- Date published:
7:30 am, August 13th, 2019 - 125 comments
Categories: david seymour, Dr Deborah Russell, economy, housing, spin, taxpayers union, uncategorized, unemployment, workers' rights, you couldn't make this shit up - Tags:
The Taxpayer’s Union (not a real union) has had some fun recently and bought multiple copies of Henry Hazlitt’s book “Economics in one lesson”. They then delivered copies to each MP in a brown paper bag. I am not sure why they chose this particular mode of delivery, but in the past the transportation of literature in a brown paper back was associated with the distribution of pornography. Perhaps the Taxpayer’s Union thought there was something slightly kinky about the book.
My very talented local MP Deborah Russell wrote this book review. She tore some of the ideas presented to pieces. Like this claim that an increase in rent will cause tenants to reduce the size of the area they are renting:
If someone is living in a car, how much ‘less space’ can they consume? And does it even matter if tenants end up occupying no space whatsoever? Hazlitt seems not to care about such niceties.
Or this claim about the effect of excessive union power and minimum employment standards on unemployment:
Hazlitt, on the real cause of unemployment: ‘Excessive union wage-rates, minimum wage laws, excessive and prolonged unemployment insurance, and over generous relief payments.’ Never mind that they might ensure people can at least feed their children, or that much historical evidence contradicts him, such as mass unemployment and deprivation in the Great Depression having been directly caused by the unwinding of a market-driven speculative bubble.
This exclusion of human concerns, like having food to eat and a place to sleep, is the problem that besets this text.
Or this on the role of women:
But, gentle reader, the biggest fault I found in the book was the near total absence of women. I counted nine uses of the word ‘women’. It appeared six times in the phrase, ‘men and women’ and once in a references to ‘men’s and women’s overcoats’ …
Tellingly, the women in Hazlitt’s book are never economic agents in their own right, unlike men who function as manufacturers, consumers, farmers, exporters, taxpayers, soldiers, public servants: in short, if there’s an active role to be filled, it is performed by men.
Hazlitt has no concept of the work that women do, either in the paid economy or the unpaid economy. Money is the only measure of value, and that means women’s unpaid work is simply not there.
Well, the book was published a long time ago. But by the time Hazlitt published his third edition, in 1979, he’d been able to update the book by incorporating television into his examples. But not women. The exclusion of women and women’s work is perhaps the greatest economic fallacy of all.
This spurred David Seymour into writing a response. One where he somehow concludes that Deborah wrote in support of Hazlitt’s ideas.
He starts off with a naff attack on Deborah for not selling as many books as Hazlitt.
He then castigates her for her comment about increasing rents and says:
It’s kind to offer low rents, but if it means long-term tenants remain rattling around in Housing New Zealand stock that’s too large for them, and other families miss out, then are people better off over all?
So the housing crisis has been caused by Housing Corp tenants wanting to stay in their homes for too long, and not by the last Government’s malicious indifference?
Hazlitt was talking about rent control in general and not about Housing Corp rent policies in particular so the criticism is not warranted. And Seymour seems to be willing to tolerate a situation where people with jobs and kids are living in cars because the market says their rental shall be higher and their wages lower.
As to Deborah’s point about the absence of women from the text Seymour agrees and describes this absence as being cringey yet still thinks the book has “powerful simplicity”. Simple yes, powerful no way.
To read Deborah’s review and then claim that it was somehow supportive of an ultra right economic model is laughable and shows as much comprehension as real world understanding and compassion.