Wednesday, July 20, 2016

DiLorenzo on Boettke on Rothbard and Libertarianism

Thomas DiLorenzo writes:
David, you’re right that Boettke sets up a straw man with his smarmy statement about Rothbard’s allegedly nonchalant attitude toward “the poor.”  He then bloviates on in his usually confusing and pointless diatribe, a hallmark of his writings, ending with another whining smear of Rothbard and Rothbardians.

The source of Boettke’s befuddlement is found in his last sentence where he says he has been reading the work of James M. Buchanan for years, and that is what informs his rambling speculations.  Well I, too, have read Buchanan, who was a grad school professor of mine in 1977 at Virginia Polytechnic Institute.  What Boettke has been reading of Buchanan’s is not his early work in public finance, but his enterprise of “constitutional economics,” which one of Buchanan’s protégé’s once defined as his project to construct “a voluntary theory of government.”  This involves ignoring actual history and reality and theorizing about such things as “conceptual unanimity.”  Not real unanimity as in a voluntary, free market, but “conceptual” unanimity invented by James Buchanan and his followers like Boettke.  This theory is then used to argue that government is not coercive after all because, in theory, possibly, maybe, with the right assumptions, every last person in society could conceivably, conceptually, theoretically, agree on an activist government.  Armed with this tool of statist propaganda, Buchanan advocated harsher antitrust regulation, the taxing away of inheritance, and other interventions.  Leland Yeager smashed this silly argument by pointing out that whenever you read the word “conceptual” before “unanimity,” just substitute the word “no” and you will understand what they are talking about.

I’m ashamed to say that when I was young and not very well educated I actually thought there was something to this theory of Buchanan’s, but a little study and paying attention to reality quickly changed my mind.  Boettke seems to have gone in the opposite direction: the older he gets the more he believes in such statist superstitions.  On the other hand, a cynic might speculate that, like Buchanan, he knows what he is doing and is simply trying to “fit in” with the statist/interventionist mainstream of the economics profession.

Walter Block adds:
I greatly appreciate David’s and Tom’s rejoinder to Pete Boettke’s unwarranted and gratuitous criticism of Murray Rothbard. Not being concerned about the poor, indeed! I think no truer words were uttered on this episode than these of Tom’s: “On the other hand, a cynic might speculate that, like Buchanan, (Boettke) knows what he is doing and is simply trying to ‘fit in with the statist/interventionist mainstream of the economics profession.”

I would now just like to add my own postscript to this little story, my own criticisms of this scholar’s output:

Block, Walter E. 2014. “Walter Block Replies to Peter Boettke re Mathematical Economics.” January 3;

Block, Walter E. 2014. “Is econ 101 killing America? A critique of Atkinson and Lind, and Boettke.” Management Education Science Technology Journal (MEST); Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 10-22. doi:10.12709/mest.;

Block, Walter E. 2013. “Walter Block on Wenzel on Salerno on Boettke on Austrianism.” December 25; 

Block, Walter E. 2010. “Rejoinder to Boettke on Coasean Economics and Communism.” Romanian Economic and Business Review, Vol. 5, No. 3, Fall, pp. 9-90;

Somewhat paradoxically, while to be sure Pete and I disagree on several issues, I must acknowledge that I regard him as an otherwise highly competent scholar and libertarian theoretician. Hey, we all make a few mistakes, myself certainly included. I am also grateful to him for mentoring more than a few of my Loyola and Holy Cross undergraduate students who have gone on to study with him, have earned their PhDs at Mason, and now have splendid careers in our Austro libertarian movement.


  1. 1. Buchanan and Boettke apparently think that a lack of actual unanimity regarding the application of the NAP justifies a euphemism (that is used expressly because of the admitted LACK of unanimity) pretending that unanimity actually exists and which then is used to justify massive violations of the NAP. That is then applied to a population where 99.99% of them have never been exposed to an explanation of the NAP in the first place. And we’re the weirdos who must be shunned.

    2. Boettke apparently suffers from a serious case of the Mary Poppins Theory of Government. Average graduates of government school see the government as a magical and purified exogenous being who can solve all of the problems of existence so long as we vote for the right people. Under AnCap, which clearly consists only of us mortals making binding and enforceable contracts with each other, there is no possibility of conjuring up that magical and purified exogenous being to solve all of our problems. Therefore, under AnCap, everyone (and especially the poor), will starve to death. And we’re the weirdos who must be shunned.

  2. I read Boettke's post and I come away with thinking you all maliciously twisted the content of his post to serve your own ends. For whatever reason Rothbardians seem to that quite often. I think it's a knee-jerk reaction.

    I find it intellectually dishonest and beneath men of great minds, such as yourself and Block. DiLorenzo I find intellectually dishonest most of the time, excepting his phenomenal work on "Underground Government: the off-budget government sector." Maybe DiLorenzo is more of a guns blazing, let's burn this motherfucker down instigator than dishonest, but you see the point.

    All Boettke appears to be saying is that it's silly to argue the merits of rights libertarianism on the fringes. The question: Is starving your own children OK in a libertarian society? should be answered by a hearty: Fuck you, let's instead discuss how a free society should deal with XYZ real social issue.

    Look at it this way: draw a venn diagram of utilitarian libertarianism and rights libertarianism. That middle is filled with an awful lot. There's not nearly as much on the outside circles.

    My biggest beef with Boettke's post is he mentions Buchanan, Schmitz, Gaus...but not Mises. Why? All things libertarian should point back to Mises. From Mises's teachings came Rothbard, Hayek, Kirzner, Read, Lachmann, Raico. Come liberals, come conservatives, come paleos, come all. If Buchanan was more familiar with Mises, he would have been a better economist and political theorist. Plus no political hack can call Mises a racist or Hitler or a shill...he was a migrant, he escaped Hitler, he worked in obscurity.

    All that said, there is a real difference between rights libertarians and utilitarian libertarians. I consider myself a rights libertarian. Even if the world is gone to pot, even if things are better with just a little coercion, I choose maximum freedom over my domain. What's rightfully mine is mine and I don't give a fuck.

    In practice pretty much washes out in the end and I'll hold my nose and support the Gary Johnsons of the world.

    What's dangerous is these second generation Chicago school theorists (GMU economists) move too far to the political spectrum and give intellectual backing to crazies like Paul Ryan. In politics, give me a Rothbardian disciple any day over a Friedmanite. The life-boat shit will never get the light of day in a legislative body, but the important issues will. I'll take Rothbard, or better yet Mises, 100 times out of 100 on the meaty stuff.

    The great Ron Paul once told me he was much more a Rothbardian than a Hayekian. I don't think anyone worth taking seriously can say Ron Paul is an intellectual child. If that is what Boettke is suggesting, he should check his ego and failed political aspirations at the door.

    For every 100 people influenced by Ron Paul, there will be 1 Boettke-ite. It's not because people love 80 year old white men, it's because Paul stands on the backs of intellectual giants like Mises, like Rothbard.

  3. I fail to see how issues of charity, animal and child abuse etc. wouldn’t/couldn’t be easily managed via enforceable contracts. Call them “anti-jerk” agreements. People who don’t sign up for them get shunned. They aren’t even allowed on the private roads. They are the ones in danger of starving.

    This is another of the “if we ban the initiation of violence, people will invariably send their newborns into space since they have no claim to the land on which they were born” memes.