Monday, August 15, 2016

Some Advice for Those Who Want to Try to Take Down Murray Rothbard

By Robert Wenzel

There is apparently new discussion on the internet with regard to the economists Murray Rothbard and Milton Friedman, with the claim being made that Friedman was the better of the two economists.

For the record, Friedman's work in  methodology (Essays in Positive Economics) was a methodology that is inappropriate for the social sciences. The methodology is like using a hammer to screw in a light bulb. For the specific problems with Friedman's positive methodology see: Counter Revolution of Science  by F.A. Hayek.

Friedman's work on monetary history, A Monetary History of the United States (with Anna Schwartz) took a macro-aggregative approach that did not cover the structural changes between consumer spending and capital goods spending during central bank money manipulations---which is at the heart of the business cycle.

Finally, on a policy level, Friedman was instrumental in the designing of the horrific income tax withholding system, which even any second rate behavioral economist will tell you does nothing but dull the full pain of taxation. It is a magnificent tool created by which the state can grab even more plunder.

Note to those of you attempting to hack at Rothbard, I would recommend that you choose someone other than Friedman to advance your case. Someone who has significantly fewer disasters as part of his legacy.

And you might want to attempt to find someone who has accomplished at least half as as much as Rothbard.

Rothbard made very important advances in monopoly theory and was a grandmaster economic historian and historian of economic thought, with such important works as America's Great Depression (which unlike Friedman did not fail to take into consideration the structural changes between consumer spending and capital goods spending caused by Federal Reserve money manipulations) and an An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought.

He has also made contributions that I believe have not been fully appreciated yet. He took Mises' business cycle theory from the raw uncut diamond that it was and turned it into a beautiful shining diamond, by cutting away the subsistence fund analysis that Mises included as part of his theory and which can be very misleading and has led many to go down a wrong path in business cycle thinking. Rothbard made the important decision to cut that out in his exposition of Austrian business cycle theory.

Rothbard also made advances in intellectual property theory. He recognized the correct legal structure created for current day copyright law but attacked the structure of patent law. This has caused some to promote the idea that Rothbard was anti-IP by cherry picking his attacks on current patent law, but this fails to reflect Rothbard insights on IP and his pro-IP position. One must dig deep to gain the full richness of Rothbard's IP analysis.

Rothbard was also, of course, a great champion of libertarianism and his thinking on advancing libertarianism is some of the best thinking on  political strategy that exists (See: Chapter 1: Rothbard's Confidential Memo to the Voker Fund "What Is to be Done?" in Strictly Confidential: The Private Volker Fund Memos of Murray N. Rothbard). It would have paid for Rand Paul in his recent presidential run to have studied the chapter before making his run. Let's hope Justin Amash studies it and takes it to heart if he decides to run in 2020.

I am, of course, only touching the surface of the accomplishments of Rothbard, and I suspect that there are hidden theoretical gems in his writings that haven't yet been properly appreciated.

But, again, if you are going to try to take down Rothbard, try and match him up with someone who can at least match up against Rothbard in what would be taught in a survey course about him. (Good luck)

And as far as the idea that Rothbard was somehow a racist. Please do a little more homework before making this kind of charge.

Rothbard wrote in his publication, Libertarian Forum, a cover story endorsing the Norman Mailer candidacy for mayor of New York City. In the endorsement, he hailed Mailer's call to free from jail Huey Newton, the co-founder of the Black Panthers.

He called out Judge Julius Hoffman for his treatment of Bobby Seale, the other co-founder of the Blank Panthers, during the trial of the Chicago 8.

And in the new collection of Rothbard 1960s' essays , Never A Dull Moment, we have these comments by Rothbard:
[W]ho can now deny that Negores in America are a colonized and occupied people?
[T]he ever-present threat of police brutality, a brutality which is endemic in the Negro ghetto areas...
In addition, he devoted an entire essay, included in the book, objecting to the arrest for incitement to riot of the black leader H. Rap Brown ,

H. Rap Brown
Finally, there is a new suggestion that Rothbard broke up with Ayn Rand because she didn't tolerate racism,Yes, that's it exactly! Study the history.

Rothbard broke from Rand at the exact same time he was supporting Huey Newton, Bobby Seale and H. Rap Brown!

For the record, among a number of reasons that Rothbard broke with Rand was because his wife was a Christian and Rand was an atheist, who didn't tolerate Christians around her, To stick with the Rand crowd, he was supposed to convert his wife, Joey, to atheism or dump her.

Rothbard was an intellectual giant. That some 20 plus years after his death pot shots continue to be taken at him, tells you something. He has impact that drives some people so crazy that they will sit before a computer keyboard and attempt to destroy Rothbard with lies and distortions.

Rothbard never sat before a computer keyboard. He used a typewriter throughout his life but he is still winning. 

I expect it to continue.


  1. "He used a typewriter throughout his life but he is still winning."

    This always gets me when I'm reading Rothbard: he just typed and typed and typed. I couldn't imagine life without a word processor and spell-check.

    1. I knew Murray in the late 70's and early 80's and tried to get him to at least try a word processor. Didn't succeed. Elsewhere you can read how he could turn out publication-ready articles with one pass. I saw one or two of those, though they did have some strikeouts. Still amazing.

    2. Just amazing. I wish I'd have known him. He seems the type one could listen to for hours.

  2. Murray was disastrous for the Liberty movement. He led it down the false path of anarchism, associated it with white nationalism through the paleo-effort, and possibly wrote Ron Paul's racist newsletters. The cult of personality around him is unbelievable.

    1. This is a serious distortion. The paleo-conservatives were limited government anti-war people.

      What racist newsletters? Don't send me links to babble, send me direct quotes where you think there was racism in the RP newsletters.

  3. I'm really glad you answered those "racist" accusations. Anyone with half a brain knows what he stood for.

  4. Remember when Bryan Caplan wrote:

    "All of my other adolescent intellectual heroes - Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, Ludwig von Mises - gradually came to seem less impressive in my eyes. But the greatness of Milton Friedman is as constant as the Northern Star. "

    I mean, who talks like this.

  5. The Mystery of Banking is phenomenal as well.

    I remember reading that someone had plagiarized Rothbard's work in America's Great Depression and was later forced to add it to his sources. I think it may have even been a paper put out by a regional branch of the Federal Reserve. Can't remember where I read this.

    1. Are you referring to this?

  6. Not to mention, Rothbard's associates and "followers" for lack of a better term, are for the most part brilliant economist, historians and Libertarians in their own right. So you got to beat up guys like RW, Ron Paul, Lew Rockwell, Walter Block, Higgs, Salerno, DiLorenzo, Tom woods, and on and on and on, before you even get to take a swing at Rothbard.
    Good luck, but it ain't gonna happen.