Sunday, August 14, 2011

North versus Block, Who Won?

Below is a video that Lew Rockwell has linked to of a debate that occurred recently at the Mises Institute. Gary North debated Walter Block on the value of getting a PhD in economics. The video is an hour long, but it's a heavyweight fight. North and Block are both skilled debaters. This is the Thrilla in 'Bama. For those of you the have time to listen to the video, please leave in the comments your opinion as to who won the debate.


  1. While I am a huge fan of Block and his work, I think North won this debate. If Austrians are going to tout the virtues and efficiency of the free market, it makes little sense to do so from within a parasitic, state-controlled university system.

    EPJ (as a private sector entity) has reached more people than Block has in his whole teaching career. That's what's amazing about the internet.

  2. Block, clearly. North changed his thesis during the debate, and was not particularly convincing overall (although he is a skilled debater and demagogue). He played on the public's emotions, and lost, it seems to me.

  3. I think North won based on his point that there are alternatives available such as and LRC.

    The more interesting point is that North has me almost convinced that it is morally wrong to teach at a government operated university.

  4. If the argument was to provide reasons to become a parasite of productive peaceful people, and reach very few with ideas of liberty, then Block won.

    If it was about having personal virtue and exploring ways to reach many people with ideas of liberty, then North won.

    Walter many times makes the weak argument that choosing to be a parasite in an immoral and evil system is the same and using public roads and fiat currency. Is this supposed to make parasites feel better about themselves?

    If his "hands are clean", than so are the Koch brothers. Or is it ok to hate them because they had a personal falling out with Rothbard and oppose Ron Paul?

  5. North wins this one. His following quotes are hard to overcome.

    "Because I've got no choice I don't sell my soul to the devil to get his pay."

    "Where's the gun; where's the badge; and whose being left out of the system."

  6. I think Block won the debate because in order for the Austrian paradigm to convince the minds of upcoming economists, they need to take on the Keynesians, Monetarists, et. al head to head in the academic world. North did make compelling points that the Austrians shouldn't just waste their time teaching Keynesian economics if they don't believe it's correct, however, his proposition that someone could just study at home off of and expect to be proficient enough to refute mainstream academics is very unrealistic in my honest opinion. Block wins this debate for sure.

  7. It's shocking to me that people think Gary North won. While his speeches were excellent, both in content and delivery, in terms of the debate argument he clearly lost. Walter Block even spelled this out in his final response noting that within the very course of the debate North switched views. More importantly the view North switched to was Walter Block's! If your opponent adopts your position vis a vi the topic being debated, what else can that be than a clear victory?

  8. I didn't watch it. I don't agree with government funded schools. North wrote one of my favorite articles on LRC called "The Powder Keg in our Future."

  9. I'm sure your readers (myself included) would enjoy it if you weighed in here, Bob.

  10. The debate was over the value of a Phd in Economics. Leaving that value undefined, it was up to each debater to set the specific parameters of that value. So, although Block complained that North didn't answer him, the points of value were never preset, leaving the value to each debater to define. The points that emerged were whether one could obtain a decent paying job, a tenured position at a school that would allow them to teach Austrian Economics. Block cited several excellent examples, making his point convincingly. While Block focused on ways that a Phd in Economics could take care of one's body and soul, North focused on the spiritual considerations of value, which always raises the individual's highest convictions.
    In that vein, North went on to indict the immorality of the collectivist system that confers degreed intelligence. That point alone convicted the audience's appeal to self-reliance, individualism, and morality, which in the long-term and more important considerations because they speak to legacy, to greatness, that light that we use to forecast our futures. I enjoyed the "How smart are you? Do you need to have a Phd to prove your intellectual worth?" It was great. I love both speakers. But Block's call for fairness or adherence to debate protocol, which was never defined and only assumed, made him and his argument appear vulnerable and evoke sympathy. North finished using Block's vulnerability against him. It was brilliant. Bloch and North are winners in my mind, but North won this debate. Will there be a rematch?

  11. Block won the debate on whether obtaining a PhD can be a good thing. Though not the dominate school, there are more Austrian friendly universities than before. This is because people have pursued and obtain a PhD. This is damning to North's claim that it won't work because of his dead-horse-position, “you have to study in a Keynesian system.” You can either train under a Keynesian, as the previous doctoral candidates (Klein as an example), or study with the institutions or individuals presenting ABCT. Furthermore, Block was correct; North changed his argument, and, even at the end, did not address Block’s criticism of Keynesian schools being the only option. Instead, North claimed the pursuit of a PhD is risky and not everyone will make it through, so you should avoid it. I guess no one should be an entrepreneur either?

    North was very convincing on the morality of teaching at state schools and being a beneficiary of the "gun and badge system." However, should we then question Murray Rothbard's contributions while teaching at a state school? I know he had some private funding, but his audience was provided by the state system. What about Ron Paul's contribution by using the political system to make the case for free markets and liberty? These are questions that have to be answered. Did these two giants sell their souls? They are known because they did not. But, it does make Block’s argument on a PhD being a financially rewarding career suspect. It comes across a “gravy train” announcement. His moral justification that he paid taxes so it’s okay to steal from others reminds me of the one-thief-argument in the Marine Corps. An original thief took a shovel and the rest of the looting is just each marine trying to get his shovel back.


  12. Damn, this is tough. Personally, I find Gary North the best, most concise, and most entertaining writer on political economy in the country. So I am a bit partial. But I am also a huge supporter of Block's "take as much money as you can from the state" theory. In the end, whoever won the debate is kind of mute. Both had two different points to make. Block said use the system to undermine it, North said don't participate in a system you find morally corrupt.

    Everyone here says North changed his mind, that's wrong. I am pretty sure, right off the bat he said that choosing whether or not to get a PhD is an issue to me made by individuals who know their circumstances the best. He made the important point that there are so many other means in which to promote liberty.

    In the end if I had to pick a winner, I think North won for style and the fact that I am pursuing the kind of path he suggested by getting published as much as I can on and various newspapers. If I can make it with an undergrad degree only, I am gonna try unless an employer wants to pay for me to get my master's.

  13. If you look past the fact that North didn't really respond to some of Block's point and thereby making him the winner then both make interesting points.

    Technically speaking the question is whether or not it is smart to get a PHD in Economics which is really a practical question. North says that you will be bogged down in Keynesian departments and treated like a weird man. Possibly you could get somewhat coopted in search of respectability.
    Block has a point that it is now possible to study in some European universities that have a real Misesian program as well. What decides the practical argument was, unfortunately, left out of the debate and that is how realistic is it for young Austrians to get a position at a University where you can study under a Misesian program. I suspect the answer is that only a small group will have that choice. Then the alternative will be breaking into Keynesian universities.

    In terms of moral debate North won a smashing victory. North's background in theological shines through but he does make a compelling practical/moral case that you don't have to sell your sold so to speak. I'm biased because I think North's overall strategy for Austrians is better overall but morally has made the case for why it is evil. I hope they do it again next year for the students because these are very important things to consider.


  14. Excellent debate. I received a degree in physics, then momentarily returned for an economics masters after being in the work force for 5 years. Based on that life experience, Gary North is the winner. I didn't choose a program that had an affinity to the austrian school. My opinion of what I saw: young adults who want to make loads of money by coming up with some mathematical models to manage other people's money, young adults who want to work to gain tenure and make loads of money perpetuating the system or young adult do-gooders who want to improve the world by advancing new laws that make the world 'more fair'. No one had bad intentions, all seemed to be decent people.

    Block made a valid point that it is impossible to be free of benefit from the government in the US. Roads served as a bad example, but all sectors of the economy have manipulated employment numbers and wages due to gov't regulations and subsidies. Also, Loyola is private, but it did make me a little sick to hear that anyone makes 170k to teach. But I guess that is for the market to decide.

  15. I don't know how one decides who "won," but I take North's side personally. I think both of them could have done a much better job in this debate, honestly. Block's pointing out that North didn't respond to some of his points was true, but pointing it out in the way he did just sounded desperate and whiny. On the flip side, Gary should have actually tried to refute them.

    Oh, and I completely didn't buy into Block's rationalization for taking a public paying job. With roads and taxes and such you have no other options, that doesn't mean you should line up at the public trough with your hands out to work in the public sector. So his salary is getting his money "back" from the government? What a bunch of horseshit. It wasn't his, it was ours.

  16. What are your thoughts Wenzel?

  17. I believe Walter won the debate. Walter said it best in his last rebuttal that Gary North didn't respond to the counter points that Walter had made earlier.

    On the point of whether it is moral to teach at a state university, I would say that if is immoral to take back from the government what they took from me in the first place then I don't want to be moral. I'm glad that there are men like Walter who take back the governments stolen money and then use it to subvert their whole system.

  18. I would call it the Slamma' from 'Bama.
    I know who won. Me. And anybody else who watched it.
    Now THAT'S debating!
    As to whether Block or North carried the day? eh. Both presented their case brilliantly.
    Personally, there are many paths to the goal. For some guys, a PhD might be the ticket, for others (poor, no access, etc) the internet offers an incredible opportunity. So... both right. I know, I'm a wimp.

  19. My opinion is Gary North won with his closing statement. I was on Walter Block's side and believe (not in my heart but mind) that you need that piece of useless paper to get a better job. Employers will pick someone with a PhD over someone who does not have one. But I totally side with North in this debate. I believe I haven't gotten as far as if I did have a PhD but I'm standing by what I believe.

  20. I think Block won with what he said about Austrian (leaning/oriented) education programs and career paths, relieving the state of loot, and acknowledging it isn't for everyone. North I think ignored the first, mischaracterized the second, and such.

    But North does have a point about the private alternatives, the potential corruption, the financial risk - but I think Block embraces that as well.

  21., EPJ, LRC, Ron Paul Revolution,, Daily Bell, Nullification Movie, 10th Amendment Center, Mises Academy, and so on and so forth. All of these are tremendously more effective than any PhD in economics, including the great Walter Block.

    Clearly there are better ways to fight the fight other than pushing a rock up the Establishment Academia Mountain a la Sisyphus.

  22. I would side with Walter Block in contending that he won the debate on the grounds that Gary North did change his stance on the subject which proves fatal for his argument to hold.

    Both were fantastic in presenting their cases. I agree with Block that one should know both Austrian and Keynesian economics to support or contest either. But would also side with North on the view that one should not teach what they do not believe. I couldn't do it. However I would rather learn Keynes from an Austrian who could also dismantle the Keynes viewpoint.

    So... someone's gotta teach it. And let us all strive to Ragnar Danneskj'ld the state.

  23. Halfway through the dabate. One quick point on Block's comments. The college bubble has yet to burst. It certainly will. Keep that in mind when looking at jobs in acedemia.

  24. Excellent debate: here's my take, I'm not a partisan of either of these guys so I think this is objective:

    Block won by default--Gary North didn't even attempt to rebut Block's arguments, he just kept pounding him as a supposed hypocrite for supporting the idea of teaching at a public university ("the gun and badge...").

    Here's the clincher: North's very position he was debating in support of, was "DON'T get a PhD in Economics" ...then 3/4 into the debate he said (paraphrasing) "I'm not saying don't do it, just be careful." Block called him on it, and even then North didn't respond.

    Gary North is such an effective public speaker and writer, I'm surprised he failed to answer Block's points.

    Block didn't mention this, but I think it's common sense: the art of war is knowing your enemy. If Austrians hope to convincingly rebut Keynesian orthodoxy, we'd sure as hell better know it as well if not better than they do.

    It is what it is. An Austrian Econ grad student is going to be inundated with econo-math nonsense no matter the school. Unless you go to G Mason or abroad, any decent econ program is going to be chock-full of aggregate-heavy positivism.

  25. Mr. Block, you so dearly defended the right to drive our own car drunken at the risk to put in danger not only our life but also the lives of others: in my view it is unavoidable in our imperfect world let risks flow if our freedom of choice can have a place; we all have to side with more risk in a corrupt society masked State because who has already choosen something other automatically do subjectively little in respect of what he could do: gaming the system is something not so problematic with someone of us that watch to your best ideas and example to find a way to a libertarian society but I humbly suggest is a little troubling for all of you that have a chance to understand economic action and the way freedom can realize in our lives:in a way you are blessed and cursed at the same time with the opportunity/responsability to show us and in a understandable way a positive libertarian way of life (your reward? manifestation of a libertarian society)
    Too see John trying to make a gain in financial markets following your Austrian ABCT commentaries over the web may be justifiable for John, but you or Mr. Robert Murphy or Mr. Wenzel or Mr. North and so on that want to see REALIZED Mises/Rothbard free markets have to risk searching for new UNTESTED positive ways WHILE the tested gaming the system way is better kept irrilevant for you to show to us that need positive examples to find our way; may be all of us that need a Phd to manage to be paid to teach could find a less financially unbearable way to instruct ourselves in a libertarian hopeful approach of life a way that probably will keep us economically indipendent while forming our libertarian approach.
    Please Mr. Block tell me more about freedom to drive drunken and how to game the system but if you want to tell me how to teach give me your example to a libertarian approach to life and so show me new ways you are employing to distance yourself from mainstream hypocrites and at the same manage to teach your ideas without being paid/being subjected to mainstream establishment that essentially want choose for us! That only it can give us there is a place for a positive hope in a libertarian approach of life, our masters, are managing to find for yourselves that theorized approach so that we also full of hope could energize ourselves in find our libertarian approach; the master teachers have no choice to teach by example first of all and only secondarily by words/tricks.


  26. Block's reasoning ( for eg. on the virtues of blackmail)is no more than sophistry, although erudite and entertaining sophistry, calculated to go down well with young fans.

    Even so, his university job wouldn't bother me at all (who is so free of the state to cast stones?) were it not for the fact that he, like so many others, positions himself as a "pure" anarcho-cap of impeccable lineage and unwavering principle, in contrast to compromised minarchists.

    Frankly, anyone still holding onto their citizenship, making use of the US financial/economic/political system in ANY way (it's all propped up by force and fraud), voting, causing others to vote, participating in politics, etc., etc., is already compromised..and badly.

    Holding a state university position while railing against the state is a mere blip in a spectrum of compromise that belies anyone's claim to purity.

    So I vote for Wenzel as the winner, since he obviously knows how to put on a good show....

    That's all most of this is, anyway.