David, you’re right that Boettke sets up a straw man with his smarmy statement about Rothbard’s allegedly nonchalant attitude toward “the poor.” He then bloviates on in his usually confusing and pointless diatribe, a hallmark of his writings, ending with another whining smear of Rothbard and Rothbardians.
The source of Boettke’s befuddlement is found in his last sentence where he says he has been reading the work of James M. Buchanan for years, and that is what informs his rambling speculations. Well I, too, have read Buchanan, who was a grad school professor of mine in 1977 at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. What Boettke has been reading of Buchanan’s is not his early work in public finance, but his enterprise of “constitutional economics,” which one of Buchanan’s protégé’s once defined as his project to construct “a voluntary theory of government.” This involves ignoring actual history and reality and theorizing about such things as “conceptual unanimity.” Not real unanimity as in a voluntary, free market, but “conceptual” unanimity invented by James Buchanan and his followers like Boettke. This theory is then used to argue that government is not coercive after all because, in theory, possibly, maybe, with the right assumptions, every last person in society could conceivably, conceptually, theoretically, agree on an activist government. Armed with this tool of statist propaganda, Buchanan advocated harsher antitrust regulation, the taxing away of inheritance, and other interventions. Leland Yeager smashed this silly argument by pointing out that whenever you read the word “conceptual” before “unanimity,” just substitute the word “no” and you will understand what they are talking about.
I’m ashamed to say that when I was young and not very well educated I actually thought there was something to this theory of Buchanan’s, but a little study and paying attention to reality quickly changed my mind. Boettke seems to have gone in the opposite direction: the older he gets the more he believes in such statist superstitions. On the other hand, a cynic might speculate that, like Buchanan, he knows what he is doing and is simply trying to “fit in” with the statist/interventionist mainstream of the economics profession.
Walter Block adds:
I greatly appreciate David’s and Tom’s rejoinder to Pete Boettke’s unwarranted and gratuitous criticism of Murray Rothbard. Not being concerned about the poor, indeed! I think no truer words were uttered on this episode than these of Tom’s: “On the other hand, a cynic might speculate that, like Buchanan, (Boettke) knows what he is doing and is simply trying to ‘fit in with the statist/interventionist mainstream of the economics profession.”
I would now just like to add my own postscript to this little story, my own criticisms of this scholar’s output:
Block, Walter E. 2014. “Walter Block Replies to Peter Boettke re Mathematical Economics.” January 3; http://www.economicpolicyjournal.com/2014/01/walter-block-replies-to-peter-boettke.html
Block, Walter E. 2014. “Is econ 101 killing America? A critique of Atkinson and Lind, and Boettke.” Management Education Science Technology Journal (MEST); Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 10-22. doi:10.12709/mest.02.02.02.02; http://www.mest.meste.org/MEST_2_2014/4_02.pdf
Block, Walter E. 2013. “Walter Block on Wenzel on Salerno on Boettke on Austrianism.” December 25; http://www.economicpolicyjournal.com/2013/12/walter-block-on-wenzel-on-salernoon.html
Block, Walter E. 2010. “Rejoinder to Boettke on Coasean Economics and Communism.” Romanian Economic and Business Review, Vol. 5, No. 3, Fall, pp. 9-90; http://www.rebe.rau.ro/REBE%205%203.pdf
Somewhat paradoxically, while to be sure Pete and I disagree on several issues, I must acknowledge that I regard him as an otherwise highly competent scholar and libertarian theoretician. Hey, we all make a few mistakes, myself certainly included. I am also grateful to him for mentoring more than a few of my Loyola and Holy Cross undergraduate students who have gone on to study with him, have earned their PhDs at Mason, and now have splendid careers in our Austro libertarian movement.