Sunday, September 15, 2013

Walter Block Responds to Brad 'Big Time' DeLong

Response to Brad DeLong
By Walter Block

Hey, I finally make the big time: I am attacked by Brad DeLong.  Well, that’s not exactly true.  Prof. DeLong will have to get in line. Behind, at least, Milton Friedman, Richard A. Epstein and Harold Demsetz.  

But this assertion of mine is at least partially true. This University of California, Berkeley professor of economics is the first high profile lefty (Pinko? Liberal? Socialist? Progressive? It is hard to know what these people are now calling themselves, they keep on changing so much) to criticize me in print. Previously, my debates have all been with right wing conservative types and would-be ersatz free enterprisers who were really no such thing.

Nevertheless, I am delighted that Professor Brad DeLong has condescended to criticize my views on Hayek (he is miffed at my claim that Hayek was not as staunch a defender of free enterprise as he should have been, as I would have liked him to have been). It is about time my dance card got a bit more diversified. Diversity uber alles, don’t you know? It is now my turn in DeLong’s beat down of Austro libertarians; why should Bob Murphy have all the fun?

In 1961 Ron Hamowy had a debate with William F. Buckley in the New Individualist Review. It featured Hamowy’s attack on National Review for leading people away from liberty and freedom while professing to do the very opposite; this debate included Buckley’s defense of the activities of his magazine and Hamowy’s reply. (There are strong parallels here between my own critique of Hayek for straying from the paths of righteousness and Hamowy’s critique of Buckley and National Review on similar grounds). Although I see myself very much as a supporter of Hamowy vis a vis Buckley, in my reply to DeLong I shall adopt Buckley’s very interesting format: a response in “three drafts.”

Three drafts of a reply to Prof. DeLong

First draft.

I am privileged and blessed that so eminent a scholar, representing so prestigious a university (University of California, Berkeley? Wowie!), would condescend to honor little old pathetic me by mentioning my name in his august celebrated blog. True, he was not exactly complimentary. Rather, he went so far as to not only blame me for my many errors, but even to castigate people I thank in this article for giving me advice and counsel, not all of which (that is in the nature of these things) I had the wit or wisdom to accept. This must be some sort of record: attacking not only the author of an article, but also the people he thanks for vetting it. Whoop di do. It is always a pleasure to take part in the creation of a new world’s record. However, I still thank the esteemed Prof. DeLong, for giving me the back of his hand in this way. It is my contention that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Any publicity is good publicity. As long as my name is spelled correctly, and, to give him due credit, he did indeed do that, I am grateful for the crumbs off his table he threw in my direction. My only wish is that one day I may be worthy of his condescension.

Second draft.

I note that there was no substance to his critique. It consisted, mainly, of quoting me, and then of calling me names. He called me a “clown.” He even illustrated his blog with the picture of a clown. But wait. Isn’t that clown in blackface? Isn’t it politically incorrect (he, by the very nature of things would know far more about that than me) to use blackface? Isn’t that an insult to certain minority races?

I might as well return the name-calling favor; after all he is a leader in our field of economics. I could do worse than emulate him in this regard, or in any other. So, consider this: DeLong is a poo-poo head. He is a do-do. This eminent economist is a foo-el. How’s that for high level discourse?  Not as good as his, of course. “Clown” beats those, hands down. But, I think, my slurs are pretty good, at least for those of us down in the economic trenches.

The esteemed Prof. DeLong is also a serious disgrace to our profession. We Ph.D. economists are supposed to be intellectuals. Intellectuals are presumed to have substantive ideas, not name-calling, as our stock in trade. This Berkeley economist never pointed out any single claim of mine he regarded as erroneous. He failed to give a single solitary reason why I “undermin(ed my) own … credibility” in my critique of Hayek as a weak and inconsistent supporter of the free enterprise system.

Reading in between the lines, and not too deeply in between them, I surmise the good professor is saying this article of mine never should have been published anywhere, and, indeed, would not ever have been published in any decent (e.g., “prestigious” in the eyes of mainstream economists such as himself) journal.  In this he follows Sherwin Rosen, who made a similar point about an entire school of economics which is, or should be, beneath contempt. If DeLong is interested in his predecessor on this (although Rosen, bless his heart, gave reasons, did not content himself with name calling) he might consult this literature that rejected his arguments:

Critics of Austrianism include Rosen (1997), Vedder and Gallaway (2000) and Laband and Tollison (2000); see rejoinders by Anderson (2000), Block (2000), Block Westley and Padilla, 2008; Thornton, 2004; Yeager (1997, 2000).

Anderson, William L.  2000.  "Austrian Economics and the 'Market Test': A Comment on Laband and Tollison." Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics 3(3): 63-73.

Block, Walter. 2000. Austrian Journals: A Critique of Rosen, Yeager, Laband and Tollison and Vedder and Gallaway,” Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics, Vol. 3, No. 2, Summer, pp. 45-61;

Block, Walter E., Christopher Westley and Alex Padilla. 2008. "Internal vs. external explanations: a new perspective on the history of economic thought," Procesos De Mercado: Revista Europea De Economia Politica; issue 2, pp. 35-132;

Laband, David N. and Robert D. Tollison.  2000.  "On Secondhandism and Scientific
Appraisal." Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics 3(1): 43-48.

Rosen, Sherwin.  1997.  "Austrian and Neoclassical Economics: Any Gains from
Trade?" The Journal of Economic Perspectives. 11(4): 139-152;

Mark Thornton, 2004. "Does Academic Publishing Pass the Real Market Test?," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 120(1_2), pages 41-61, 07.

Vedder, R. and L. Gallaway.  2000.  "The Austrian Market Share in the Marketplace for Ideas, 1871-2025." Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics 3(1): 33-42;

Yeager, Leland. 1997.  “Austrian Economics, Neoclassicism, and the Market Test,” Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 11, No. 4, Fall 1997, pp. 153-163

Yeager, L. B.  2000.  "The Tactics of Secondhandism." Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics 3(3): 51-61;

States Mahatma Gandhi:  “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” When I first got into the Austro libertarian movement, in around 1966, “they,” the powers that be, totally ignored us. Never, at that time, would a statist professor of economics as prestigious as Prof. DeLong, have condescended to even take note of an insignificant being such as me. The fact that he has, I think, demonstrates that we are now in phase II: moving from ignoring to laughing. Why are these people no longer ignoring us? I “blame” this on Ron Paul. He has so popularized Austrian economics and the libertarian political philosophy that “they” can no longer ignore us. “Libertarianism” is continually on the lips and word processors of the major media and their court intellectuals, and “Austrian economics” cannot be too far behind thanks to the magnificent efforts of Congressman Paul. Now, it would appear, it is the time for laughing at us. Surely, DeLong’s calling me a “clown” is compatible with this interpretation. Soon, they will fight us. Not of course by debating us. No, no, no, if I know this ilk at all; rather, they full well know they will get their butts kicked in any fair intellectual contest. (See Paul Krugman’s refusal to debate Robert P. Murphy, even though the latter has now amassed pledges exceeding $100,000, to be given to the former’s favorite charity, if an when he can bestir himself to partake in the intellectual and moral drubbing he will surely receive.) Instead, I expect, they will soon attempt to get laws passed characterizing Austrian economics and the libertarian political philosophy as “hate” speech. Shutting us up, that is the way that statists typically “fight.” But, hopefully, DeLong will have more courage than Krugman.

Third draft.

My friend Robert Nozick never replied to any of his critics. It was his idea that if he did, then his critics would set his agenda, and he would never get to do whatever else it was that he wanted to do. At the other extreme of this continuum, there are those who reply to every single criticism to works of theirs.  I am a moderate on this issue (it is not for this reason alone that I am known far and wide as Walter “Moderate” Block). I reply to some criticisms in venues of this sort. But, I only respond, substantively, to criticisms that appear in peer reviewed journals. In any case, in DeLong’s blog he never offered one substantive criticism of my rejection of Hayek, so it would be difficult to reply in that vein, here, even if I wanted to do so.

By the way, Prof. DeLong has a predecessor in his critique of me for being unduly harsh to yet another friend of mine, Friedrich Hayek. It was Milton Friedman. He and I had several exchanges on this issue:

Block, Walter E. 1996. "Hayek's Road to Serfdom," Journal of Libertarian Studies: An Interdisciplinary Review, Vol. 12, No. 2, Fall, pp. 327-350,; reprinted in Ama-gi: Journal of the Hayek Society at the London School of Economics, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 22-25

Block, Walter E. 2006. “Fanatical, Not Reasonable: A Short Correspondence Between Walter E. Block and Milton Friedman (on Friedrich Hayek ’s Road to Serfdom).” Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 20, No. 3, Summer, pp. 61-80;

In my view, Friedman never laid a glove on me in any of these publications of his. If DeLong thinks he can do any better, I invite him to try. But, no mere name calling.  Let him confine himself to substance, please, if he is indeed capable of such. However, he has to publish in a refereed journal, and then I promise to respond. I dare him. I double dare him, as we say in Brooklyn, where I grew up.

Dr. Walter E. Block is the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics at the Joseph A. Butt, S.J. College of Business, Loyola University New Orleans


  1. Knock his block off Walter!

  2. In the many years of following DeLong's blog, I actually did find one interesting item. Once:

    Obama: Look, I get the Keynesian thing. But it's not where the electorate is… p. 338.

  3. I note that the double-talking little careerist Daniel Kuehn has piled on Prof. Block in the DeLong blog comments. FYI, I got Kuehn to concede that his paper on the 1920 depression was consistent with the Rothbardian narrative of the period. See the following and a few comments above it:

    Krugman loved Kuehn's paper:

    I have a short analysis and free link to an earlier draft of the paper:

  4. Delong is a typical leftist team blue Obama loving hypocrite who went ballsitic over what bush did but endorsed Obama in 2012 for being worse.

  5. Has Prof. Block (or anyone else) heard the anti-Rothbardian argument that in a world of private property, there would be nowhere for the people who didn't own any property to go other than to be shot into outer space?

    That's a new one for me. It seems to me that if the majority of the people on earth wanted to kill all of the poor people, there are a lot simpler ways to do it than to first set up a world-wide system of private property rights with a prohibition upon fraud and the initiation of force.

    1. >> Has Prof. Block (or anyone else) heard the anti-Rothbardian argument... for the people who didn't own any property to go other than to be shot into outer space?


      "Supposing the entire habitable globe to be so enclosed [by private ownership], it follows that if the landowners have a valid right to its surface, all who are not landowners, have no right at all to its surface. Hence, such can exist on the earth by sufferance only. They are all trespassers. Save by the permission of the lords of the soil, they can have no room for the soles of their feet. Nay, should the others think fit to deny them a resting-place, these landless men might equitably be expelled from the earth altogether." Herbert Spencer "Social Statics" 1851

    2. I should have been more clear. I had never before heard one of the commies making the argument specifically against AnCap.

    3. In the comments, Daniel Kuehn wrote:

      I do despise, of course, this impulse in the second paragraph to equate being pro-free enterprise with being anti-state. That's a category error that saturates almost all libertarian writing.

      Both DeLong and Kuehn are using the typical statist avoidance technique. Instead of being very specific about very specific alleged "problems" that they claim require the initiation of force and where an alternative of non-violence clearly will not work, they simply smear us for making these essential distinctions. I submit that the technique is essentially Orwellian in that its purpose is to obliterate essential conceptual distinctions one's intellectual opponents are making.

      Of course, these are the same people who deem a listing of unsustainable boom prices as a "trend line".

    4. Great job nailing those Keynesians

  6. Obama thanks Delong for his critical endorsement that allowed him to spy on the public with the NSA, blow away children overseas with drones, threaten nations with invasion and attack without consent from congress, spy on the media, and lie about all of the above. Anwar and his son, both us citizens, thank Obama for blowing them away in drone strikes.