Friday, September 26, 2014

The Opening of Debate Between Robert Wenzel and Walter Block on Rand Paul

RW note: In addition to my on going debate with Walter Block (and Michael Edelstein) on IP, I guess I  am now debating Walter on Rand Paul. Walter emails:
Please consider publishing the attached, the opening in our debate on Rand Paul.

Rand Paul and Bob Wenzel

By Walter E. Block

I am a BIG fan of Robert Wenzel’s, both personally and professionally. I consider his electronic publication Economic Policy Journal ( the second best blog on the entire planet, right after Coming from me, that is high praise indeed.  (Minor criticism, that Journal does way, way more than “Economic Policy” and does virtually all of it brilliantly; certainly, it includes libertarian theory, foreign policy, political analysis, civil liberties, and much more. If Lew Rockwell calls his blog, perhaps he should change the name of this splendid effort of his to As it stands, his title, I think, is a bit too narrow).

Mr. Wenzel and I probably agree on 99.99999% of all issues on economics-politics.  To the best of my knowledge we disagree on only two: Intellectual property, and his assessment of Rand Paul. I’m about to write on the latter (on the former, see Part 1, here or here, Part 2,  here or here, Part 3 here or here or here or here Part 4, here, Part 5, here).

Moreover, I look upon Bob Wenzel as a friend, and I have little doubt that this feeling is reciprocated. So, when I engage him on his analysis of the Rand Paul phenomenon, I do so as a fellow traveller with him in our mutual quest to promote liberty. I do so more in sorrow than in anger, as the old aphorism goes.

To say that Wenzel is critical of Rand Paul would be the understatement of the year. No, of the decade.  Ordinarily, when I make a claim that
X has critiqued Y, I feel obligated to cite some instances in support of such a contention. In this case I do not. For Bob has written so many, many disparagements of Rand it would be superfluous. All the reader who doubts this need do is google “Robert Wenzel Rand Paul.” Or, peruse his otherwise splendid blog for his almost daily withering mentions of Rand Paul. Well, I changed my mind. Here he lists about a dozen complaints about the Junior Senator from Kentucky. But this is just the veritable tip of the iceberg.

Were I to summarize the misgivings the former has about the latter it would be that he is not a real libertarian. Rand, in Wenzel’s view, compromises way too much with libertarian principle, on way too many issues. He changes his mind way too much.

What does the defense of Rand Paul look like?

1.Even if each and every accusation that Bob hurls against Rand were true, this still does not exlpain the venom. Something else must be going on? It does not account for the sheer day in and day out invective. Ok, alright, criticize man from a libertarian point of view. There is plenty of grist for this particular mill. But practically every day?  And very harshly?

2. Rand never said he was a (pure) libertarian. He has called himself, variously, a Constitutionalist, a Republican, a libertarian Republican. He has never to the best of my knowledge claimed the mantle of libertarianism. So, why, then, criticize him, mercilessly, for deviating from pure libertarianism?

3. Part of the disappointment with Rand is that his views are different than those of Ron Paul’s. I make no secret of my admiration, my love, for Ron Paul. This book of mine is my love letter to him: Block, Walter E. 2012. Yes to Ron Paul and Liberty. New York: Ishi Press; it is available here, here and here. There may be others who honor, respect, admire and love Ron Paul as much as I do, but I warrant that there is no one on the planet who exceeds me in these feelings, in the strength of this assessment.  But Rand is Ron’s son. He, therefore, ought to have the decency to be an exact replica of him? The former should agree with the latter in every single opinion in political economy? This sort of sentiment seems to me to fuel the hatred of Rand on the part of many in the libertarian movement, perhaps including Bob Wenzel.

But sons and fathers are different people. I have a son of my own, who veers toward libertarianism, but is in no way as radical as me. I have a daughter who is not even a libertarian. Children make their own way in the world. They are not always replicas of their parents. Ron Paul and Rand Paul are two different people. It is totally unwarranted to think that the latter should copy the former in all ways.  Suppose Rand Paul were not Ron Paul’s son. Suppose his name, instead, were Paul Randall. Would Wenzel and other critics be so dismissive, so vicious, about him? I think not. Because …

4. Rand Paul is by far the most libertarian member of today’s Senate. Possibly, I am not historian enough to say this with any certainty, Rand Paul is the most libertarian member of the U.S. Senate in the entire history of that institution. If his name, instead, were Paul Randall, I warrant that libertarians would be drooling over him; falling all over themselves to ingratiate themselves with him; supporting him with almost as much passion as they did Ron Paul.

5. But Rand often changes his position. Bob Wenzel will have to get on line on this one. Our friends on the left in the Democratic Party are already attacking him for this supposed inconsistency of his.  What is Keynes’s view on this? He is one of my least favorite economists, but on this matter what he says has the ring of truth; here are several versions of what he purportedly said:

“When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?”
“When events change, I change my mind. What do you do?”
“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”
“When someone persuades me that I am wrong, I change my mind. What do you do?”
I don’t want to be misinterpreted here. I am not supporting many of Rand Paul’s positions. As a staunch Rothbardian, someone who was even more of a radical libertarian in many ways than the great Ron Paul, I could hardly do that. All I am saying is that changing one’s mind is not a per se weakness. It is certainly not a violation of the libertarian non-aggression principle.

6. For me, the greatest weakness in Wenzel’s case against Rand Paul is his statement to the effect that if he wins the Republican nomination for president in 2016, and Hilary Clinton is the Democratic standard bearer, he would support the latter (See Wenzel, Robert. 2014. “If It Comes Down to Hillary Clinton vs. Rand Paul, Who Should a Libertarian Want to See Win the Election?” July 14).  With all due respect, I find this highly problematic from a libertarian point of view. I go further: it seems barking mad to me to say any such thing. What is Wenzel’s argument? It is that if Rand becomes president, he will so besmirch the libertarian philosophy that it will have a hard time recovering from it. Whereas if Hilary wins the election, this of course will not occur, since she does not have a libertarian bone in her body. She cannot possibly undermine libertarianism, since no rational person would accuse her of favoring liberty. Let Wenzel speak for himself on this matter: “And so, if it comes down to Hillary vs. Rand, I do not believe that there is any extraordinary reason to cheer for a Rand victory. Yes, Hillary is an out and out statist, but it is far from clear that Rand, with the exception of a few marginal issues that the elite don't care about, is going to be much different. He will have to play ball with the elite and what they want. Bottom line: A Rand presidency is not going to mean an end to the Fed. In fact, I doubt Rand would go much beyond calling for an audit of the Fed, at this point. And, I see no indication that the expansive Empire would be significantly reduced under Rand, if at all.

There is so much wrong with this it is hard to begin pointing out the errors. First of all, and relatively unimportant, even if Rand gains the Republican nomination, but loses to Hillary, he will still greatly tarnish the good ship libertarian, at least according to Wenzel’s analysis. Why, then, not support him versus her, should the two of them face each other in the general election? Either way, Rand will besmirch libertarianism, supposedly.

Secondly, if anyone can sully the name of libertarianism, it is not Rand Paul, who usually outright denies he is a libertarian, but rather Gary Johnson, a self- avowed libertarian, who was the presidential candidate of the Libertarian Party in 2012, and has a good chance of winning that job in 2016. To his credit, Bob Wenzel has also, properly, called into question Johnson’s libertarian credentials. But where was the venom? Where are the ceaseless, almost daily, attacks on Gary Johnson? In my own view, the libertarian credentials of Rand Paul and Gary Johnson are approximately equal. Both on occasion advocate violating the libertarian axiom of non-aggression, and to roughly the same degree. It is unwarranted to subject the former, and not the latter, to hyperbolic critiques, particularly given that Gary, not Rand, proudly espouses the banner of libertarianism.

Also, Gary Johnson chose a vice presidential candidate, Judge Jim Grey, who supports the minimum wage law, one of my litmus tests.  Laurence Vance has a more serious indictment of him, here, on grounds of war-mongering. This is libertarianism? Why doesn’t Bob Wenzel “pile on” to Gary Johnson?

Third, let us posit that Rand, winning or losing the presidential election, will somehow undermine libertarianism. We are now engaging in argumentum arguendo. My claim is that there may be some things more important than the reduction of the reputation of this beloved philosophy. Rand Paul is more of an interventionist than I support. I am a Ron Paulian on this issue. But, compared to Rand, Hilary Clinton is a rabid warmonger, a veritable John McCain in a skirt. I supported my man Barack Obama against McCain in 2008, and again the “hope and change” man vis a vis Romney in 2012. Why? Have I lost my mind? No, I do not think so. My thoughts were two: foreign policy is more important than domestic policy, either economics or personal liberties, and that our present president would be less of a maniacal warmonger than either Republican candidate. At least Obama is a somewhat reluctant warrior. He didn’t bomb Syria when he was urged to do so by the neo cons. Yes, he has already commenced hostilities against the Islamic State, with no, well, fewer, “boots on the ground” than others would likely have ordered.  My assessment of a president McCain, God forbid, is that he would have actually dropped a few H bombs during his administration, and that Romney, who was raring to get tough with of all nations, China, would not have been much better. And, neither Romney or McCain was any great shakes on economics either.

So, even if Rand Paul would impugn libertarianism, set back our movement (something I deny) he would still be preferable to Hilary Clinton. The latter would likely murder hundreds of thousands of innocents abroad, and cause the deaths of thousands of Americans who would be wearing those “boots.”  In contrast, Rand Paul is no Ron Paul. This cannot be denied. But, he is no Hillary Clinton either. Hillary will kill many, many more innocent people than will Rand. Isn’t it also part of the libertarian ethos (I am still assuming, arguendo, that Rand will blemish our freedom philosophy) not to murder innocents? Seemingly, this wide disparity in likely murderousness between Rand and Hillary does not at all enter into Wenzel’s calculations.

Wenzel also asks? “Would Rand not institute price controls ‘under the right circumstances’? I do not think it can be ruled out.” As far as I know, there is not a scintilla of evidence that Rand Paul would ever even contemplate such a measure, let alone implement it if he became president of the U.S.  This seems like a gargantuan reach on Mr. Wenzel’s part. I myself have been accused of supporting slavery by the New York Times, with just about a similar amount of justification. This is a “howler” of the first degree on Wenzel’s part.

7. I promised myself I would not respond to each and every Wenzel criticism of Rand Paul. To do so would take me practically forever. I thought I could confine myself, apart from the one essay where he preferred Hilary to Rand, to his attacks on him in general. But I cannot resist mentioning this one, which was pubished on 9/25/14, the date of this present writing. Here, Wenzel is dismayed that Rand does not hate the state.

But Rand Paul is a politician for goodness sake. How can any reasonable man expect him to “hate the state?” Even the sainted Ron Paul never came out and supported hatred for the government. Yes, Murray N. Rothbard and all good Rothbardians, including both me and my friend Bob Wenzel share this view, but it is a bit much to castigate Rand Paul for not being not only a libertarian, but amongst the most radical libertarians possible.

To summarize. Rand Paul may well be the most libertarian Senator of all time. And this despite the fact that he refuses to take on the mantle of libertarianism. Is he a Rothbardian? Of course not. Is he a Ron Paulian? Unfortunately, no. But is he as despicable as Mr. Robert Wenzel paints him? The very idea is preposterous. What should be the libertarian viewpoint on Rand Paul? In my view, he is by far the most libertarian of any of the possible candidates for the office of president in 2016. If his name, instead, were Paul Randall, libertarians would be stepping on their tongues in an effort to support him. Just because the acorn dropped quite a bit away from the tree in this case is no reason to change that attitude. If I could support Obama in 2008 and 2012, I can enthusiastically, no deliriously, no ferociously, get behind Rand Paul. Wenzel’s position reminds of Ayn Rand’s view in 1972. She supported Gerald Ford, God help us, so to speak. Who was also running in that year? Why, John Hospers, on the ticket of the libertarian party. Why didn’t Rand, for goodness sake, support Hospers? It is my understanding this was because of some minor differences she had with him over technical matters of aesthetics.  The distance between Hospers and Rand was miniscule, compared to the divergence between her and Gerald Ford, of all people. Similarly, the disagreements between Rand Paul and Robert Wenzel are as nothing, nothing I tells you, as those between Wenzel and Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton, for goodness sakes? Is nothing sacred? The political acumen of a man who would make such a gross error is not to be trusted.