Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Walter Block: Bryan Caplan Beat Me in Debate on Austrian Economics

Dear Bryan:

I’m blogging this.

As far as I’m concerned, you won this debate

August 24, 2015. Debate: Walter Block versus Bryan Caplan on Austrian 

True, I set a bit of a high bar for myself. In my view, I could only win if I converted you to Austrian economics. I did not do that, so at least in my own mind I lost the debate. But, please, give me another shot at you re Daniel maybe in about a year (or better yet, let’s set up something in the refereed journal literature, where we can hack away at each other’s positions).

You mentioned monopsony. This was too technical an issue to discuss verbally, since it depends upon diagrams, but here’s my view on that:

Block, Walter and William Barnett. 2009. “Monopsony Theory.” American Review of Political Economy June/December, Vol. 7(1/2), pp. 67-109;

Also, that business of a backward bending supply curve of labor doesn’t really allow itself to be discussed in a verbal debate. It, too, relies on diagrams. My view on that is that as long as the demand curve is to the left of the BBSCL above the equilibrium point, the minimum wage still creates unemployment. And if it is not to the left, you have an explosive situation, where any deviation from equilibrium will lead either to a plus or minus infinity wage, and can be rejected on that ground. I really think I “got you” on that exchange of pens, and also on “tendency” concepts, of which there are plenty in economics.

We’ve already “had at” each other on indifference, heck, on lot’s of other stuff, see below (if I’ve forgotten anything, please let me know), but I’d really like to try to convert you to the one true cultish faith. I see in you a great potential convert. I wish we had offices down the hall from each other, and could have lunch with each other regularly. I really enjoy interacting with you.

Walter E. Block’s debate with Bryan Caplan on methodology

(Bryan Caplan's "Why I'm not an Austrian Economist" (Caplan, Brian. 1996. “Why I Am Not An Austrian Economist” was a first draft that evolved into his Southern Economic Journal article "The Austrian Search for Realistic Foundations.")

Round 1. Caplan, Bryan. 1999. "The Austrian Search for Realistic Foundations," Southern Economic Journal,April, Vol. 65, No. 4, pp. 823-838

Round 1. Block, Walter E. 1999. “Austrian Theorizing, Recalling the Foundations: Reply to Caplan,” Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics, Vol. 2, No. 4, winter, pp. 21-39;; errata:;

Round 2. Caplan, Bryan, 2000. “Probability, Common Sense, and Realism: A Reply to Hulsmann and Block,”Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics;;

Round 2. Block, Walter E. 2003.  “Realism: Austrian vs. Neoclassical Economics, Reply to Caplan,” Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics, Vol. 6, No. 3, Fall, pp. 63-76;

Round 3. Caplan, Bryan. 2003. “Probability and the Synthetic A Priori:  A Reply to Block.” Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics; Vol. 6, No. 3, fall, pp. 77-83;

Block, Walter E. 2005. “Rejoinder to Caplan on Bayesian Economics,” Journal of Libertarian Studies. Vol. 19, No. 1, Winter, pp. 79-95;

Block, Walter E. 2007. "Reply to Caplan on Austrian Economic Methodology" Corporate Ownership & Control,Vol. 4, No. 3, November, pp. 312-326.

Best regards,


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


  1. "but I’d really like to try to convert you to the one true cultish faith. I see in you a great potential convert."

    Ha Ha! Block comes off like Palpatine here, except he's not on the "dark side".

    Seriously though, Block is no intellectual coward and to Caplan's credit neither is he.

    Really, I'm so glad that I never have to debate Block on anything...because even in the few areas of disagreement I have with him if I had to defend my views I'd probably lose even if I was "right"

    He's really a great debater.

    1. He's a good debater when he's got the overwhelmingly better argument to start with, which is most of the time. He's actually a bad debater the rest of the time. Coming into a debate having an overwhelmingly superior position is like bringing an overwhelmingly sharp long sword to a fight against an opponent armed only with fists. One can almost neglect what he’s doing, slash away, and still prevail.

      I've recently noticed Block disappoints when an opponent is able to effectively respond to Block's argumentation. Block just continues to bludgeon, like a broken record. To the extent he listens to his opponent it’s to be able to seize upon trigger words. He is unable to characterize the opponent’s position in a way the opponent agrees is actually his own position. That’s a problem. That is why Block's arguments tend to go in circles ending without mutual understanding much less changing of minds.

      Like all unskilled debaters, Block interprets his opponent’s positions not how they were actually said and meant, but how he wants to hear them. He has pre-characterized them and only wants to attack those strawman with pre-planned lines of attack. Ayn Rand used to do this too. It gets a little tedious.

      The better debater genuinely hears and understands his opponent’s position in the moment. He tries it on for size himself. He figures out where his opponent is coming from and works to grasp the basis and nature of the arguments in his opponent’s frame of reference. After that, he dynamically changes tactics. He walks his opponent through his own argument to reveal to his opponent buried contradictions and falsehoods. Like the Socratic Method. To up his game, Block needs to be able to do this.

    2. Fair enough. I'll listen to him more and reconsider your points.

  2. I, admittedly, had to look up Monopsony. OK. A good example, I think, is NASA, and the almost symbiotic relationships it has with its contractors. (So…can a monopsony happen in the non-violent private sector??)

  3. @Blank Reg
    The times I've heard monopsony discussed, it is framed as occurring in the free market. It is brought up in order to justify govt. intervention. If govt. is the reason for the monopsony, then it would be kind of weird to use that to justify govt. intervention. Although govt. routinely justifies policy X, which was caused by policy Y, there is typically a lack of mainstream connection between causal link from X and Y.

    Does monopsony actual occur in the free market? I've seen it argued that a mining town back in the day is an example, but is it REALLY that hard to move? Defenders of the minimum wage will argue pink elephants fly if it helps their cause.