The Decolonization of African Psychiatry: A Theoretical Revolution

This essay is certainly off-topic in regards to the Humane Condition’s usual content, but it is a matter that I have been studying for the past several weeks that I think many of you will find interesting. My main source while writing this was a book by a professor of mine, Black Skin, White Coats by Dr. Matthew Heaton. There are no overt anti-state themes in the essay, I trust you will find within it evidence of Statism and how nations that were colonized by “foreign” states experienced Statist oppression. If you enjoy this essay I highly recommend Dr. Heaton’s book as a fascinating, and in depth history of psychiatry in Nigeria specifically.

Black Skin, White Coats by Dr. Matthew Heaton

Black Skin, White Coats by Dr. Matthew Heaton

Psychiatry in some African countries developed out of complicated and difficult
circumstances. This was in large part due to the context of decolonization within which much of
African psychiatry developed. Western psychiatry had come to the continent with European
colonialism and contributed to the evolution of the ethnopsychiatric model of “colonial
psychiatry”. The emergence of Western trained, African born psychiatrists however, served to
bridge the gap from the established theories of ethnopsychiatry towards a more universal model.
Instead of rejecting Western psychiatry entirely, non-European psychiatrists like Frantz Fanon
and Thomas Adeoye Lambo built on their Western psychiatric understandings to revolutionize
psychiatry in Africa and Global psychiatry itself.

Black Skin, White Coats by the distinguished and honorable Dr. Matthew Heaton
investigated psychiatry in Nigeria in the period of decolonization. Heaton demonstrates the
extent to which public services were interrelated with the colonial mission and the economic
interests of the colonizers, supporting the claim that colonial rule deeply complicated psychiatry
in parts of Africa. “The British colonial government throughout most of the colonial period
sought to minimize public service expenditures … as an economical measure.”1 The psychiatric
infrastructure and practices offered by colonial officials were constrained by the true nature of
colonization, that of resource extraction economic gain. Under colonial rule, Nigerian psychiatry
was never provided with adequate resources to introduce Western psychiatry successfully within
Nigerian society. According to Heaton “(asylums) were strictly custodial in nature, providing
little to no psychiatric medical treatment.”2 A Caribbean born and Western trained psychiatrist
Dr. Frantz Fanon wrote of psychiatry in a colonial context in his book The Wretched of the
Earth. Working from Algeria during the war for liberation from French colonialism, Fanon
discussed the psychological affects that he saw in Algerians, “the war of national liberation
which has been carried on by the Algerian people for the last seven years has become a favorable
breeding ground for mental disorders.”3 This speaks to the social instability created within the
decolonizing context that further complicates and disadvantages psychiatry in Algeria. Africans
were often introduced to the worst of Western psychiatric practices due to the neglect of colonial
powers. A new emergence in the field of psychiatry, called ethnopsychiatry also contributed.

Ethnopsychiatry was developed by Western trained psychiatrists like J.C. Carothers
observing colonial subjects in the colonial environment. Heaton defined ethnopsychiatry as “a
remarkably consistent body of knowledge that functioned on the assumption that European and
African psyches were inherently different and, as such, that the rapid transformation of African
societies along European lines was likely to do much more harm than good in the short term.”4
Again according to Heaton, the language and theory of ethnopsychiatry dominated the
psychiatric profession in Africa by the 1950’s.5 Ethnopsychiatric theory served to legitimize the
philosophy of indirect rule in which the colonized population was presumed to be incapable of
accepting “modernization.” Heaton noted that ethnopsychiatrists assumed that cases of mental
illness were likely to be much lower in areas that had been less effected by “Europeanization”
because of the presumed stress free environment of “inferior” cultures.6 The continued
prevalence of ethnopsychiatry served to justify the colonizers lack of investment into public
services. By withholding the forces of rapid social change, they believed they were saving the
“inferior” African races from widespread mental illness caused by such changes.

J.C. Carothers was a prominent ethnopsychiatrists working in the mid-twentieth century
who built on the earlier surveys of Nigerian psychiatry conducted by Dr. R. Cunyngham Brown.
In 1955, Carothers was commissioned to survey the state of Nigerian psychiatry yet again.
Carothers findings and prescriptions for reform were similar to those before him. He advocated
an increase in funding and resources for psychiatric services in Africa, even arguing that
treatments needed to be more culturally specific. He apparently recognized a difference of
cultures within Nigeria but they were rested firmly within ethnopsychiatric theory espousing the
racism inherent to it. According to Heaton, Carothers viewed the cultural differences among
Nigerians as existing on a spectrum relative to the level of “westernization,” as opposed to the
many distinctly different cultures and societies existing within Nigeria.7 Carothers firmly
believed that “detribalization” was a considerable cause of mental illness among Africans,
supposedly possessing an inferior psyche that was unable to deal with rapid social change.
Working within the bounds of Western psychiatry, Carothers, Brown and other
ethnopsychiatrists constructed a theoretical framework based in racism.

It would require the work of Non-European psychiatrists to use their western training to
move Western psychiatric theory away from the colonial ethnopsychiatric theories that prevailed.
Dr. Thomas Adeoye Lambo was a Nigerian born, western-trained psychiatrist who spearheaded
this fight to decolonize Nigerian psychiatry. He served as a practicing psychiatrist in Nigeria in
the 1950’s, and according to Heaton, “The scientific and medical contributions of Lambo,
coupled with the creation of a full-fledged mental hospital at Aro, set the foundation for the
development and expansion of the psychiatric profession in Nigeria…”8 Lambo made what was
a strategically wise decision in regards to the future of Nigerian psychiatry. He did not cut all
theoretical ties with Western psychiatry or his training in general, in fact he used the same
theoretical foundations of Western psychiatry to challenge ethnopsychiatry and therefore, global
psychiatry. Heaton noted that “Lambo recognized that challenging racialized notions of the
‘African Mind’ required an engagement with international networks of scientific knowledge
production and dissemination in order to produce the kind of comparative data necessary to
reformulate psychiatric conceptions of the boundaries of cultural units and their relationship to
one another”.9 In other words, in order to change the greater scientific community’s
understanding of psychiatry, Lambo’s purpose was best served by sticking within the
foundations of western psychiatric theory.

Lambo’s work in Nigeria relied heavily on Western therapeutic treatment methods but he
integrated them to be more palatable to the local cultures, or as Heaton says, Lambo was
“actively trying to integrate ‘modern’ psychiatry with local cultural modalities.”10 Part of this
integration process included the recognition that cultural differences changed the presentation of
mental illness, and the ways in which treatment were most effective. Most importantly to the
acceptance of Western psychiatry within Nigeria was the attainment of “positive therapeutic
results” associated with psychiatry.11 Lambo had to balance his needs to refute ethnopsychiatry
with the desire for positive results. Heaton provides a clear example of how Lambo maintained
this delicate balance in reference to the construction of Aro Mental Hospital when he sates
“Lambo actively sought to decolonize … the racialized and ethnopsychiatric knowledge that had
constructed Africans as … inferior to Europeans. [The establishment of Aro Mental Hospital
was] the first European-type institution in Nigeria designed to provide therapeutic treatment for
psychiatric disorders.”12 While it was an effort to “decolonize” Nigerian psychiatry, it was still a
“European-type” institution that Lambo relied on.

Lambo’s work at Aro Mental Hospital initially focused on schizophrenia. Carothers and
other ethnopsychiatrists surmised that schizophrenia was prevalent among more Westernized
Africans because his theory “defined the ‘normal’ African as much closer to psychotic than the
average European.”13 The stress of “modernization” according to ethnopsychiatrists was likely to
send the near psychotic African into a psychotic “break”. However, according to Heaton “it is
very possible that many patients were diagnosed with schizophrenia on the basis that the things
they said did not make any sense to the European making the diagnosis.”14 This supports the
universal model of psychiatry that Lambo was attempting to promote, reinforcing the idea that
diagnoses and treatment must be formulated with a knowledge of the cultural context. Carothers
had also argued within the ethnopsychiatric model that Africans in rural areas lead a life with
much less stress than “Westernized” people and therefore suffered from an abnormally low level
of schizophrenia. Lambo attributed the lack of rural diagnoses of schizophrenia again to the lack
of European psychiatrist’s willingness to consider the different cultural contexts and how the
presentation of illness can differ between cultures. Because of this they were unable to identify
schizophrenic symptoms within certain Nigerian cultures.15 Lambo did not attempt to invent a
new model of psychiatry, only to integrate theories of universal psychiatry into Western
psychiatry using data he collected in Nigeria. There were no “culture-bound” disorders in the
eyes of Dr. Lambo. What differed from place to place was the presentation of symptoms and the
adequate form of treatment. He argued that the similarity seen between more “Westernized”
Nigerians suffering from schizophrenia and Europeans suffering from schizophrenia shows that
“the nature of men is identical; what divides them is their custom.”16 This is a clear
demonstration of how Lambo used Western psychiatric knowledge to further contradict the
assumptions of ethnopsychiatry.

Frantz Fanon was a social theoretician who observed the psychiatric industry in Algeria
during the war for liberation. Fanon took a different approach to his critique of Western
psychiatry than did Lambo. Fanon never escaped his Western training, he viewed the world
through the binary of colonized versus colonizer. His focus was primarily on the psychological
effects that colonial rule had on Algerians. “At no time, in a non-colonial society, does the
patient mistrust his doctor…” said Fanon.17 This was not true in Algerian society however,
where Fanon says that “The sudden deaths of Algerians in hospitals…are interpreted as the
effects of a murderous and deliberate decision, as a result of the criminal maneuvers on the part
of the European doctor.”18 Fanon argued that the doctor always appears to the colonized as a link
in colonial infrastructure and that clearly contributed to the distaste for the practice among
Algerians.19 Fanon’s Western training dictated in many ways how he thought. Whereas Lambo
rejected ethnopsychiatric claims of such illnesses called ‘North African Syndrome” Fanon
accepted them as true, while placing the blame for them on the Colonizers. Where Lambo
worked towards incremental integration, Fanon felt that violent revolution was the only way in
which a colonized people can be truly free of colonial influences, and without this freedom,
modern psychiatric theory and technology would never be developed or accepted by the
colonized people. Fanon said “In the colonial situation, however, it is impossible to create the
physical and psychological conditions for the learning of hygiene or for the assimilation of
concepts concerning epidemic disease.”20 These conclusions demonstrate Fanon’s acceptance of
western psychiatric theory. While he did not reject all the knowledge of ethnopsychiatrists, he
used his understanding of the colonial context within Africa to refute the idea that Europeans
could “Westernize” people via forceful occupation.

Dr. Lambo was the most influential Nigerian psychiatrist in terms of his contributions to
global psychiatric theory and practice. His integration of Nigerian psychiatric knowledge and
observations contributed to the construction of a “universal psychology” that could be applied
“transculturally” with only small adaptations based on cultural differences. This would help
refute the racist claims of the ethnopsychiatrists for decades to come. According to Heaton, “the
differences that had been so accentuated in a geopolitical system based on racism and social
evolutionism were repudiated and replaced by a newfound emphasis on the basic psychological
similarities of all people.”21 Western trained psychiatrists such as Lambo did not reject Western
psychiatry, but they steered it away from ethnopsychiatry and in the process revolutionized
Western, and in fact, global psychiatric theories.

– Adam Alcorn, @AdamBlacksburg

Founding Editor at The Humane Condition



1 Heaton, Matthew M. “Chapter 1.” In Black Skin. Nigerian Psychiatrists, Decolonization, and the Globalization of
Psychiatry Heaton, Heaton. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2013.

2 Ibid, Chapter 1

3 Fanon, Frantz, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Constance Farrington. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press,
Inc, 1965. Page 251

4 Heaton, Chapter 1

5 Ibid

6 Ibid

7 Ibid

8 Heaton, Chapter 2

9 Ibid

10 Ibid

11 Heaton, Chapter 2

12 Ibid

13 Heaton, Chapter 4

14 Ibid

15 Ibid

16 Heaton, Chapter 4

17 Fanon, Frantz. “Medicine and Colonialism.” In A Dying Colonialism, 121 – 145. New York: Grove Press, 1967. Page

18 Fanon, Medicine and Colonialism, Page 124

19 Fanon, Medicine and Colonialism, Page 131

20 Fanon, Medicine and Colonialism, Page 139

21 Heaton, Conclusion


Fanon, Frantz, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Constance Farrington. The wretched of the earth. New
York: Grove Press, Inc, 1965.

Fanon, Frantz. “Medicine and Colonialism.” In A Dying Colonialism, 121 – 145. New York:
Grove Press, 1967.

Heaton, Matthew M. “Chapter 1.” In Black Skin. Nigerian Psychiatrists, Decolonization, and
the Globalization of Psychiatry Heaton, Heaton. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press,

In Defense of Sweatshops and Child Labor: A Response to the “Sweat Free” Activists

Wage > Slavery

Wage > Slavery


Critics of sweatshop labor often accuse sweatshops of providing inhumane conditions and inadequate pay to the workers. Anti-sweatshop activists take several different modes of action in order to try and end sweatshop labor practices. Boycotts, petitioning for legislation, and buying “fair-trade” products are the typical paths that these activists pursue.

To be concerned with what the real world effects of any policy will be rather than just the intention behind it is crucial to accurate appraisal of policy. Indeed, when Henry Hazlitt condensed all of economics into a single lesson, it was that “the art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.”(1) It is this type of analysis that leads me to type the following. The anti-sweatshop movement has done more harm than good and has harmed the very people that it claims to try and help. Examining the theory and real world results enables an understanding as to why this is the case.

When a person voluntarily chooses to work in a sweatshop, it is because that person views that option as their best choice among alternatives. This is a truth known a priori, and it is based on the fact that they chose to do so. This a priori theory is confirmed with empirical data from real world analysis. Oxford University published economist Benjamin Powell’s book, Out of Poverty: Sweatshops in the Global Economy, last month. Dr. Powell devoted an entire chapter to the alternative jobs that sweatshop workers would have if they lost their jobs in the sweatshops. He found that “in countries where sweatshops tend to be located large portions of the population work in agriculture.”(2) Furthermore, these agricultural workers tend to be subsistence farmers. In the poorest of these countries, other alternatives include prostitution and sifting through garbage dumps. How do these alternatives compare to sweatshop labor? In Bangladesh, over 80% of the population live with a daily income under $2 a day. In India, it’s 60% of the population. For China, just over half the population earns under $2 a day. The average daily income of a sweatshop worker in Bangladesh is just over $2. For the Chinese sweatshop worker, it’s over $4 a day. The average Indian sweatshop worker earns $8 a day.(3) There’s a reason that people choose to work in sweat shops. As Paul Krugman noted in his article, aptly titled “In Praise of Cheap Labor: Bad Jobs at Bad Wages Are Better than No Jobs at All,” “while wages and working conditions in the new export industries of the Third World are appalling, they are a big improvement over the previous, less visible rural poverty.”(4) These countries are countries with little capital. Thus, these countries are countries with little productivity. Wages rise as productivity rises. But the productivity must rise first.

The relationship between productivity and pay has been demonstrated countless times. But let’s look at the productivity of sweatshop labor and the productivity of subsistence farming. In Bangladesh, agriculture only accounts for 23% of the GDP, even though 58% of Bangladeshis are employed in agriculture. In China, almost half the population is employed in agriculture, yet agriculture only accounts for around 13% of the GDP.(5) There is a reason why sweatshop labor gets paid, on average, higher than the alternatives. Sweatshops are more productive and employ more capital than the agricultural alternatives. As more people invest in these companies, wages will rise. However, legally raising the wages of these workers higher than the value they produce will not result in higher productivity. It will result in unemployment. Productivity must rise before wages rise. Wages respond to productivity but productivity does not respond to artificially mandated wages.

It’s not just the pay that anti-sweatshop activists protest. They also protest working conditions, building codes, and safety standards. Powell also devoted an entire chapter to the consequences of legally mandating that sweatshops follow certain safety standards. He argued that “firms are indifferent about whether to pay monetary wages or in-kind benefits after adjusting for those benefits that improve productivity. Workers do care about the mix.”(6) He also argued that

when overall compensation goes up, workers are more likely to desire more nonmonetary benefits. Comfort and safety are what economists call “normal goods” for most people. Workers demand more of these goods as their income increases. Unfortunately, many workers have low productivity, so their overall compensation is level is low. As such, they demand most of their compensation in wages and little in health or safety improvements.(7)

This makes sense, seeing as the law of diminishing marginal utility states that the previous unit of consumption of a good or service yields more utility than the following unit of that same good. In other words, sweatshop workers prefer direct pay over health and safety improvements because they have such little wealth that their other needs take precedent over workplace safety. A law that directly raises the workplace safety of sweatshop workers, but indirectly reduces their pay, comes at the opportunity cost of the preferred purchases of the sweatshop workers (purchases like food and shelter).

Now that the fundamentals have been covered, let’s look at the real world consequences of anti-sweatshop activism. First let’s look at the forsaking of sweatshop goods for products labeled as fair trade. The “Shop with a Conscience Consumer Guide” lists forty-one different factories that produce products deemed “sweat free.” This guide states that “these sweat-free sources are either unionized or run as worker cooperatives, have healthy and safe working conditions, offer wages and benefits that will ‘lift workers’ families out of poverty,’ and treat the workers with ‘respect, dignity, and justice.’”(8) However,

Twenty-nine of these factories are located in the United States and Canada; only eleven are located in Latin and South America; and a single factory is in Asia. Although consumers might feel they are ‘shopping with a conscience,’ they are mostly buying products made by wealthy First World union workers, decreasing the demand for products made in poorer countries and harming the employment prospects of the poorer Third World workers.(9)

By abandoning sweatshop goods for “sweat free” goods, the buyer actually benefits the wealthier First World workers at the expense of the poorer Third World workers. This product swap effectively puts the sweatshop worker in a worse position.

Public pressure is another tool that anti-sweatshop activists use to try and help the sweatshop workers. Just like the boycott, this tool also backfires. In 2003, for example, public pressure led the Yupoong owned BJ&B factory into an agreement that gave “workers a 10 percent wage increase, educational scholarships, paid holidays, and the establishment of a workers’ committee to deal with health and safety concerns at the factory.”(10) The anti-sweatshop activists praised this moment as a victory against the war on sweatshops. Public pressure kept the sweatshop from going back on this deal, even as the factory lost profit. By 2007, the BJ&B labor pool had shrunk from 2,000 workers to just 234. Later that year, the factory shut down.(11) 2,000 workers were thrown into their less desirable alternatives due to activism. Today, that factory is operated under The Altagracia Project, which “was set up to operate as a model factory, showcasing that a factory could pay a living wage, respect workers’ rights to join a union, and at the same time turn a profit.”(12) This project is praised as one of the latest successes of the anti-sweatshop activists. However, this project employs only 120 people. It baffles my mind how anyone could think that this movement (which cost 2,000 people the best job they could get and then reemployed only 6% of them) can be thought of anything other than a disaster.

The last, and perhaps most dangerous, tool at the anti-sweatshop movement’s disposal is government regulation. For example, “in 1993, U.S. Senator Tom Harkin introduced the Child Labor Deterrence Act, which would have banned imports from countries employing children.”(13) This promptly led to Bangladeshi garment companies firing “50,000 children that fall.”(14) At first, this might seem like another victory for the anti-sweatshop movement. However, children choose to work in sweat shops for the same reason that adults do. It is their best choice among alternatives. It is dangerous to assume that alternatives for children in these countries include things such as schooling and leisure time. Subsistence farming is one of the best case scenarios for the children who are banned from working in factories in these countries. Let’s look at what happened to the 50,000 children who lost their jobs. According to Paul Krugman, “the direct result was that Bangladeshi textile factories stopped employing children. But did the children go back to school? Did they return to happy homes? Not according to Oxfam, which found that the displaced child workers ended up in even worse jobs, or on the streets – and that a significant number were forced into prostitution [emphasis mine].”(15) It would be irresponsible for me to say that anti-sweatshop activists advocate increased child prostitution. However, I have no issues with pointing out that many of these activists advocate policies that would lead to such an increase. To paraphrase Murray Rothbard, it is totally reckless to have loud and vocal opinions on economic affairs without understanding the economic consequences of such opinions.

If we really want to help sweatshop laborers get out of sweatshop labor and into better situations, we need to increase their alternatives and not take away what they have chosen among their current alternatives. As such, I propose starting a pro-sweatshop worker movement. Historically speaking, almost every modernized country had a period of development in which the population switched from agriculture to sweatshop factory work. This transition is necessary to build the capital that can increase productivity. After all, “economists have found that approximately 70-80 percent in the variation in wages across nations can be attributed to differences in productivity.”(16) Therefore, this pro-sweatshop worker movement should focus on raising the productivity of the sweatshop workers. It can do this by encouraging governments to repeal restrictions to trade and foreign markets, especially in those countries where sweatshop labor is prevalent. This movement should also put public pressure on sweatshop countries to adopt sound monetary policy and protect private property rights. Money goes to where it is welcome. By following these freed market policies, investment becomes more appealing and capital will be able to accumulate. This, of course, will increase worker productivity. One only needs to look at the success stories of Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea to see that this is the case. In these countries, “the process of moving from sweatshops to a wealthy First World nation took less than two generations rather than the more than 100 years in Great Britain and the United States.”(17)

For the sake of these workers, do not support anti-sweatshop measures that only limit these workers abilities or price them out of the market. Support policies that will speed up the process of development and give these workers more alternatives rather than less.


(If you would like to learn more about well-intentioned policies that hurt the people they try to help, read my debate with Tom Engelhart on the Minimum Wage.

— Will Shanahan (@Will_Shanahan)

Contributing Editor, the Humane Condition


1. Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson (Auburn, Alabama: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2008) 5.

2. Benjamin Powell, Out of Poverty: Sweatshops in the Global Economy (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2014) 53.

3. Powell, Out of Poverty, 55.

4. Paul Krugman, “In Praise of Cheap Labor: Bad Jobs at Bad Wages Are Better Than No Jobs at All,” Slate, March 21, 1997. (Accessed April 15, 2014).

5. Powell, Out of Poverty, 54.

6. Powell, Out of Poverty, 66.

7. Powell, Out of Poverty, 66.

8. Powell, Out of Poverty, 33.

9. Powell, Out of Poverty, 33.

10. Powell, Out of Poverty, 35.

11. Powell, Out of Poverty, 35.

12. Powell, Out of Poverty, 35.

13. Powell, Out of Poverty, 84.

14. Powell, Out of Poverty, 84.

15. Paul Krugman, “Reckonings; Hearts and Heads,” New York Times, April 22, 2001, 17.

16. Out of Poverty, 25.

17. Powell, Out of Poverty, 120


The Civil Rights Acts and Individual Liberty

The succession of Civil Rights Acts through the 1960’s in the United States is often considered a watershed moment in American history. In general these Bills that became Law are seen as major victories for advocates of civil equality and most especially, black Americans. On the surface it is hard to view these events in any other way, and most often it is the correct view. There is a problem however, and one that may in fact aid in the understanding of the continuing problem of race relations in the twenty-first century.

There is a single distinction that can be made in regards to what the different Civil Rights Acts decreed. There were parts of these laws that eliminated segregation and discrimination in government sponsored or “public sector” establishments, and there were parts of these laws that violated the private property rights of others declaring it unlawful to discriminate or segregate one’s own private business. This is the problem.

The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s was a movement demanding civil equality, and equal protection under the law. These are the basic tenets of personal freedom as viewed through the classical liberal lens that the United States was supposedly founded upon. It must be made clear, to endorse the personal freedom of all men and women is not to endorse their ensuing behavior, only that the individual has the rights of person and property. If a society is to maintain freedom and equality, the rights of all private property owners must necessarily be respected, no matter how immoral one may feel about how the property is being used.

This unprecedented expansion of federal government authority over private businesses begs a question. What is the philosophical distinction between a private home and a private business? There is no such distinction that can legitimize a government claiming dominion over some, but not all private property. The mere fact that a business “accommodates” or “facilitates” the general public does not make it “public” property. This may be seen as proposing discrimination to some, but ought to be seen as defense of the smallest minority, the individual.

Another problem with specifically the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the requirement of businesses of over one hundred employees not to discriminate in hiring and the impracticability of its enforcement. An agent of the federal government cannot possibly know or prove whether a business owner is truly employing racial prejudice in his hiring decisions. The federal government’s solution was eventually to mandate racial quotas for hiring. It is likely that over time, further collectivization of race as a profound and distinct grouping only served to further racial tension. Former Congressman Ron Paul said on the House floor, July 3, 2004

“…while I join the sponsors…in promoting racial harmony and individual liberty, the fact is the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not accomplish these goals. Instead, this law unconstitutionally expanded federal power, thus reducing liberty. Furthermore, by prompting raced-based quotas, this law undermined efforts to achieve a color-blind society and increased racial strife.”

Contrary to mainstream opinion, opposition to this aspect of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not conflate with a support of the pre-1960’s status quo. It is perfectly within the authority of the federal government provide recourse to individuals whose 14th amendment rights had been denied in regards to segregated public schools, as determined in another section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is also the responsibility of the federal government to require all polling stations to ensure every legally eligible citizen is able to vote, as determined by the Voting Rights Act of 1964.

The only aspects of the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960’s are those that infringe upon the right to private property. Again, contrary to mainstream opinion this principle of private property does not conflate to support of continued segregation and racism. It is important to recognize the real relationship between Culture and Law. If it is true that the progress in race relations that has been made since the 1960’s is not because of these aspects of the Civil Rights Acts but in spite of them, then we can say with certainty that nowhere in the United States could a “White’s Only” private business succeed financially. Our culture has evolved to abhor racism to such an extent that rational discussion about the Civil Rights Acts is often unattainable without being labeled a racist. The market of ideas would have put Jim Crow segregation out of business decades ago if not propped up by Supreme Court decisions and other legislative infringements on the rights of the individual. It is certainly possible that this evolution would have occurred with less racial tension than what was created by the infringements of individual liberties that was part of the Civil Rights Acts.

Legislation must be understood for what it is, violence. All legislation, whether written and signed by a majority of the ‘citizens’ of a democracy or the whims of a monarch, is backed up by the threat of imprisonment, and in many cases the implied threat of death. We should attempt to learn from the successes that occurred organically and culturally, those of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Perhaps his doctrine of nonviolence can be applied here to the federal government. One of the five main pillars of Dr. King’s doctrine on non-violence included “Active resistance to the forces of evil, but not the individual actors”. Dr. King believed that racism was “a plague suffered by all races”. Clearly the aspects of the Civil Rights Acts in question here are examples of active resistance to the individual actors. Brown v. Board of Education proved that it is not possible to change Culture via the Law. Ten years after the Brown ruling, only 9.2 percent of black students in the South were enrolled in segregated schools.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.     The Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s accomplished several admirable feats. In regards to the public sphere the federal government had every responsibility to guarantee equal protection under the law, and civil rights. Its violations of individual liberties have had long lasting negative effects. It is easy to understand why it is costly and often counterproductive to fight violence with violence, but what many fail to grasp is the inherent violence in legislation. The federal government has tried, again and again, to legislate morality. It does not work. Alcohol prohibition was a dismal failure as the “War on Some Drugs” continues to be. If the federal government had no hand in marriage, there would be no need for marriage equality laws. The rights of individual self-ownership and private property are ultimately what gives every individual the potential to improve his or her lot in life. These rights ought to be protected, not infringed upon by the Law. Cultural evolution is the non-violent alternative to violent, or political revolution. It is also the more effective alternative.

 – Adam Alcorn, @AdamBlacksburg

Founder, Editor at the Humane Condition


Economics in One Lesson – Henry Hazlitt – A Short Discussion

Reviewing Mises U 2013 Required Reading List: Part I

Economics in One Lesson - Henry Hazlitt

Economics in One Lesson – Henry Hazlitt

“Economics is haunted by more fallacies than any other study known to man. This is no accident. The inherent difficulties of the subject would be great enough in any case, but they are multiplied a thousandfold by a factor that is insignificant in, say, physics, mathematics, or medicine—the special pleading of selfish interests.” – Hazlitt Economics in One Lesson.

            Henry Hazlitt opens his masterful book Economics in One Lesson without pulling any punches. Hazlitt’s offensive approach to defending free market economics is refreshing and notable. Rather than starting with a conventionally accepted foundational basis for his forthcoming economic theory, which no doubt would have been a way of kissing the asses of whom he later refers to as “so called brilliant” economists, Hazlitt immediately noted his intention of picking them apart with what should be basic foundational economic principles.

            Before going into logical and practical examples of Keynesian fallacies, (though he never mentions Keynes in this particular chapter), Hazlitt introduces us to “The Lesson” that gives root to these pervasive fallacies. One primary lesson that comes across in this opening chapter is that economic policies must be measured not only by those industries targeted by the policy, but all industries, consumers, and entrepreneurs in every sector of the economy. This observation relates directly with Hazlitt’s second main factor in allowing an epidemic of economic fallacy. Hazlitt says:

“…there is a second main factor that spawns new economic fallacies every day. This is the persistent tendency of men to see only the immediate effects of a given policy, or its effects only on a special group, and to neglect to inquire what the long-run effects of that policy will be…”

– Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson.

This observation, though written in 1946, could not be more accurate today. From the steady increase in the minimum wage, (despite the obvious harmful reality of such policies), the unreasonable taxation of poor rural communities to “help the farmers”, and most blatantly the inflationary policies of the Federal Reserve, robbing the lower and middle classes in the most cowardly of methods, the inflation tax. It is the “new” economists, as Hazlitt terms them, that are unable to see the ways in which inflationary monetary policy affect any other sector of the economy outside of the financial sector, including lending and thus interest rates. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail, and the Fed’s hammer doesn’t consider the lower or middle class. Hazlitt calls this the fallacy of “overlooking secondary consequences”.Hazlitt demonstrates this concisely here:

“The bad economist sees only what immediately strikes the eye; the good economist also looks beyond. The bad economist sees only the direct consequences of a proposed course; the good economist looks also at the longer and indirect consequences. The bad economist sees only what the effect of a given policy has been or will be on one particular group; the good economist inquires also what the effect of the policy will be on all groups.”

– Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson.

            Economics in One Lesson has never received its due credit. Many of the principles Hazlitt espoused have become widely accepted amongst free-thinking economists today, but he was writing in a time even more hostile to laissez-faire policies than even today. How is it that such foundational theories, proven right over time, become so demonized in the eyes of the public? It is obvious why the State benefits from fallacious economic policies (see: parasitism), but why the general public? Hazlitt addressed this in the following way:

“The group that would benefit by such policies, having such a direct interest in them, will argue for them plausibly and persistently. It will hire the best buyable minds to devote their whole time to presenting its case. And it will finally either convince the general public that its case is sound, or so befuddle it that clear thinking on the subject becomes next to impossible.”

Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson.


            The Keynesian inflationary economic policies of today are based on obvious falsehoods and illogical justifications. Hazlitt points out the uncontroversial truth by asking “Doesn’t every little boy know that if he eats enough candy he will get sick?” Why is it that public economic policy practices very rarely if ever consider the future? It is after all something we all learn at a rather young age. On this, Hazlitt says:


“Yet when we enter the field of public economics, these elementary truths are ignored. There are men regarded today as brilliant economists, who deprecate saving and recommend squandering on a national scale as the way of economic salvation; and when anyone points to what the consequences of these policies will be in the long run, they reply flippantly, as might the prodigal son of a warning father: “In the long run we are all dead.” And such shallow wisecracks pass as devastating epigrams and the ripest wisdom. But the tragedy is that, on the contrary, we are already suffering the long-run consequences of the policies of the remote or recent past. Today is already the tomorrow which the bad economist yesterday urged us to ignore.”

– Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson.


The Broken Window

             Hazlitt includes more than just a sound explanation of the all-pervasive “broken window fallacy”. He also explains how this, and other fallacies are caused by the previously mentioned rejection of the “elementary truth”. Clearly, when a window is broken the local glazier will have a slight increase in sales. The short-sighted “bad economist” would see only the immediate benefit, refusing to account for the legitimate needs and wants of the consumer that would have been more efficiently allocated without the unexpected window repair bill. While this is a fallacy that many accept on the surface, Hazlitt notes that in terms of large scale disasters the fallacy still prevails. To demonstrate this Hazlitt connects the belief of the Keynesians that war improves the economy with the broken window fallacy, under “one of a hundred disguises”.


“They tell us how much better off economically we all are in war than in peace. They see “miracles of production” which it requires a war to achieve. And they see a postwar world made certainly prosperous by an enormous “accumulated” or “backedup” demand. In Europe they joyously count the houses, the whole cities that have been leveled to the ground and that “will have to be replaced.” In America they count the houses that could not be built during the war, the nylon stockings that could not be supplied, the worn-out automobiles and tires, the obsolescent radios and refrigerators. They bring together formidable totals.”

          Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson


Hazlitt answers this fallacious analysis in a concise fashion that is prevalent throughout the entire book, his grasp on market economics is apparent in his opinion of inflationary economists and their policies:


“Mere inflation—that is, the mere issuance of more money, with the consequence of higher wages and prices—may look like the creation of more demand. But in terms of the actual production and exchange of real things it is not. Yet a fall in postwar demand may be concealed from many people by the illusions caused by higher money wages that are more than offset by higher prices.”

          Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson.


 There is no better introduction to free market economics than Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson, it has remained timeless and will continue to be an invaluable resource in the promotion of liberty and free markets. You can download this book for free, or support the Mises Institute by ordering a copy for yourself here.


          Adam Alcorn, Editor/Founder the Humane Condition, ,


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