Saturday, 30 October 2021

25+ of the Greatest Quotes on Economics and Capitalism (That You've Probably Never Heard)

There are a handful of economics books everyone should read, explains John Miltimore in this guest post. I have a different list myself, but he delivers 25+ quotes here that will get anyone started -- even you! -- timeless insights from some of the greatest thinkers in economic history.

25+ of the Greatest Quotes on Economics and Capitalism (That You've Probably Never Heard)

by John Miltimore

There are a handful of economics books everyone should read.

Economics in One Lesson and Free to Choose, the classic works written by Henry Hazlitt and Milton Friedman, respectively, are on that list. A personal favourite is Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics, a book that kindled my own interest in economics many years ago.

From The Wealth of Nations (1776) to Freakonomics (2005), there are many and more works in between that people would argue are must-read economics texts, including Ludwig von Mises’ Human Action.

Though I’d encourage people to read in full all the best economics books, it’s unlikely most will find the time. Fortunately, with David L. Bahnsen’s forthcoming book There's No Free Lunch: 250 Economic Truths, they don’t necessarily have to.

In his latest work, Bahnsen has collected centuries worth of economic wisdom into a single text to show precisely what the title implies: there are no free lunches.

The notion that free lunches don’t exist—TNSTAAFL, an idea popularised by the Nobel Prize-winner Friedman* who used it as the title of a 1975 book—is both obvious and self-evident. Yet following a year that saw the Federal Reserve “flood the system with money” to fund an unprecedented government expansion—which included simply sending $1,400 checks to individuals—it’s a lesson that has never been more important.

Bahnsen’s book, scheduled for release on November 9, helps readers understand why there is no such thing as a “free lunch”—and much more. Exploring topics ranging from self-interest, free trade, incentives, credit and sound money, private property, and socialism (and many more), Bahnsen curates some of the most profound economic insights in history, adding his own reflections along the way.

While some of the reflections will be familiar to readers, many of them will not be—even for seasoned readers of economics. Here is just a small sampling of the insights you’ll find...

“The farmer and manufacturer can no more live without profit than the labourer without wages.” - David Ricardo

“The most basic question is not what is best, but who shall decide what is best.” - Thomas Sowell

“Nothing is more deadly to achievement than the belief that effort will not be rewarded, that the world is a bleak and discriminatory place in which only the predatory and the specially preferred can get ahead.” - George Gilder

“I prefer true but imperfect knowledge, even if it leaves much undetermined and unpredictable, to a pretense of exact knowledge that is likely to be false.” - F.A. Hayek

“Prices are important not because money is considered paramount but because prices are a fast and effective conveyor of information through a vast society in which fragmented knowledge must be coordinated.” - Thomas Sowell

“What one person disdains or values lightly is appreciated by another, and what one person abandons is often picked up by another.” - Carl Menger

“Demand and supply are the opposite extremes of the beam, whence depend the scales of dearness and cheapness; the price is the point of equilibrium, where the momentum of the one ceases, and that of the other begins.” - Jean-Baptiste Say

"Consumption is the final, not the efficient, cause of production. The efficient cause is savings, which can be said to represent the opposite of consumption: they represent unconsumed goods. Consumption is the end of production, and a dead end, as far as the productive process is concerned." - Ayn Rand

“The disdain of profit is due to ignorance, and to an attitude that we may if we wish admire in the ascetic who has chosen to be content with a small share of the riches of this world, but which, when actualised in the form of restrictions on profits of others, is selfish to the extent that it imposes asceticism, and indeed deprivations of all sorts, on others.” - F.A. Hayek

“All people, however fanatical they may be in their zeal to disparage and to fight capitalism, implicitly pay homage to it by passionately clamouring for the products it turns out.” - Ludwig Von Mises

“Everyone wants to live at the expense of the state. They forget that the state lives at the expense of everyone.” - Frédéric Bastiat

“Everything we get, outside of the free gifts of nature, must in some way be paid for. The world is full of so-called economists who in turn are full of schemes for getting something for nothing.” - Henry Hazlitt

"Whoever claims that economic competition represents "survival of the fittest" in the sense of the law of the jungle, provides the clearest possible evidence of his lack of knowledge of economics. The truth is that economic competition is the very opposite of competition in the animal kingdom. It is not a competition in the grabbing off of scarce nature-given supplies, as it is in the animal kingdom. Rather, it is a competition in the positive creation of new and additional wealth." - George Reisman

“The principle that the end justifies the means is in individualist ethics regarded as the denial of all morals. In collectivist ethics it becomes necessarily the supreme rule.” - F.A. Hayek

“Nobody spends somebody else’s money as carefully as he spends his own. Nobody uses somebody else’s resources as carefully as he uses his own. So if you want efficiency and effectiveness, if you want knowledge to be properly utilised, you have to do it through the means of private property.” - Milton Friedman

“All trades, arts, and handiworks have gained by division of labour, namely, when, instead of one man doing everything, each confines himself to a certain kind of work distinct from others in the treatment it requires, so as to be able to perform it with greater facility and in the greatest perfection. Where the different kinds of work are not distinguished and divided, where everyone is a jack-of-all-trades, there manufactures remain still in the greatest barbarism.” - Immanuel Kant

“It is not true that Congress spends money like a drunken sailor. Drunken sailors spend their own money. Congress spends our money.” - Art Laffer

“The message from history is so blatantly obvious—that free trade causes mutual prosperity while protectionism causes poverty—that it seems incredible that anybody ever thinks otherwise. There is not a single example of a country opening its borders to trade and ending up poorer.” - Matt Ridley

“Love locally, trade globally.” - Russ Roberts

"Industry is limited by capital... Capital ... is the result of saving ... Capital ... although saved, and the result of saving, is nevertheless consumed. What supports and employs productive labour, is the capital expended in setting it to work, and not the demand of purchasers for the produce of the labour when completed. Demand for commodities is not demand for labour.” - John Stuart Mill

"The production of commodities creates, and is the one and universal cause which creates a market for the commodities produced.
   "When goods are carried to market what is wanted is somebody to buy. But to buy, one must have wherewithal to pay. It is obviously therefore the collective means of payment which exist in the whole nation that constitute the entire market of the nation. But wherein consist the collective means of payment of the whole nation? Do they not consist in its annual produce, in the annual revenue of the general mass of its inhabitants? ...
    "Whatever be the additional quantity of goods therefore which is at any time created in any country, an additional power of purchasing, exactly equivalent, is at the same instant created..."
- James Mill

“The great danger to the consumer is the monopoly— whether private or governmental. His most effective protection is free competition at home and free trade throughout the world. The consumer is protected from being exploited by one seller by the existence of another seller from whom he can buy and who is eager to sell to him.” - Milton Friedman

"Every individual... neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it... he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention....
    "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 interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our necessities but of their advantages."
- Adam Smith

“People who lack the capacity to earn a decent living need to be helped, but they will not be helped by minimum-wage laws, trade-union wage pressures or other devices which seek to compel employers to pay them more than their [labour] is worth. The more likely outcome of such regulations is that the intended beneficiaries are not employed at all.” - James Tobin

“Nothing should be more obvious than that the business organism cannot function according to design when its most important ‘parameters of action’—wages, prices, interest—are transferred to the political sphere and there dealt with according to the requirements of the political game or, which sometimes is more serious still, according to the ideas of some planners.” - Joseph A. Schumpeter

"To widen the market and to narrow the competition, is always the interest of the dealers…The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order, ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it." - Adam Smith

“Failure is part of the natural cycle of business. Companies are born, companies die, capitalism moves forward.” - Thomas Sowell

“The way to maximise production is to maximise the incentives to production. And the way to do that, as the modern world has discovered, is through the system known as capitalism—the system of private property, free markets, and free enterprise.” - Henry Hazlitt

“A people averse to the institution of private property is without the first elements of freedom.” - Lord Acton

“Once the principle is admitted that it is the duty of the government to protect the individual against his own foolishness, no serious objections can be advanced against further encroachments.” - Ludwig Von Mises

"Today, in the Twenty-First Century, an age of jet aircraft, personal computers, wireless telecommunications, laser surgery, and incipient space travel, the mentality with which many presumably educated, intelligent people approach matters of economics and business is, however astonishing it may seem, still that of the Dark Ages" - George Reisman

“It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialised discipline and one that most people consider to be a ‘dismal science.’ But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.” - Murray Rothbard

"The moral code which is implicit in capitalism had never been formulated explicitly. The basic premise of that code is that man—every man—is an end in himself, not the means to the end of others, that man must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself, and that men must deal with one another as traders, by voluntary choice to mutual benefit. This, in essence, is the moral premise on which the United States of America was based: the principle of man’s right to his own life, to his own liberty, to the pursuit of his own happiness." - Ayn Rand

++ Jonathan Miltimore is the Managing Editor of His writing/reporting has been the subject of articles in TIME magazine, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, Forbes, Fox News, and the Star Tribune.
Bylines: Newsweek, The Washington Times,, The Washington Examiner, The Daily Caller, The Federalist, the Epoch Times. A version of this post first appeared at FEE.Org.

* To be fair, it was Robert Heinlein who popularised the expression in his 1966 novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Friedman took the popularity and ran with it.

1 comment:

  1. Definitely like this quote:

    “The principle that the end justifies the means is in individualist ethics regarded as the denial of all morals. In collectivist ethics it becomes necessarily the supreme rule.” - F.A. Hayek

    Sums up everything wrong with mandated vaccination, and the justification to segregate society not based on your immunity status or whether you are infectious, but based on your willingness to comply.


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