Archive for Murray Rothbard

I Only Read It for the Articles! Rothbard’s Penthouse Interview

In the 1970s, Penthouse magazine had a reputation for featuring the ideas of unorthodox political thinkers and movements. That’s why in October 1976 it interviewed Murray Rothbard to ask about the rapidly-growing philosophy of libertarianism. This interview is now difficult to find, but was recently excavated from the archives at the Mises Institute.

The article begins with an introduction that provides a great snapshot of both Rothbard’s work and personality:

The Murray Rothbard wall poster depicts a graying professor pecking at a typewriter. His words rise magically from the machine and blend into a black flag of anarchy rippling above his head. Beneath the drawing is this caption: “Murray N. Rothbard—the greatest living enemy of the state.” The poster, like almost everything else relating to politics, causes Rothbard to laugh… If someone mentions the name of almost any establishment economist or political figure, Rothbard will respond with a nasal guffaw… Jerry Ford, John Kenneth Galbraith, Alan Greenspan, Ronald Reagan—they all receive the same response: a laugh followed by a theoretical disputation in which Rothbard employs buzz-saw logic to rip into these persons he views as enemies of liberty, prosperity, and the common good.

There are some entertaining stories as well. For instance, the interview points out that Rothbard’s criticism of conventional economics made him an unpopular choice for private consulting, which is often a lucrative line of work for economists. In Rothbard’s case though, “Only one firm—a mushroom factory—has called on him for consulting advice in the past twenty years.”

The bulk of the interview consists of Rothbard offering up his trademark analysis of economics and public policy. He tackles a long list of objections to the free society, explaining how government causes war, depression, poverty, and pollution, and how the market fixes these problems.

One of his best responses, especially relevant today, regards socialized medicine:

Penthouse: What about efforts to socialize medicine in America?

Rothbard: That would be a monstrous development. In countries with socialized medicine, for instance, Britain, the result has been a tremendous decline in the quality of the medical service and a huge burden of taxes on the public and on the economy. The usual advance estimates of how much socialized medicine would cost are always extrapolated from the current number of people going to doctors and other statistics. What most people don’t realize is that if a visit to a doctor were free, then many people would consult a doctor all the time. There would be an enormous increase in demand for medical service, most of it unnecessary, and then the doctor’s time would have to be rationed in some way and the quality of medical care would decrease. That happened in England, with the result that the people who can afford to do so avail themselves of private medical care. They have to do this in order to get decent treatment.

The current government intervention in the medical field in the United States has created most of the problems that now exist. By creating licensing requirements—state regulations restricting the number of doctors and medical schools—the government creates a medical monopoly and increases the cost of medicine. In the last decade or so, the government has created the Medicaid-Medicare program, which has enormously increased the cost of doctors and hospitals by an almost indiscriminate disbursement of money to doctors. At first everybody thought the program would be a big bonanza. “Now we’d be able to get most of our medical bills paid,” they thought. But what actually happened? Medical bills simply increased, and so we’re really no better off than we were before.

In fact, we’re worse off. Any further government intervention would compound the damage. And I advocate the elimination of licensing requirements for doctors and hospitals and the loosening of restrictions on other aspects of medicine. The cost of drugs could be cut by eliminating the requirement for prescriptions, which creates a pharmacy monopoly so that people have to go to licensed pharmacies in order to get their drugs. I don’t think there’s any real need for that.

There are plenty of other gems sure to interest fans of free-market economics. The entire interview will be published in The Rothbard Reader, forthcoming in 2015, edited by Joseph Salerno and myself. The collection will provide an introduction and overview of Rothbard’s thought, and will feature several of his lost and out-of-print writings alongside some better-known works.

A New One for the Photo Archives

Thank to Walter Block who recently posted this on his Facebook page:

1958299_339005306282233_6134228761902857133_n (1)

Rothbard on Self-Defense and War

back of a security guardMises Daily Tuesday by David Gordon:

Contrary to the claims of many advocates for expanding the already-huge war apparatus of the United States, Libertarians in general — and Murray Rothbard in particular — are not pacifists, but reject the killing of innocents and other unjustified forms of military aggression.

Murray N. Rothbard: The Man and His Work

murrayoct2Mises Daily Thursday:

Lew Rockwell and Tom Woods discuss Muray Rothbard, his life, writings, students, and career.


In Mises’s Birthday: Rothbard on Mises’s Contribution to Understanding Business Cycles

mises2Mises Daily Monday: Rothbard explains how Mises laid the foundation for Austrian Business Cycle Theory:

In The Theory of Money and Credit, Mises provided the basics for the long-sought explanation for that mysterious and troubling economic phenomenon — the business cycle.


Murray Rothbard: His Life and Work

Tom Woods discusses the life of Murray Rothbard with Lew Rockwell:

Mises Weekends: David Gordon and Jeff Deist Discuss The Life and Times of Murray Rothbard

Jeff Deist and David Gordon discuss Murray N. Rothbard’s life from an insider’s perspective, touching on Rothbard’s experience founding the Cato Institute, his relationship with Mises and the areas where they disagreed, his time with Ayn Rand and her Objectivist followers, and more.

Princeton Historian: Just Get Over Watergate Already!

Nixon_edited_transcriptsHistorian Julian Zelizer writes that Watergate-style investigations are OK sometimes, but we shouldn’t go overboard in being mistrustful of the government. After all, “faith in government,” Zelizer writes, “is necessary for a healthy society.” As Rothbard notes below, the watergate scandal was an excellent event precisely because it undermined faith in government. Zelizer, however, tells us to “banish the memories of Watergate” so we can get over all this unhealthy suspicion of government.

Writes Zelizer:

Often, this outlook [of suspicion of government] has salutary effects by encouraging politicians to make sure that similar levels of corruption don’t happen again.

But, too often, as many would say has been the case with the IRS, stories of administrative mismanagement are blown out of proportion, consuming Washington’s time and taking their attention away from major problems.

The worst effect of Watergate is that it created a climate where Americans fundamentally don’t trust their government. It is one thing to be suspicious, another to reject altogether. Recent approval ratings for Congress tanked to 7% and for the President 29%. This is part of the broader trend we have seen since the 1960s.

It is extremely difficult for government to do its job or for voters to have the kind of faith in government, which is necessary for a healthy society.

Writing in 1973, on the other hand, Murray Rothbard took a rather different view.  In his “Notes on Watergate” Rothbard early on saw some of the benefits of the scandal, and comparing Rothbard’s view here with the current situation we can draw a few conclusions:

  • The Watergate conspiracy now seems quaint compared to the non-stop flood of government abuses we now face.
  • The American public, if presented with a similar conspiracy today, would yawn and simply accept it. “The president is just trying to keep us safe” we would be told. Indeed, Rothbard notes below that Ronald Reagan defended the conspirators as spying for “a good cause.”
  • The Watergate controversy was wonderful for at least two reasons: 1) It put impeachment of a president on the table. 2) It led to “rapid desanctification of our national secret police.” It’s no accident that after Watergate, Congress passed multiple pieces of legislation attempting to rein in the CIA, the FBI and other organs of the American secret police. Most of that is all null and void now, however.

The text:

Notes on Watergate The Libertarian Forum Volume V, NO. 5, May, 1973 by MNR


By Murray N. Rothbard

This first appeared in The Libertarian Forum, Volume V, NO.5, May 1973


No doubt about it: we were dead wrong in pooh-poohing the political significance of Watergate (Nov. 1972). In our defense, however, Watergate remained a minor caper of piddling proportions until James W. McCord, Jr., under the hammer blows of Judge “Maximum John” Sirica, broke and began to implicate the higher-ups.

Read More→

How To Have Law Without Legislation

Themis 2662Mises Daily Weekend by Murray Rothbard

A stateless society is not a lawless one. Apologists for the state maintain that state-made legislation is indispensable, but in this essay, Rothbard explores Bruno Leoni’s call for a return to the ancient traditions and principles of “judge-made law” as a method of limiting the state and insuring liberty.

Immigration, Wages, and the Global Marketplace

PowerAndMarketBook[A selection from Power and Market.]

By Murray N. Rothbard 

Laborers may also ask for geographical grants of oligopoly in the form of immigration restrictions. In the free market the inexorable trend is to equalize wage rates for the same value-productive work all over the earth. This trend is dependent on two modes of adjustment: businesses flocking from high-wage to low-wage areas, and workers flowing from low-wage to high-wage areas. Immigration restrictions are an attempt to gain restrictionist wage rates for the inhabitants of an area. They constitute a restriction rather than monopoly because (a) in the labor force, each worker owns himself, and therefore the restrictionists have no control over the whole of the supply of labor; and (b) the supply of labor is large in relation to the possible variability in the hours of an individual worker, i.e., a worker cannot, like a monopolist, take advantage of the restriction by increasing his output to take up the slack, and hence obtaining a higher price is not determined by the elasticity of the demand curve. A higher price is obtained in any case by the restriction of the supply of labor. There is a connexity throughout the entire labor market; labor markets are linked with each other in different occupations, and the general wage rate (in contrast to the rate in specific industries) is determined by the total supply of all labor, as compared with the various demand curves for different types of labor in different industries. A reduced total supply of labor in an area will thus tend to shift all the various supply curves for individual labor factors to the left, thus increasing wage rates all around.

Immigration restrictions, therefore, may earn restrictionist wage rates for all people in the restricted area, although clearly the greatest relative gainers will be those who would have directly competed in the labor market with the potential immigrants. They gain at the expense of the excluded people, who are forced to accept lower-paying jobs at home.

Read More→

What Libertarians Should Learn From the Abolitionists

6761Murray Rothbard writes in today’s Mises Daily:

The “realism” of the goal can only be challenged by a critique of the goal itself, not in the problem of how to attain it. Then, after we have decided on the goal, we face the entirely separate strategic question of how to attain that goal as rapidly as possible, how to build a movement to attain it, etc.

Thus, William Lloyd Garrison was not being “unrealistic” when, in the 1830s, he raised the glorious standard of immediate emancipation of the slaves. His goal was the proper one, and his strategic realism came in the fact that he did not expect his goal to be quickly reached. Or, as Garrison himself distinguished,

Urge immediate abolition as earnestly as we may, it will, alas! be gradual abolition in the end. We have never said that slavery would be overthrown by a single blow; that it ought to be, we shall always contend. (The Liberator, August 13, 1831)

The Struggle Over Egalitarianism Continues

3007By Murray N. Rothbard

[Rothbard's 1991 introduction to "Freedom, Inequality, Primitivism, and the Division of Labor," which was written in 1970.]


In the two decades since this essay was written, the major social trends I analyzed have accelerated, seemingly at an exponential rate. The flight away from socialism and central planning begun in Yugoslavia has stunningly succeeded over the entire “socialist bloc” of Eastern Europe, and there is now at least rhetorical allegiance to the idea of privatization and a free-market economy. More and more, Marxism has become confined to the academics of the United States and Western Europe, comfortably ensconced as parasites upon their capitalist economies. But even among academics, there is almost nothing left of the triumphalist Marxism of the 1930s and 40s, with their boasts of the economic efficiency and superiority of socialist central planning. Instead, even the most dedicated Marxists now pay lip service to the necessity of some sort of “market,” however restricted by government.

I. New Areas of Inequality and “Oppression”

Read More→

When Murray Rothbard Schooled James Buchanan on Basic Economic Theory and Method

Rothbard_56_Sennholz_dinnerWorking for the Volker Fund during the 1950s and early 1960s provided Murray Rothbard with the opportunity to read and write reviews and memos on hundreds of books on the social sciences, especially economic theory and political economy. Happily this amazing treasure trove of Rothbardiana is available in the Rothbard archives housed at the Mises Institute.

While employed by the Volker Fund, Rothbard was also hard at work researching and writing his great treatise on economic theory, Man, Economy, and State. Rothbard thus was not only reading widely but also thinking deeply about economic theory and method, as he sought to deduce new theorems to advance the mainline Austrian theoretical tradition originated by Carl Menger. This tradition included not only native Austrians like Bohm-Bawerk, Mises, and Hayek but Anglo-American economists such as Philip Wicksteed, Edwin Cannan, Lionel Robbins, William Hutt, John Bates Clark, Frank A. Fetter, and Herbert Davenport.[1]

In 1960, the 34-year old Rothbard read an economic textbook by Clark Lee Allen, James M. Buchanan, and Marshall R. Colberg.[2] In a memo to Ivan R. Bierly of the Volker Fund, Rothbard wrote: “The more I read of the general, all-around works of the ‘Chicago School’ of economics, the less I am impressed.”[3] Regarding the Allen, Buchanan, and Colberg book in particular, Rothbard commented, “I was impressed neither by the technical economic analysis nor by the more politico-economic sections.”  Read More→

Economic Means vs. Political Means

Writing in Forbes, Bill Bonner notes that “the financial scam that every American falls for” is the one in which politicians promise to improve economic outcomes using politics. “Rare was the man,” he writes, “such as Robert Lucas or Murray Rothbard, who pointed out that you could not really improve economic results with political means.” He continues:

There are economic means, and there are political means. There is persuasion and there is force. There are civilized ways and barbaric ones. Read More→

Transcript: How Murray Rothbard Became a Libertarian

CaptureHow Murray Rothbard Became a Libertarian

Editor’s Note: This is a transcript of this video recorded in 1981.

NARRATOR:  A prolific author and Austrian economist, Murray Rothbard promoted a form of free-market anarchism he called “Anarcho-Capitalism.”

In this talk, given at the 1981 National Libertarian Party Convention, Rothbard tells the story of how he came to learn about economics and Libertarianism as he grew up in the Bronx and attended Columbia University in the 1930s and ’40s. He reminisces about meeting Frank Chodorov, Baldy Harper, George Stigler and Ludwig von Mises, and takes a number of audience questions.

ANNOUNCER:  You’ve read a lot about Murray.  You’ve probably read some of the things he’s done for the movement, some of the things that he’s always been so excellent at, keeping us in line.  He’s radical, he’s charming, and he is warm.  And also, he and I can see eye to eye, so we don’t have to adjust the microphone.

Read More→

New eBook: ‘The Gold Standard: Perspectives in the Austrian School’

unnamedNow in ebook format or paperback: The Gold Standard: Perspectives in the Austrian School

The world’s financial system is in a precarious state, and everywhere the cry is heard for reform. But a reform to what? More government created fiat money under a new name? The contributors to this notable anthology think not and argue for one particular sort of reform, a return to the gold standard. They all agree that a genuine free market would gravitate toward a gold standard.

Murray Rothard states that any commodity used as money must have value in a non-monetary use. Roger Garrison dismantles the objection that a paper money is cheaper, and less wasteful, than a gold standard. Joe Salerno untangles the web of international finance . By far the most effective political advocate of the gold standard has been Ron Paul, and here he summarizes his proposals for monetary reform. Other contributors include Richard Ebeling on Mises and the gold standard, Hans Sennholz on Carl Menger’s monetary writings, and Lawrence White on free banking and money.

The Gold Standard presents cutting-edge scholarship on the best and most effective monetary system. If you want to understand the gold standard, you need to read this book.

A Libertarian View of Nationalism, Secession, and Ethnic Enclaves

Situación_etnolinguística_de_UcraniaBy Murray Rothbard

[Editor’s Note: This is a Selection from “Nations by Consent:Decomposing the Nation-State”]

The “nation,” of course, is not the same thing as the state, a difference that earlier libertarians and classical liberals such as Ludwig von Mises and Albert Jay Nock understood full well. Contemporary libertarians often assume, mistakenly, that individuals are bound to each other only by the nexus of market exchange. They forget that everyone is necessarily born into a family, a language, and a culture. Every person is born into one or several overlapping communities, usually including an ethnic  group, with specific values, cultures, religious beliefs, and traditions. He is generally born into a “country.” He is always born into a specific historical context of time and place, meaning neighborhood and land area.

The modern European nation-state, the typical “major power,” began  not as a nation at all, but as an “imperial” conquest of one nationality-  usually at the “center” of the resulting country, and based in the capital  city-over other nationalities at the periphery. Since a “nation” is a complex of subjective feelings of nationality based on objective realities, the  imperial central states have had varying degrees of success in forging among  their subject nationalities at the periphery a sense of national unity incorporating submission to the imperial center. In Great Britain, the English  have never truly eradicated national aspirations among the submerged  Celtic nationalities, the Scots and the Welsh, although Cornish nationalism seems to have been mostly stamped out. In Spain, the conquering  Castilians, based in Madrid, have never managed-as the world saw at  the Barcelona Olympics-to erase nationalism among the Catalans, the  Basques, or even the Galicians or Andalusians. The French, moving out from their base in Paris, have never totally tamed the Bretons, the Basques, or the people of the Languedoc.

It is now well known that the collapse of the centralizing and imperial Russian Soviet Union has lifted the lid on the dozens of previously suppressed nationalisms within the former U.S.S.R., and it is now becoming clear that Russia itself, or rather “the Russian Federated Republic,” is simply a slightly older imperial formation in which the Russians, moving out from their Moscow center, forcibly incorporated many nationalities including the Tartars, the Yakuts, the Chechens, and many others. Much of the U.S.S.R. stemmed from imperial Russian conquest in the nineteenth century, during which the clashing Russians and British managed to carve up much of central Asia.

Read More→

The Constitution Failed

Constitution_of_the_United_States,_page_1If you’re still wondering if the US Constitution of 1787 failed to protect liberty, then just look around you. That scrap of parchment is an obvious failure. The US government is the hugest government in the world and meddles in the lives of its citizens (and people worldwide) in every way imaginable. The government accepts no limits on its power whatsoever. The president rules by decree.

This isn’t done under some new constitution. This is all done under the 1787 one. Lots of liberty activists argue that the Supreme Court is just reading the document incorrectly, but one simply cannot deny that virtually everyone in government, as well as most of the general population, is perfectly fine with most of what government does today, and thinks it’s constitutional. If one can plausibly claim that the constitution authorizes most of what the US government does today, then the document’s language is obviously feeble, ineffective, and useless for the purposes of preserving liberty.

Even among those “constitutionalist” types, many of whom are militarists, you’ll find plenty of support for unconstitutional measures such as a standing army, drug prohibition, and other government programs beloved by conservatives, but which are obviously not authorized by the enumerated powers of the constitution.

Rothbard had this figured out a long time ago:

From any libertarian, or even conservative, point of view, it has failed and failed abysmally; for let us never forget that every one of the despotic incursions on man’s rights in this century, before, during and after the New Deal, have received the official stamp of Constitutional blessing.

At a recent meeting of Students for Liberty, John Stossel spoke to some students of Rothbard:

Kelly Kidwell, a sophomore from Tulane University, said, “Regardless of what its intent was, we still have the (big) government that we have now — so the Constitution has either provided for that government, or failed to prevent it.”

Read More→

A Conversation With Jeff Deist About the Austrian School

6668Mises Institute President Jeff Deist is interviewed in today’s Mises Daily:

Deist: At the time a small group of Austro-libertarian students had assembled in Las Vegas to study under Murray. With the addition of Hans Hoppe, UNLV clearly had become the top economics program in the US for graduate students interested in Austrian training. I was able to attend a few of Murray’s course lectures, which not surprisingly (to those familiar with his lifestyle) were held in the evening! Needless to say the lectures were fast-paced and filled with references beyond the mainstream, giving only a hint of Murray’s vast range of knowledge. Encouraged by Joe and his excitement for Rothbard’s teaching, I decided to explore further.

At the time I was already a committed libertarian, but lacked any real intellectual framework to integrate free market economics with ethics, philosophy, law, and political liberty.

Remember that much of what passed for free-market or libertarian thought at the time remained mired in 1980s Reaganite clichés. Supply-side economics was still the focus of the Right, with many otherwise sensible people talking about the Laffer Curve and maximizing tax revenue! Quasi-utilitarian arguments flourished in the economics mainstream, ceding the intellectual high ground in favor of arguments that free markets merely “worked” better.

The (Austrian) Economist as Public Intellectual

RothbardTurgotNicholas Kristof writes in the Sunday New York Times about the decline of the public intellectual. “Some of the smartest thinkers on problems at home and around the world are university professors, but most of them just don’t matter in today’s great debates.” As Kristof rightly points out, in many academic disciplines, career success comes exclusively from publications in peer-reviewed journals. Writing and speaking for a popular  audience, trying to influence journalists or policymakers, and even using blogs and social media are seen as distractions at best, pandering at worst. I once had a colleague who, as a junior professor, got an opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal. “There goes his shot at tenure!” was the snarky reply from the senior faculty.

Of course, the great scholars of the Austrian tradition never took this position. Carl Menger started his career as a financial journalist and, after achieving international fame with his Principles of Economics, took a position as tutor to the Austro-Hungarian Crown Prince. Böhm-Bawerk was not only an eminent scholar but a vigorous participant in public debates and three-time minister of finance in the Austro-Hungarian empire. Mises spent most of his career as chief economist for the Vienna Chamber of Commerce, where he spent his days advising businessmen and government officials, his nights and weekends producing his seminal academic articles and books. Murray Rothbard, besides contributing original  theoretical and empirical works in economic theory, the philosophy of science, political economy, and US economic history, was a prolific writer of popular articles and books, a frequent speaker, and a tireless organizer for popular as well as scholarly causes.

The Mises Institute has, since its founding in 1982, pursued a three-way mission emphasizing academic research, teaching, and public outreach. Our faculty include top established and emerging scholars in Austrian economics who are working to develop, integrate, and advance the great tradition established by Menger. They publish in our Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics and other peer-reviewed journals, present and discuss their work at our Austrian Economics Research Conference and other professional meetings, and otherwise keep the Austrian tradition healthy and strong. But our scholars also contribute to our Mises Daily series, they speak at our outreach conferences, and otherwise work to make the lessons of the Austrian school accessible and relevant to the problems and issues of our day. You can also find their work on our blog, on the Mises View, and wherever else good ideas are discussed. Scholarship is central to our mission, but so is relevance. Perhaps Kristof’s lament will spur other academics to do likewise and embrace the role of public intellectual.