Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Parallel Lives: Liberty or Power?

Lew Rockwell has written a must read article that contrasts the life of Murray Rothbard and Alan Greenspan.

Rockwell captures the essence of these two men. At one point, Rockwell writes:
As for Rothbard's own character, the contrast with Greenspan could not be starker. If Greenspan was the dreary undertaker, Rothbard was the happy warrior. Rothbard thrilled to spend time with students and faculty and anyone interested in liberty. When you spoke to him, he was glad to talk about the field of interest that was the other person's specialization. Whether it was history, philosophy, ethics, economics, politics, religion, Renaissance painting, music, sports, Baroque church architecture, or even the soaps on TV, he always made others feel more important.
I met Greenspan once at a conference in Berlin. His hand shake was like shaking a cold dead fish. There was no life to the man. He did not appear to hold any excitement in him about anything.  The undertaker, indeed. Rand nailed him.

I also had the opportunity to meet personally with Rothbard on two occasions (and saw him at perhaps three conferences.) What a contrast. He was full of life and you quickly learned that, with every laugh and comment he made, came an observation about the world that you realized no one else had ever pointed out.

I can recall a conference in California, where a bunch of economists and economics students were sitting around a bit bored when one of the economists blurted out, "Where's Murray?" Everyone knew that meant that with Murray around the excitement and energy would return to the room.

Rothbard seemed to carry around an incredible energy and knowledge that spewed from him like a volcano in full eruption.  

The Rockwell piece is here.


  1. Another parallel explored by Rockwell is Mises/Mayer: http://www.economicpolicyjournal.com/2009/10/economics-and-moral-courage.html

    "Never forget that the phrase Austrian School was coined not by the Austrians but by the German Historical School, and the phrase was used as a put down, with overtones of a school mired in scholasticism and medieval deduction rather than real science. So our friend Mayer thought was he was master of the universe, when he was a very small fish in an even smaller pond.

    He played the game and that was all he did. He thought he won, but history has rendered a different judgment.

    He died in 1955. And then what happened? Justice finally arrived. He was instantly forgotten. Of all the students he had during his life, he had none after death. There were no Mayerians. Hayek reflected on the amazing development in one essay. He expected much to come out of the Wieser-Mayer school, but not much to come out of the Mises branch. He writes that the very opposite happened. Mayer's machine seemed promising, but it broke down completely, while Mises had no machine at all, and he became the leader of a global colossus of ideas."

  2. It's very interesting to read about the young Greenspan (and even the young Rothbard) and their time/association with Ayn Rand's Collective. Nathaniel Branden gives us a view into Greenspan's mind and psychology (and I think Rothbard makes a brief appearance as well) in "My Years With Ayn Rand". Greenspan comes across as a person with an intense desire to be thought of as great, someone who was willing to sell out to feel that way, if necessary.