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Murray Rothbard: Troublingly Wrong on Milton Friedman

05 Nov

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

 

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14 responses to “Murray Rothbard: Troublingly Wrong on Milton Friedman

  1. trent steele

    November 6, 2013 at 1:58 am

    I like your writing, though I’ve not read too much of it. I must ask: How is tax withholding a step on the way to liberty? Just one example, but if could you explain why you think the present state of affairs is closer to liberty than when you paid your taxes in a lump sum at the end of the year I’d think you were on to something.
    Actually, come to think of it, you didn’t make a case for how any of Friedman’s actions that Rothbard criticized moved us closer to liberty. I’m not saying that some of them didn’t, but you don’t really make an argument besides just sayin’ it’s so!
    Your slavery and robbery examples are weak. Someone might use the same example to make the point that if Friedman, due to his opposition to slavery yet coupled with his resignation to its continued existence, had lobbied for a more efficient way of collecting payment for slave sales then he… wait, no one would argue that that would be a step towards ending slavery.
    I just mean to say that if you think Rothbard’s characterization of Friedman as a statist is wrong, tell your readers what Rothbard said Friedman did, and then tell your readers why those actions were either A) designed to eliminate the State; or, B) were designed to lessen, in our time, the influence and power of the State over our lives.
    Because otherwise this just seems like a typical “I don’t like Rothbard because he’s Rothbard” article.

     
    • colegentles

      November 6, 2013 at 8:59 am

      Thanks for the reply, Trent. Let me see if I can clear up a few things for you:

      “I must ask: How is tax withholding a step on the way to liberty? Just one example, but if could you explain why you think the present state of affairs is closer to liberty than when you paid your taxes in a lump sum at the end of the year I’d think you were on to something.”

      I didn’t say it was. I spoke about the legislative reforms Friedman proposed, as those are the ones that Rothbard focused on. Friedman did not propose withholding, he sat on the committee that worked out the details of how to make it work. Had he not existed, withholding still would have happened, the details of how it worked just would have been different (hell, for all we know, it might have been more burdensome). That said, it’s also relevant to note that this happened when he was a very young man, not yet a libertarian, and in the context of needing to raise money for the war effort. He, being very young, and therefore naive to how these things tend to work with government, was under the impression that it was a temporary measure. It’s also worth noting that Friedman expressed regret that it was deemed necessary at the time, and said it should be abolished.

      “Actually, come to think of it, you didn’t make a case for how any of Friedman’s actions that Rothbard criticized moved us closer to liberty. I’m not saying that some of them didn’t, but you don’t really make an argument besides just sayin’ it’s so!”

      I didn’t say it was so. In fact, I’m not sure many of his proposals were ever actually adopted. As Friedman once said, it’s one thing to give advice, it’s entirely another to have it taken. Vouchers, however, I do believe have been tried to a degree, and to the best of my knowledge, they’ve worked very well when they have been tried.

      But that aside, Read the post very carefully: I note it doesn’t matter whether or not his proposals actually did move us closer, the relevant fact is that he proposed them because he believed they were reforms to currently existing infringements on liberty which steps closer to liberty.

      “Your slavery and robbery examples are weak. Someone might use the same example to make the point that if Friedman, due to his opposition to slavery yet coupled with his resignation to its continued existence, had lobbied for a more efficient way of collecting payment for slave sales then he… wait, no one would argue that that would be a step towards ending slavery.”

      The problem here isn’t that the slavery analogy is weak, it’s that your applying it to something I wasn’t using it for. Again, your applying ‘withholding’ to the slavery analogy as if Friedman proposed it, or if it is relevant to what I was talking about. It is not, and I already cleared that up above, so I won’t get into it again. That said: Apply what I actually talked about: Reforms Friedman actually proposed under the presumption that, being as the ideal was not politically possible at the time, the imperfect reforms were at least a step in the direction of liberty, or less painful to those suffering under the burden of a bloated state. For instance, school vouchers. He lays out the proposal very clearly in “Free To Choose”, lays out why he believes it gives more choice to consumers and less power to government, and he prefaces it by saying while ideally he believe the state should have no role in education, or its funding, whatsoever, that is politically impossible for the foreseeable future, and that is why he proposes school vouchers: they are imperfect, but politically possible, and a step away from state control. Apply that to my slavery and robbery analogies, and it works perfectly.

      This is the context Rothbard never gave his audience.

      “I just mean to say that if you think Rothbard’s characterization of Friedman as a statist is wrong, tell your readers what Rothbard said Friedman did, and then tell your readers why those actions were either A) designed to eliminate the State; or, B) were designed to lessen, in our time, the influence and power of the State over our lives.”

      There is only so much detail one can go into in a blog post. It’s not a book. It’s a post. I explained in short form what Rothbard’s charges were in this regard, and I explained the context that Rothbard never examines: What Friedman’s intentions were, and why he made the proposals. There is certainly no room to go into the details of each proposal. If the reader is not simply taking Rothbard’s word on it, they can certainly seek out and read “Free To Choose” or “Capitalism and Freedom” or explore the countless hours of lectures and interviews he left behind.

      “Because otherwise this just seems like a typical “I don’t like Rothbard because he’s Rothbard” article.”

      I’m not sure how anyone could read what I wrote in other regards about Rothbard in this piece and come to that conclusion.

       
  2. trent steele

    November 6, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    I will try to extend this later, but suffice to say that actions are more important than rhetoric or autobiographies. If we judged everyone by their rhetoric then most Republican politicians would pass muster for you. They all say what they are doing is to increase liberty and reduce government.
    Politicians MIGHT be forgiven if you believe, as I do not, that they are all idiots who don’t understand that their proposals will lead to more government – not less. However, as you state, Friedman was a genius; and I concur.
    I still contend that if you want to write a post about why Rothbard was wrong in calling Friedman a statist, well, you should support your argument with (at least some) of Friedman’s proposals that Rothbard criticized, followed by your evidence that Rothbard is wrong.
    Friedman was a Keynsian/Monetarist, and you can’t be either without believing that the Gov should control money and heaps of spending. Even when he destroys the Keynsians, he does so within their framework. Then he proposes the Fed institutionalize inflation and redistribution at 3% per year (which is actually more than 3%, as prices should be gradually falling, not staying level – let alone rising).
    I love Friedman. But my admiration doesn’t blind me to the fact that, strictly speaking, most of his ideas involved using the State mechanisms – not abolishing them. Sounds pretty clear to me. Those who make the argument that “we’re living in a second best, so let’s just deal with it” ride the slippery slope into statism and will not see their plans increase liberty. Those pols who pull the levers, and don’t just write and advocate, use the second-besters as cover; always have, always will.
    The slavery example is weak. You might as well have used Nazis, Godwin’s Law be damned. I won’t get into a discussion designed to make me sound like I’m for slavery if I disagree with you.
    The robbery example is weaker. Friedman never feared that he would be murdered if he advocated for liberty (which is implied by the bullet, and the fact that the witness is a small man vs a large robber). And it takes as an assumption that Friedman’s policies DID improve liberty. That is dubious. For instance, it is obvious that a voucher system, where the schools must be approved and accredited by the State, will not solve the problem. It just creates a new type of fascist school system where the schools are free to choose, as long as the choice is approved by the State’s bureaucrats.
    I like Friedman a lot, but in this world you can either be principled in your advocation of liberty, or you can be selective. Friedman was selective and that was Rothbard’s point. If you follow Friedman’s rhetoric he was completely pro-liberty. But if you follow his actual prescriptions, well… no so much. And that is why Rothbard took the time to call him out. Friedman was so influential he made people think that his ideas for how the State should make our lives better were libertarian. That’s why we always hear, “Well even Friedman advocated X, so …” and why second-besters are worse sometimes than open statists.
    Sorry, I do go on. But Friedman, compared to Rothbard, was a statist. You may think that using the State as a tool can be a net benefit, but that doesn’t mean you’re not … using the State as a tool. What definition would you use for a statist? Do they have to love the State? What if they just believe, as a theoretical matter, that the State can be used as a tool; and what if their actions empower the State? Friedman was no slave master, but he was no abolitionist, either.
    And per your last point, since you offered no concrete example of “Rothbard said this, and Friedman actually did this, so Rothbard was ‘troublingly wrong,’ it really seems that you are just calling Rothbard wrong for the heck of it. Friedman could have been a statist AND said what you said he said. Where’s the evidence? It’s just not enough to say that Friedman wasn’t a statist, and he said he loved liberty and wanted government out of everything… in a perfect world.
    In any event, keep up the good work! (no sarcasm intended!)

     
    • colegentles

      November 7, 2013 at 11:06 am

      I don’t like to get into long back and forths in my comments section, as I’d rather focus on writing new posts, so I’ll make this my last reply:

      “If we judged everyone by their rhetoric then most Republican politicians would pass muster for you. They all say what they are doing is to increase liberty and reduce government.”

      It’s not ‘rhetoric’ I’m saying he should be judged by. If you shot someone, and I called you a murderer, would it be ‘rhetoric’ if you claimed you weren’t because you shot him in self-defense? No. You would be providing the appropriate context, and the charge of ‘murderer’ would be unjustified. And since when do all politicians say they are looking to reduce government? Even rhetorically that’s not what the overwhelming majority of politicians claim they want to do. They state that their increases in government reach are ‘for our own protection’ or ‘for our own good’ or ‘for the greater good’, etc.

      “I still contend that if you want to write a post about why Rothbard was wrong in calling Friedman a statist, well, you should support your argument with (at least some) of Friedman’s proposals that Rothbard criticized, followed by your evidence that Rothbard is wrong.”

      I did EXACTLY that. I’m not sure what you are missing. My point about whether or not Rothbard was wrong to call Friedman a statist has nothing to do with the content of the proposals, or what their results were (which would be hard for anyone to argue, as I don’t think many have ever been adopted). It has to do with the fact that Rothbard refused to take into account, or present his audience with, the context in which those proposals were made. Again, this would be like charging someone with murder… or calling them a murderer… all the while refusing to take into account the CONTEXT in which he killed someone: self-defense.

      If someone did that, I would write a post titled “Man A: Troublingly Wrong on Man B”

      “Friedman was a Keynsian/Monetarist, and you can’t be either without believing that the Gov should control money and heaps of spending. Even when he destroys the Keynsians, he does so within their framework. Then he proposes the Fed institutionalize inflation and redistribution at 3% per year (which is actually more than 3%, as prices should be gradually falling, not staying level – let alone rising).”

      Friedman was a monetary economist primarily, yes, but he was not a Keynesian. That’s just ridiculous. And yes, you CAN be a monetary economist without believing government should control money and ‘heaps of spending’. All being a monetary economist means is your primary study in economics is money. It doesn’t presume that you believe government should be involved in it. I’ll note this one last time: Friedman believed that ideally, the Fed should be abolished. However, he deemed it politically impossible to achieve in the current political climate and for the foreseeable future, and in THAT CONTEXT he proposed the 3% rule, being as he thought that, while not perfect, it would do less damage than a discretionary board.

      “I love Friedman. But my admiration doesn’t blind me to the fact that, strictly speaking, most of his ideas involved using the State mechanisms – not abolishing them.”

      Again, the point was he deemed the abolishment of these things to be politically impossible at the time, and therefore made proposals for reform that he believed were in the direction of less government control and influence in those areas. Again, this is fundamentally no different than opposing slavery, but deeming it politically impossible to abolish at the time, and therefore proposing that a slave master whip his slave if he was caught running away instead of shooting him in the head. Would you then claim “Strictly speaking, this idea involves using a slave holder’s mechanisms – not abolishing it.” Well no kidding!

      “Those who make the argument that “we’re living in a second best, so let’s just deal with it” ride the slippery slope into statism and will not see their plans increase liberty.”

      This is not what’s being said at all. What’s being said is “We are living in the second best, the first best is politically impossible, I see people suffering unnecessarily under this second best situation, and I have ideas for reforms that I believe are a step toward liberty (like vouchers providing consumers of education with more choice) AND politically possible (if somewhat improbable)”.

      Have you ever been in a bad situation in your life? If you have, and you wanted to get out of it completely, but recognized it was not possible for you to get out of it for the foreseeable future, did you not then seek to at least find ways to make the situation you were currently stuck in LESS unbearable?

      “The slavery example is weak. You might as well have used Nazis, Godwin’s Law be damned.”

      Absolutely one could use Nazis. If you opposed Nazism, knew it was impossible for you to stop it at the time, but made proposals for reforms of some of their ghastly tactics because you believed it would make current Nazi tactics less deadly or brutal for the Jews being subjected to them, and you believed these reforms had a possibility of being adopted, would it be anywhere close to right for someone to call you a Nazi supporter or Nazi sympathizer?

      Absolutely not. It would be wrong for someone to make that charge!

      “I won’t get into a discussion designed to make me sound like I’m for slavery if I disagree with you.”

      I never did that, and neither does the analogy I put forward. You’re just throwing things out there now that don’t make any sense.

      “The robbery example is weaker. Friedman never feared that he would be murdered if he advocated for liberty (which is implied by the bullet, and the fact that the witness is a small man vs a large robber).”

      You’re completely misunderstanding the analogy and the point of it.

      “And it takes as an assumption that Friedman’s policies DID improve liberty.”

      Sigh…. no. It doesn’t. All it assumes is that the intent of the proposals was to improve a current condition.

      “For instance, it is obvious that a voucher system, where the schools must be approved and accredited by the State, will not solve the problem. It just creates a new type of fascist school system where the schools are free to choose, as long as the choice is approved by the State’s bureaucrats.”

      No it doesn’t. You seem to be conflating vouchers and charter schools. Public schools already are state institutions. Vouchers wouldn’t have anything to do with that. All a voucher system does is allow parents to decide where their child is sent. This is a significant difference in extending choice. Not all public schools are created equal. for instance, the high school I went to was considered one of the best in New Jersey (still is I believe). But there were others… not to far away… that were (and are) terrible. My parents happened to move out of the area with the bad school, and into the area with the good school. I was fortunate in that sense. However, zoning prevents parents, who can not afford to move, from being able to send their child to the ‘better’ school. Vouchers would give them that chance, and force the bad schools to compete for students by bettering their school, or else face closure due to the loss of students, and therefore, loss of funding.

      “If you follow Friedman’s rhetoric he was completely pro-liberty. But if you follow his actual prescriptions, well… no so much. And that is why Rothbard took the time to call him out.”

      This is an extremely unfair reading of Freidman. For the thousandth time, it is akin to say “Well, his rhetoric was anti-slavery. But if you follow his prescription, he clearly told the slave masters to whip their slaves!”. Without providing the context of that prescription, as I outlined above and numerous times at this point, is simply intellectually dishonest.

      “second-besters are worse sometimes than open statists.”

      It’s really amazing how some people will say this while giving a complete pass to Rothbard’s support of the ‘statist’ libertarian party. He was perfectly willing to work within the system in that regard… but… oh hey… let’s not call him exactly what this fact would make him: a ‘second-bester’!

      “But Friedman, compared to Rothbard, was a statist.”

      ‘Compared to’ is not a relevant. COMPARED to me, who has never killed anyone, the guy who shot someone and killed them in self-defense is a murderer. But in real terms, he is not a murderer.

      “You may think that using the State as a tool can be a net benefit, but that doesn’t mean you’re not … using the State as a tool.”

      This is not the case. The case is more akin to “Everyone is killing each other with swords. Ideally, I don’t want people to hit each other with swords at all. However, I can not stop them from doing so. Therefore, perhaps I can at least convince them to dull the blades.”

      “What definition would you use for a statist?”

      I laid that out clearly in the original post. I’m not going to restate it.

      “since you offered no concrete example of “Rothbard said this, and Friedman actually did this, so Rothbard was ‘troublingly wrong,’ it really seems that you are just calling Rothbard wrong for the heck of it.”

      I assume you, and everyone else, know how to use google at this point. And if one is going to adopt the opinion of one person about another, I assume, if they are thinkers and not simply followers, that they can research the validity of these charges themselves. Unfortunately, it does seem all too many libertarians are followers.

      And again… for one ever loving last time… the issue is not with what Rothbard claimed Friedman did, as opposed to what he actually did. The issue is with Rothbard using that as a basis to lay charges as to what Friedman was based on these actions without allowing for the context of those actions. For one last time, it would be like telling people a man was a murderer while never telling them that the man only killed someone in self defense. The dispute is not in the action that was taken. the dispute is about the context in which the action was taken.

      In other words: it would be a false charge. A ‘wrong’ charge.

       
      • trent steele

        November 7, 2013 at 2:49 pm

        “And yes, you CAN be a monetary economist without believing government should control money…”

        Friedman was a “Monetarist.” That has meaning, which I can’t understand how you could not get. Are you saying that, because e.g. George Selgin believes in money, and is therefore a monetary economist, that he and Friedman share the same views? I mean, that would just be silly. Am I being reverse-trolled?

        “Monetarism is a school of economic thought that emphasizes the role of governments in controlling the amount of money in circulation.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monetarism)
        There, used both Google AND Wikipedia. Satisfied? Or will you now claim again that Friedman was not a monetarist, but a “monetary economist, which is different somehow.”

        “A school voucher, also called an education voucher, is a certificate of funding issued by the government, which parents would be able to apply toward tuition at a private school (or, by extension, to reimburse home schooling expenses), rather than at the state school to which their child is assigned.”(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_vouchers)
        To be eligible to receive payment via vouchers, private schools must be accredited by the state. So, you are just wrong, again. It’s just a fascist way of running schools, instead of a socialist one. I suppose your argument is that fascism is better than socialism? Ugh.

        I would go on, but what would be the point? I would only hear more obfuscation and confusion. You either won’t make a specific point backed with evidence, or you just say things that are plain wrong that you could have easily checked. And to think you got snooty (“I assume you, and everyone else, know how to use google at this point.”). I think I’ll move on. Good luck searching for “followers.”

         
      • colegentles

        November 7, 2013 at 7:16 pm

        “Friedman was a “Monetarist.” That has meaning, which I can’t understand how you could not get. Are you saying that, because e.g. George Selgin believes in money, and is therefore a monetary economist, that he and Friedman share the same views? I mean, that would just be silly. Am I being reverse-trolled?

        “Monetarism is a school of economic thought that emphasizes the role of governments in controlling the amount of money in circulation.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monetarism)
        There, used both Google AND Wikipedia. Satisfied? Or will you now claim again that Friedman was not a monetarist, but a “monetary economist, which is different somehow.””

        Regarding Selgin, if you look deep enough into his site (I assume it’s his, though it might not be… freebanking.org) you’ll find the case made that Friedman may very well have been a supporter of free banking. But that’s a digression. Let’s get to the core of your error in thinking here: One’s focus being on analyzing the effects of government controlling the money supply DOES NOT equate to one SUPPORTING of, or ADVOCATING for, the government’s control of the money supply. Don’t believe me that ideally, he wanted the Fed abolished? Here… let me youtube that for ya. Just forward to 1:28 seconds where he states flat out “My first preference is to abolish the Federal Reserve”:

        “A school voucher, also called an education voucher, is a certificate of funding issued by the government, which parents would be able to apply toward tuition at a private school (or, by extension, to reimburse home schooling expenses), rather than at the state school to which their child is assigned.”(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_vouchers)
        To be eligible to receive payment via vouchers, private schools must be accredited by the state. So, you are just wrong, again. It’s just a fascist way of running schools, instead of a socialist one. I suppose your argument is that fascism is better than socialism? Ugh.

        You are quite right that I misstated the basic details of the voucher proposal in that they are for private schools and not also public, however, you are wrong in stating that it is ‘facism': no one forces private schools to take vouchers. They are free to not do so. And you do realize that not only are private schools already regulated, but that voucher systems have been in place for many years now, and increased in use, and have not led to anything resembling your claim of a facist takeover of the schools. Hell, it’s not even the only proposal Friedman put forward for school choice. Here’s his foundation with all of the proposals and a faq and Q&A dispelling myths and giving the facts of the program:

        http://www.edchoice.org/

        Here’s a couple of relevant docs from the site:

        http://www.edchoice.org/Newsroom/Fast-Facts-on-Private-School-Choice.pdf

        http://www.edchoice.org/getattachment/School-Choice/School-Choice-FAQs/Are-participating-private-schools-held-accountable.pdf

        But what’s really galling me here, is that while I misstated the details of the proposal, I shouldn’t have been led into that position because they have NOTHING TO DO WITH THE POINT OF THE POST! It doesn’t matter if he was the dumbest man in the world making the most idiotic proposals in the world. What matters is does the very ACT of making those proposals make him statist, regardless of context (for the millionth time now).

         
  3. trent steele

    November 7, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    P.S. I said Republican politicians, not all politicians. You even quoted me, so I’m not sure how you missed that. Have you noticed their rhetoric? Oftentimes sounds just like Friedman’s. And oftentimes, with the same policy results… You don’t judge people by rhetoric, but by results. Or, do you vote, too?

    Must. Resist. Urge. To. Go. On. Getting reverse-trolled, though, so I’ll resist now.

     
    • colegentles

      November 7, 2013 at 7:25 pm

      Yes, you did say Republicans. Are you really going to take me to task for missing one word when you’ve completely misunderstood and misstated entire passages I’ve written… let alone your constant misreading of the thrust of the original post? And who CARES if their rhetoric sounded like Friedman? As he once stated regarding that “It’s one thing to give advice, but it’s entirely another to have it taken.” In other words, they praised him, used his rhetoric, people bought it because the ideas and rhetoric were powerful, but then when they got in power they did the opposite. That is not HIS fault, it’s theirs! Do you seriously not think it would have been any different had they used Rothbard’s rhetoric? Do you not understand they even then they would have done the complete opposite once elected?

      And for that matter, does it bother you when far right racists use rhetoric they got from Rothbard because of his ill-advised paleolibertarian strategy in the 80s? Talk about a blemish on the face of the liberty movement!

      And no… I don’t vote. Not anymore, at least.

       
      • trent steele

        November 7, 2013 at 7:58 pm

        Ugh. We are talking past each other for sure. My point, which you won’t confront, is that you don’t judge a man (just like you don’t judge a politician) by their rhetoric, but by their actions. You seem to think the opposite, viz., that since his rhetoric was freedom it doesn’t much matter the results of his actions. But outside of Nirvana we must be more concerned with results and methods than rhetoric. Friedman’s rhetoric (which we both love) was one thing, but the tool he used was the State. Whether or not he thought that using the State was the best way to reduce the State is irrelevant. There are other ways to reduce the state, and withdrawing your considerable gifts from their employ is surely the first. (As an aside, your point about the LP is valid. Though I would argue that it is quite different to try to use government to abolish government than to use government to try to make it more efficient and thus “less intrusive”; many of his proposals would not have made it less intrusive, anyway. Besides, Rothbard realized his error and moved on, but I’m not here to carry water for him).

        And it’s not that you just “missed one word.” My statement DOES sound asinine if I was saying that ALL politicians use rhetoric about reducing government; but is pretty darn accurate if applied to the Republican party.

        Yes, it would be better if they used Rothbard’s rhetoric. I, you, and anyone paying attention to them when they talk would blast milk out of our noses if they did. I’m sure you know that. That’s actually a really good way of framing it, because Rothbard’s rhetoric would be a lot harder to go back on once in office. And if it had gotten you elected I’m pretty sure you would know that your constituents would be sharpening their pitchforks when you voted for a 3% rule for the Fed.

        To the extent that those (very few) statements are actually attributable to Rothbard they are unfortunate. But not for liberty, as you suggest. I, you, and Rothbard are free to be ignorant racists in a free society. If people don’t want to abolish government because someone might have racist ideas in their head then they are not ready for liberty anyway, and the newsletter didn’t create that. I am not a racist, just to be clear. But I think you understand my point. A racist doesn’t thwart liberty (to the extent that he doesn’t actually harm anyone, which is wrong even if you like the person’s race), but people who propose government solutions instead of using their towering intellect, graciousness, smile, etc. to convince people to avoid government solutions (even second-best solutions) does. God bless him, but when the opportunities to work with government or against it knocked, Friedman opened Door #1. Friedman helped the State function, and improved its efficiency at that. Like Rothbard said, better to have an inefficient government where they are staffed by those too dumb to find the doorknob. Friedman offered his massive intellect to the State, which graciously accepted.

        Rothbard’s critique is accurate, but let me possibly end this with this olive branch. Friedman was an amazing man, and if we had more statists like him the world would be a better place.

         
      • colegentles

        November 8, 2013 at 10:56 am

        “My point, which you won’t confront, is that you don’t judge a man (just like you don’t judge a politician) by their rhetoric, but by their actions. You seem to think the opposite, viz., that since his rhetoric was freedom it doesn’t much matter the results of his actions.”

        Where do you get the impression I won’t ‘confront’ this? I simply believe, and have said over, and over again, that judging someone by their actions without providing the context for those actions is massively unjust, and intellectually dishonest. THAT is something you don’t seem to be able to comprehend. And either way, that’s a particularly odd thing for someone to say who has not responded directly to many of my rebuttals. But even more to the point: look at the two different things you conflate here: Judging a man by his actions, and judging a man by the RESULTS of his actions. Those are two very different things. No one can know ahead of time what the ‘results’ of their actions will be. For another analogy, if a man was about to be murdered and he shot his attacker in self defense, but the bullet went through the attacker, hit a gas tank, exploding a building and killing a family in the process, are we to judge him a murderer? Any action can have unseen consequences.

        But you say we should judge him on his actions. Fine. How about the fact that he convinced Pinochet to curb inflation, bringing tremendous relief to the people of Chile? Once again, a situation where you simply could not take away government control of the money supply, and people were suffering because of it, but he could at LEAST try to ease their suffering to some degree by persuading an evil dictator to use his money controlling tools in a less damaging factor. By Rothbard’s standard, he just should have folded his arms and gone “Just get out of money entirely!” to which, being a dictator, Pinochet would have responded with “Well, screw that!” and continued doing what he was doing, causing even more suffering to people than they otherwise would have had to endure.

        How about his actions in being instrumental in ending the military draft in the U.S.?

        How about the countless lectures he delivered in extremely unfree countries of the time, like China, Chile? These things are NOT just rhetoric. These are actions which had tremendous influence on helping to eventually bring about a freer society in these places.

        What’s been most maddening about this conversation is that you completely, outright ignore the entire thrust of the original post: CONTEXT. It is ALL about CONTEXT. I’ve bought up countless, ironclad analogies that support and vindicate my original thesis, and you keep going right back to the same points without rebutting or refuting them.

        You’re trying to have the debate on your terms by ignoring my entire reason for my critique.

        Note: I may or may not respond to your if you reply again… and quite frankly, I’m not even sure if I’ll approve the comment as you are not addressing my main argument, but dancing around it, and this is taking up way too much time considering that, and considering I’d rather work on my future posts.

         
  4. trent steele

    November 7, 2013 at 8:49 pm

    Ok, olive branch after this:
    Friedman and Rothbard both wrote about the first Great Depression (GDI).

    Rothbard’s analysis was that the Fed was at fault. There was inflation – though not consumer “price inflation” due to rising productivity. The Fed’s dollars flooded into the stock market and capital goods. His prescription was to abolish the Fed.
    Friedman (and Schwartz) analyzed it and determined that the Fed was at fault… because it didn’t do enough. It was its job (specified by the rhetoric employed to get the Fed brought into existence – but if you believe that I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you) to keep the banks liquid, yet its actions actually contributed to a contraction of the money supply, exacerbating the situation. Fair enough, as a “second best” analysis.

    So here’s the rub: Bernanke says to Friedman “thanks to you, we won’t do it again” and then proceeds to use Friedman’s “second best” solution to go absolutely batsh*t crazy with the Fed.
    This is EXACTLY my point. Friedman, as a statist, saw a problem created by the State, and instead of arguing against it, instead argues within the statist framework, i.e., use the State this way instead of that way to solve the problem.

    Years later we have GDII and the State is going absolutely bonkers using Friedman’s analysis and advice. Mic drop.

    Olive branch.

     
    • colegentles

      November 8, 2013 at 9:22 am

      “Friedman and Rothbard both wrote about the first Great Depression (GDI).

      Rothbard’s analysis was that the Fed was at fault. There was inflation – though not consumer “price inflation” due to rising productivity. The Fed’s dollars flooded into the stock market and capital goods. His prescription was to abolish the Fed.”

      I’m aware of Rothbard’s book, but having not read it, I don’t have an opinion on it.

      Friedman (and Schwartz) analyzed it and determined that the Fed was at fault… because it didn’t do enough. It was its job (specified by the rhetoric employed to get the Fed brought into existence – but if you believe that I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you) to keep the banks liquid, yet its actions actually contributed to a contraction of the money supply, exacerbating the situation. Fair enough, as a “second best” analysis.

      Friedman and Shwartz did not content that the Fed ‘didn’t do enough’. They contended that it did virtually the opposite of what its mandate dictated it was supposed to do. Largely because the one guy who knew what to do, Benjamin Strong, had just died and there became a power struggle within the Fed afterwards. The rest of what you said is fine, except the ‘second best’ analysis part. That doesn’t make any sense. They are analyzing what happened at that moment, given the institutional arrangements of the time, and they were spot on with their conclusion. There’s nothing ‘second best’ about it.

      So here’s the rub: Bernanke says to Friedman “thanks to you, we won’t do it again” and then proceeds to use Friedman’s “second best” solution to go absolutely batsh*t crazy with the Fed.

      You are drawing a conclusion without having all of the facts. While it is true, Bernanke has been raising the mantle of Friedman as his justification for QE infinity, it is extremely important to note that Anna Schwartz was furious with him for doing so. She stated very clearly that Bernanke was doing the equivalent of a general fighting the last war. she noted that the situation at the beginning of the depression was a crisis of liquidity, and therefore Friedman’s analysis was correct, however, the current crisis was a crisis of confidence, and that Friedman would not have approved at all with what Bernanke was doing, as he was using the analysis of a completely different situation to justify his actions. There is simply no honest way to lay the blame for that at Friedman’s feet.

      This is EXACTLY my point. Friedman, as a statist, saw a problem created by the State, and instead of arguing against it, instead argues within the statist framework, i.e., use the State this way instead of that way to solve the problem.

      Pardon me, but he DID argue against it. He very clearly stated that if the Fed did not exist, the Depression would not have happened, and that the Fed should not have existed at all. ALL he did was state that, being as it did exist, and being as it did have that responsibility, it did not do the right thing. Again, the ridiculousness of calling Friedman a ‘statist’ for this is why it would be just as absurd to call someone a slavery supporter based on the fact that they recommended whipping a slave instead of shooting them in the head, because you say “Well, he SHOULD have just argued against slavery and not argued within the slavery framework!” Great. And in the mean time, knowing there’s no chance in site of freeing the slaves, they’ll continue being shot in the head.

       
  5. trent steele

    November 8, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    Do YOU believe that the current crisis is one of “confidence”? Am I reading and “animal spirits” blog, or an economics blog? Or do you think she was referring to regime uncertainty. Regime uncertainty created by… government interference with property rights? If so, then how on earth could “fixing,” or “using properly,” the greatest violator of property rights (the Fed) solve the problem?

    Rothbard had the courage to say that the whole arrangement was flawed and that you must get rid of it, full stop, to prevent GDII; Friedman and Schwartz did not – even if they sorta kinda noted it as an aside, “but since that’s not politically feasible (read: we won’t be taken seriously by the establishment if we advocate for the dismantling of the greatest machine of plunder and redistribution ever created by man) then we should work to make it BETTER!” (BTW we have had central-ish banks in our history and dismantled them before, so please PLEASE understand that if F&S had made eliminating the Fed the central argument of their book it actually might have helped move us in that direction. We don’t need the Fed, so it could be eliminated, and they could have focused on that. But they didn’t.)

    In your parlance, this: Rothbard argued to end slavery completely. F&S argued that we shouldn’t have had slavery, but since we do (and we always will!), we should remember that for the best results from slave labor you should feed your slaves well and medicate them better.

    I think why we will never agree is that you are saying, “Hey, sure Friedman did statist things, and had statist solutions, but if we had already been a free society he would have done “freedom” things, and had “freedom” solutions. Pity we’re not there yet.”
    If that’s all you need, then that’s fine, for you. Perhaps if he HAD advocated voluntary solutions over state-based solutions (in his actions, not just his words) he would never had had the position of respect in the establishment – like Rothbard. If you judge people based on their rhetoric then you and I will never see eye to eye.

    But I judge people by their actions and the result of their actions. The world makes a lot more sense when you do.

     
  6. trent steele

    November 8, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    BTW, the rebuttal to your context argument is that Friedman and Rothbard were contemporaries. Their rhetoric and policy positions were made in the same worldly context. Perhaps the context you’re actually referring to is that for Friedman to remain “serious” (i.e. tolerated by the establishment) he had to do X, Y, and Z; since Rothbard didn’t adhere to the acceptable discourse or propose acceptable (again, to the status quo) policies, he wasn’t influential in policy and therefore did objectively less to improve our lot (as chattel property of the State, to carry your analogy onward).
    That’s fine, as far as it goes. But again, that doesn’t change the fact that, his public rhetoric notwithstanding, Friedman’s policy proposals – while less “statist” than the extant policies – were still statist. That is, they looked to the State as the mechanism for improving things. Rothbard saw the same data, and lived at the same time, and proposed solutions that did not involve the State as the solution. Hence, he was not a statist.
    We don’t actually disagree very much, and thus this largely semantic argument has been somewhat of a waste of both of our valuable time (see this article by Bob Higgs: http://blog.independent.org/2013/11/03/on-my-libertarian-catholicity/), so I’ll end here and I PROMISE to give you the last word.
    A statist looks to the State for solutions. Friedman did. Even if his calculation was that this was the best way to make incremental improvements to people’s lives, it is what it is. Most statists are not evil by dint of being a statist – many have nothing but good intent – but their method of bringing about the change they seek makes them statists.
    So if I say that Friedman was a statist but he was still awesome, I don’t think there’s (too much) of a contradiction there. And not all statists are created equally. But by his actions he was, and on this earth of physical things and scarcity, that’s all we’ve got to go on.

     

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