November 29, 2021

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

Timeless insights from some of the greatest thinkers in economic history.

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 favorite 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—a National Review contributor, Chief Investment Officer of The Bahnsen Group, and FEE supporter—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 popularized 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), Bahnen 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.

  1. “The farmer and manufacturer can no more live without profit than the labourer without wages.” – David Ricardo
  2. “The most basic question is not what is best, but who shall decide what is best.” – Thomas Sowell
  3. “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
  4. “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
  5. “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
  6. “What one person disdains or values lightly is appreciated by another, and what one person abandons is often picked up by another.” – Carl Menger
  7. “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
  8. “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 actualized 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
  9. “All people, however fanatical they may be in their zeal to disparage and to fight capitalism, implicitly pay homage to it by passionately clamoring for the products it turns out.” – Ludwig Von Mises
  10. “Everyone wants to live at the expense of the state. They forget that the state lives at the expense of everyone.” – Frédéric Bastiat
  11. “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
  12. “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
  13. “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 utilized, you have to do it through the means of private property.” – Milton Friedman
  14. “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
  15. “It is not true that Congress spends money like a drunken sailor. Drunken sailors spend their own money. Congress spends our money.” – Dr. Art Laffer
  16. “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
  17. “Love locally, trade globally.” – Russ Roberts
  18. “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
  19. “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 [labor] is worth. The more likely outcome of such regulations is that the intended beneficiaries are not employed at all.” – James Tobin
  20. “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
  21. “Failure is part of the natural cycle of business. Companies are born, companies die, capitalism moves forward.” – Thomas Sowell
  22. “The way to maximize production is to maximize 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
  23. “A people averse to the institution of private property is without the first elements of freedom.” – Lord Acton
  24. “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
  25. “Citizens who over-rely on their government to do everything not only become dependent on their government, they end up having to do whatever the government demands. In the meantime, their initiative and self-respect are destroyed.” – Charles G. Koch

This article, 25 of the Greatest Quotes on Economics and Capitalism (That You've Probably Never Heard), was originally published by the Foundation for Economic Education and appears here with permission.  Please support their mission.