Friday, September 26, 2014

The Opening of Debate Between Robert Wenzel and Walter Block on Rand Paul

RW note: In addition to my on going debate with Walter Block (and Michael Edelstein) on IP, I guess I  am now debating Walter on Rand Paul. Walter emails:
Please consider publishing the attached, the opening in our debate on Rand Paul.

Rand Paul and Bob Wenzel

By Walter E. Block

I am a BIG fan of Robert Wenzel’s, both personally and professionally. I consider his electronic publication Economic Policy Journal ( the second best blog on the entire planet, right after Coming from me, that is high praise indeed.  (Minor criticism, that Journal does way, way more than “Economic Policy” and does virtually all of it brilliantly; certainly, it includes libertarian theory, foreign policy, political analysis, civil liberties, and much more. If Lew Rockwell calls his blog, perhaps he should change the name of this splendid effort of his to As it stands, his title, I think, is a bit too narrow).

Mr. Wenzel and I probably agree on 99.99999% of all issues on economics-politics.  To the best of my knowledge we disagree on only two: Intellectual property, and his assessment of Rand Paul. I’m about to write on the latter (on the former, see Part 1, here or here, Part 2,  here or here, Part 3 here or here or here or here Part 4, here, Part 5, here).

Moreover, I look upon Bob Wenzel as a friend, and I have little doubt that this feeling is reciprocated. So, when I engage him on his analysis of the Rand Paul phenomenon, I do so as a fellow traveller with him in our mutual quest to promote liberty. I do so more in sorrow than in anger, as the old aphorism goes.

To say that Wenzel is critical of Rand Paul would be the understatement of the year. No, of the decade.  Ordinarily, when I make a claim that
X has critiqued Y, I feel obligated to cite some instances in support of such a contention. In this case I do not. For Bob has written so many, many disparagements of Rand it would be superfluous. All the reader who doubts this need do is google “Robert Wenzel Rand Paul.” Or, peruse his otherwise splendid blog for his almost daily withering mentions of Rand Paul. Well, I changed my mind. Here he lists about a dozen complaints about the Junior Senator from Kentucky. But this is just the veritable tip of the iceberg.

Were I to summarize the misgivings the former has about the latter it would be that he is not a real libertarian. Rand, in Wenzel’s view, compromises way too much with libertarian principle, on way too many issues. He changes his mind way too much.

What does the defense of Rand Paul look like?

1.Even if each and every accusation that Bob hurls against Rand were true, this still does not exlpain the venom. Something else must be going on? It does not account for the sheer day in and day out invective. Ok, alright, criticize man from a libertarian point of view. There is plenty of grist for this particular mill. But practically every day?  And very harshly?

2. Rand never said he was a (pure) libertarian. He has called himself, variously, a Constitutionalist, a Republican, a libertarian Republican. He has never to the best of my knowledge claimed the mantle of libertarianism. So, why, then, criticize him, mercilessly, for deviating from pure libertarianism?

3. Part of the disappointment with Rand is that his views are different than those of Ron Paul’s. I make no secret of my admiration, my love, for Ron Paul. This book of mine is my love letter to him: Block, Walter E. 2012. Yes to Ron Paul and Liberty. New York: Ishi Press; it is available here, here and here. There may be others who honor, respect, admire and love Ron Paul as much as I do, but I warrant that there is no one on the planet who exceeds me in these feelings, in the strength of this assessment.  But Rand is Ron’s son. He, therefore, ought to have the decency to be an exact replica of him? The former should agree with the latter in every single opinion in political economy? This sort of sentiment seems to me to fuel the hatred of Rand on the part of many in the libertarian movement, perhaps including Bob Wenzel.

But sons and fathers are different people. I have a son of my own, who veers toward libertarianism, but is in no way as radical as me. I have a daughter who is not even a libertarian. Children make their own way in the world. They are not always replicas of their parents. Ron Paul and Rand Paul are two different people. It is totally unwarranted to think that the latter should copy the former in all ways.  Suppose Rand Paul were not Ron Paul’s son. Suppose his name, instead, were Paul Randall. Would Wenzel and other critics be so dismissive, so vicious, about him? I think not. Because …

4. Rand Paul is by far the most libertarian member of today’s Senate. Possibly, I am not historian enough to say this with any certainty, Rand Paul is the most libertarian member of the U.S. Senate in the entire history of that institution. If his name, instead, were Paul Randall, I warrant that libertarians would be drooling over him; falling all over themselves to ingratiate themselves with him; supporting him with almost as much passion as they did Ron Paul.

5. But Rand often changes his position. Bob Wenzel will have to get on line on this one. Our friends on the left in the Democratic Party are already attacking him for this supposed inconsistency of his.  What is Keynes’s view on this? He is one of my least favorite economists, but on this matter what he says has the ring of truth; here are several versions of what he purportedly said:

“When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?”
“When events change, I change my mind. What do you do?”
“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”
“When someone persuades me that I am wrong, I change my mind. What do you do?”
I don’t want to be misinterpreted here. I am not supporting many of Rand Paul’s positions. As a staunch Rothbardian, someone who was even more of a radical libertarian in many ways than the great Ron Paul, I could hardly do that. All I am saying is that changing one’s mind is not a per se weakness. It is certainly not a violation of the libertarian non-aggression principle.

6. For me, the greatest weakness in Wenzel’s case against Rand Paul is his statement to the effect that if he wins the Republican nomination for president in 2016, and Hilary Clinton is the Democratic standard bearer, he would support the latter (See Wenzel, Robert. 2014. “If It Comes Down to Hillary Clinton vs. Rand Paul, Who Should a Libertarian Want to See Win the Election?” July 14).  With all due respect, I find this highly problematic from a libertarian point of view. I go further: it seems barking mad to me to say any such thing. What is Wenzel’s argument? It is that if Rand becomes president, he will so besmirch the libertarian philosophy that it will have a hard time recovering from it. Whereas if Hilary wins the election, this of course will not occur, since she does not have a libertarian bone in her body. She cannot possibly undermine libertarianism, since no rational person would accuse her of favoring liberty. Let Wenzel speak for himself on this matter: “And so, if it comes down to Hillary vs. Rand, I do not believe that there is any extraordinary reason to cheer for a Rand victory. Yes, Hillary is an out and out statist, but it is far from clear that Rand, with the exception of a few marginal issues that the elite don't care about, is going to be much different. He will have to play ball with the elite and what they want. Bottom line: A Rand presidency is not going to mean an end to the Fed. In fact, I doubt Rand would go much beyond calling for an audit of the Fed, at this point. And, I see no indication that the expansive Empire would be significantly reduced under Rand, if at all.

There is so much wrong with this it is hard to begin pointing out the errors. First of all, and relatively unimportant, even if Rand gains the Republican nomination, but loses to Hillary, he will still greatly tarnish the good ship libertarian, at least according to Wenzel’s analysis. Why, then, not support him versus her, should the two of them face each other in the general election? Either way, Rand will besmirch libertarianism, supposedly.

Secondly, if anyone can sully the name of libertarianism, it is not Rand Paul, who usually outright denies he is a libertarian, but rather Gary Johnson, a self- avowed libertarian, who was the presidential candidate of the Libertarian Party in 2012, and has a good chance of winning that job in 2016. To his credit, Bob Wenzel has also, properly, called into question Johnson’s libertarian credentials. But where was the venom? Where are the ceaseless, almost daily, attacks on Gary Johnson? In my own view, the libertarian credentials of Rand Paul and Gary Johnson are approximately equal. Both on occasion advocate violating the libertarian axiom of non-aggression, and to roughly the same degree. It is unwarranted to subject the former, and not the latter, to hyperbolic critiques, particularly given that Gary, not Rand, proudly espouses the banner of libertarianism.

Also, Gary Johnson chose a vice presidential candidate, Judge Jim Grey, who supports the minimum wage law, one of my litmus tests.  Laurence Vance has a more serious indictment of him, here, on grounds of war-mongering. This is libertarianism? Why doesn’t Bob Wenzel “pile on” to Gary Johnson?

Third, let us posit that Rand, winning or losing the presidential election, will somehow undermine libertarianism. We are now engaging in argumentum arguendo. My claim is that there may be some things more important than the reduction of the reputation of this beloved philosophy. Rand Paul is more of an interventionist than I support. I am a Ron Paulian on this issue. But, compared to Rand, Hilary Clinton is a rabid warmonger, a veritable John McCain in a skirt. I supported my man Barack Obama against McCain in 2008, and again the “hope and change” man vis a vis Romney in 2012. Why? Have I lost my mind? No, I do not think so. My thoughts were two: foreign policy is more important than domestic policy, either economics or personal liberties, and that our present president would be less of a maniacal warmonger than either Republican candidate. At least Obama is a somewhat reluctant warrior. He didn’t bomb Syria when he was urged to do so by the neo cons. Yes, he has already commenced hostilities against the Islamic State, with no, well, fewer, “boots on the ground” than others would likely have ordered.  My assessment of a president McCain, God forbid, is that he would have actually dropped a few H bombs during his administration, and that Romney, who was raring to get tough with of all nations, China, would not have been much better. And, neither Romney or McCain was any great shakes on economics either.

So, even if Rand Paul would impugn libertarianism, set back our movement (something I deny) he would still be preferable to Hilary Clinton. The latter would likely murder hundreds of thousands of innocents abroad, and cause the deaths of thousands of Americans who would be wearing those “boots.”  In contrast, Rand Paul is no Ron Paul. This cannot be denied. But, he is no Hillary Clinton either. Hillary will kill many, many more innocent people than will Rand. Isn’t it also part of the libertarian ethos (I am still assuming, arguendo, that Rand will blemish our freedom philosophy) not to murder innocents? Seemingly, this wide disparity in likely murderousness between Rand and Hillary does not at all enter into Wenzel’s calculations.

Wenzel also asks? “Would Rand not institute price controls ‘under the right circumstances’? I do not think it can be ruled out.” As far as I know, there is not a scintilla of evidence that Rand Paul would ever even contemplate such a measure, let alone implement it if he became president of the U.S.  This seems like a gargantuan reach on Mr. Wenzel’s part. I myself have been accused of supporting slavery by the New York Times, with just about a similar amount of justification. This is a “howler” of the first degree on Wenzel’s part.

7. I promised myself I would not respond to each and every Wenzel criticism of Rand Paul. To do so would take me practically forever. I thought I could confine myself, apart from the one essay where he preferred Hilary to Rand, to his attacks on him in general. But I cannot resist mentioning this one, which was pubished on 9/25/14, the date of this present writing. Here, Wenzel is dismayed that Rand does not hate the state.

But Rand Paul is a politician for goodness sake. How can any reasonable man expect him to “hate the state?” Even the sainted Ron Paul never came out and supported hatred for the government. Yes, Murray N. Rothbard and all good Rothbardians, including both me and my friend Bob Wenzel share this view, but it is a bit much to castigate Rand Paul for not being not only a libertarian, but amongst the most radical libertarians possible.

To summarize. Rand Paul may well be the most libertarian Senator of all time. And this despite the fact that he refuses to take on the mantle of libertarianism. Is he a Rothbardian? Of course not. Is he a Ron Paulian? Unfortunately, no. But is he as despicable as Mr. Robert Wenzel paints him? The very idea is preposterous. What should be the libertarian viewpoint on Rand Paul? In my view, he is by far the most libertarian of any of the possible candidates for the office of president in 2016. If his name, instead, were Paul Randall, libertarians would be stepping on their tongues in an effort to support him. Just because the acorn dropped quite a bit away from the tree in this case is no reason to change that attitude. If I could support Obama in 2008 and 2012, I can enthusiastically, no deliriously, no ferociously, get behind Rand Paul. Wenzel’s position reminds of Ayn Rand’s view in 1972. She supported Gerald Ford, God help us, so to speak. Who was also running in that year? Why, John Hospers, on the ticket of the libertarian party. Why didn’t Rand, for goodness sake, support Hospers? It is my understanding this was because of some minor differences she had with him over technical matters of aesthetics.  The distance between Hospers and Rand was miniscule, compared to the divergence between her and Gerald Ford, of all people. Similarly, the disagreements between Rand Paul and Robert Wenzel are as nothing, nothing I tells you, as those between Wenzel and Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton, for goodness sakes? Is nothing sacred? The political acumen of a man who would make such a gross error is not to be trusted.


  1. Professor, after reading your column, I remain in Bob Wenzel's camp. For me, the biggest knock on Rand Paul is his kowtowing to the military-industrial-Zionist complex. We have no business whatsoever choosing or supporting sides in the Middle East, and a Rand Paul presidency would be a continuation of the Obama abomination.

  2. Walter, what can I say? You are absolutely right. I've been trying to make some of these same points to Bob....without much progress I might say. There are really two problems here. One, is Bob's constant employment of Murray to support his political position on Rand. Misleading to say the least. As you and I both know, Murray thought stragically on politics and political change, i.e., his alliances with radical leftist groups in opposition to the Draft and the Vietnam War. I discussed these very points with Murray many I know you did. He would not be on the sidelines (or, heavens, vote for Hillary) in a race between Romney, Hillary, or Rand Paul. So this suggestion by Bob that somehow Murray's brilliant and pure theoretical analysis would somehow translate, politically, into a vote for some liberty-hating fascist is just absurd.

    Secondly, if someone as brilliant as Bob (and I love him and his radical support of principle) cannot see where he goes wrong on these Rand Paul attacks, what hope is there for the far less-brilliant "libertarians" out there who don't have 10% of his brainpower? If Paul is the best that we can get this time around (and his genes are solid gold), then we support him. Waiting around for the bulk of Americans to "lose their faith and trust in government" is a fools game that could take generations (unless Bob has a proveable timetable for us).

    1. The best we get this time around? That's the same old lesser of two evils argument. Conservatives applied this logic to irrelevancy. And what the hell does Rand Paylul's DNA have anything to do with this? Is there a libertarian gene I don't know about? I'm no fan of Ronald Reagan but just because Ronald Reagan Jr. shared his father's DNA why did he not share his father's ideology?

      This comment is more proof that Ron Paul's movement was nothing more than a cult.

  3. Good grief, it looks like Walter is drinking Rand's KoolAid.

    I've often read Rand cultist say he is the most libertarian senator of all time. By what metric? Name for us all Federal cabinet level departments that he has proposed to eliminate, the entitlements he has proposed to elliminate or any government he proposes to cut?

    The fact is that a President Rand Paul would have little power to do anything regarding domestic policy including spending. Where Rand could be relatively free to pursue any kind of libertarianism is in foreign policy. But unfortunately, this is where Rand fails the most. The Republican Party consist of at least 80% warmongers. The only way he's going to win the Republican nomination is for him to become a warmonger (which he has done). Rand has not proposed to pull back the empire or stay out of wars. He has only promised to be a more thoughtful warmonger than his predecessors and to seek approval from the warmongering Congress prior to waging war. What the hell is libertarian about that?

    To know why libertarians MUST oppose Rand Paul, look at what happened to American conservatism. There was a time when conservatism was, ostensibly, for "limited government." In order for it to broaden its appeal, it dropped its opposition to government and has instead been a promoter of big government. Libertarians seeking political relavance has proposed that libertarians abandon its opposition to government spending, regulation, wars, and interventionist foreign policy. Granted, nothing remotely libertarian will be accomplished will but hey, at least we get to say that "our guy" won.

    And for all libertarians who insist on voting for Rand, if he were to win you have no right to complain about anything he does as President. The wars, spending, taxation, regulation, Federal Reserve policy, that Rand will endorse would have been accomplished through the consent provided to him with your vote.

    1. I agree. And about Walter Block's comment about Rand Paul being the most libertarian senator of all time, what about Robert Taft? Yes, Robert Taft was not perfect; he did support public housing and Social Security. But on the very important matter of foreign policy, Robert Taft is far superior to Rand Paul. Robert Taft was a solid, committed non-interventionist who opposed participation in the Korean War, spoke out against FDR's overtures to begin World War II, and was not much of a fan of the Cold War. Rand Paul has spent too much time catering to neoconservatives and to the Religious Right; he has become a run-of-the-mill Republican when it comes to foreign policy.

      Foreign policy is one of the most important parts of American politics, besides monetary policy (which is rarely discussed in the Capitol). It's an interventionist foreign policy that leads to large debts and a reduction of civil liberties. It is constant war that will lead to authoritarianism. It is vital that libertarians not support interventionists. It was Goldwater's major flaw in 1964 (and throughout his senatorial career) and is Rand Paul's.

    2. There is copious evidence that Rand Paul is indeed, by far, by nearly any measure, the most libertarian Senator (or indeed, legislator) serving at the federal level.

      "Sen. Rand Paul formally rolled out his 2014 budget blueprint on Friday, offering a combination of tax and spending proposals that he said would balance the federal budget in five years without raising taxes.

      The freshman Kentucky Republican’s plan reshapes entitlement programs, abolishes four federal agencies and overhauls the federal tax code by establishing a 17-percent flat tax and eliminating taxes on capital gains, dividends and savings." -

      His 2011 budget also eliminated the Departments of Education, Energy, Commerce and Housing and Urban Development and balanced the budget in 5 years without raising taxes.

      His votes and endorsements are all available at

      It took about an eighth of a second to discover all of this with Google, so perhaps you should avail yourself of it.

    3. Assuming that Rand holds the same position today with regards to the tax cuts and elimination of Federal departments as he did 2-3 years ago, he should be applauded. However, back in 2011 Rand stated that he supported ending all foreign aid, including aid to Israel. Today he says he never supported that position. With all of Rand's flip-flopping, who knows if he still stands by policy positions he had 2-3 years ago. And regarding his proposals, as President he would have no power on his own to enact this policy. Any attempt to cut as much as 5¢ from the Federal budget will be opposed by 100% of Democrats and at least 80% of Republicans. In other words, it will be DOA. Hell, even the US public doesn't support budget cuts.

      As president the only area where he can enact policy largely on his own is foreign policy. And in foreign policy Rand has sought to bring himself in alignment with the Republican Establishment rather than attempt to bring the Republican Party towards libertarian foreign policy. His proclamation that any attack on Israel should be considered to be an attack on the US should be an automatic disqualification for libertarian votes. I will state it plain and clearly, any candidate that is not explicitly antiwar will eventually become pro war once in office. Obama in 2008 was far more of a peace candidate than Rand Paul in 2014. Today, see how much of a warmonger Obama turned out to be. The president for the most part is puppet. Tremendous pressure will be exerted onto any president by the MIC and CFR to maintain the warfare state. If Rand doesn't stand up to the empire now he certainly won't while in office. It's very frustrating to hear libertarians dismiss Rand's warmongering as "playing the game." It's as though they believe that Rand is only saying what he has to say in order to get elected and once in office he will morph into his father. When I hear people say this I have to wonder who snatched these people's brains. If Rand proposes to be a warmonger (albeit a Constitutional warmonger) now one should expect for him to be a warmonger once in office. If you can live with that, fine. Vote for him. Just note that the wars, sanctions, and interventions that he will enact will have your endorsement via your vote. Whenever you see some poor 3rd country being bombed or impoverished through sanctions at Rand's behest, don't complain about it. You voted for this.

  4. Does anyone see Rand Paul actually "saving" the US government if elected?(and do you want it saved?) Does anyone see him shutting it down or even reducing it? (this assumes, he goes the benevolent dictator route, as it would be doubtful that Congress would play along)

    We know he's not averse to interventionism.

    I mean really, if you are an ancap, does Rand matter much either way? Ron Paul swayed millions of people and brought many out of the dark. Rand will have no such legacy, in fact, he offers nothing substantially different from Ted Cruz, Justin Amash, etc. et al and he certainly won't be breaking any new ground philosophically.

    I'd rather see you two attack the state, but hey, it's your time.

  5. I am with Dr. Block on this one. Yet, I am looking forward to a spirited debate. I totally respect Robert Wenzel as well. I come to this site multiple times during the day.

    But we do have to live in the real world. I am 60 years old. How much time do I have left? Not much. And according to Ezekiel J. Emanuel we should all check out at 75.

    But back to Rand Paul.

    He might be a sell-out as Jeff Davis describes. But he would be better than Hillary, who is the Status Quo continued. As are all of the usual Republican suspects, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, ad nauseum. Rand Paul is the only way that is even slightly different.

    And this Obama presidency, with the Obamacare, the increased taxes, the increased police state, the increased wars, this has a real effect on me. I do not have health insurance, anymore because of Obamacare. This has affected me, personally. I am personally paying way higher taxes.
    I will vote for Rand Paul if he obtains the Republican Nomination. Because we do live in this statist society.

    Maybe Rand Paul will be caught up in the Statism, if elected. Statism has been the defacto truth for centuries.

    In my view, that is the original definition of “American Exceptionalism.” We were exceptional because we supposedly created a government that was not statist. The very limited federal power, the supposed “checks and balances.” Any power not specifically granted to the Federal Government was left to the States and the People.

    How quickly that disappeared. The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. The ink on the Constitution was hardly dry.

    Rand Paul is not perfect; but he is eons better than any of the alternatives.

  6. The Republican Party doesn’t nominate candidates who have accomplished so little as Rand Paul has: been elected once to the Senate of a small southern state (on the back of his father). And I seen no reason he will be an exception. The main downside I see with Rand’s candidacy is that his interventionist stances and other statist positions he’ll increasingly take (as time goes on) will be characterized by the MSM and many politicians as “realistic” libertarianism. The dominant media and politicians never miss a chance to paint less government and non intervention in a bad light, and Rand's candidacy will help them do it, whether he likes it or not.