Framing the Dialogue

Time Will Run Back

time runs back 2This book was a great surprise for me. Time Will Run Back was written by one of my favorite economics authors, Henry Hazlitt. His earlier work titled Economics In One Lesson is more or less a text book that read, to me anyway, like a novel. Okay not really like a novel, but I found it to be readable and understandable. When I started reading this book I was astonished to find that this was, in fact, a work of fiction.

The author notes in his preface that the book was written before the release of 1984, but released shortly thereafter. He notes some similarities between the novels, but I didn’t see much except for some of the beginning chapters. The novel starts in Wonworld which is a communist utopian culture that we learn is ruled by a Dictator and is essentially the former Soviet Union taken to an extreme though probably not far from where it was at the time of the book’s writing. This was published before the collapse of the USSR.

The book is essentially a treatise on the negatives of communism and socialism far enough advanced and in control that capitalism is virtually forgotten. The unique thing is that the heroes are struggling to get back to capitalism by trial and error. Needless to say there are some rather bad guys who don’t want this to happen. It was interesting in that some of the passages “predict” what is happening in free market countries today. It was a bit chilling to read this “warning” written so many decades ago.

“They fought against communism because they were ‘against’ communism. That was the only point on which they could agree. But they didn’t know what they were for. Everybody was for something different. Nobody had the courage to defend a capitalism that was true to the basic premises of capitalism. Each had his own little plan for a ‘reformed’ capitalism. They could stave off communism, they thought, only by ‘correcting abuses’’; but all their plans for correcting abuses were steps toward communism. They quarreled among themselves as to how far they wanted to go toward communism in order to ‘defeat’ communism, as to how far they should embrace communist ideas in order to destroy communist ideas.”

“But while nearly everybody with a smaller income would refer to an unusual profit as exorbitant, unreasonable or unfair, nobody (except the enterpriser directly involved) was ever known to refer to a business loss as exorbitant or unfair. The loss was simply ascribed to his incompetence.”

And finally…

“A thousand times, No. What your suggested ethical system implies, Adams, is that someone at the top – or – some underling bureaucrat, for that matter – knows better what is good for you than you do yourself. It is an arrogant assumption of superiority on the part of the ruling clique. It is the essence of the authoritarian attitude. It treats the people like irresponsible wards of the government. It treats the common man with contempt.”

So what about the book. Well I found it a bit verbose. I understand that need for the long exchanges as the book follows two men who essentially try to “create” capitalism or at least take the reins off communism, but there were passages where I “speed read” to get through. I actually found reading the textbook by Hazlitt easier and more interesting than his try at a “novel” approach. I know that’s a pretty bad pun, but I figured why not go for it.

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