Thursday, January 21, 2010

Who's the Greatest?

From a post at LRC:

Dom Armentano writes to Walter Block:

Walter…strongly support your positions on MR. He was the most influential intellectual in my life. I found him smart, tough, funny, and incredibly helpful in matters economic and strategic. One of a kind and I miss him dearly.

BTW, for me, Rothbard is far more impressive an overall economist than Mises. Mises could never have written Rothbard’s history of economic thought material, for example. And no one understood the dark underbelly of political economy—or wrote more brilliantly about it—than Murray. Certainly Murray stands on Mises’s shoulders but in doing so, in my view, his understanding of political economy (theory and history) and his unique ability to write clearly and cleverly, pushes him well past the great Mises. We can agree to disagree.

Responds Walter:

Dom, this is the sort of debate I’d like: Resolved, Mises and Rothbard were the best two economists, ever. Now, which one has precedence? Believe me, I’m very receptive to your argument that I was wrong, and Murray was really number 1, and Lu, merely, number 2.


  1. Robert - thanks for the insight. I've always admired the work of Block and Armentano and its nice to see such a civilized exchange. As for Mises and Rothbard I find them both indispensable.

  2. Is there some objective standard for economic greatness now, so that we can place economists in cardinal rank?

    Sheesh, these guys apparently learned NOTHING from the men they so revere!

  3. @Taylor

    There is nothing wrong with cardinal ranks when you are not discussing marginal utility.

    For example, I think you would agree that Michael Jordan was the greatest player on the Chicago Bulls and you would, most likely, rank Scottie Pippen second.

    As for ranking Mises and Rothbard, it's much tougher because they are both so great. I think more than anything the question opens up the thinking to "Hey, yeah, Rothbard is right up there with Mises."

  4. Wenzel,

    It was a bit tongue in cheek.

    But consider your example-- in sports, there are at least hard statistics you can refer to to make some kind of decision: total points, avg points per game, years in the league, salary, etc.

    With the economists, it's harder... do you go off of number of books written? pages written? journal articles written? amazing original insights arrived at?

    The two banter about Rothbard standing on Mises shoulders, yet maybe Rothbard was greater... but how do you quantify and compare the value of Mises lugging big ol' Rothbard up on top of him, and Rothbard subsequently pushing off the base of Mises below him to jump to other heights?

    It's an unresolvable debate of opinion and personal preference!

    But either way, the image of Murray Rothbard sitting atop Mises shoulders as poor old Mises stumbles around under the weight is too comical for me to care much about the rest of the debate anyway, hahaha!

    (And I hate picking favorites, anyway, I always get shy when people ask "What's your favorite..." even when they turn to the "You can only have one for the rest of your life, you HAVE TO pick so just pick one!" I just say "No, I don't" and continue on liking them both pretty much the same)