the advanced cadets were training.
But things went on like this till the end of the war. When Armistice Day arrived -- November 11, 1918 -- it was just like any other day. Nobody bothered to tell us cadets at Ellington Field about it. We never learned whether this was fear of a loss of cadet discipline on the part of the officers in charge, or a piece of deliberate sadism.
A few days after the Armistice I received a telegram from my former employer, the New York Evening Post. They said my successor in writing the "Wall Street Paragraphs" was leaving. They would hold the job open for me for five days but not longer. (It will be noticed that this was in sharp contrast to the attitude toward the soldier that prevailed in World War II.) There was no sense of obligation to help the veteran as such. The offer came solely because they needed me.
Yet I hesitated. I thought of myself as working toward a commission. I wanted the commission and found it hard to change goals. But common sense prevailed. I do not believe these considerations postponed my decision by a single day. I had to force myself to recognize that gaining an officer's commission had suddenly become needless and meaningless, and I reminded myself of my mother's probable desperate situation. I wired the Post and my mother, fixing the earliest day I could get home.
When I got to New York by train on that morning, I went with my suitcase directly to the office of the Evening Post and worked on my first day in my uniform. Then I went home, with one day's salary due me, toward getting back to our previous life.
Resuming My Career
It must have been still in mid-November, 1918, that I resume my job on The New York Evening Post, but this was not to last long. Sometime in early 1919 I was offered the job of writing the monthly financial and economic letter for the Mechanics and Metals National Bank of New York. I think this offer carne to me through Frederick Gehle, then vice president of the bank, who had been a colleague of mine on the Post.
This type of work was not entirely strange to me. Years before, when I was much younger, I had sent a monthly report on the American economic and financial scene to a Belgian magazine. I cannot remember how this earlier job carne to me, but I recall that I kept track of the steamship sailings to make sure of catching the latest sailing to get my report there on time. I wrote it in English and the magazine took care of the translation into French.
My work for the Mechanics and Metals Bank lasted through 1919 and 1920. The bank has long since been merged with larger banks, and I would not undertake today to say which institution holds its former assets.
In 1921 I was offered and accepted the job of financial editor of The New York Evening Mail. There was a surprising number of New York evening newspapers at that time. This offer came from a Mr. Stoddard, the owner.
My memory is that in addition to writing the anonymous daily stock market article, I wrote a signed article on topics of my own selection, but whether this appeared every day, or only on Mondays, I cannot recall.
But I should explain some of the problems of writing the stock market column at that time for an evening newspaper. Our financial office at that time was on Wall Street, and the press room was about three blocks away. I would begin writing my stock market column (anonymous) at about 2 o'clock and give my copy to a messenger to take to the press room. The market, say, would have been rising up to that point. I would record this, together with whatever news, rumors or guesses existed to "explain" the rise. I would stay a little longer, and then walk the three blocks to the press room. There was a stock ticker there.
The copy I had written would be given to me as set up. It would be a paragraph short of the final intended length. The market might continue in the same direction it had been going up to 2 o'clock. In that case I would write an initial or final paragraph which would do little more than summarize what my column had already said. But in the last hour of trading it might start falling apart, perhaps more than wiping out all the gains achieved in the previous four or more hours of trading. The trick was then to write a new concluding paragraph that would not only seem to summarize the entire day's market, but to leave no sense of inconsistency between the leading paragraph and the end of the piece.
These reversals of market trends in the last hour or so, or earlier in the session, were of course frequent. I used to smile when I read the quietly confident accounts and "explanations" of the market when they appeared in the morning newspapers, and still do. It is not merely that nobody really knows what is going to happen in tomorrow's stock market. One can seldom be sure of the reason even after it has happened.
This limitation of knowledge goes much further. We can seldom feel confident of the economic future itself for even six months ahead. I choose this time period because most laymen today seem to believe that "economists" -- or at least some of them -- can tell them this. And some of them think they can --or pretend that they can.
Most of the speculators in the stock market think they know more about the business future than the rest of us do. They often may. They are willing to bet their money on it. But this is no guarantee of anything. There is a sense in which, in nearly every transaction on the exchange, either the buyer or the seller is "wrong" because the stock will be selling higher or lower the next day, week, or year. Of course there are transactions in which people sell shares because they need to raise cash, or buy because they have at last accumulated enough money for a new investment. Yet their time of buying or selling may still be the "incorrect" one.
Novices, when they first become aware of the stock market, are subject to two quite different kinds of mistakes. One is to assume that certain traders, the "insiders," know all they need to know. The owner of a business, for example, is assumed to know all about his own firm and just when it is advisable to expand or contract. Yet his best customer may be about to desert him; a new competitor may soon be underpricing him; his books may be badly kept; and he may be bankrupt and still not know it. The other kind of novice mistake may be bafflement because prices are changing every day and even every minute. He is not used to similar daily or hourly changes at the grocery or stationery store. "Why can't they make up their minds" he asks of the traders in stocks (or of commodities) on the exchanges.
The reason is, of course, that on the speculative exchanges, millions of traders, each with his own piece of special knowledge, or judgment, or guess, has his own idea of what prices should be, or which way they will change, and how he can make a profit on his own knowledge and shrewdness. Now the "economists" who are asked, and often paid, to make forecasts of business in the next six months, are expected to know more than the collectivity of traders in the stock market, or than the bankers now helping to fix interest rates, and so on, about the economic future.
Of course, some of them may sometimes guess right for some specific period; but predicting the business future is not the business of economists. Too many factors must be known, and no one can know them.
What is the business of economists? It is to explain the workings of the market, and the mistakes of the legislators and other politicians. Adam Smith set the pattern in The Wealth of Nations, when he pointed out the error of "protective" tariffs. These primarily forced the consumers of the nation that enacted them to pay more for the foreign goods they bought. They protected more expensive modes of production. Later economists were to emphasize the fallacies of price controls, rent controls, wage controls, and the like. Price controls, which usually tried to keep prices down, brought about shortages of the commodities whose prices they kept down, or encouraged black markets. Rent controls discouraged new building, and led to shortages of rental housing. Wage controls usually attempted to raise wages, and, to the extent that they succeeded, brought about unemployment. But though economists keep pointing out these consequences, politicians keep widely imposing such controls. There has probably never been a time, since governments were formed, when they have nowhere existed.
It is significant that it has only been a comparatively short time that men of that profession have been known simply as economists. They were originally called, until the late Victorian period, "political economists." And this was because they did in fact analyze mainly the consequences of political measures. The belief that their function is to predict the business future is very recent. I hope that the general public will soon become disillusioned on this point. But this will probably be further off than I hope. After all, as average stock and commodity prices, and the level of business activity, can only go in one of two directions, up or down, a forecaster stands to be right half the time. So when he tells you in his solicitations that he was right in this or that previous occasion, he need not be misrepresenting the facts -- only selecting them carefully. The paid professional economic forecaster is likely to be around for a long time.
One other editorial writer also came in on Sundays.
He was Ralph Renaud. He would write one or two pieces, and I would edit them. I also might write a second editorial, if I thought it was called for. In later years I wrote in addition a signed article for the Monday financial page.
I now look back in amazement at the actual freedom I enjoyed. It is probably equalled today on very few newspapers. If I received post-publication complaints from inside the paper, I do not remember any.
I do remember in my later years there that I would receive an occasional telephone call from Mrs. Sulzberger, the actual owner of the paper, and somewhat leftist oriented. She would ask about this editorial of mine or that. Her request would always be polite. I would explain why I had written it. Her reply would almost invariably be the same, "Well, you know best, Mr. Hazlitt."
Sometime in 1945 I saw Arthur Sulzberger to ask his permission to take off alternate days at my own expense to write a book. I told him I would keep him informed of these intended absent days every week in advance. He graciously agreed to this. So I took off, as I remember, forty-five working days to write the book. The book was Economics In Lesson, of which I shall have more to say later. But the Times continued my full salary all through the absent-days period. I called Mr. Sulzberger's attention to the supposed oversight.
He smiled. "We decided to make you a present of it," he said. This was typical of my generous treatment.
But darker days were to follow. On July 1, 1944, while World War II was still going on, representatives of forty-five nations gathered at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, to consider what might be done about the inflationary monetary crisis and chaos then existing. The intellectual leadership of this conference was taken by John Maynard Keynes of England. Incredibly, his solution to the problem was to institutionalize the inflation.
The Bretton Woods discussions ran into the early months of 1945. I wrote nearly all the editorials that The New York Times published about them. I found I wrote during the course of the meeting twenty-six editorials about it, of which I published twenty-three, together with accounts I wrote in other publications. I collected these in a book entitled Bretton Woods to World Inflation, published by Regnery Gateway of Chicago in 1984.
At the end of the Bretton Woods meetings, the representatives participating drew up and signed an agreement to follow a common program of inflation as Keynes had proposed.
Arthur Sulzberger called me into his office. "Well, Henry," he said, "we've let you write your editorials condemning the decisions of the delegates to Bretton woods as they were announced. But now that forty-five nations have agreed to form an organization and follow a common monetary policy, I do not see how The Times can any longer oppose it. It is up to us to go along."
I was silent for a moment. Then I said slowly, "I'm sorry, Mr. Sulzberger, I just couldn't bring myself personally to write such an editorial. I think the deliberate inflationary policies agreed on at Bretton Woods are going to do immense harm."
I wanted to think of something further to add, something conciliatory, but I couldn't. I avoided thinking of the consequences of what I had just said.
"I'll let you know my decision," said Mr. Sulzberger.
The next day or two are vague in my memory. I do not remember whether an editorial appeared hailing the achievement at Bretton Woods. If it did, I do not remember reading it. I think I turned in an editorial on another subject.
But the third day, as if a good fairy had been watching over my fortune and had decided to pass a miracle in my favor, the editor of Newsweek telephoned and asked whether I would see him. He offered me the job vacated by Ralph Robey of writing the weekly signed column for them called "Business Tides," to begin when I was ready. Of course, I accepted.
Economics In Lesson
I have spoken of the forty-five alternate days I took off from my job on The New York Times to write Economics In Lesson. My memory is that I got in touch with the long established firm of Harper & Brothers before this was finished and arranged with them to be the publishers. The man in charge of their business and economic books at the time was Ordway Tead.
When I had turned in my manuscript and he had read it, he kept asking me, "Do you think this book will sell really big, Henry?"
"Of course, I hope so, Ordway," I would reply. "But I don't want to go out on a limb with this. No author can be objective about his own book. And even if he could, it's not his judgment that counts, but the public's. You can make a better guess at the sales than I can."
I have wished so often since then that I had had the wit to guess what he was driving at.
He was trying to decide what initial number of books to print. If I had known this, I would have made a far higher estimate to him than what turned out to be his own.
A week after the publication date, my wife had the optimism to look at the list of ten best-selling nonfiction books as published in the Sunday New York Times book section. Economics in One Lesson was on it -- number eight. We both looked together the following Sunday. It had climbed to number six. We looked once more the third Sunday. It had disappeared from the list.
In a few days we learned the reason. Ordway Tead had run off an initial printing of 3,000 copies. They had sold out in the first two weeks.
It was months before Harper could get the books in print again. The initial momentum was gone.
I do not know what would have happened if enough copies had been printed in the first place.
But Harper's eventually sold over 700,000 copies, and successive publishers have brought sales of the American edition to well over a million.
In addition, the book has enjoyed a dozen foreign translations. These include translations into the main European languages -- French, German, Spanish, Norwegian, Swedish, etc.; five Spanish translations altogether --for Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Guatemala, and Peru, and Portuguese (in Brazil) and (Mr. Hazlitt, please see your note re what follows and…….)
Economics In One Lesson has far outsold any of my nineteen other books, and probably all of them collectively. In retrospect, I can attribute this to several factors. First of all, the title. In addition, the tone. Nowhere is the book "preachy." It does not angrily denounce the stupid and harmful governmental interventions it discusses -- price controls, rent controls, wage controls, whatnot; it simply ridicules them.
A writer can never be an objective judge of his own books. It is probably in part because I did not take Economics too seriously when I was writing it that it sold as well as it did. But, even in retrospect, I do not value it at the top.
I was at one time inclined to value highest my Foundations of Morality. But I now suspect this was because it was my most ambitious work; and that it was in less familiar territory and cost me more special reading and research than any other book. I now think my analysis of John Maynard Keynes' errors in The Failure of the "New" Economics (1959) was my most important book because, whether or not it contained any original contribution, it restated, and re-established the validity of the "orthodox" economic principles that Keynes thought he was refuting. Re-establishing old truths can often be as necessary as discovering new ones.
Twenty Years of Newsweek
I remember my twenty years as a columnist for Newsweek as among the happiest in my life. There are a number of reasons for this. The job gave me a freedom of movement I had never enjoyed before. Writing editorials for The New York Times had required me to be at The Times five days a week to consult with colleagues, to look up facts, to get my editorials in on time, to read proofs, and so on. It especially required me to be there on Sundays. With my Newsweek column, it did not matter where I was as long as I got it in on schedule.
I needed to write only one column a week, compared with a previous average of eight to a dozen editorials. It was signed; which most writers vastly prefer to anonymity. The increased leisure gave me time for increased travel or for writing books.
I took advantage of this during the summers to arrange tours to half a dozen countries -- typically England, France, Germany, Spain, Norway, Sweden, or sometimes Belgium or Switzerland or Holland, instead of one of these, and try to get appointments set up for me in advance by the Paris office, then under the very able control of Arnaud de Borchgrave.
I enjoyed the challenge of writing a column about one country a week. This meant that I had to start interviewing people on my first day, usually a Monday. I would typically begin with the economics officer at the American Embassy and would get further "leads" from him among the informed economists and businessmen of the country. I would try to finish up my fact collecting by Friday morning and start my column, filing it late Friday or early Saturday. Sunday would often by my day for a plane to the next country. I do not remember that I ever failed to fulfill this schedule.
My memory is that my health was quite good during my years on Newsweek, but this could be wrong. I recall a period when I was very worried about my health. I thought I had a bad heart. But I believe this was earlier. My wife and I then lived in Washington Square in New York City. A friend of mine, Philip Cortney, a Frenchman, who was then President of Coty, the perfume company, called for me in his car and had me driven almost by force to his physician, Dr. Henry Lax, a Hungarian.
After he examined me, Dr. Lax told me he was going to walk me around the block. I was frightened particularly because the block on two sides was uphill, and I wondered whether I would survive such a walk. I did! Under Dr. Lax's care, I enjoyed a steady improvement. I never learned to what extent my illness had been psychological or real.
Sometime around 1966 Newsweek fell into the hands of Mrs. Graham. She came to my desk and interviewed me. Whether she had already made up her mind from reading my column, I never really knew, but I strongly suspected that. She gave orders to let me go. I was then already 72, and still in shape to write more books, so this was no great shock.
The Mont Pelerin Society
I once had the good fortune to be present at a triangular conversation with Ludwig von Mises and Professor William Rappard of the Institute of High International Studies of Geneva. Dr. Rappard had just been appointed by the United Nations as a member of a commission to promote international intellectual cooperation and was poking light fun at the appointment:
"Now, international intellectual cooperation," be was saying, "consists in this: that one man writes a book, and another man reads it."
His description was, of course, correct -- but not all- inclusive. Face-to-face meetings, in addition, can be very important. And this was something that Rappard himself recognized when he seconded and supported the initiative of Professor F. A. Hayek, then of the London School of Economics, in calling together a group of thirty-six economists, political scientists, journalists and three observers, all together from ten different countries: Belgium, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States. I myself, at the time, somehow got the idea that there was forty-six of us altogether, but feel bound to adhere to the "official" record as I find it. In any case, I cannot think of any names to add to the list of thirty-nine that I append at the end of this chapter.
It speaks volumes for Hayek's scholarship that this list of thirty-six participants was picked solely by him, so far as I am aware, and out of his personal knowledge of what each had done and written.
The inclusion of myself may need some special explanation. I was then an editorial writer on The New York Times. In 1946 John Chamberlain, who was then book editor of The Times and writing a three-times-a-week column, dropped into my office to let me know that he had written an introduction to a book by F. A. Hayek, then in England, called The Road to Serfdom, that was appearing a few weeks from then, and he thought I might be interested in reviewing it. I told Donald Adams, who was then editor of the Sunday book section, of my interest, and he turned the book over to me.
I was deeply impressed by it, and wrote that "Friedrich A. Hayek has written one of the most important books of our generation. It states for our time the issue between liberty and authority. It is an arresting call to all well- intentioned planners and socialists, to all those who are sincere democrats and liberals at heart, to stop, look and listen."
When Donald Adams gave me the book for review, he had probably planned on publishing what I wrote somewhere in the back pages. When it arrived, he decided to run it on page one. As a result, as I remember, the book appeared immediately on the list of the ten best sellers among nonfiction volumes.
A slightly later consequence was that Reader's Digest of April 1945 printed a condensation of the book preceded my review.
But before I say anything about what went on at Mont Pelerin itself, I must tell of the ocean trip that took some of us there.
The largest national contingent present consisted of sixteen Americans. I do not think this was necessarily because Dr. Hayek thought that the largest number of qualified philosophical "liberals" were to be found there. But this may in fact have been so, because the list of "Americans" contained the names of such immigrants as Mises and Machlup. Probably, however, the American contingent was as large as it was because Hayek personally knew of that number.
Passage was booked for some of us on the Queen Elizabeth. At the table to which I was assigned there were also Professors Milton Friedman, Frank H. Knight, George J. Stigler, and V. Orval Watts. I've forgotten the exact seating arrangement, but I remember that Milton Friedman and I got into a friendly argument every night, and it was always about the same subject --Milton's strict quantity theory of money, which he seemed to have taken over from Irving Fisher.
I cannot remember why this argument was so persistent, which one of us most often initiated it, or which of us was more disputatious. What I do remember is that neither of us ever convinced the other of anything. We always ended precisely where we began. But the argument never became bitter or personal. The others at the table took very little part in it, and seemed to be bored by it.
So far as I can recall now, this is the only major theoretical or policy issued in which I differ from Milton except that I take the subjective view characteristic of Austrian economics, while Milton still seems to find this as alien as it sounds.
The Mont Pelerin meeting lasted from April 1 to 10. On the opening day Dr. Hayek made a lengthy address telling his reasons for calling the conference. Briefly, they were to bring together a group of economic and political "liberals" (using the word in its traditional sense) from as many countries in the world as they could be found and form a permanent society where they could mutually clarify and purify their ideas and ideals and help increase their individual and collective influence. In his words:
"The immediate purpose of this conference is...to provide an opportunity for a comparatively small group of those who in different parts of the world are striving for the same ideals, to get personally acquainted, to profit from each others' experiences, and perhaps also to give encouragement to each other."
He ended by thanking Dr. A. Hunold of Zurich for raising the Swiss funds for the meeting, and Mr. W. H. Luhnow of the William Volker Charities Trust in Kansas City, "who has made possible the participation of our American friends."
Dr. Hayek's speech was followed by a talk from Professor W. E. Rappard of the Institut Universitaire des Hautes Etudes Internationales of Geneva. His talk was mainly devoted to supporting and supplementing Hayek's own remarks, but he wandered into a discussion of "the economic man" as conceived by Adam Smith, and how far this concept could be stretched. I cannot refrain from quoting a paragraph:
"When I happened to be in Algiers at the time of the landing of the Allied forces there in November 1942, I was impressed by the sight of countless Arabs seated on the curb of the sidewalks in all the streets of the city. They seemed quite indifferent to what was going on and they certainly were absolutely idle. A French friend whom I questioned about this striking fact explained to me that the Arabs in Algiers never did any more work than was absolutely necessary in order to earn the wherewithal to keep body and soul together. General Weygand, who had recently been governor-general there, had been so shocked by the meagerness of the rate of wages paid and of the rations allowed them that he had doubled that rate and decided they were to receive ration cards as the Algerians of European origin. The result was that their productive effort was still further reduced. Placing leisure above all other goods in their scale of values, the Arabs apparently got more enjoyment out of life by working less than they would have secured by producing and consuming more."
I can give this account of the first day because I have the text of the two opening speeches before me. I have no corresponding record for the rest of the meeting. What I do have is a list of excursions planned during the meeting to nearby places of historic interest for members or their wives, plus a morning, afternoon, and evening schedule of the proposed meetings, topics, and speakers throughout the ten days. On Friday afternoon, April 4, a meeting was scheduled for a "general discussion of aims and purposes of a permanent organization."
It was at this meeting, I believe, that Hayek made the proposal that the permanent organization he had in mind should be called the Acton-Tocqueville Society, after Lord Acton of England and Alexis de Tocqueville of France. Immediately Ludwig von Mises stood up and argued against this. I do not believe that he, anymore than any of the rest of us, knew that this particular proposal would be made. But out of his amazing range of knowledge, he began to list the mistakes that he thought both Lord Acton and de Tocqueville had made in their lives and the criticism that might be made of them and therefore of the society. He went on to point out that we were meeting at a place called Mont Pelerin, and that if we called ourselves The Mont Pelerin Society the name would be quite neutral and not open to attack. It had, in addition, a positive value. "Pelerin" was the French word for "pilgrim." "Pilgrim" had a good name, especially in the United States history.
Mises’ suggestion was adopted and we became "The Mont Pelerin Society."
I found the meeting immensely stimulating, as I am sure most of the others did. I formed friendships that lasted through life; and in my subsequent trips abroad, I made a point of visiting these foreign friends. I attended the next two or three annual meetings of the Society as it met in various places in Europe. But nothing equalled the stimulation of the first meeting, in discovering people in many nations who shared the same economic and political ideas and ideals. After a few years, as the meetings grew bigger and less stimulating, I fell off in the regularity of my annual attendance.
There are writers who have written autobiographies and seem to remember exactly what they owe to other people they have met in their careers. I find this impossible to specify in any wide scale. The intellectual debts I remember most distinctly are to those whose books I have read. The early influence that I remember most distinctly is the English economist, Philip Wicksteed, whose book, Common Sense of Political Economy, I stumbled across in the Flatbush, Brooklyn, branch of the New York Public Library. It was a revelation to me. Wicksteed had become acquainted with the Austrian school of economics, the first to take a consistently subjective view of the science.
A second great influence was Benjamin M. Anderson, whose Value of Money, a profound and original book, published in 1917, I read quite early. Anderson was, incidentally, an opponent of the quantity theory of money, then expounded by Irving Fisher and, unfortunately, still held and very ably defended by Milton Friedman.
Benjamin Anderson later became economist of the Bank of Commerce, and then the Chase National Bank after a merger. I was the, I believe, financial editor of the New York Evening Main, and often came to the bank to interview Anderson. We soon became fast friends.
I came to know Ludwig von Mises indirectly through Anderson. In his Value of Money, Anderson reviewed a large number of other writers, American and foreign, on the subject.
Most of his judgments were severe; but when he came to The Theory of Money and Credit (which he reviewed from the original German edition) he wrote: "In Mises I find unusual power and insight." This was my first knowledge of Mises' work. Years later I came across a review of Mises' Socialism in The London Economist, to which I then subscribed. I wrote to the British publisher, Jonathan Cape, asking him for a copy of the book to review in The New York Times.
He wrote back that he was then negotiating with an American publisher about the book, and thought it only fair that no review appear in New York until an American edition was published. But a few weeks later, he wrote again to say that the negotiations with the American publisher had broken down, and that he was mailing me a copy of the book. I reviewed it in The New York Times of January 8, 1938, and mailed a copy of the review to Mises in Switzerland.