Thursday, March 02, 2017

Murray Rothbard's Birthday!

His 91st.  And as part of the celebration, I did a podcast for Heartland Institute with Sterling Burnett, and had a piece in American Spectator.  Both have the stamp of approval of the entire staff of Unforeseen Contingencies and are highly recommended.

Happy Rothbard's Birthday to all of "our" readers!
P.S. (Note: modified from original to be more polite.  I did not like my previous tone.  I've also added some additional thoughts.)

The comments section on the American Spectator piece attracted the anarcho-capitalists who treat the ideas as a religion, as expected.  I find this somewhat entertaining because it is so predictable, but it's also instructive.  In my piece I pointed out, correctly, that the primary argument in economics for a state is the public goods argument and that Rothbard didn't refute it but sidestepped it.  I did not say the public goods argument is correct (I think it isn't).  But one of the earliest commenters labelled my statement "false" and began making a claim that the free market can solve free rider problems via "dominant assurance contracts," (DAC) a hypothetical non-existent kind of contract.

The DAC is an interesting idea.  It's almost certainly wrong to say it solves the public goods problem. It does not eliminate the free rider problem, although it might reduce it should it ever exist somewhere besides an academic blackboard (it's a hypothetical), but that's irrelevant to my point.  This idea is not Rothbard's theory, and Rothbard fails to seriously address the public goods problem -- that's my point.

But even better, I point out it's silly when Rothbard claims that private defense agencies would never behave in predatory fashion or fight with each other.  (I'm more polite than this in the piece, but it really is a silly point.)  I use Al Capone and the St. Valentine's Day massacre as one example, and Hitler invading Poland as another.  People with armed might who are in an anarchic situation will use it if they think the benefits outweigh the costs.  The same commenter objects to my argument because Al Capone's gang gained its wealth during guvamint Prohibition and Hitler was a politician.  I see... so the state made Al Capone commit murders, but in an anarchic society he and his gang would never even think of killing competitors?  This is not a rational argument.  I expected it and prepared.  When the commenter "explains" Hitler by saying he was a "politician," commenter falls into the trap I set: "There’s nothing special about whether we call an organization a “state” or not that changes the benefit-cost analyses of the leaders in these matters."

I included that line precisely because whenever one points to how people in anarchic relations actually behave, a standard anarcho-capitalist response is that the state currently exists so this can't be considered anything like the way people would behave in anarchic relations if there were no state -- people would behave entirely differently.  I.e. they simply repeat Rothbard's claim.  They add to the silliness of the argument by saying that certain people's behavior can't be counted, because they are statists, politicians, criminals, etc.  These "answers" make no sense as responses to logical arguments from critics.  They make more sense if one realizes they are affirmations of faith made in the face of nonbelief.

The anarcho-capitalism of most Rothbardians I've encountered is not political theory, it's religion.

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