Quotes on Economics

Where there is Hunger, Law is not regarded; and where Law is not regarded, there will be Hunger.

— Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanack (1755)

What is prudence in the conduct of every private family can scarce be folly in that of a great kingdom.

— Adam Smith

A panhandler is far more moral than corporate welfare queens….The panhandler doesn’t enlist anyone to force you to give him money. He’s coming up to you and saying, “Will you help me out?” The farmers, when they want subsidies, they’re not asking for a voluntary transaction. They go to a congressman and say, “Could you take his money and give it to us?” That’s immoral.

— Walter E. Williams

The blame for [the national debt] lies with the Congress and the President, with Democrats and Republicans alike, most all of whom have been unwilling to make the hard choices or to explain to the American people that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

— Warren R. Rudman

I, however, place economy among the first and most important republican virtues, and public debt as the greatest of the dangers to be feared.

— Thomas Jefferson

When politics are used to allocate resources, the resources all end up being allocated to politics.

— P.J. O’Rourke

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess of the public treasury. From that time on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the results that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.

— Sir Alexander Fraser Tyler

The great virtue of a free market system is that it does not care what color people are; it does not care what their religion is; it only cares whether they can produce something you want to buy. It is the most effective system we have discovered to enable people who hate one another to deal with one another and help one another.

— Milton Friedman

One of the wonderful things about free markets is that the path to greater wealth comes not from looting, plundering and enslaving one’s fellow man, as it has throughout most of human history, but by serving and pleasing him.

— Walter Williams

The instinct of ownership is fundamental in man’s nature.

— William James, The Variety of Religious Experience, 1902

The wealth of the country, its capital, its credit, must be saved from the predatory poor as well as the predatory rich, but above all from the predatory politician.

— James J. Hill

Money, which represents the prose of life, and which is hardly spoken of in parlors without an apology, is, in its effects and laws, as beautiful as roses.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Never appeal to a man’s ‘better nature.’ He may not have one. Invoking his self-interest gives you more leverage.

— Robert Heinlein, The Notebooks of Lazarus Long

I think we have more machinery of government than is necessary, too many parasites living on the labor of the industrious.

— Thomas Jefferson

But how is this legal plunder to be identified? Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.

— Frederic Bastiat

The “private sector” of the economy is, in fact, the voluntary sector; and…the “public sector” is, in fact, the coercive sector.

— Henry Hazlitt

To be controlled in our economic pursuits means to be controlled in everything.

— Friedrich Hayek

A free economy will not break down. All depressions are caused by government interference. and, the cure is always offered, so far, to take more of the poisons that caused the disaster. Depressions are not the result of a free economy.

— Ayn Rand

The dilemma … is between the democratic process of the market in which every individual has his share and the exclusive rule of a dictatorial body. Whatever people do in the market economy is the execution of their own plans. In this sense every human action means planning. What those calling themselves planners advocate is not the substitution of planned action for letting things go. It is the substitution of the planner’s own plan for the plans of his fellowmen. The planner is a potential dictator who wants to deprive all other people of the power to plan and act according to their own plans. He aims at one thing only: the exclusive absolute preeminence of his own plan.

— Ludwig von Mises

The free market is the only mechanism that has ever been discovered for achieving participatory democracy.

— Milton Friedman, Introduction to the Fiftieth Anniversary Edition of The Road to Serfdom

Economic ignorance is the breeding ground of totalitarianism.

— John Jewkes

It is impossible to introduce into society a greater change and a greater evil than this: the conversion of the law into an instrument of plunder.

— Frederic Bastiat

Next to the right of liberty, the right of property is the most important individual right guaranteed by the Constitution and the one which, united with that of personal liberty, has contributed more to the growth of civilization than any other institution established by the human race.

— William Howard Taft

Two vital marketplace signals are the profits that come with success and the losses that come with failure. When these two signals are not allowed to freely function, markets operate less efficiently.

— Walter Williams

Some people regard private enterprise as a predatory tiger to be shot. Others look on it as a cow they can milk. Not enough people see it as a healthy horse, pulling a sturdy wagon.

— Winston Churchill

The policy of the American government is to leave its citizens free, neither restraining them nor aiding them in their pursuits.

— Thomas Jefferson

Every government interference in the economy consists of giving an unearned benefit, extorted by force, to some men at the expense of others.

— Ayn Rand

If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it’s free.

— P.J. O’Rourke

The difference between a politician and a pickpocket is that a pickpocket doesn’t always get indignant when you tell him to keep his hands to himself.

— Joseph Sobran

Government is not the generator of economic growth; working people are.

— U.S. Senator Phil Gramm

There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it’s only a hundred billion. It’s less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers.

— Richard Feynman

The real destroyer of the liberties of the people is he who spreads among them bounties, donations and benefits.

— Plutarch

The natural effort of every individual to better his own condition is so powerful that it is alone, and without any assistance, not only capable of carrying on the society to wealth and prosperity, but of surmounting a hundred impertinent obstructions with which the folly of human laws too often encumbers its operations.

— Adam Smith

In war, the stronger overcomes the weaker. In business, the stronger imparts strength to the weaker.

— Frederic Bastiat

Failure is more frequently from want of energy than want of capital.

— Daniel Webster

One definition of an economist is somebody who sees something happen in practice and wonders if it will work in theory.

— Ronald Reagan

What is wrong with our age is precisely the widespread ignorance of the role which these policies of economic freedom played in the technological evolution of the last two hundred years. People fell prey to the fallacy that the improvement of the methods of production was contemporaneous with the policy of laissez faire only by accident.

— Ludwig von Mises, Human Action

The first lesson of economics is scarcity: There is never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.

— Thomas Sowell

Every time that we try to lift a problem from our own shoulders, and shift that problem to the hands of the government, to the same extent we are sacrificing the liberties of our people.

— John F. Kennedy

A glance at the economic system and methods of totalitarian states — of the Soviet bloc, for example — is enough to show that state-ownership of the means of production does not lead to an increase of wealth for the people but, on the contrary, to their exploitation, whereas the reverse is true of the free countries and peoples, which are denounced for their so-called capitalism but which clearly illustrates how private ownership of the means of production is contributing more and more to the general welfare.

— Ludwig Erhard

One of the sad signs of our times is that we have demonized those who produce, subsidized those who refuse to produce, and canonized those who complain.

— Thomas Sowell

Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.

— Mark Twain

A right, such as a right to free speech, imposes no obligation on another, except that of non-interference. The so-called right to health care, food or housing, whether a person can afford it or not, is something entirely different; it does impose an obligation on another. If one person has a right to something he didn’t produce, simultaneously and of necessity it means that some other person does not have right to something he did produce. That’s because, since there’s no Santa Claus or Tooth Fairy, in order for government to give one American a dollar, it must, through intimidation, threats and coercion, confiscate that dollar from some other American.

— Walter Williams

Foreign aid might be defined as a transfer from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries.

— Douglas Casey

Private property was the original source of freedom. It still is its main bulwark.

— Walter Lippman

Capital isn’t scarce; vision is.

— Sam Walton

I am for a government rigorously frugal and simple. Were we directed from Washington when to sow, when to reap, we should soon want bread.

— Thomas Jefferson

I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.

— Thomas Jefferson

What is called “orthodox” economics is in most countries barred from the universities and is virtually unknown to the leading statesmen, politicians, and writers. The blame for the unsatisfactory state of economic affairs can certainly not be placed upon a science which both rulers and masses despise and ignore.

— Ludwig von Mises, Human Action

Capital isn’t that important in business. Experience isn’t that important. You can get both of these things. What is important is ideas.

— Harvey S. Firestone

The government deficit is the difference between the amount of money the government spends and the amount it has the nerve to collect.

— Sam Ewing

Agriculture, manufacturers, commerce, and navigation, the four pillars of our prosperity, are then most thriving when left most free to individual enterprise.

— Thomas Jefferson, First annual message to Congress; December 8, 1801

When a government takes over a people’s economic life it becomes absolute, and when it has become absolute it destroys the arts, the minds, the liberties and the meaning of the people it governs.

— Maxwell Anderson

The real minimum wage is zero.

— Thomas Sowell

When the people find they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.

— Benjamin Franklin

Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.

— Ronald Reagan

Capital as such is not evil; it is its wrong use that is evil. Capital in some form or other will always be needed.

— Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

What we call the market is really a democratic process involving millions, and in some markets billions, of people making personal decisions that express their preferences. When you hear someone say that he doesn’t trust the market, and wants to replace it with government edicts, he’s really calling for a switch from a democratic process to a totalitarian one.

— Walter Williams

Don’t knock the rich. When did a poor person ever give you a job?

— Dr. Laurence J. Peter

Sovereign ingredient for a happy marriage: Pay cash or do without. Interest charges not only eat up a household budget, awareness of debt eats up domestic felicity.

— Robert Heinlein, The Notebooks of Lazarus Long

I champion an economic order ruled by free prices and markets…the only economic order compatible with human freedom.

— Wilhelm Ropke

The common man is the sovereign consumer whose buying or abstention from buying ultimately determines what should be produced and in what quantity and quality.

— Ludwig von Mises

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.

— Adam Smith

The way to crush the bourgeoisie is to grind them between the millstones of taxation and inflation.

— Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

The duty of government is to leave commerce to its own capital and credit as well as all other branches of business, protecting all in their legal pursuits, granting exclusive privileges to none.

— Andrew Jackson

There are no such things as limits to growth, because there are no limits on the human capacity for intelligence, imagination and wonder.

— Ronald Reagan

The propensity to truck, barter and exchange one thing for another is common to all men, and to be found in no other race of animals.

— Adam Smith

What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value.

— Thomas Paine

The principle that both sides benefit from trade is readily visible when it involves two parties within a country; it somehow becomes confused when an invisible political barrier separates the parties. Neither the mercantilists of yesteryear nor those who fuss about the trade deficit today have ever satisfactorily answered this fundamental question: Since each and every trade is “favorable” to the individual traders, how is it possible that these transactions can be totaled up to produce something “unfavorable”?

— Lawrence W. Reed, The Trade Deficit: Much Ado About Nothing

Government cannot make man richer, but it can make him poorer.

— Ludwig von Mises

If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 5 years there’d be a shortage of sand.

— Milton Friedman

True capitalism is based upon one simple principle: that all exchanges of property are made with the voluntary consent of all parties. Private ownership of property and competition — the other two components of capitalism in most traditional definitions — are actually results of this foundational principle. As all governments are institutions of coercion, there is no way for them to acquire property through voluntary exchange. Further, with all exchanges being voluntary, sellers must by definition compete with one another in order to sell their products. So, the foundation of “capitalism” is really the non-aggression principle applied to property. Capitalism requires that no one’s property can be taken from them without their consent.

— Tom Mullen

Property must be secured or liberty cannot exist.

— John Adams

National saving is the only way a country can have its capital and own it too. Models of the economic growth process identify national saving as one of the key policy variables in influencing a nation’s living standards in the long run.

— Edward Gramlich

You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift. You cannot help small men by tearing down big men. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot lift the wage-earner by pulling down the wage-payer. You cannot help the poor man by destroying the rich. You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred. You cannot establish security on borrowed money. You cannot build character and courage by taking away men’s initiative and independence. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.

— William Boetcker

The system of private property is the most important guaranty of freedom, not only for those who own property, but scarcely less for those who do not.

— Friedrich Hayek

What is called ‘capitalism’ might more accurately be called consumerism. It is the consumers who call the tune, and the capitalists who want to remain capitalists have to learn to dance to it.

— Thomas Sowell

We cannot expect existing businesses to promote legislation that would harm them. It is up to the rest of us to promote the public interest by fostering competition across the board and to recognize that being pro-free enterprise may sometimes require that we be anti-existing business.

— Milton Friedman

Asking liberals where wages and prices come from is like asking six-year-olds where babies come from.

— Thomas Sowell

The blame for [the national debt] lies with the Congress and the President, with Democrats and Republicans alike, most all of whom have been unwilling to make the hard choices or to explain to the American people that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

— Senator Warren Rudman

It is not by augmenting the capital of the country, but by rendering a greater part of that capital active and productive than would otherwise be so, that the most judicious operations of banking can increase the industry of the country.

— Adam Smith

The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance.

— Marcus Tullius Cicero
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