Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Vicious Attacks on Murray Rothbard

You just know that the thought of Murray Rothbard is having an impact when insider wannabes come out swinging at Rothbard to prove their establishment credentials. To become a mafia made-man you have to take someone down, pretty much anyone. But to make it on Establishment Row, you have to take a swing at Murray Rothbard. It doesn't matter if you miss, because you will, but it appears the swing is now mandatory.

Gary North has a great piece on even Economist magazine writers having a go at Rothbard. Following the North piece, George Selgin took a swing calling Rothbard, get this, a bad to mediocre monetary economist. (Major-Freedom replies to that here) Not to be out done by Selgin, Donald Boudreaux writes on a Facebook page:
Rothbard wasn't 1/100th the economist that Friedman was.
Not surprisingly, Boudreaux teaches at the rabid anti-Rothbard George Mason University. What gives?

Jaffi Joe in a comment below explains:
I started my interest in economics by reading Smith, Bastiat, Say, Ricardo, Mill, etc. I got through the classics and then started reading Fisher, Keynes, Samuelson, Friedman, etc. All of this time I had never even heard of Austrian economics until about 4 years ago (Ron Paul mentioned it), so I began reading Mises, Menger, Hayek, you know, the regulars. But, it was not until I started reading Rothbard that it really sank in.

Of course the establishment economists and media will attempt to make Rothbard fall into a memory hole. Not only did he write in an extremely straight-forward and easy to understand language, but he also covered a wide range of sciences and topics (economics, political theory, history...). And, as it just so happens, a lot of people are beginning to read his work these days.

The establishment is merely trying to nip this one in the bud. They see Rothbard (and, Austrian econ in general) getting a resurgence, so the only way for them to combat this trend is to talk trash about it. They know, just as most Austrians do, that it is extremely hard to go back to being a statist after having read a few of Rothbard's books. Trust me, the last thing that they want is to have a bunch of ancaps running around; we might end their gravy train.
The attacks on Rothbard are downright vicious and the promotion of the establishment's token supposed free market economist, Milton Freidman, in his place is absurd. Rothbard never made any of the serious demonstrable errors that Friedman made in monetary theory and methodology. About the best that could be said about Friedman is that he sure knew how to pick his errors. They managed to get him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1988. It was awarded to him by that other free market poser, Ronald Reagan. 

Somehow, I can't see Rothbard walking in the White House to get a medal from a guy Rothbard dubbed a warmonger. Oh yes, this is what Rothbard taught us five years before Friedman grabbed his medal in a ceremony that would have likely embarrassed a Roman emperor:

The world is in very dangerous waters. The "true" or rhetorical Ronald Reagan, the second Reagan of the conservative "Let Reagan Be Reagan" slogan, has functioned only in the world of rhetoric since the beginning of his misbegotten Administration, or arguably since he embraced the Rockefeller Republicans at the convention of 1980. The rhetorical Reagan, the "Get Big Government Off Our Backs," free market, war-with-Russia stance, has been particularly eclipsed since the end of the first year of his Administration. In economics, quasi-libertarians, monetarists, and supply-siders have been elbowed aside since 1982, and replaced by the same kind of quasi-conservative Keynesians who brought us the Nixon and Ford Administrations. In foreign policy, however, while the war fanatics like Richard Allen and Richard Pipes were booted out after a year, there has recently been a recrudescence of war-hawk domination by a troika of old Reagan buddy Judge William P. Clark, national security adviser whose admitted total ignorance of foreign affairs seems especially to qualify him for a top foreign policy post; Cap Weinberger of Bechtel Corporation and the Defense Department; and neo-conservative hatchet-lady and political scientist Jeane Kirkpatrick, whose contribution to political theory was to distinguish between "good" authoritarian and "bad" totalitarian torture...

Don't for a minute think that the Selgins and Bodreuaxs of the world don't know who is handing out the medals. Rothbard knew also. The only difference is that Rothbard did not have trouble speaking truth to power and it is paying off for all of us now. Rothbard's writings are as popular as ever, and we can all learn from them. Friedman's book sales are pretty much limited to required readings that appear on reading lists of Keynesian economics professors.

But don't take my word on the greatness of Rothbard. Read Rothbard for yourself right here and judge on your own as to whether Rothbard wrote consistently with clarity on a broad range of topics that cause bafflement by most of us as to how one man could be so knowledgeable and prolific. And then after you have read Rothbard, contrast what you have read with the vicious comments of the Selgin and Bodreaux.


  1. I looked it up on the internet and it said that:

    1) Jung wasn't 1/56 the analyst that Freud was
    2) Einstein wasn't 1/23 the physicist Newton was
    3) Your grandma's pie wasn't 1/bazillion-jillionth the pie that my grandma's pie was

    Unfortunately there appears to be no accurate measurements by renowned scholars of the relative awesomeness of Star Wars vs. Star Trek, Transformers vs. GoBots, or Scranton vs. Hoboken. I could make the measurements myself but do not have the necessary academic credentials to be taken seriously.

  2. The reason people hate on Rothbard is because he is an anarcho-Capitalist. That is the same reason I prefer Mises and Hayek, although Rothbard's economics are sound and his writing style is great. Not everyone supports the anarcho-Capitalist doctrine, including Mises himself.The reason people hate on Rothbard is because he is an anarcho-Capitalist. That is the same reason I prefer Mises and Hayek, although Rothbard's economics are sound and his writing style is great. Not everyone supports the anarcho-Capitalist doctrine, including Mises himself.

    1. Yes. Unfortunately, government is still viewed as God. This kind of thinking is so outdated. But then, there are still fools who believe in price controls and protectionist tariffs. It's amazing what thousands of years of brainwashing does to people's minds isn't it?

  3. I knew Selgin was a fruit loop when he denied Austrian methodology and epistemology by ignoring inevitable unintended consequences and the violation of subjective value theory with his central bank efficiency policy recommendations but I had thought, up until now, that Boudreaux was okay.

    Should've known better. I had my suspicions awhile back when Boudreaux shamelessly failed to acknowledge my contribution to his intellectual development, but I failed to follow through on those early suspicions. Now, we all know better. Boudreaux is a sellout.

  4. I hope the whole world reads this post of yours. Well done, indeed.

  5. Ahhh, Don Boudreaux!! Why the attack on Rothbard?? Boudreaux's a solid Libertarian, Austrian free market economist, king protectionist-slayer, running circles around the statist economists on the mainstream rag editorial pages.
    RW or anyone else, can you explain Boudreaux's hostility toward Rothbard...I just don't get it. For goodness sake, GMU is the sole Austrian economics bastion in academia and Boudreax's the chair of the dept (or was...)

  6. GMU's economics department is filled with hacks, phonies, suck-ups, and grant and endowment-whores.

    I would never hire anyone who came out of that cesspool. Only the government and those seeking its favors would employ someone with an degree from that place.

  7. When you worship at the feet of your heroes instead of standing on their shoulders to look into the distance, you have ceased to be a student.

  8. John Maynard Keynes and Benjamin Strong. Friedman believed Keynes was a great economist and Strong could have prevented the Depression if he had lived. Very wimpy assessments. On the other hand, Murray Rothbard just rips these guys apart. Another reason why the Austrian School has more vitamins and minerals than the leading brand.

  9. Off-topic but related.
    DOJ probing Louis Farrkhan's "hate speech" to prisoners.
    What's hate speech?
    Saying stuff like Cheney did 9-11, asking folowers to pick Nation of Islam flag over the US flag, suggesting that the Bible had been altered by white men, and that there was international conspiracy of bankers.

    Hmm. conspiracy theory about 9-11, secessionist arguments, revisionist history, and bankster criticism. Could EPJ and LRC be next on Holder's list?

  10. Rather funny that Selgin, Friedman, or Beadreaux have never, to the best of my knowledge, written a complete economic treatise.

  11. 30 years ago, when I discovered Mises and the Austrian School, I easily walked away from Friedman and the Chicago School and NEVER looked back.

  12. Zach-

    The reason for the lack of a treatise is because they knew that they couldn't sustain their economic delusions in long-form since parts of chapters 1, 2 and 3 would be directly contradicted by parts of chapters 4, 7 and 9, which would be contradicted by chapters 5, 8 and 10. When you don't have a coherent, universally applicable set of primary arguments, derived from real life observations of human action, you can't write a coherent book.

    I mean, look at Keynes "General Theory". If it wasn't so hackneyed and indecipherable then a 10th grader could read it and point out the numerous fatal flaws. The only thing that saved him was that impenetrability, coupled with the general notion that "government can solve ALL your problems if you just let us spend lots of money", thus making him the darling of state worshipers world wide!

    Dale Fitz

  13. Hmm. conspiracy theory about 9-11, secessionist arguments, revisionist history, and bankster criticism. Could EPJ and LRC be next on Holder's list?

    The arrogance of that fool. As a public employee, Holder doesn't have the right to an opinion about the opinions of a free citizen. He should be in Leavenworth for dereliction of duty in failure to uphold the Constitution, and he should be assigned to hard labor to pay back every cent of his unearned salary. Damn that man, and damn his misbegotten ilk.

  14. It's unfortunate that Boudreaux has little regard for Rothbard. I read his blog and there's very little criticism (none I've seen) of any of the personalities of economics save for Keyenes.

    Nearly every post is anti-regulation and pro individual actor so I'm surprised he holds more praise for Friedman.

    Boudreaux, at least to me, seems very good on breaking down the dynamics of how a free market ought to work and the importance of marginal value theory to economics that is so often overlooked.

    Regarding the GMU economics department, I prefer Dan Klein. He calls government spending, handicapped dollars and that always makes me laugh.

  15. Can you picture Bernanke or any Fed chairman apologizing to Rothbard (to his memory) for inflating at the start of a depression? Or inflating to create the bubble? Or for creating the Fed in the first place? Of course not. No matter how bad things get, they would be worse if the Fed hadn't been born, or hadn't inflated. Never mind that economic history is at odds with this position, this is the inflationists' standard reply.

    If people want to use a currency that's "managed" by a committee of bureaucrats, fine. Let others have the freedom to choose a different currency. Disconnect the committee from the state and let it compete on the open market.

    But that wouldn't work, would it? Got to have the fiat paper currency forced on us under the heading of "legal tender." Besides, the politicians can buy more votes with paper than they can with metal, so the economic arguments are irrelevant.

  16. I have great respect for Selgin, Boudreaux and Friedman, but as for the two former, I don't understand their attacks on Rothbard. Nor do I see any evidence to support them. I liked Milton like I like Ron Paul, but to say he was a better economist, better monetary economist even, than Rothbard is just silly.

    As for treaties. Doesn't Friedman's "Capitalism and Freedom" qualify as a treatise. I haven't read it, mind you, I just kinda assumed it was a treatise :)

  17. Looking back, it seems that every time I wanted to learn something about Austrian economics and the free market, I ended up with a Rothbard book.

  18. It's true that neither Selgin nor Boudreaux has written a major "treatise" but both have published books and many great articles. Selgin has written one of the seminal books on Free Banking. Their libertarian/free market creds are solid. Selgin disagrees with Rothbard & Co. on 100% reserve banking and other monetary issue. I think he has the better argument. Selgin also disagrees with Friedman on some issues. So why is he picking on Rothbard? He's not. He's simply defending Friedman against Lew Rockwell's silly comment that Rothbard has a better reputation among libertarians and the general public. This is absurd. He also thinks that Freidman is the better economist and said so. What's wrong with that? Mises Institute fellow Guido Hulsman thinks that Rothbard/Mises are wrong about time preference -- a long-standing, central tenet of Austrian economics. Perhaps they have erred on other matters. I am open to that possibility.

  19. Dale @ 1:39: "derived from real life observations"??? HERETIC!

  20. It is clear - you must kneel before Rothbard the Great and kiss his feet before you are considered a true libertarian.

    A little shocking that fellow libertarians are becoming divided over which heroes to worship...

  21. Selgin could have made those disagreements without all of the outlandish attacks on Rothbard fans as being cultish. The same criteria of being "cultish" could apply to just about all of the major economists anyway. There was zero reason for him to make personal attacks, which is why he has drawn a great deal of criticism.

  22. Why ask why?

    The proof is in the proverbial pudding. So, eat the pudding, critique it and be clear on who made it.

    Failure to empirically verify outcomes is the basis of the poor state of economics generally at the present time. Everyone wants to measure the minutiae to validate their pet theory, or to satisfy the autocratic demands of their professor or his ghost.

    In short, other than a general offering of Rothbard as source-material, you don't need to promote him, or attack his enemies and detractors. Just let him be read, and let the readers decide.

    The old proverb is true, you see...

    Living well is indeed the best revenge.

  23. None of your "defenses" of Rothbard include any of his economic claims. That is probably because he is a mediocre economist who made no major discoveries or insights.

    You criticize Friedman's mistakes. Fair enough. But to demonstrate that Rothbard was a better economist you have to list his discoveries and insights so we can do a quick comparison. But that would undermine your point because it is a very short list.

    Rothbard attempted to use his economic credentials to boost his simplistic moral and ethical claims in defense of his anarcho-capitalism. I'm very sympathetic with Rothbard's politics but that doesn't magically make his economic reasoning anything more than poorly reasoned propaganda. Pass the positivist economics, you can keep the Rothbardian garbage.

  24. "I had my suspicions awhile back when Boudreaux shamelessly failed to acknowledge my contribution to his intellectual development . . ."

    This might be the most delusional comment I've ever read on any blog, ever. Wow.

  25. Anonymous at 11:10am sounds like Selgin posting defending himself under another name.

  26. I like Rothbard and the way he writes, but setting aside for a while Friedman, to what is related his "greatness" as economist? I mean his original contributions.

    Could you imagine Austrian Economics without Menger (one of the fathers of marginalism)? Clearly not. Or whithout Mises and Hayek? Clearly not. Kirzner wrote very much on entreprenurschip, as Lachmann did on capital structure, subjectivism and expectations.

    But what's really new in MES that wasn't already wrote in HA? Obviously there are some good stuffs. And AGD e POW are very good book. But do you really think that all this contributions could be qualified as "great" or "astonishing"?

    The fact he was anarcocapitalst is totally irrelevant when you have to judge him as economist even into the Austrian tradition. Just as example: "Competition and Entrepreneurship" is not an "exciting" book to read, but it's a great book, a milestone in the Austrian Literature about entreneurship.

    Can you be Austrian without reading Mises or Hayek? No you can't. Can you be aware of what Austrian Economics is without reading Rothbard? Yes, it's possible.

    You can't just say "oh Rothbard is great", "if I'm Austrian it's because I read him" (of course he wrote much more clearly than alomost anyone else and was a really great teacher). But the question you have to answer is: how much did he improve Austrian Economics and could you qualify this contribution as "great"?

  27. Rothbard is an icon, not an economist. Post and comments here prove it. AE can live without Rothbard and the Rothbardian way to underrate everything which is simply not 100% anarchic or 100% against banks (regardless of their entrepreneurial content).

    One thing Rothbard has taught: go on with block quoting and comment selected quotes regardless of the context. Not a great improvement for "science".

    1. He's just an icon. you're not THAT stupid are you?

    2. sometimes it seems to me he is ONLY an icon, a badge someone like to wear, valued as such not for its original contributions which, to me, are lacking.

      I am not against Rothbard. I am against the cult of anything, Rothbard included, especially if reasons are mistaken. You need a "symbol"? Ok, take it, but don't say that symbol is more than it is.

      I am so tired of being told that if I do not completely share Rothbard ideas than I am Keynesian or so. It Rothbardism takes to this point, then there must be something wrong in it.

  28. I am not a Friedmanite. I don't believe in central banks, 3% inflation, or school vouchers. I think schooling should be private.

    I'm not a Randian. I liked her writing, but think she was wrong on foreign policy.

    I agree with Rothbard on many things, even, theoretically, with pure anarchism.

    I think his moral theory is bad, though.
    And his allegiances show him to be quite opportunistic.

    This assessment makes me an anti-Rothbardian cultist?

    Two years ago, when the WSJ attacked the Miseseans, I rushed to their defense. I have stuck my neck out for them in dozens of situations, for no other reason than that I thought they were right from the evidence.

    But, in this instance, it was Wenzel who gratuitously attacked Rand in personal terms, and not the first time.
    I responded by highlighting some of the good things Rand did on my blog.

    My criticisms of Rothbard were posted only on my blog, and even then were circumspectly made.

    I only even began researching him more in the last few weeks because the defense reaction was so obvious and made me sit up.
    Then there's the constant apologizing for the Paul campaign, even when it's obvious it was shooting itself in the foot.

    Inability to tolerate even mild questioning from friends without turning hostile is a sure sign of something amiss.