Edward Ring opens up his call for the abandonment of the Libertarian Party with this powerful criticism: “Siphoning off voters from the side that’s fighting the hardest to preserve individual liberty and economic freedom is not principled. It is nihilism.”
He follows this up with the second of his strong one-two punches:
“If you want to find a Libertarian Party organization that has achieved relevance, look no further than Georgia. That’s where Shane Hazel, running for the U.S. Senate as a Libertarian, garnered 2.3 percent of the vote in November. Hazel’s showing may have been insignificant, but the Republican candidate, David Perdue, only needed 0.3 percent more votes to have avoided a runoff, where he lost… All that Perdue needed was for one in seven of Hazel’s voters to choose him instead, and the GOP would still control the U.S. Senate…”
So, is it true? Would the cause of liberty be helped by the termination of the LP?
I think not. (Full disclosure: I have been a member of this party ever since 1969 when I ran for New York State Assembly, two years before the creation of the national party in 1971).
First of all, it is not that clear, as this author contends, that the Republicans are all that closer to libertarian principles than are the Democrats. Yes, indeed, they are, on economic issues. The Elephant clearly beats out the Donkey in terms of lower taxes, regulations, private property rights. This despite the fact that socialist Romney care started in Massachusetts. Neither party favors ending the fed or a unilateral declaration of free trade with all nations. Mr. Ring charges libertarians with “Killing American Jobs: Libertarians support ‘free trade’ without first insisting on reciprocity.” Here, he just reveals his lack of economic sophistication. I recommend that he read Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations,” or, for a more modern analysis of tariffs, Milton Friedman’s splendid work on this issue.
Free trade is necessarily beneficial to all participants at least in the ex ante sense. If Jones purchases a shirt for $10, it must be because at the outset, he values it at more than that amount, for example, $15. So, he earns a profit. The salesman Smith valued it at less than that amount, otherwise he would have not accepted the deal. If he placed a value on that shirt of $2, he gained to the tune of $13. Both sides benefit. And it matters not one whit whether Jones and Smith are in the same or different countries. This logic applies domestically as well as internationally .
But if Jones purchases a shirt from abroad, does that not mean lessened sales for the domestic supplier Smith? Yes, it does. So fewer shirts will be created locally, and more in this other country. But hat will the foreign shirt manufacturer do with the money paid to him by Jones? Why, turn around and buy something else in the domestic country! If it is good economics to protect Smith, from foreign competition, then it makes sense for, say, Colorado, to protect its industry from the “incursions” of manufacturers in Texas, for instance. That’s nonsense on a stick. No, one of the reasons the U.S. is so wealthy is because we have a gigantic free trade zone. No internal tariffs. These economic principles apply in all realms.
What about the minimum wage? The Democrats want to raise this to $15 per hour. The Republican plank on this matter? To $10 per hour. Both are horrid, albeit the former slightly more than the latter. The higher it is, the more unskilled persons it precludes from employment. The economically illiterate (and here, unfortunately, I include several Nobel Prize winners in economics) maintain that this law is like a floor under wages; the higher it is raised, the greater will be salaries. If so, why limit this to a mere $15 per hour? Why not $50, or $1000, or $1 million for that matter? In that way, we could all become rich! Why not eliminate foreign aid to poor countries, and advise them to inaugurate and then raise their minimum wage levels to the skies? No, this law, rather, is akin to a hurdle, or a high jump bar. The higher it is, the more difficult it is for unskilled workers to obtain any employment at all. Not only should it not be raised, it should be eliminated entirely. At its present national level of $7.25, it consigns to joblessness all those with lower productivities.
But economics is only one of the three dimensions of political economy on which all philosophies must take a position.
The second one is personal liberties. And here the Democrats are much closer to the liberty position than are the Republicans. The latter are still being dragged into the 21st century in terms of legalization of marijuana; only Oregon, has made tiny steps in this regard with even harder drugs, and we all know which party is in charge there. Mr. Ring asks “Have libertarians recognized the consequences of tolerating use of these drugs?” Evidently, he does not recognize the horrendous effects of prohibition. Maybe he’d like to put alcohol on the banned list again? That substance, too, has deleterious effects. The Republicans are the paternalistic party. On the other hand, they are way better than the other organization on not defunding the police and gun control.
A similar pattern exists with sexual relations between consenting adults for pay. Legalization of prostitution is anathema to most politicians in the red states. The blue-staters are at least a bit more ambivalent on this and other such issues.
The third dimension is foreign policy. Here the libertarian view is the one articulated by Ron Paul, as also occurs in the other two cases. This former Congressman advocated a strong defense, but no “offense” at all. No more roughly 800 military bases in some 200 countries; bring the troops home, all of them. How do the Redsters and the Bluesters stack up on this non-interventionist policy? A mixed bag can be found on both sides of the aisle. There are Democratic warmongers such as Hillary Clinton, and also Republican ones such as Tom Cotton and Ted Cruz. There are also Democratic office holders such as Bernie Sanders and Republican ones such as Rand Paul who are much closer to the libertarian position. Indeed, the two of them have cooperated with one another on such issues. Tulsi Gabbard is another Democratic Ron Paulian on foreign policy. Both parties were roughly equally responsible for the anti-libertarian wars in Afghanistan and Viet Nam. Call this is tie as far as the libertarian sweepstakes are concerned.
So, what is the final score? If this were a chess match, I would rule one win for the Democrats, one of the Republicans, and a drawn game. That is, 1.5 points for each. Nothing much to choose here for the libertarian.
There is one point Mr. Ring overlooks that might incline libertarians in the direction of the GOP: the Federalist society. This is an organization in which conservatives do not merely tolerate libertarians but actively cooperate with them, work with them, befriend them. (This is in sharp contrast to the Young Americans for Freedom in which libertarians were roundly condemned as “lazy fairies,” a takeoff on the phrase “laissez faire capitalism” favored by the freedom philosophy.)
If Mr. Ring is serious about obviating future experiences such as provided by Shane Hazel, libertarian hero, he would urge Republicans to offer Libertarians an olive branch instead of the usual smack upside the head. Instead of making it difficult for the party of liberty to get on the ballot through endless lawsuits, for example, make a deal with the Party of Principle. Allowing them to run for some minor offices without Republican opposition, or, even, dare I say this, support. In return, the LP might agree not to run candidates in races expected to be very close. I cannot of course speak for the Porcupine Party (its nickname in New York State), but I don’t see offers of this sort even being contemplated. Nor is there a lack of precedent for this sort of thing. In New York state the Republican Party cooperated with the Conservative party along similar lines.
No, it is not “nihilism” to insist that the message of liberty be brought to the American electorate. Neither major party fills that role.
Addendum: Mr. Ring is mistaken in taking the platform of the Georgia state libertarian party as descriptive of all libertarians. Immigration, for example, is a hotly debated issue amongst its members.
Walter Block is the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics at Loyola University, New Orleans.
The featured image shows, “La liberté (Freedom),” by Jeanne-Louise (Nanine) Vallain; painted ca. 1793-1794.
According to a recent study authorized by the National Association of Manufacturers, President Biden’s proposed tax hikes will indeed cause unemployment. In the view of NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons, it is possible to quantify the damage to the economy: “one million lost jobs in the first two years.” The research was undertaken by Rice University economists John W. Diamond and George R. Zodrow.
To be sure, there is some superficial plausibility to this contention of the employers’ association and these economists. If the government takes additional funds out of the private sector, the latter will indeed have less money with which to employ people.
But what will the government do with its additional revenues? Why, it will create other employment opportunities. It might do so by subsidizing industries that will help reduce carbon emissions, such as those that provide energy via wind, water, solar, etc. It will almost certainly hire people to upgrade roads and bridges, and build new ones. The health field can certainly use a few more, ok, a lot more, doctors and nurses; hence, financial support for medical education.
But suppose that Mr. Biden stuffs all this additional tax money into his mattress; e.g., does absolutely nothing with it. Will that not create horrendous unemployment? Not a bit of it. Prices will then be lower than otherwise would have been the case (thanks to the real balance effect), and everyone’s money holdings will be that much more valuable. Since jobs come from revenues, this will also reduce joblessness. Alternatively, and just as unlikely, posit that the Biden administration uses the extra funds garnered by this tax increase to purchase goods and services from abroad. Will that promote domestic unemployment? No, again. For those abroad will use these payments to purchase our products, again increasing job slots.
Lookit, if high taxes cause unemployment, then states like New York, New Jersey, Illinois, California, Massachusetts should have vastly higher unemployment rates than low tax states such as Arkansas, Louisiana Mississippi. But this simply does not occur. Similarly, unemployment rates ought to be positively correlated with high taxes across nations, and that does not prevail either.
Does this mean that Biden’s tax policy is good for the economy? That is highly disputable, and entirely a different matter. All we can say for sure, on the basis of elementary economics, is that this will mean a transfer, or redeployment, but not unemployment. People will be shifted from some jobs, companies and industries to others, based on this plan, but there need be no overall increase in unemployment, after these shifts occur. Yes, there might well be a temporary increase in joblessness while this reallocation occurs, but that would be true of any shift in policy. Should Mr. Biden be required to maintain each and every policy of his predecessor? Not on the basis of increasing unemployment, unless he does so.
It is perfectly understandable for Republicans, the National Association of Manufacturers and other such groups to throw everything possible at this present administration’s tax policy and hope that something sticks. But let us not toss basic economics out the window. Higher taxes, to be sure, have some drawbacks; but unemployment is not one of them.
Walter Block is the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics at Loyola University, New Orleans.
The featured images shows, “Highway 99,” by Ronald Debs Ginther; painted March, 1933.
Now that a little bit of time has passed since the “insurrection” of January 6, 2021, let us put those events into some perspective.
There were calls, then, from far and wide, to either quickly impeach President Trump from office, or to utilize the 25th Amendment to remove him from office, whichever was quicker.
We know now that the riots started well before Trump’s speech ended, so it’s wrong to strongly or even weakly imply that the subsequent events were a reaction to his speech. Here is Trump’s key statement about protesting, “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.” Donald Trump is accused of egging on, instigating, inciting his supporters to engage in an insurrection, to overthrow the U.S. government, starting with a violent attack on a sitting congress. What he did during his speech of January 6, 2021 was to utter phrases such as, “You will never take back our country with weakness,” and many others similar, and to encourage his supporters “to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard” outside of Congress. It is not at all clear that he anticipated the actions of the rioters, let alone supported them.
Rather, his goal was to attain an electoral college victory. How so? By demanding that electors from enough Biden states be rejected by Mike Pence in particular, in his role as Vice President, and by Congress in general. Yes these were last ditch efforts to overturn an election that he, along with many others, thought improper.
This essay is NOT a defense of Mr. Trump’s speech on January 6, 2021. If you read his speech carefully, you will find not a scintilla of evidence that he incited anyone. In prospect, it was a good speech. In retrospect, it was unwise, given the results: he lost the support of such “virtue signalers” as Betsy DeVos, William Barr, Mick Mulvaney, Matt Pottinger, Ryan Tully, Stephanie Grisham and Sarah Matthews. President Trump’s error was in giving the likes of Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi an opening to attack him. As a sometime supporter of President Trump, do I regret that he gave that speech (as I also am remorseful about his performance in his first debate with Mr. Biden)? Yes I do. This is not because of the discourse itself, which was an excellent one. Instead I am saddened by it because of the “hay” his enemies were able to make of it. Are the likes of Schumer and Pelosi happy with Trump that he spoke out as he did on this occasion? Of course they are. Deliriously so. Therefore, I am not.
Let me try to clarify this point. I am not saying that although there was no evidence that Trump was inciting the crowd that marched on the capitol, he should not have created the situation in which violence erupted. Instead, I am saying that although there was no evidence that Trump was inciting the crowd that marched on the capitol, he should not have created the situation in which his enemies were able to score so many points against him.
Rather, I am now using this episode to engage in a philosophical analysis of the law regarding incitement. “Incitement” is pretty much on everyone’s lips, Democrat as well as Republican, friend or enemy of Mr. Trump’s. This gives us a golden opportunity to reflect upon the libertarian analysis of incitement, and why it should not be considered a crime.
The difficulty with this law is that it is a violation of free will. Murray N. Rothbard said it best when he wrote:
“Should it be illegal …. to ‘incite to riot’? Suppose that Green exhorts a crowd: ‘Go! Burn! Loot! Kill!’ and the mob proceeds to do just that, with Green having nothing further to do with these criminal activities. Since every man is free to adopt or not adopt any course of action he wishes, we cannot say that in some way Green determined the members of the mob to their criminal activities; we cannot make him, because of his exhortation, at all responsible for their crimes. ‘Inciting to riot,’ therefore, is a pure exercise of a man’s right to speak without being thereby implicated in crime. On the other hand, it is obvious that if Green happened to be involved in a plan or conspiracy with others to commit various crimes, and that then Green told them to proceed, he would then be just as implicated in the crimes as are the others—more so, if he were the mastermind who headed the criminal gang. This is a seemingly subtle distinction which in practice is clearcut—there is a world of difference between the head of a criminal gang and a soap-box orator during a riot; the former is not, properly to be charged simply with ‘incitement.’”
In sharp contrast, when Spike Lee was incensed at George Zimmerman for his killing of Trayvon Martin, he was not guilty of mere incitement. Mr. Lee was, instead, responsible for actively aiding and abetting the crowd to go and attack this man who was later exonerated for his act of self-defense. Mr. Lee gave the crowd Mr. Zimmerman’s address (it was erroneous, but that is beside the point) and publicly mused about the latter something to the effect of “Why is this man still alive?”
If you go to bed with a consenting five year old girl, you are guilty of statutory rape, even given that this youngster “agreed” to that act. Why? We simply do not believe that a person of that age is capable of assenting to any such behavior. If you engage in sex on a voluntary basis with a 25 year old woman, whatever else it is of which you may be accused, it cannot be statutory rape, since any rational society maintains that people of that demographic are entitled to make such decisions for themselves. But where do you draw the line between these two ages? At 15? 16? 17? Whatever age you choose, it is possible to object that it should be one month younger or older. This is the classic example in philosophy of the continuum challenge. There is no unambiguous answer to questions of this sort (nor to those like the one about an 18 year old being of an age to participate in the military, but not to drink beer) forthcoming from any area on the political economic spectrum. All we can do in this country is rely on the prudential judgement of the electorate on such matters.
We have a continuum issue here. Lee, who went out of his way to help bring about mob violence, behaved culpably under libertarian law. The person who simply advocated violence did not. The key distinction is that Mr. Lee aided the mob by providing (though erroneous) an address for Mr. Zimmerman. Mr. Trump did no such thing. Lee did not merely incite. He aided and abetted the mob. President Trump did not even incite, let alone aid and abet.
P.S. Anyone notice the wildly different treatment of this right wing riot, compared to the much more devastating ones put on by left wing “peaceful” marches, mayhems, organized by BLM and Antifar? I don’t think it is politically correct to even mention this disparity. So, fughedaboudit, as we say in Brooklyn.
P.P.S. Is it possible that there was a false flag operation in effect here? That BLM and Antifa snuck into the confused melee, with the goal of undermining President Trump’s authority? Enquiring minds want to know.
Walter Block is the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics at Loyola University, New Orleans.
The featured image shows, “The Siege of an Elephant,” a print attributed to Joannes van Doetecum I, ca. 1550.
In the bad old days of outright, in-your-face racism, the bigots favored the minimum wage law as a means of destroying the economic prospects of black people. For example labor unions in the bad old apartheid South Africa explicitly favored such legislation in order to exacerbate the unemployment rate of this demographic. Blacks, in their view, were getting too “uppity” and had to be taken down a notch or two. Or three. They were daring to compete with more skilled white labor; the best way to nip this challenge in the bud was to price them out of the market. Raise the wages of black labor by government fiat so high that employers would no longer look upon them as a bargain.
Nor was our own country exempt from this sort of evil. Former president John F. Kennedy, when he was a senator from Massachusetts, favored the minimum wage law on the ground that cheap African-American labor in the former confederate states was too competitive with more highly-skilled New England workers. He thought, correctly, that the best way to deal with this challenge was, again, to end this through minimum wage legislation. He stated: “Having on the market a rather large source of cheap labor depresses wages outside that group too – the wages of the white worker who has to compete. And when an employer can substitute a colored worker at a lower wage – and there are … these hundreds of thousands looking for decent work – it affects the whole wage structure of an area…”
Give the devil his due, these vicious people were good economists. They faced a challenge: the competition of low-skilled black workers. They knew exactly how to obviate this opposition. Pass laws that seemingly helped them, but they full well knew had the diametric opposite effect.
Nowadays, matters are reversed. The people who now favor this legislation are filled with the milk of human kindness, at least for the most part. But their understanding of economics is abysmal. And this does not only describe Democrats such as AOC or Bernie or Schumer or Pelosi or Biden who are staunch supporters of this malicious legislation. It even includes Republicans such as Utah Senator Mitt Romney and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton who have just introduced a bill to increase the national minimum wage to $10 an hour over the next four years, in gradual steps. One would have thought that at least members of the GOP would be a bit sophisticated about economics, but in the event this just ain’t so.
The flaws in this enactment can best be explained starting with an analogy from the animal world. The deer is a very weak animal. This species would have long ago gone extinct except for its speed. In similar manner, the skunk and the porcupine would be greatly endangered, but for their saving graces, smell and sharp quills (How do porcupines make love? Carefully).
Now put yourself in the place of a young black kid who can’t find a job. (Before the advent of the minimum wage law in 1938 the unemployment rate of blacks and whites, youngsters and middle-aged folk, was about the same; at present, the rate of joblessness for African American male teens is quadruple that of white males aged 25-55). Young black teens have a poor reputation as workers, at least in the minds of many employers. What is their analogous secret weapon? The ability to temporarily work for a very low wage – or none at all.
Under free enterprise, this young black kid could march up to an employer, look him straight in the eye and say: “I know you don’t think much of me as a potential employee. But you’re wrong. Hiring me will be one of the best commercial decisions you’ve ever made. Just give me a chance. In order to take the risk off your hands, let me tell you what I’m gonna do. I’ll work for you for $5 per hour for a week. Then, if I pass this trail period in your estimation, you can raise my salary. Heck, I’ll do it for $2 per hour, can’t say better than that, can I? No, wait, I’ll go myself even one better: I’ll work for you, real hard, for zero, zip, nada, for free. Then, after a week, when you see what a treasure I am, you can adjust my wage accordingly.”
It is hard to see why this would not be a very successful statement in terms of (eventually) getting on the payroll. However, if this young enterprising person said anything of the sort, he would be breaking the law. He might not be put in prison for doing so, since, probably, an economically illiterate judge would view him as a victim; but, still, he would be in violation of the minimum wage law. In contrast, if the owner of the firm accepted this offer, woe betide him. He would be tossed into the clink, and the key to the prison would be thrown away (This is an exaggeration, but only a slight one).
The point is, the minimum wage law steals from the worker who is discriminated against his one “secret weapon”: the ability to impress the business firm with this type of offer. That’s the Horatio Alger story.
An analysis of basic supply and demand analysis as taught in economics 101 will demonstrate that when you impose a floor under wages, this does not necessarily raise them. Rather supply is now greater than demand, and the difference is a surplus; in the labor market this is called unemployment. No, a floor under wages does not boost them; rather it constitutes a barrier over which the job candidate must jump in order to obtain employment in the first place. If mere legislative fiat could really boost compensation, why stop at $10, or $15? Why not help the needy with a wage, or, oh, $100 per hour, or even $1,000? Then, we could stop all foreign aid, and just tell needy countries to institute, and/or raise their minimum wage levels.
Sophisticated advocates of this pernicious legislation will point to “monopsony” or “oligopsony” (one, or just a few purchasers of labor, in this case). True, according to neoclassical theory, there is in these cases a window in wages, such that they can only be raised so high before unemployment once again rears its ugly head. Even if this were true (it is not, but that is another story) it is simply inapplicable to relatively unskilled workers. If it applies at all, it is to workers with such specialized skills that only one or a very few firms can hire them. We are now talking about specialized engineers, computer nerds, physicists, etc. They earn multiples of the minimum wage levels being contemplated. Those who push brooms or ask if you “want fries with that?” have literally hundreds of thousands of potential employers, not just one or a few.
The minimum wage should not be raised. It should not stay at its present $7.25 level. It should not be lowered. Rather, it should be abolished, and those responsible for its existence be deemed criminals, since they are responsible for the permanent employment of people with productivity levels lower than that established by law. Suppose someone’s productivity is $3 per hour. Anyone hiring him at $7.25 will lose $4.25 hourly. He cannot be profitably employed. Case closed.
Walter Block is the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics at Loyola University, New Orleans.
The featured image shows “Work,” by Ford Madox Brown, painted in 1873.
You have several times said you intend to be the President for all the people in the United States, not only those who voted for you. You have expressed yourself as wanting to bring us all together, to unite the country. Well and good. If 2021 were a little less “interesting” than 2020 due to such efforts of yours, most Americans would be extremely grateful.
So, a few suggestions, if I may, as to how to accomplish this task; mainly, by leaning over backward and complimenting Mr. Trump and his many followers. Stop thinking about your first debate with him. I have no doubt it still leaves a bad taste in your mouth. No one likes to be bullied, and he was certainly guilty of just that. Think, instead, if you must, of the second debate.
What, specifically, can you do, and not do?
First, do not move the U.S. embassy back to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem. Instead, welcome this change, promised by several of Mr. Trump’s predecessors, but never fulfilled. Thank him for that; it wouldn’t kill you.
Second, you missed a bet when you changed the name of your predecessor’s vaccine program from “Warp Speed.” Why alienate Star Trek fans? Why not give at least partial credit where partial credit is due? What’s in a name? “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” It is not now too late to reverse course on this error of yours. Reinstitute that name, and pursue whatever policies on this front you deem best. You do want to bring the country back together again. You don’t want to sacrifice much of anything substantive to you, right? The name change costs you virtually nothing. It will seem big of you to admit a mistake, and rectify it.
Third, express appreciation for the Trump administration’s successes in the Middle East. Thanks to him, and it, Israel is now on far better terms with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Morocco. Nancy Pelosi dismissed all of this as a “distraction.” Well, that was then, this is now. If she refuses to retract this statement, you, at least, can take a different and more conciliatory tack.
Fourth, spurn revenge. According to a recent headline: “Actress Debra Messing Vows Ad Boycott for Any TV Show or Network that Platforms Kayleigh McEnany.” Stated this actress: “If I ever see [Kayleigh McEnany] on a panel on a news show or hired by a network, I am immediately ceasing to support every single advertiser on that network…” The same applies to the initiative to prohibit book deals for outgoing members of the Trump administration on the part of high profile Democrats in the publishing industry.
You can have your “Sister Souljah” moment on this issue if you publicly reject this type of initiative. You, of course, cannot stop the likes of Debra Messing, Alyssa Milano and Dave Bautista for lashing out at Trump supporters. But you can publicly take a different path.
It sends entirely the wrong signal to punish White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany. She is not responsible for what you see as the shortcomings of the 45th president of the U.S. Even if she were, this sends entirely the wrong signal in your healing effort.
Fifth, Mr. Trump favored increasing the stimulus checks from $600 to $2,000. This is certainly in line with your principles. Acknowledge this. Show him, and us, your mettle.
Sixth, adopt the “Make America Great” motto as your own. Buy into it. It is only a slogan. Doing so will not in the slightest deter you from what you want to accomplish. Might as well implement your program under this rubric as well as any other. Score some additional points with an opposition in this way rendered more loyal.
Seventh, if you really want to unify our country, not only do not support the arrest of Donald Trump, but actually grant him a pardon for any criminal acts of which he might in the future be accused! If this doesn’t bring about domestic peace, then nothing will. I full well realize this would be a gigantic step for you. There are those in the Democratic Party who will deprecate you for any such overture. But just think of the optics of it! Yes, this is by far the most radical of my suggestions. This makes the first half dozen an easy sell! This will bring discomfort to many, including left-wing documentary filmmaker Michael Moore who said: “we are not done with him… Trial. Conviction. Imprisonment. He must pay for his actions – a first-ever for him.” That is no way to promote unity.
Eighth, China has just announced sanctions against 28 Trump officials and their families. Included is Pompeo who has sharply criticized China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims. Here’s a no-brainer way to promote unity: sharply rebuke the government of the People’s Republic of China for this initiative of theirs. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs justified this action based on “crazy actions that have gravely interfered in China’s internal affairs.”
Ninth and last, the elephant in the room: how to react to the second impeachment of the 45th president of the U.S.? This is a tough one. Let us break this up into two aspects: short and long run unity. In the former case, if the 46th president of the U.S. were to strongly signal he opposes this effort, that would clearly bring about short run unity. It would take much of the wind out of the sails of the die-hard Trump supporters. They would be grateful, and their opposition to the legitimacy of the Biden election would atrophy at least somewhat. On the other hand, another failed impeachment would enable now private citizen Trump to run for president in 2024, continue to mold public opinion, remain as the titular head of the Republican Party. To say that this would undermine unity would be an understatement of large proportions. My prudential judgement: the short run outweighs the long run; therefore you should put a spoke in the wheel of this effort.
P.S. If you’ll forgive my informality, here’s an “attaboy” to you for characterizing the letter left to you by your predecessor as “ very generous.”
Walter Block is the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics at Loyola University, New Orleans.
The featured image shows, “A Man Writing at his Desk,” by Jan Ekels, panted in 1784.
How did Jews vote in the 2020 presidential election? It is still too early to determine this, fully accurately, but early evidence indicates that we supported Biden to the tune of about 72% and Trump the remaining 28%. To add insult to injury, of the 34 members of Congress who are Jewish, fully 32 of them are Democrats.
What more did poor Donald Trump have to do to earn an overwhelming majority of the Jewish vote? He moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, something promised on numerous occasions by his predecessors. Several members of his family converted to Judaism; did he break with them, sit shiva? Of course not. Compare his relationship with Bibi with that of Barack Obama; night and day: no comparison.
He pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal. An executive order of his targeted anti-Semitism – primarily in the form of Israel boycotts – on college campuses. At the annual White House Hanukkah Party, Trump ordered the US Department of Education to effectively interpret Judaism as a race or nationality in addition to a religion. As a result, those universities which fail to take steps to quell discrimination against Jewish students may have their funding cut off. He withdrew the United States from the United Nations Human Rights Council, which has unfairly been on the Israeli case for years, ignoring numerous serious human rights violations elsewhere.
In the summer of 2019, Trump even outdid Israel. That country was in the process of making an exception to their rule barring entry of all BDS supporters for Congressmen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. Trump intervened, and they were disinvited. What else did he do that Jews ought to appreciate?
He initiated the Trump Plan, Peace to Prosperity
He stopped financial support for the UNWRA
He supported Israel sovereignty over the Golan
He kicked the Palestinian Authority out of Washington and defunded them
Most recently, the only president we presently have waved his magic wand and helped make peace between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan. Normalized relationships are now being implemented. And, too, it looks as if this will be repeated with Oman and several others. Trump is a mensch. OK, OK, he doesn’t bake bagels or manufacture gefilte fish. C’mon, give this man a break!
How many more mitzvot does Trump need to perform in order to get Jews to appreciate him? In fact, it would be difficult to mention a more philo-Semitic president than the Donald. Has any other US president come within a million miles of these deeds, with the possible exception of Harry Truman who recognized Israel? To ask this is to answer it.
And, yet, according to that old aphorism, “Jews have the wealth of Presbyterians and vote like Puerto Ricans.” Most recently, more than six hundred Jewish groups went on record in support of Black Lives Matter, not the idea, which all men of good will can support, but the Marxist “peaceful” marchers.
What did things look like for the People of the Book on the other side of the aisle? Oy vey. Bernie (“Bibi is a racist”) Sanders did not win the Democratic nomination for president, but his negative viewpoints on Israel have left an indelible impression upon the foreign policy platform of that party. OK, you say, platform schplatsform; no one has to abide by it, no one ever does. But, still, it indicates where the hearts and minds of the Democrats are located. It is indicative of the types of advisors who will be surrounding the very possible President Biden, come 2021.
Then there is the high-flying very powerful “Squad” (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar). These young women are the leading indicators of the Democratic Party. Their views indicate where this organization is likely headed for the next few years.
Sayeth Omar: “Israel has hypnotized the world.” She called upon Allah to “awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” She supports BDS and has likened Israel to Nazi Germany. She has castigated Congressmen who support Israel, but not any other nation, “for allegiance to a foreign country.” And she maintains that favoring Israel is “all about the Benjamins” (gelt, for the unwary). She apologized for the latter, but not the former.
In the view of Tlaib: “We cannot be honest brokers for peace if we refuse to use the words ‘illegal occupation by Israel…’” Also: “I spoke today as the proud granddaughter of a strong, loving Palestinian woman in opposition to #HRes326. We must take bolder actions to ensure human rights are upheld in Israel and that Palestinians and Black Israelis are treated with the equality every human being deserves.” The clear fact is that Arabs in Israel are treated far better than in any other country in the Middle East, as indicated by “voting with the feet.” Arabs are not emigrating from Israel; they are trying to immigrate into that country.
Here is Pressley’s reaction to Bibi Netanyahu’s plan to annex Judea and Samaria: “Let me be clear, unilateral annexation is a threat to democracy and would create apartheid like conditions and entrench human rights violations against the Palestinian people…”
And AOC’s view of this matter? “Should the Israeli government continue down this path, we will work to ensure non-recognition of annexed territories as well as pursue legislation that conditions the $3.8 billion in U.S. military funding to Israel to ensure that U.S. taxpayers are not supporting annexation in any way.” In case some of you were busy davening, OK, Rip van Winkling it, these four congressmen are members of the Democratic Party’s “progressive” wing, and bitter enemies of President Trump. We’re going to vote for the Presidential candidate who supports them? Maazel Tov.
OK, we Yidden account for only some 2% of the electorate. Our vote, therefore, doesn’t count for too much, some might say. But we are more involved in politics than many, have larger megaphones than some, and are usually more than willing to put our money where our mouths are. We thus had a disproportionate effect on the 2020 election compared to our raw numbers. It is imperative, then, that we rethink our typical 90%-10% support of the Democratic Party. A shonda.
Every other demographic cohort casts ballots in the direction of their perceived interests. Why should we be any different? If we value a good U.S. relationship with the only civilized country in the Middle East, the only nation that treats gays, women and minorities decently, we should have rethought our knee-jerk aversion to Mr. Trump, and wish him another four years. We should have also gotten off our tuchases and worked for this eventuality.
I have no problem, none whatsoever, with the usual roughly 90-10 split in the Jewish vote between the two major parties. I just wish it were in the other direction. What are we, to bite the hand offered us in friendship over and over and over again? Meshugenahs? Moishe Pippicks? Schlemeeles? Schmendrecks? Schlemaazls? Luft-menschen? It was beshert that Trump be reelected. Don’t be a nudnick. Don’t be a putz. Yes, his schtick is a bit off-putting to some; but it shouldn’t be to most of us, who are also from the Big Apple. It goes with the territory.
I hate to be repetitive, but, oy vey.
On the other hand, thank God for Orthodox Jewry, may their numbers increase. At least those people have Yiddishe cups and more than just a bissle of ethics; maybe from the study of the Talmud? Most recently, Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky encouraged his haredi followers to vote for Donald Trump. Why? In one word: gratitude.
All this, of course, is now in the past. But there will be elections, again, in two, four, six years from now, God willing. It is time, it is past time, for us Jews to seriously question, and then reject our aversion to the Republican Party. Are they perfect? Fully aligned with the Talmud. Of course not. But, compared to the alternative, it is an easy call in their behalf.
Walter E. Block is Harold E. Wirth Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics, College of Business, Loyola University New Orleans, and senior fellow at the Mises Institute.
The image shows a socialist Yiddish poster from 1917, which reads, “Vote for the United Jewish Socialist Workers Party.” [Thanks to Rafi Farber for the translation].
We are in an intellectual war with the leftists, liberals, progressives, socialists, fascists and other enemies of a civilized order. In this battle, language is important. Those of us who favor private property rights, economic liberty, limited government, have given in, linguistically, on all too many battlegrounds.
Why do we have to call them progressives? They are, more accurately, regressives. Their ideal is the economics of Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea and the old USSR. What is progressive about that?
Why must we use the appellation “Ms.”, which is in effect, if not by intention, although it may be that too, an attempt to undermine the institution of marriage? How so? Well, Mrs. should be an honorific, at least in a society that values this arrangement. Ms. blurs the distinction between the married and unmarried.
The counterargument is that what is sauce for the goose ought to be sauce for the gander too. If we are to distinguish women by marital status, so, too, ought we to do so for men. It might sound antiquated, but, in former decades precisely this was practiced: “mister” was for married men, “master” for bachelors. Of course, the latter word is now fraught with danger, given the rampant political correctness of the regressives. For them, “master” harkens back to the days of the “curious institution” as does pretty much everything else they dislike under the sun. Presumably, unless we fight to retain what is still left of the English language, the Masters degree will soon end. No longer will there be chess masters and grandmasters.
Then, there is the issue that their own linguistic choices of but a few years ago have now become forbidden. Broken field runners in football have nothing on these people. For example Kyle Cornell a 26 year old radio host was fired from his job for characterizing Kamala Harris as a colored person, rather than a person of color. His subsequent apologies garnered him nothing.
Colored person? Person of color? To the uninitiated, apart from the word order, it sounds just about the same. It is difficult in the extreme to see why the former is despicable, while the latter is acceptable. This is even more baffling, given that the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) is still in operation, and no one, not even the most fervent cultural Marxist, would characterize that organization as racist.
The word “Negro” was a perfectly acceptable appellation several decades ago. But woe betide any white person from using it nowadays. Racism, here we come. However, what are we to make of the United Negro College Fund Inc? Could they be racist? Heaven forfend. James Baldwin famously stated that “urban renewal means Negro removal.” Should we now cancel him? Then, there is the “N” word, which I dare not spell out, even though rap “musicians” seemingly employ it every third sentence. Sometimes, this word is even employed in the very title of a rap group: NWA.
The regressives (less pejoratively, leftists, which is equally accurate) are moving us back toward, socialism, toward fascism, toward feudalism. There, privilege, political pull, are the order of the day. Privilege does not mean wealthy. It means being given an unfair advantage, as for example when teachers unions ride roughshod over private, charter and home schooling; hotels attack AirBnB; taxi companies undermine Lyft and Uber; beauticians make it all but impossible for hair braiders to operate. It is only laissez faire capitalism that is truly progressive. It allows for new ways of satisfying customers, not stultifying entrepreneurs with new ideas.
Affirmative action should be called negative action, insofar as its hurts its supposed beneficiaries. Even some black people are loath to visit African-American doctors. They don’t know if they passed all their exams under their own steam, or were “affirmatively” licensed. When college students are placed in the same class with those with 400 points higher on their SAT scores, the results are not positive. Ask Amy Wax about that. These “beneficiaries” do so badly in competition with their fellow students that requirements are not relaxed; they are pretty much jettisoned entirely.
The English Department of Rutgers University has gone so far as to practically embrace Ebonics. It is now widely bruited about that 2+2=4 is based on white supremacism, as is the advice to work hard, be aware of the future and promote intact families. Linguistics are not solely responsible for this de-civilization, but they play a part.
Further, not all poor countries are “developing.” Some are. Some are stagnant. Others are retrogressing. Why not call them all “underdeveloped.” And “rent seeking” must go. Those crony capitalists are not seeking rent, like landlords, car rental agencies. They are seeking booty.
This besmirching of language must stop. Equity is not equality. It is fairness, not egalitarianism. Social justice is unjust. War is not peace. Freedom is not slavery. Ignorance is not strength. One more pet peeve: why are “blue states” leftish, and “red states” rightish? Surely, we should reverse this on the ground that our friends the regressives are much closer to communist red than are conservatives and libertarians.
Why is all this worth mentioning? No, I take that back; why is it of the utmost importance that we resist the left’s continual attempt to alter linguistics?
For one thing, language mirrors thought. If certain words, expressions, are verboten, then it is more difficult, maybe impossible in the extreme, to think in certain ways. If we all use “Ms.” then it is far more challenging and demanding to extol the virtues of intact families. If we all characterize these socialists as “progressives” their nostrums become easier to swallow. Those advocates are progressive! How bad can their vision be?
For another, there are only two ways to fight for our freedom; physically and verbally. All men of good will (not people of good will; “men” includes both male and female) vastly prefer the latter. But in accepting the linguistics of those on the left, we debate them in effect with one hand tied behind our backs. Let them for a change utilize our way of speaking. Easier said than done, of course.
Those of us who refuse to use “Ms,” who do not honor them by calling them “progressives,” who see nothing wrong with the name of the NAACP will face stiff opposition. We will be labeled racists, sexists, fascists, etc. But if we all do it… In unity there is strength. We should hang together, or we will hang separately. Oh, wait, I don’t think it is politically correct for a white person to mention that word. Mea culpa. A thousand pardons.
I don’t say we will win the hearts and minds of the populace if we stick to our guns (so to speak! So to speak!) and try to regain the language. I only say that if we do not, we will continue to be fighting with one hand behind our backs.
Walter E. Block is Harold E. Wirth Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics, College of Business, Loyola University New Orleans, and senior fellow at the Mises Institute. He earned his PhD in economics at Columbia University in 1972. He has taught at Rutgers, SUNY Stony Brook, Baruch CUNY, Holy Cross and the University of Central Arkansas. He is the author of more than 600 refereed articles in professional journals, two dozen books, and thousands of op eds (including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and numerous others). He lectures widely on college campuses, delivers seminars around the world and appears regularly on television and radio shows. He is the Schlarbaum Laureate, Mises Institute, 2011; and has won the Loyola University Research Award (2005, 2008) and the Mises Institute’s Rothbard Medal of Freedom, 2005; and the Dux Academicus award, Loyola University, 2007. Prof. Block counts among his friends Ron Paul and Murray Rothbard.
The image shows, “Bill of Rights,” by Howard Chandler Christy, painted in 1942.
In the September 11, 2020 issue of the New York Times, Kurt Anderson wrote a critique of Milton Friedman entitled, “How Liberals Opened the Door to Libertarian Economics.” There are numerous errors in Anderson’s assessment. Let us try to correct at least some of them.
He starts off on the wrong foot, characterizing Friedman’s view as “extreme free-market libertarianism.” In the libertarian movement of Ludwig von Mises, Murray N. Rothbard, Ron Paul and Robert Nozick, the 1986 Nobel Prize winner in economics was regarded (along with his fellow University of Chicago colleague, Friedrich A. Hayek) as a very moderate supporter of free enterprise, barely a libertarian. One market fundamentalist libertarian commentator even probed, seriously, as to whether or not Friedman was a socialist, given his many and serious deviations from pure laissez faire capitalism (the negative income tax, tax withholding, anti-trust, support for school vouchers and the Fed, rejection of gold as money). No one who claims “We’re all Keynesians now” can be located at the furthest reaches of free enterprise.
It, of course, cannot be denied that Prof. Friedman opposed unions – they unfairly restrict entry into the labor market; that he wanted fewer pernicious business regulations; and he opposed socialist medicine. He was as least a moderate supporter of economic freedom after all.
Mr. Anderson states, “The New Deal … out of which our well-functioning, prosperous postwar political economy grew.” Not so, not so. It grew in spite of this policy, not because of it. This Hoover-Roosevelt bout of economic interventionism prolonged the depression of 1929 for a decade. Compare this to the depression of 1921 which lasted months, not years, as a result of a “do nothing” (don’t interfere in the market) governmental policy.
Our author conflates libertarianism and libertinism. The former maintains that “capitalist acts between consenting adults” in the felicitous phraseology of Robert Nozick, all of them, commercial ones and also those regarding drugs and sex, should be legal, but takes no position whatsoever as to whether or not these practices should be followed. The latter urges participation in them, the weirder, the better.
Mr. Anderson characterizes the desire to maximize profits as “coldheartedness,” lacking “decency or virtue,” “selfish, callous and reckless,” and sets as the ideal operating “somewhere in the broad range between break-even and absolute-maximum profitability…” In doing so, he demonstrates a lack of understanding of this economic phenomenon. When a hiker is lost in the woods, in order to be rescued he shouts, “Help” (whether verbally or in some other way). Accepting “slightly smaller profit margins” when a businessman could maximize them is akin to imposing a decibel control over the endangered hiker. Profits are in effect a cry for help. When a firm accepts lower profits than were otherwise obtainable, it is reducing the economic welfare of the very “employees, customers, communities, society at large” championed by stakeholder supporters.
Jones now earns 5% profit. How could he increase this rate? Why, by producing more of what consumers are clamoring for. If he sticks to the status quo, he will not be rescuing as many “lost hikers” as he could have. True, he could also increase profits by lowering salaries. But if he decreases them below marginal revenue productivity levels, he will lose his best employees and reduce profits, not increase them. Profits can be maximized by paying optimal compensation, not a penny more, but not a penny less, either. Yes, Scrooge in A Christmas Carol and Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life, are the true heroes, and only economic illiterates can fail to see this primordial point. Friedman is to be congratulated for trying to educate people in that regard.
No, it is simply not true that in Friedman’s view that “Any virtuous act by businesses beyond what the law requires is simpering folly.” Rather, it is fraud. Suppose you deposit your money in a bank, and the officer of that institution gives these funds to good charitable, stakeholder, causes. Not kosher! It is one thing to be kind and generous with your own property. It is quite another, to do so with other people’s wealth. That is a violation of the fiduciary relationship of the savings institution. The CEO has a responsibility to the shareholder, not to the stakeholder. There is nothing wrong, a la Friedman, with both of them, all of us, with being “decent” and “virtuous” with our own money. But the very opposite obtains when accomplished with, in effect, stolen cash.
Mr. Anderson attributes Friedman’s support of free enterprise to “screw-the-Establishment confrontationalism” of the Woodstock 1970s. I have known this Chicago economist for many decades and never did I discern even a whiff of this sort of thing. Who knew that my friend Milton was a secret hippie?
Our critic accuses Friedman of wanting to “rewrite the social contract.” But no one ever signed this “contract,” so it is without any legal power to control our lives. He all but criticizes him of hypocrisy for using “his noncommercial government-subsidized PBS platform to argue that the Food and Drug Administration, public schools, labor unions and federal taxes, among other bêtes noires, were bad for America.” But Friedman also used public parks, the U.S. post office, museums, sidewalks, even though he might have wanted to privatize them.
Mr. Anderson, presumably, is an egalitarian. Yet, he undoubtedly lives in a nice neighborhood, has a quality car, air conditioning, color tv, a computer. Why doesn’t he give most of this away to the poor? But a retort is open to Friedman: The government financed these amenities, in part, with Friedman’s tax dollars. He is hence justified in using them. Mr. Anderson has no such defense against the charge of hypocrisy.
To the extent that Friedman can take credit for Gordon Gekko (greed is good), it is a feather in his cap. Here, Mr. Anderson’s target is merely channeling Adam Smith’s “invisible hand;” a basic premise of economics: People are led by the lure of profits to cooperate with others for mutual gain. The “Wealth of Nations” is based on just this sort of consideration.
Our critic is particularly exercised about a “S.E.C. rule change (which) effectively gave free rein to public companies … to buy up shares of their own stock on the open market in order to jack up the price.” But what, pray tell, is wrong with voluntary exchanges of this or any other sort, which are necessarily mutually beneficial at least in the ex ante sense, and usually so ex post? He is also upset that “U.S. executive pay … shifted from consisting mainly of salary and bonus to mainly stock and stock options.” Banks sometimes give out toasters and radios to depositors. Must all financing consist of cash? There are also good and sufficient reasons for this alteration in terms of taxation and the aligning of incentives.
Our critic then bewails the fact that “the richest 10th of us have 84 percent of all stock shares owned by Americans, and a ravaged economy in which the stock market is close to an all-time high.” Should we also regret that a similar proportion of NBA players are African American? Thomas Sowell, a student of Milton Friedman’s, has done more than any other economist to pierce the myth that if strict proportionality does not prevail everywhere, it is untoward.
Mr. Anderson mentions “the full Friedmanization of our economy for the last four decades (which) has generated such greed-driven extremes of inequality, insecurity and immobility that the system is now on a path that looks crazily self-destructive.” This man is living in a dream world. Full Friedmanization would include a world with no tariffs or interferences with free trade, the end of licensing, not only for hair braiders, Uber, AirBnB, but also for medical doctors! Governmental tax would be in the neighborhood of 10% not 50% of GDP. Such “destruction” of the economy, to the extent it exists, stems not from Friedman’s public policy proscriptions, but mainly from their rejection.
Walter E. Block is Harold E. Wirth Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics, College of Business, Loyola University New Orleans, and senior fellow at the Mises Institute. He earned his PhD in economics at Columbia University in 1972. He has taught at Rutgers, SUNY Stony Brook, Baruch CUNY, Holy Cross and the University of Central Arkansas. He is the author of more than 600 refereed articles in professional journals, two dozen books, and thousands of op eds (including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and numerous others). He lectures widely on college campuses, delivers seminars around the world and appears regularly on television and radio shows. He is the Schlarbaum Laureate, Mises Institute, 2011; and has won the Loyola University Research Award (2005, 2008) and the Mises Institute’s Rothbard Medal of Freedom, 2005; and the Dux Academicus award, Loyola University, 2007. Prof. Block counts among his friends Ron Paul and Murray Rothbard. He was converted to libertarianism by Ayn Rand. Block is old enough to have played chess with Friedrich Hayek and once met Ludwig von Mises, and shook his hand. Block has never washed that hand since. So, if you shake his hand (it’s pretty dirty, but what the heck) you channel Mises.
The image shows a portrait of Milton Friedman by Lindsay Mitchell.
We are greatly pleased and honored to present this conversation with Professor Walter Block, the leading libertarian thinker in the US. Professor Block holds the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair at Loyola University New Orleans. He is the author of over two dozen books and more than 600 articles and reviews. Just recently, a petition was started by some Loyola students to have Professor Block fired for his “views.” Professor Block (WB) is here interviewed by Dr. N. Dass (ND), on behalf of the Postil.
ND: Welcome to the Postil, Professor Block. It is a pleasure to have you with us. For the benefit of our readers, who may not be aware of what has been happening to you at Loyola University, New Orleans, would you please tell us how the Cancel Culture decided to come after you?
WB: A Loyola student, M. C. Cazalas, who had never taken any class of mine, not ever once spoken to me, started a petition to get me fired for being a racist and a sexist. As of 8/5/20 she garnered 663 signatures, some of them Loyola students, but not all of them. An actual former student of mine, Anton Chamberlin, started a counter petition to get me a raise in salary. As of this date it has been signed by 5,646 people, again some of them Loyola students, but not all of them. I’m not likely to be fired for two reasons in addition to this gigantic signature disparity. One, I have tenure; that still means something, even in these politically correct times. Two, the president of Loyola University, Tanya Tetlow, bless her, responded to this get me fired initiative with a statement strongly supporting academic freedom and intellectual diversity. She and I do not see eye to eye on political economy, so this is even more of a credit to her than would otherwise be the case.
ND: What do you think lies behind this Cancel Culture? Is it a failure of education? Is it an excess of humanitarianism? Or, it is simply an expression of student radicalism, which has always been part-and-parcel of university life?
WB: My guess is that all of these explanations you mention play a role. According to that old aphorism, “If a man of 20 is not a socialist, he has no heart; if he is still a socialist at 50, he has no brain.” There must be something in human development that renders young people more vulnerable to socialism, cultural Marxism, cancel culture, snowflakeism, micro aggression fears, etc., than their elders. Unhappily, far too many middle aged and older people also succumb to the siren song of socialism. I think the general explanation for this general phenomenon is biological: most of us, except for a few free enterprise mutants, are hard-wired for government interventionism. A zillion years ago, when we were in the trees or in the caves, there was no biological benefit to be open to free enterprise, markets, capitalism. Hence, these genes had no comparative advantage.
ND: Should we regard Cancel Culture as dangerous? Is freedom really in peril? Such questions come to mind, given the tragic end of Professor Mike Adams.
WB: Yes, very dangerous. Economic Marxism was a dismal failure. Everyone can see the results in Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, the old USSR, Eastern Europe, Mao’s China. But cultural Marxism is more insidious; it is more difficult to see its errors. Yes, there are racial and sexual divergences in wealth and income, and it is far too easy to attribute these results to economic freedom.
Poor Mike Adams. His is an extreme case, since he committed suicide, presumably due to the Cancel Culture. But apart from his demise, that case is only the veritable tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds if not thousands of academics who have been canceled, fired, forced to endure re-education camps, demoted, etc. The university with but very few exceptions is now a totally owned subsidiary of people who call themselves “progressives.” They really should be called “retrogressives” since they oppose civilization, freedom, prosperity. That is, they are really opponents of human progress.
ND: Lenin famously said that Communism was Socialism plus electrification. Likewise, can we say that the Cancel Culture is Socialism plus the Internet?
WB: Wow. That’s a good one. I wish I had thought of it. I’m grateful to you for sharing it with me. Before the internet, there were NBC, CBS, ABC, the New York Times and the Washington Post. Between them, they almost totally dominated the culture; they had an important impact on the outlook of the nation. Now, with the internet, one would think there would be far more heterogeneity. And, to some degree, there is. But the main players, nowadays, that “Big Five” now plus the electronic major media, keep canceling out libertarian and conservative voices. This does not constitute censorship, only government can do that (on the other hand, it cannot be denied that they are dependent on the state for favoritism). But until and unless people with divergent views set up successful alternatives, the voices of the left will continue to dominate.
ND: The student petition against you cites, among other things, your supposed “defence” of slavery. Of course, this is a misunderstanding of your position. Perhaps you could clarify for our readers what you actually say about slavery, especially the concept of the voluntary slave contract, which indeed goes back to the Classical world.
WB: Suppose, God forbid, my child had a dread disease that would kill him. He could be saved, but only at the cost of $10 million. I do not have anything like that amount of money. You, on the other hand are very rich. You’ve long wanted me to be your slave. So, we make a deal. You give me these funds, which I turn over to the doctors who save my child’s life. Then, I come to your plantation to pick cotton, give you economics lessons. You may whip me even legally kill me if I displease you. As in all voluntary interactions, we both gain, at least ex ante. I value my son’s life more than my freedom. The difference between the two is my profit. You rank my servitude more highly than the money you must pay me for it, and you, likewise, gain the difference.
Is this a valid contract? Should it be enforced? This is highly controversial even in libertarian circles, but in my view, you should not be accused of assault and battery if you whip me, nor murder if you kill me, since I have given up my legal right to object (this is very different than indentured servitude, which does not allow for bodily harm).
In 2014 The New York Times interviewed me about libertarianism (they were doing a hit piece on Rand Paul), and I gave them this example as a hypothetical. They quoted me as saying that actual slavery, of the sort that existed in the US up until 1865, was legitimate. I sued them for libel. We settled the case. I received monetary compensation, plus an addendum to their original article. It reads as follows: “Editors’ Note: Aug. 7, 2018. An earlier version of this article referred imprecisely to the views of Walter Block on slavery. While Mr. Block has said that the daily life of slaves was ‘not so bad,’ he opposes slavery because it is involuntary, and he believes reparations should be paid.”
I defended, only, this hypothetical slavery, in order to draw out the logical implications of voluntary interaction. As for actual slavery, it is an abomination, an evil, a horrid rights violation. That the New York Times would write as if I favored the latter, when I only supported the former, certainly counts as “fake news.”
ND: Given the fact that you are the foremost libertarian thinker in the US today, and your book series, Defending the Undefendable I and II, which came out in 1976 and 2008 respectively, is widely regarded as a libertarian “cult classic,” from a libertarian perspective, is Cancel Culture a just use of political and social coercion?
WB: You are very kind to say that of me. Thank you. There is no one who hates cancel culture more than me. I am tempted to say that it is coercive. It is, but only indirectly. Suppose all universities, without exception, were privately owned, and under the control of faculties and administrations all of whom were leftists. They did not relish heterogeneity of opinion, and thus only hired professors, outside speakers, invited visiting scholars, who represented their viewpoint. Would this be coercive? Of course not. People should have the right to do as they wish with their private property, provided, only, they did not violate the persons or property rights of others. Religious organizations, nudists, tennis players, all have the right to exclude those who do not subscribe to their tenets. However, the cloven hoof of government is all over the educational system. It is based on coercive taxation. “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” Money mulcted from the long-suffering taxpayer is funneled into institutions of higher learning, where Marxist studies, feminist studies, black studies, queer studies, are the order of the day. It is only due to coercive taxes that Cancel Culture is coercive; but for this element, it would not be.
Of course, without government putting its big fat thumb all over education, there would be more intellectual diversity in this industry. So the cure for the Cancel Culture is separation of education and state, similar to what all men of good will support in another arena: separation of church and state.
ND: This brings us to the nature of education itself. Is there a proper libertarian theory of education, given the underlying libertarian idea that any acceptance of an institution is enslaving?
WB: Yes, there is indeed a proper libertarian theory of education: it should be totally privatized. My motto is, “If it moves privatize it, if it doesn’t move, privatize it; since everything either moves or does not move, privatize everything.” I have applied this aphorism to pretty much everything under the sun in my publications, including streets and highways, rivers and oceans, space travel and heavenly bodies. Certain, I would include education under this rubric. Information generation should be as private as bubble gum, haircuts, piano lessons, shoes or cars. You want some, pay for it. You want to offer your services in this regard? Open up a school and attract customers.
But what about the poor? Will they not get an education? Of course they will. They obtain bubble gum, haircuts, piano lessons, shoes and cars; schooling would not be an exception. For people who are too poor, the tradition in private education, at whatever level, was to award scholarships to bright recipients. There would be no such thing as compulsory education (a 12 year prison sentence for those whose inclination leads them to want to work instead), any more than there should be compulsory purchase of bubble gum, haircuts, piano lessons, shoes or cars. Any acceptance of any coercive institution may not be enslaving (we should reserve that word for far more serious rights violations), but it is despicable. Education should not be an exception to the general rule of privatization.
ND: Perhaps we can draw back a little and turn to some larger issues. You describe yourself as an Austrian School economist. Would you please explain what that is?
WB: Austrian economics has no more to do with that country than Chicago School economics involves that city. It is so named because its originators, Menger, Bohm-Bawerk, Mises, Hayek, all were born there. It is sometimes called the free enterprise school of thought, since the public policy recommendations of virtually all of its practitioners strongly support economic freedom, private property rights, laissez faire capitalism. But Austrianism is an exercise in positive economics, not the normative variety.
Its main contribution is that economics, properly understood, is not an empirical science, but, rather, an exercise in pure logic. It starts with certain basic premises which are necessary and undeniable, and deduces all of economics from them. For example, man acts. To deny this is itself to perform a human action; therefore the criticism necessarily fails. Austrian economics consists of synthetic a priori statements, which are both necessarily true and also have real world implications; they explicate economic reality.
We have already mentioned one of them above: all voluntary trade is necessarily mutually beneficial at least in the ex ante sense. Here is a more pedestrian example. I buy a shirt for $25. I inescapably value it more highly than that amount, otherwise I would not buy it. Well, there was something about that shirt, maybe not the shirt itself, that I ranked in that manner. Perhaps I had pity for the shirt salesman, or wanted a favor of him, etc. Ditto for him. He valued my money more than the shirt, so he also profited. The Marxists might say this is (mutual?) exploitation (perhaps the richer person always takes advantage of the poorer one?), but this is abject nonsense. Voluntary exchange is not a zero sum game, where the winnings of the winners must equal the losings of the losers. No, in commercial interaction, both parties gain, otherwise they would not agree to participate.
Since laissez faire capitalism consists of nothing more or less than the concatenation of all such events (buying, selling, renting, lending, borrowing, gift giving), we may conclude is it necessarily beneficial to all participants. True, ex post either party may later come to regret the commercial interaction, but that is entirely a different matter. Can we test this economic law? The mainstream would aver that if we cannot, it is not a matter of science. Well, yes, it is not a matter of empirical science, rather, it is an aspect of logic. No one in his right mind “tests” the Pythagorean Theorem, or that triangles have three sides or the claim that 2+2=4. But that doesn’t mean these laws are not “scientific” in the sense of providing important true knowledge about reality.
Austrians also disagree with mainstream economists on a whole host of other issues. For example, monetarism (we tend to favor free market money, not fiat currency), business cycles (we claim they emanate from government money and interest rate mismanagement, not markets), monopoly and anti trust (Austrians see no role for the latter), indifference, cardinal versus ordinal utility, interpersonal comparisons of utility (mainstreamers support, Austrians oppose).
ND: The term “fiat money” is much bandied about nowadays. Is the concept of fiat money misunderstood or misused, given that money as the legal tender of a state does give paper money legitimacy as a medium of exchange? Or do you think such legitimacy does not exist?
WB: Milton Friedman was the host of the justly famous “Free to Choose” television series. However, when it comes to monetary matters, this scholar’s views are not at all compatible with that title. Most times when people were really free to choose the financial intermediary which overcomes the double coincidence of wants, they selected gold (and sometimes silver). Nevertheless, Friedman was a fervent opponent of this free market money. Why? Because it costs resources to dig it up initially, and more to store it. These expenses could be almost entirely obviated with fiat money, created by the printing press and/or central banking, he argued. But shoes, fences, chairs, also cost money. The proper question is not Can we reduce expenses? Rather, it is, whether or not these outlays are worth it? Even more important, the issue is, Who gets to choose whether or not they are worthwhile? Central planning oriented Friedman chose to ignore the decision in favor of gold of the free market; he urged the imposition of fiat currency.
Why do statists support this type of currency? There are three and only three ways for the state to raise funds. First, taxes. But everyone knows full well, even low information voters, who is responsible for that. Hint: it is not the private sector. Second, borrowing. Ok, those with the meanest intelligence might not be too sure of who is behind this mode of finance; but everyone else knows it is the government. Third, fiat money, created out of the thin air by the state apparatus. The beauty, here, from the point of view of the centralists, is that the resulting inflation can be blamed on all and sundry: on capitalist greed, on nasty consumers buying too much, even on otherwise beloved labor unions. Economists in the pay of government always stand ready to demonstrate that the correlation between prices rising and the stock of fiat currency in circulation is not a perfect one. Well, of course it is not, given varying expectations. But it is an insight of praxeology, the Austrian method, that the more money in circulation, other things equal, the higher prices will be.
ND: Much of your work centers upon anarcho-capitalism. Would you explain how you understand this concept, and why you feel it is important? And how would you answer the charge that anarcho-capitalism is utopian?
WB: Anarchism is important, because one of the basic building blocks of the entire libertarian edifice is the non-aggression principle (NAP). This means that all human interaction should be voluntary. No one should coerce anyone else. But the government, necessarily, engages in taxation. That is, it levies compulsory payments. One of the beauties of libertarianism is its uncompromising logic. Its willingness, nay, passion, to apply the NAP to all economic actors, with no exceptions. Well, if we apply the NAP to the state, we can see that the latter fails. Oh, their apologizers have all sorts of excuses. The income tax is really voluntary. Tell that to the IRS! That taxes are akin to club dues. Yes, if you join the tennis or golf club, you have to pay dues. But you agreed to do so. In sharp contrast, no one ever contracted to be part of the US “club.”
The “capitalist” part of “anarcho-capitalism” is also important. It distinguishes us from the left wing or socialist anarchists such as Noam Chomsky. They oppose the government, to their credit, but would also outlaw profits, money, private property, charging interest for loans, etc., in violation of the NAP. It also, very importantly, separates us from the Antifa and Black Lives Matter anarchists who are currently trying to take over streets, highways, and large swaths of Seattle, Portland and other US cities. They, too, oppose free enterprise.
Is anarcho capitalism utopian? Well, yes, I think it is in some sense. That is, due to my understanding of sociobiology, I don’t think a majority of people are now capable of living up to the NAP which underlies this system. On the other hand, the nations of the world are now in an anarchistic (not anarcho-capitalist) relationship with one another. A state of anarchy now prevails between Argentina and Austria, between Brazil and Burundi, between Canada and China, etc. That is, there is no world government controlling their interactions. The only way to solve this anarchism would be to install a world government. So anarchism is not utopian in the sense that very few people would want to go down that path.
WB: I don’t reconcile it at all. I am a big fan of all the scholars you mention. On a personal matter, it was Ayn Rand who converted me to a position of limited government libertarianism, or minarchism. I met her while I was an undergraduate at Brooklyn College, and, then, a blissfully ignorant enthusiast of socialism. I have learned from all of the authors you mention. However, they are all statists, of a limited variety to be sure, but statists, nonetheless. Instead, I would say that the thinker now most crucial to libertarianism in general, and to anarcho capitalism in particular, is Murray N. Rothbard. I am a Rothbardian, and I follow him in rejecting the criticisms of anarcho capitalism offered by the half dozen scholars listed above.
ND: In your important analysis of the pay-gap between men and women, you have come under fire from feminists who say that you do not take into account that as supposed patriarchy disappears, the pay-gap decreases. What do you say to such critics?
WB: Thanks for your characterization of my analysis. Actually, I have done only just a little bit of actual research on this matter. Rather, I am a follower of Gary Becker, Thomas Sowell, and Walter E. Williams on this issue who have done far more than I on this matter. I will take credit, however, for popularizing this analysis.
What’s going on here? Roughly, there is a sexual pay gap of some 30%. This means, again on average, that for every $10 a man earns, a woman’s pay is $7. What determines wages in the first place? Productivity. This divergence should not raise hackles when it occurred two centuries ago. Why not? Because male productivity then way higher than female. Most jobs required physical strength, and men, again only typically, are stronger than women.
But nowadays, very few employment slots require brute strength. So why does the gap still occur? It is simple; wives do the lion’s share of housekeeping, cooking, cleaning, child care, shopping, etc. But everything we do comes at the expense of not being able to do other things as well, if at all. Ussain Bolt is the fastest sprinter on the planet, but he is not a good cellist; Yo Yo Ma plays that instrument exquisitely, but his time in the 100 meters is nothing to brag about. This marital asymmetry specialization, alone, explains virtually all of this 30% pay gap.
There are two bits of evidence that support this contention.
Yes, the pay gap between all men and women is some 30%. But that between ever married males and females, people who are now married, widowed, separated, or divorced, is much higher. It varies, but is something like 60%. What is the pay gap between men and women who have never been touched by the institution of marriage? They are not married, widowed, separated or divorced. It is zero. Let me repeat that. There is no pay gap here. Now, in actual research, you never find 100% equality. A more accurate way of putting this is that the ratio between male and female earnings ranges from something like 90% to 110%, depending upon country, age, occupation, schooling, etc. But, for all intents and purposes the gap simply does not exist for the never marrieds.
Here is a second bit of evidence countering the claim that free enterprise is inherently sexist. Suppose this gap really were due to discrimination against women. Then, we would have a situation where the productivity of both genders was $10, but the fairer sex was paid only $7. But this would mean that industries where women predominate would be more profitable than others. There is no evidence supporting this. It would also imply that extra profits could be garnered ($3 per hour) from hiring a woman. As entrepreneurs added women to their payrolls, their wages would inevitably rise. To what level? To equality, since pay scales tend to reflect productivity, which we now assume are equal. But we see no indication that firms are beating the bushes to employ more women, except, recently, when the virus of virtue signalling began to predominate.
If patriarchy, defined as unequal household and child care tasks were to end, then, yes, the pay gap would also decrease, presumably almost to zero, since the marital asymmetry hypothesis would no longer be operational. But not quite. Pregnancy and breast feeding will always separate the genders. Then, too, men tend to take more dangerous jobs, and this too, will separate sexual remuneration. However, if the end of patriarchy is defined more broadly, so as to obviate these differences too, then I would expect the gap to disappear. But this is not the world we live in. Biology, once again, intrudes the best laid plans of the feminists. There are still strong differences between males and females. Many would say, thank God for the difference!
ND: In your view, is capitalism weakening, especially given how easily Communist China has exploited it for its own gain?
WB: Weakening? I would say the very opposite. The Chinese economy has catapulted thanks in large part to their adoption of at least some aspects of capitalism. The Russians, too. This is evidence, I think of a strengthening of this system.
ND: How do you think capitalism will manage tech monopolies
WB: Capitalism is incompatible with monopoly. If there is monopoly in existence then, to that extent, there is no capitalism. But to make sense of this claim we must have the Austrian view of monopoly in mind, not the mainstream or neoclassical one. What is the difference between the two?
In the (correct!) Austrian perspective, monopoly is a government grant of exclusive privilege to conduct a certain kind of business; anyone who competes with this monopoly is a criminal. Examples include the US post office and the system of taxi cab medallions which operates in major cities such as New York. Those who engage in such activities without permission from the monopolist are subject to fines and imprisonment. A very dramatic example of this phenomenon was depicted in the movie Ghandi when people went to the sea to obtain to water so as to access the salt therein. They were savagely beaten by the police. Why? There was a monopoly of salt granted by the British government, and these people were violating it. That is crony capitalism, not laissez faire capitalism.
Given this, there is a serious question as to whether or not there are at present any tech monopolies. Some are given special legal privileges by government, and, to that extent are monopolisitic, and thus, entirely incompatible with laissez faire capitalism.
The (incorrect!) view prevalent amongst most modern economists is very different. They would include the foregoing as monopolies but also, quite fallaciously, add on density or concentration. For example, when IBM was the only producer of computers, it was deemed a monopoly, based on the fact that it was the only one in this industry. This company never came within a million miles of trying to forbid competition (the Austrian perspective); it was deemed a monopoly solely because at the time it was thought to have no competitors. It had 100% “control” of the industry.
This concept is intellectually dead from the neck up. It is arbitrary. It depends upon how the “industry” is defined. If narrowly enough, pretty much anyone can become a monopoly; if widely, then no one is or can be. For example, I am the sole producer of Walter Block services, narrowly defined. There are other libertarian economists, to be sure, but none are exactly like me. On the other hand, if we define this “industry” broadly, I am only one of several hundreds of thousands of practitioners.
Let us take a less unique example. If the industry is defined as providing dry breakfast cereals, the concentration ratio will be high. If we include wet breakfast cereals too, this ratio will be lower. If we add all breakfast ingredients, ham and eggs, not just cereals, it will decrease even more. Adding all food, not just for breakfast, will further reduce it. Well, which is correct? Plaintiffs want to define the industry narrowly, so as to render a high concentration ratio, or monopolization, whereas the defense sees the matter in the opposite way. The point is, there is no rhyme or reason to this entire matter.
Bill Gates and Microsoft started way out in the boonies in Seattle. He didn’t grease the palms of either party in Washington DC. How to bring him into line? Why, declare him a monopolist! All of anti-trust legislation is a disgraceful sham.
ND: What about encroaching robotization? If human labor is largely side-lined, what will capitalism become?
WB: I am not a Luddite. I do not think that machinery, computers, robots, etc., are a threat to human kind. Indeed, I maintain that the very opposite is the case. The more non human help we can access from such sources, the less will our lives be “nasty, brutish and short.”
Either we will run out of jobs that need doing, or we will not. In neither case will artificial help emanating from this source prove to be a difficulty. Suppose we become aesthetes, and are satisfied with our present standards of living, a few decades from now. Then, we will have a achieved a “post scarcity” state of the economy. Thanks to machines, and everyone will have a sufficient number of them, we can all sit back, relax, and “play” all the livelong day. No problem here. More realistically, we will never run out of thing we want. We will always seek more than we have. We will want to eradicate all diseases, live forever, comfortably, explore the core of the earth, the bottom of the oceans, other planets in this and additional solar systems. With the help of robots, we can accomplish more of these goals than other wise, but we humans will still be called upon to labor so as to attain, these ambitious goals.
Ned Ludd was faced with knitting machines which would allow one worker to do the jobs previously needing 20 people. He “reasoned” that 19 people would then be rendered unemployable, and proceeded to burn this new machinery. His heart may have been in the right place (if we abstract from the fact that he destroyed the property owned by others), but the same cannot be said for his head. He reckoned in the absence of the fact that these 19 people would now be freed up to create new goods and services, impossible to attain previously, but now within our reach.
But the same exact situation presents itself right now. Instead of looking at the secretaries and typewriter workers unemployed by computers, those. who labored for Kodak and are no longer needed, ditto for zoom reducing the need and the employment needed for travel to attend meetings, focus on the fact that all these “unemployed” people are now free to produce goods and services otherwise unobtainable. At one time, about 85% of the US labor force was needed to be on the farms, in order to feed ourselves. Nowadays, the figure is something like 2%. Is this a tragedy for our economy? To think so is to revert to simple Ludditism. It is a failure to understand basic economics. The more help we get from inanimate matter, the better off we shall be
ND: As an economist, are you hopeful about the future of the West?
WB: Milton Friedman was once asked, What is the future course of stock market prices? His response was, They will fluctuate. I say the same thing as the future of the West. It, too, will fluctuate, I expect. If Biden wins the next election, political correctness will threaten Western civilization. If Donald, less so. My hope is that Rand Paul will be the president in 2024. Then, our civilization will take a turn for the better.
ND: Thank you so much for your time. It was wonderful speaking with you.
WB: My pleasure. Thanks for putting these questions to me. They were challenging, and made me think.
The image shows, “New York,” by George Bellows, painted in 1911.
The pro bono law from Public Counsel, based in Los Angeles, plans to file a lawsuit against the University of California system for its mandated use of SAT and Act scores for purposes of admission.
California Governor Newsom acknowledged the SAT and ACT “exacerbates the inequities for underrepresented students, given that performance on these tests is highly correlated with race and parental income, and is not the best predictor for college success.”
Stated UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ said of these test scores that they “really contribute to the inequities of our system.”
According to Mark Rosenbaum, Directing Attorney at Public Counsel, “Use of the SAT/ACT is not merely bad policy; it violates the California Constitution and anti-discrimination statutes, and is therefore legally and morally impermissible. Students should not have to endure the stress and expense of preparing for and taking the SAT, and the admissions process should no longer be contaminated by this discriminatory metric.”
I see these plaintiffs, and their supporters, and I raise them one. These scores ought to be prohibited outright, at least for public institutions of higher learning, and those in the private sector subsidized by the government. Our friends on the left might favor this extreme view on the ground that these tests discriminate against the poor and racial minorities (not Asians though). My argument is that they vitiate against the stupid and ignorant, and government has no business doing any such thing. Low information folk pay taxes, just like anyone else. Public libraries, museums, roadways, parks, recreation centers do not discriminate against those with low IQs. Why should colleges and universities engage in such a dastardly act?
What will be the effect on the incoming freshman class if these exams are not made optional but actually prohibited by law? They will at the outset be admitting students who not only “look like America” but, apart from their ages, roughly constitute the average American: some geniuses, others of mediocre intellectual talents, and some who occupy the left tail of the normal distribution in this regard. Boobus americanus, as Mencken would characterize them.
But will not the latter tend to fail out? No. the present intellectual atmosphere on college campuses vitiates against any such result. It would be discriminatory, that is, patently offensive to the wokesters now in charge of higher education. I go further. They should not be allowed to be given failing grades for, wait for it, they pay taxes just like anyone else. They ought to be allowed to partake in this educational benefit on a par with all other taxpayers. After all, we do not first allow Boobus to enter a public bus, train or trolley, a library, museum or playground, give them an exam while he is there, and then expel him for not answering questions correctly. Why should public university be any different?
This will of course spell the intellectual ruination of not only prestigious state universities such as UCLA, Berkeley, Indiana University, University of Michigan–Ann Arbor, University of Virginia, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, University of California–Santa Barbara, University of Florida. It will also do precisely that for high-status “private” schools such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Stanford, etc., since they too are heavily subsidized courtesy of the long-suffering taxpayer. With the intellectually gifted forced to sit cheek-by-jowl next to those who can barely read, the level of instruction, if it is to be “inclusive” will be bound to plummet. This goes in spades for subsequent reputation.
But this is precisely the goal that ought to be embraced. There should be no such thing as public education in the first place. Anything that moves us in the direction of obliterating this evil institution, such as more intellectual “diversity” must be considered an asset not a debit.
What is the case against public education? The financing of it is coercive. People are compelled to pay for it, against their will. A synonym for coercive levies, not to be mentioned in polite society, of course, is downright theft.
The charge will be launched that without public or quasi public education, our country will be consigned to mediocrity at best, and outright illiteracy at worst. Not at all. There was no such institution until the early 1800s, and our nation did just fine in that regard.
The critics of the present modest proposal will cry out: external economies. These are spill over benefits from college. These will be radically reduces without the subsidies that only taxation makes possible.
But there are flaws in this criticism. Rothbard’s (1997, 178) reductio absurdum of public goods is as follows: “A and B often benefit, it is held, if they can force C into doing something. . . . [A]ny argument proclaiming the right and goodness of, say, three neighbors, who yearn to form a string quartet, forcing a fourth neighbor at bayonet point to learn and play the viola, is hardly deserving of sober comment.”
Another reductio ad absurdum of against this stance is that the government should subsidize soap, smiles, Bach, since all of them give off benefits to third parties. (The difficulty here is that this phenomenon is very subjective. The Walgreen Pharmacy in New Orleans plays Bach, loudly, in an attempt to discourage street people from camping out on its sidewalks and interfering with customer flow. This music thus constitutes a negative externality, or external diseconomy, to these people. Come to think of it, not everyone likes smiles or other people using soap either. The point is, we are at sea without a rudder here. Anyone can make any claim he wishes, and no one can say him nay.)
Then there is the argument that public education is not at all a positive externality, but rather a negative one. It is a very strong one. What with political correctness rampant on the campus, the preserve of wokesterism, it is perhaps no accident that Marxism (cultural and economic), socialism, communism are riding high in these environs. If this is not a negative for civilization and the preservation of the human race, then nothing is. These tendencies are fueled by feminist “studies,” black “studies,” queer “studies” and other grievance “studies. Using the “logic” of main stream market failure economics, higher education should be taxed, as a public menace, and heavily so, not subsidized to the ornate level which now prevails.
A basic difficulty with this externality market failure argument is that it is too much akin to nailing jelly to the proverbial tree. It can’t be done. How do we know, in the absence of voluntary market exchange, that expenditures of this sort are beneficial? When someone purchases a pair of shoes, we are entitled to deduce mutual benefit, at least in the ex ante sense. No such conclusion is possible to demonstrate in this field.
Early in his career, Milton Friedman supported public education on positive external economy grounds (neighborhood effects). He thought there were important spill over benefits enriching the overall society, that private educators would not incorporate into their decision-making. Hence, the need for educational subsidies, or public education. But as he grew older and wiser and more radical, he changed his mind on this matter. If even this moderate free enterpriser, this luke-warm supporter of economic freedom, can come out in favor of a separation between government and education, akin to separation of church and state, then those of us who take laissez-faire capitalism seriously, e.g., market fundamentalists, can certainly do so too.
The image shows, “Free Rural School,” by Alexander Ivanovich Morosov, painted in 1865.