Sunday, July 7, 2013

Harry Browne, Murray Rothbard and Andrew Galambos

As a follow up to my recent post about Andrew Galambos, a friend tells me a great story.

Harry Browne, early on  in his career, was a hardcore Galambosian. One theory that Galambos apparently held was that you owed royalties to those whose ideas you built on. Browne believed he owed much of his thinking about economics to Murray Rothbard. Indeed, the entire of Browne's first book was based on Austrian business cycle theory and relied heavily on Rothbard's book, What Has Government Done to Our Money (1963) and to a lesser degree, Man, Economy and State (1962). So when that first book of Browne's, How You Can Profit from the Coming Devaluation (1970), was published and became a best seller, he sent Rothbard a check. Galambos never specified how much royalties should be paid out for such intellectual underpinnings, but Browne somehow determined it should be $100. It wasn't a great amount, but still $100 was worth a lot more in 1970 than it is today. (Thank you Fed). Upon receiving the check and the unusual Browne letter that accompanied it, which explained the check, Rothbard sent the check back, with a neat reductio ad absurdum, telling Browne in a letter that if he really wanted to pay him for the insights he provided Browne, that Browne should send him all the royalties for the book. That, of course, didn't happen. And a Rothbardian crack was created in the practical applications of Galambosian theory.

1 comment:

  1. Harry Browne was never a hardcore Galambosian, and Murray Rothbard never told Harry that he should send him all the royalties for “How You Can Profit from the Coming Devaluation.”

    On February 3, 1971, Harry wrote to Murray and enclosed a check in the amount of $250 for the “ideas of yours that I used in my book, “How You Can Profit from the Coming Devaluation.” I believe in rewarding those whose ideas I use, both with credit and with cash when I have turned them to commercial profit. I have used this system for several years and I have found it to be extremely profitable to me. The $250 is an arbitrary figure; I have no formula that I use for computing the exact amount.”

    On February 8, 1971, Mr. Rothbard replied, “I was astonished to open your letter and find a check fluttering out. While I appreciate your gesture, since I am not a Galambosian I must return the check, enclosed. It was enjoyable meeting you for longer than the brief moments at Washington, and we hope to see you again when you’re in New York. Best regards, Murray.”

    On February 11, 1971, Harry wrote: “Perhaps I should have given you a more detailed explanation for the enclosed check. Neither am I a Galambosian.” “The reason I pay royalties is very personal to me…..while my ideas are my own, I find it very difficult to do the research that is necessary to support those ideas. I would willingly pay someone to find a great many facts for me, but it is difficult to find such a person. Your work has made mine a great deal easier. If you have read my book, you will know how much I have drawn upon you. I am anxious to pay for such help because I want it to be available in the future – rather than being a favor or fortuitously available. I hope to be able to call upon you for some leads regarding information that would help my next book. I see no reason why I should have to be a parasite (there are plenty of those already.) I do not consider this a “moral” issue in any way. I just see no reason why you shouldn’t reap the rewards of your outstanding efforts which have benefited so many of us. I’m enclosing the check again, and I don’t expect to see it again until it comes back with my bank statement. With best wishes, Harry.”

    As far as I know, Harry didn’t see the check again until it came back with his bank statement. And he and Murray remained friends until Murray’s death. Pamela Wolfe Browne –