RSS

Murray Rothbard: Troublingly Wrong on Milton Friedman

I actually had another post, the 3rd part of my series on rights, set to put out today, but after having yet another ridiculous debate last night with people making absurd statements about Milton Friedman, I felt I should post this one instead.

Before I was swayed through well reasoned logical arguments to become a free market anarchist (libertarian anarchist, anarcho capitalist, voluntaryist, whateveryouwannacallit), I was a limited-government libertarian (a minarchist).  While I was first introduced to the general realm of libertarianism via “Atlas Shrugged” (how original), it was F. A. Hayek and Milton Friedman who, in my early years, really became my intellectual teachers of economics and the philosophy of liberty, so to speak.  And of the two, I became most obsessed with Friedman.

I read “Free to Choose” and “Capitalism and Freedom”, I purchased the 1980 PBS “Free To Choose” series on DVD, and a 15 DVD set of his lectures and watched them over and over, sometimes having friends over to watch them and discuss them afterwards.  I watched countless hours of his debates, interviews, and lectures online.  It was not just the substance of his arguments (great as I found them), but his clear, concise, RESPECTFUL style of debate.  He had a unique mixture of extreme confidence, humility, and openness which I have never seen before or since.

ENTER ROTHBARD

At some point along the line, I began engaging in debate on line. It wasn’t long before I was confronted with a situation that I have, sadly, been confronted with all too many times since.  During a debate, I quoted the late, great, Milton Friedman, to which someone replied “He was a statist!”.  Another replied “He was a Keynesian and a big supporter of the Fed!”.  I was completely taken aback!  Friedman was a minarchist, that much was true, but a STATIST?  That is a term that should surely be reserved for those who see a state solution for virtually every societal ill, or cry for state intervention at every sign of societal imperfection, real or perceived. And to say he was a supporter of the Fed…. where did they get this misinformation from, I inquired?  Why, the late, great, Murray Rothbard, of course!

At this point, I had never heard of Rothbard.  So, someone provided me with a couple of links, and I couldn’t believe my ears and eyes.  I could not believe the level of intellectual dishonesty that followed.

CHARACTER ASSASSINATION DISGUISED AS TRUTH

Rothbard’s attacks on Friedman essentially boiled down to this: Friedman was not worthy of being held up as the leader (or one of the leaders) of the libertarian movement because, in Rothbard’s words “…it is pretty clear that Friedman is a statist.”.  What evidence was there that Friedman was a statist?  According to Rothbard, his legislative proposals such as school vouchers and the negative income tax, as well as his 3% monetary growth rule for the Fed were all damning evidence of Friedman’s support of the state.

Could it be possible that Rothbard was taking his proposals out of context?  According to Rothbard, it did not matter.  He flat out said he did not know, and did not care to know, the context.  In his opinion, all one needed to do was know that Friedman was making these proposals to justify the charge that he was a statist.

CONTEXT IS KING

The problem with Rothbard’s reasoning here is pretty simple: context does matter.  A lot. At least it does to anyone wishing to be intellectually honest with their charges.  In every area Friedman made a legislative proposal that I can find, he made a very clear (and extremely relevant to Rothbard’s charge) caveat: ideally, he wanted government out of it entirely. He was very clear that ideally government should not be involved in education. Ideally, there should be no welfare state to speak of. Ideally, the Federal Reserve should be abolished. However, he considered all of these ends (and more) to be currently highly improbable to achieve, if not impossible, given the current political climate both at the time of the proposals, and in the foreseeable future.

His legislative proposals, by his own words, were clearly made because he saw people suffering under the weight of a highly dysfunctional bloated bureaucratic state and truly believed his proposals, though far from the ideal he wanted as a libertarian, would do far less harm to people than the status quo, and, in his opinion, be a step, however small, in the direction of liberty.

One does not have to believe that these proposals would have yielded less painful results, nor does one have to agree that this is a good way to move from a suffocating state to more liberty (personally, I think the evidence now shows it is most likely not for reasons beyond the scope of this post), to understand how, provided this context, the charges that Friedman was a statist are grossly unjustified.

YAY! A SLAVERY ANALOGY!!!

Everyone loves a good slavery analogy, so, to get a clearer view, let’s say it is 1825. Slavery in the U.S. is still going strong and any real chance of emancipation is highly improbable politically for the foreseeable future. Does that mean that those who oppose slavery shouldn’t continue with their valiant efforts to make the case for emancipation? Of course not.

But what if one of these folks, recognizing that the improbability of emancipation in the current political climate meant that many slaves would continue to suffer incredibly cruel and painful fates for many years to come, made proposals to slave owners as to different ways they could treat their slaves that would be less brutal.  Ways that would allow the slaves to possibly live somewhat more comfortable, less painful lives. Would it be justifiable to claim this person was a supporter of slavery?

Of course not.

For another example: What if one man, a very small man, witnessed a robbery.  The rather large, muscular man doing the robbing (who is holding a gun with one bullet) was about to shoot the victim in the head in order to prevent him from following, or identifying him.  The witness, horrified by the entire ordeal but acutely aware there was nothing he could do to completely save the victim from harm, decides to speak up.  He persuades the robber that he should shoot the victim in the leg instead.  That way, the victim won’t be able to follow him, but at least the robber won’t be charged with murder if he is caught.  The robber agrees, shoots the victim in the leg, and takes off.  The victim is shot.  And he is robbed.  But he is alive, which would not have been the case had the witness not made an alternative proposal to the robber.

Would it be justified to claim the witness is a supporter of robbery?  What about of shooting people?  Is this a “compromise of principle!” that should lead an intellectually honest thinker to claim “He’s a thief like all the others! He compromised with thieves!”?

Of course not.

THE NEGATIVE IMPACT ON LIBERTARIANISM

While Rothbard has no doubt contributed a great deal to libertarianism on many fronts (even in my personal growth I’ve come to be far more in line with him in many areas both philosophically and economically), I find this attempt to go beyond economic disagreement and into the realm of attempted character assassination to be very troubling for libertarianism for the very reason laid out in the anecdote of how I came across it.  From what I have witnessed then and many, many times since, there appears to be a good amount of libertarians who came to the movement through Rothbard who were presented with his attacks on Friedman and simply adopted his “statist!” conclusion without ever exploring the depths and nuances of Friedman’s work for themselves to find out if this charge was justified.  This is unfortunate not only because it prevents them from exploring a body of work that has a great deal to offer anyone interested in liberty, but also because they seem to have adopted this crass form of engaging their opponents.  Of crying “statist!” at every slight disagreement with even the most limited government minarchists, over arguing in respectful, good faith, debate… which if nothing else, they could have learned a great deal about by exploring Friedman on their own.

This disturbs me because many of these people are going out and debating and engaging in this manner on the side of libertarianism, and unfortunately, I think it hurts the movement.  As libertarians, we, of all people, should be extremely diligent in ensuring that we are not misrepresenting the positions of others.  That we are engaging in good faith, intellectually honest discourse with others.  And that we are not simply aping the views of others, but rather have a deeper understanding of the positions, and the people, we criticize.

Criticize, yes.  But do it on the grounds that those people have actually argued their positions from.

I’m all the more baffled by this being as, much like Friedman himself, Rothbard was, by all accounts I’ve read, a kind, lovable, approachable, friendly man, and no doubt a brilliant one.  But due to this, I can not take Rothbard seriously for historical accounts.  Economic fundamentals, yes.  Philosophical ideas, sure. Historical accuracy?  No.  Friggin.  Way.

NOTE: I am not saying this is true of all libertarians who have come to the movement via Rothbard. But they are out there, and from what I can tell, there are a lot of them.

 
14 Comments

Posted by on November 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

New Logical Fallacy Proposal: The Tin Man Argument

Recently on a Facebook thread I made a joke that along with the other logical fallacies out there, libertarians should add another that we are uniquely confronted with over and over again: the Tin Man fallacy. Now, originally I was joking… but I’m kinda serious, actually.

It’s sort of a take on the ‘straw man fallacy’ in which a person attempts to debate not the actual arguments their opponents are making, but rather an easy to defeat caricature.  The debater first builds the straw man, for instance, by saying a libertarian is against education, when the actual libertarian is simply against state funding of education.  The debater then knocks down this fictitious ‘anti-education’ libertarian straw man by making easy arguments against this mischaracterized position and everyone who’s not really interested in debating the nuances and complexities that most libertarians derive their actual position from goes “Yeah! What fools those libertarians are! What type of sick person could be against education?”.

THE TIN MAN FALLACY

To my mind, ‘straw man’ = ‘scarecrow’ and ‘scarecrow’ = ‘Wizard of Oz’, so I thought, “Hey, the Tin Man should get a fallacy, too!“.

The ‘Tin Man Fallacy’ is rooted in the assumption that one’s opponent, often a libertarian, has no heart. Unlike the straw man fallacy, in which the debater needs to mischaracterize their opponent’s position, the tin man fallacy allows the debater to build a sturdy looking, if hollow, general facsimile of their opponent’s position (“You are against state mandated universal health care?”), but not give him a heart (“Then you don’t care about poor people who don’t have access to affordable, quality insurance, or people with pre-existing conditions!! You heartless monster! WHY DO YOU HATE THE POOR?!”).

Anyway… that’s it.  Much like the favored short hand of ‘you’re arguing against a straw man’, libertarians everyone can now enjoy the short hand of stating ‘you’re arguing against a tin man!’, when confronted with these outrageously inaccurate and offensive accounts of libertarianism. From places like, ya know, Salon.com.

Now if only the 4 or 5 people who actually read my blog start using it, we’ll be all set! :)

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!

 
11 Comments

Posted by on October 31, 2013 in Logical Fallacies

 

Tags: , , ,

Video

This is my new Halloween video for my song “One Last Lullaby”

This is my new scaaaary Halloween video I animated for my song “One Last Lullaby”. Enjoy

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 25, 2013 in VIDEOS

 

My takedown (er… rebuttal) of Russell Brand’s ‘Revolution’ video…

I’m going to take a break from my series on rights to briefly address the Russell Brand video that has been shared around the interwebs quite heavily lately. I’m doing so because I’m seeing friends cheering it on… good hearted, well meaning, empathetic friends… and given the overall thrust of what Brand says, I find this disheartening and disconcerting.

To start, let me say I have no problem with celebrities expressing their opinions on politics, or whatever. They are in a position where their voices will be heard, and they are utilizing it. Great! However, I DO have a problem with them (or anyone, really) strongly voicing their opinion about something as if they understand the subject they are talking about, while clearly displaying the opposite. Is it their right to do so? Damn straight it is! Should they be called out strongly on trying to pass of their ignorance as enlightened thinking? Damn straight they should!

Side note: this is not to say I agree with the interviewer. He’s a complete knucklehead… or at least he is handling himself as such here… so let’s pay him no mind for now.

A POINT OF AGREEMENT

Now, I also do not have any issue in the slightest with Brand’s stance on not voting. I do not vote any longer either, and I wish a lot of people would actually refrain from doing so for a variety of reasons. I think he gets it mostly right here.. in a very loose way. The idea that your views on political or economic matters is irrelevant because you didn’t vote is complete nonsense. Anyone with the slightest bit of political sophistication should understand that there are many valid objections to voting, not least of which is (and perhaps mostly because of) an understanding, even on a surface level, of public choice economics.  In this area, the interviewer is simply repeating rhetoric that almost all of us have had indoctrinated in us since birth. That doesn’t mean it’s right.

MAJOR DISAGREEMENT (or: HE’S VERY, VERY, VERY WRONG)

“The very concept of profit should be hugely reduced.  David Cameron says profit isn’t a dirty word.  I say profit is a filthy word, because wherever there is profit there is also deficit.”  –  Russell Brand

This is so, so wrong, on so many levels, and so dangerous of an idea for the very people Brand wants to help, that it’s hard to know where to begin and what to address without making this post way overly long.  I’ll start by saying this: Not all profit is equal, and he doesn’t seem to understand the great distinction between profiting via a free market, in which both parties entering into a voluntary exchange have a reasonable assumption that they will be better off than they were before the exchange (ie: they will both profit), versus profiting via rent-seeking, wherein some parties achieve profits at the expense of others by utilizing politically coercive means. The former is defined by positive sum transactions. The later is defined by negative sum transactions (this is where profit for one party would indeed equal a deficit for another).

What’s even more disturbing than the seemingly complete ignorance of this distinction (as is evidenced both by what follows in the rest of this interview, and on his simple labeling of profit as ‘filthy’ in an all encompassing sense) is that the very broad ‘solution’ for these evils (real and perceived) he puts forward is a steroidal version of what has created the massive culture of rent-seeking that we are now suffering under: government intervention in markets via regulations and redistributive schemes. This is where the zero sum game is.  This is what, when taken out of the realm of rhetoric and put into the realm of practice, benefits the few at the expense of the many.

And let’s look at how massively ignorant and irresponsible on its face it is to axiomatically state ‘wherever there is profit there is deficit’.  If this were true, advances in material human welfare would be impossible. It would mean that person A could only ever profit at the EXPENSE of person B, C, or D.  Therefore, if A, B, C, and D each had one unit of a generic economic good, for A to end up with two units, B, C, or D would have to end up with zero. Overall increases in material wealth in this state of affairs.. one in which ‘wherever there is profit there is deficit’… could never happen. That is not a misreading of Brand’s words, it is a matter of drawing the logical conclusion from exactly what he said!  But it doesn’t take a whole lot of mental energy to recognize that the overall capital stock in the world, let alone the U.S., and the overall material well being of human beings not only at the top of the economic ‘food chain’ but especially at the bottom, is almost incomprehensibly greater today than it was 50 years ago, let alone 100 or 200 years ago.  Even 20 and 30 years ago, truth be told, and even with the tremendous barriers governments have increasingly erected in many areas over many years which have slowed this process down (though there are other areas where governments have removed barriers they had once erected, and in doing so have had the exact effect one would think: progress in material well being across the board).

At every step in advancement in material human welfare, in increased living standards for all, there has been capital investment, technological innovation, and… *gasp*… profit!  If we took the profit part out of this equation, material progress would come to a grinding halt, and reverse.  If ‘the very concept of profit’ were ‘hugely reduced’, as Brand advocates, the material well being… especially for those on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder…. would be hugely reduced.

OK… WHY?

I’m going to put aside the fact that earning whatever profit the market will bare is a fundamental right regardless of the consequences and focus instead solely on the utility aspect for the sake of this post.  In a pure utility sense, prices and profits serve a vital purpose. In a world of millions of people with varying wants, needs, dreams, desires, values, knowledge, perceptions, etc., all trying to utilize whatever means are at their disposal in an effort to achieve their disparate ends in a world of scarce resources (including time), prices and profits serve as a decentralized knowledge base. They transmit vital information and signals to market participants about where precious capital is most valued based not on the projected biases of an ‘overseer’, but through millions upon millions of voluntary exchanges over vast geographical expanses which reveal the preferences of other market participants.  In a free market, rising profit margins in any given area of the market tell market actors where additional resources are desired, and where the expected return on capital outweighs the risk inherent in either moving resources from a less profitable areas of the market to ones with greater profit potential, or bringing new resources into play.  It tells them that the trade off has a high likelihood of resulting in both a bettering of their condition, and the condition of those in the area of the market they hope to serve.

In short, prices and profits paint a picture that helps us identify how best to serve each other in the most peaceful, voluntary, mutually beneficial way possible.  In order to function to its greatest benefit, this picture needs to be as undistorted as is humanly possible.

Admittedly, this is a bit of a clunky description of a complex topic that I’ll probably address and readdress over and over again in the course of coming posts, but hey, I’m trying to work quickly here!

THE BOTTOM LINE

It is for these reasons and more (hey, it’s a blog post, only so much I can cover in such a limited space and time) that it is precisely the areas of the market that we find so essential…. healthcare… housing… wages… food… stuffed bunnies… classic rock t-shirts… that you want prices to flow completely unencumbered and you want people to be as free as possible to seek as much profit as the market will bear so long as rights are respected in doing so.

And again, because it can’t be said enough:  No one benefits from this state of affairs more so than the poorest and most vulnerable amongst us.  Please do not fall prey to demagoguery and rhetoric to the contrary.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on October 25, 2013 in Celebrity Rebuttals

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

What’s In a Name?

Howdy.  My name is Cole Gentles, and I am a free market anarchist (libertarian anarchist… voluntarist… anarcho-capitalist… whatever you want to call it).

EEK! AN ANARCHIST!!!

Not so shockingly, this makes political, philosophical, and even economic discussions with most people… well… contentious, to say the least.  It doesn’t matter if it’s with someone on the left or right of the political spectrum.  It usually starts out with them making some point about how fucked up things are in, for instance, the health care system.  I usually agree with them, and we’re off to a deceptively good start.

If the discussion continues long enough, at some point the other person inevitably states that they support government intervention in the market to some degree. Whether it’s something more politically divisive, a massive intervention like a centralized, government run health care system, or something more general that seemingly every sane person agrees upon, like government regulation of medicine or state mandated licensure of doctors.

I disagree with them.  They give a bit more of a reason for their position.  I counter their reasoning.  They counter my counter. I counter their counter of my counter.  They counter my… well, you get the point. Eventually the discussion usually devolves to a point where they become exacerbated with me and ask, almost as if it’s meant to be rhetorical, if I believe in any government at all.

“No,” I reply.

Their response is usually some mixture of horror and ad hominem attacks. I’m usually called terribly naive and immature (I’m innocent of the former charge, but admittedly pretty guilty of the later), and it’s usually assumed that I have not thought very hard about the consequences of not having a government (I have, in fact. Very, very hard). In addition, a statement is pretty much always made that without rules and law and order, their would be chaos.

RULES. NOT RULERS.

Now, I very much agree with them on the last part.  Without rules and laws there would probably be chaos.  It would be a society I would most certainly not want to live in.  However, anarchy is not the absence of rules.  It is the absence of rulers. That is an extremely important distinction.  In this regard, a libertarian anarchist is simply someone who believes that, just as with any other good or service that people consider desirable, free markets are better suited at providing laws and legal systems which serve the wants and needs of consumers of those goods and services more effectively, efficiently, and responsively than centralized, bureaucratic institutions, and that those laws and legal systems would tend to be more just in every respect.

ANTI-VIOLENCE = ANTI-GOVERNMENT

All that said, the fundamental guiding principle for many, if not most, libertarian anarchists is that initiating physical aggression against otherwise peacefully acting individuals is unjust. This is based on a profound understanding of, and respect for, individual rights.  That, of course, begs the question: how am I defining individual rights?  I will attempt to lay out my general position on this over the next two or three posts in the coming weeks to provide a basis on which all of my other positions are derived, including this one: One can not be consistently, truly, anti-violence (in the sense of initiating physical coercion against peaceful individuals), while also being for government (in their current form) on any level. Being as, to the best of my knowledge, no government has ever been established by obtaining the voluntary consent of every individual in the territory it claims authority over, and has therefore always been imposed on some percentage of the population without their consent, the two positions are inherently at odds. Modern state governments are institutions that have acquired and maintained their perceived authority and pursued their ends not through persuasion, but through the threat of physical coercion.

It is my view, therefore,  that if society is ever to get to a point where there is as little violent conflict as is possible between human beings (note I didn’t say ‘no violent conflict is possible’… I am not a utopian), it must allow itself to be organized around institutions that are established through persuasion and voluntary cooperation, not institutions that have been established and maintained through physical coercion.

Seacrest out.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Aside

But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain – that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.” – Lysander Spooner

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 26, 2013 in Uncategorized

 
 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.