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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/11153/peace/


December 3, 2009 by

I am not talking about peace in the world of foreign affairs, Afghanistan, Iraq or wherever else people are senselessly killing each other. That goes without saying.

I am talking about the war of words among people who subscribe to various strains of Austrian economics. I am not going to be very specific here because I do not want to stoke the fires. If you don’t know what I am talking about, that is great. Please do something more productive than reading this.

If you do know what I am talking about, then you know that much energy has been expended recently and over the past few years by Austrians who attack each other for various flaws in their Austrianism.

I am writing here a plea for peace. There is an opportunity cost to every decision. The main opportunity foregone in this case is improving our theories, our evidence and criticizing more effectively Keynesians and other interventionists.

The various participants in the intra-Austrian squabbles are not likely to convince each other. These arguments have gone on too long without measurable progress.

I assume most of the argument is being engaged in for the “benefit” of the young and impressionable. But this is a delusion.

The best way to convince the uncommitted is by the positive strength of one’s argument using both theory and evidence. Here the spillover effect is to make intellectual progress. If, on the other hand, we seek to convince people by “stealing” from other camps of Austrians, the spillovers are negative for all of us. It becomes a race to the bottom or a kind of “mutually assured destruction.”

We do not have to agree on everything. For example, Joe Salerno and I do not agree on all aspects of Austrian economics. Yet Joe and I have seen each other weekly for nearly twenty years at the NYU Colloquium. We never engage in ad hominem attacks. We treat each other with decency and respect.

I do not expect to be buddies with all with whom I disagree strongly on issues. I don’t expect to be spending time with anyone who labels him or herself an “Austrian.” But I want much more to convince the rest of the world to appreciate the insights of F.A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises than I want to make sure my fellow Austrians agree with The Economics of Time and Ignorance.

In the meanwhile the statists and Keynesians laugh. They make fools of us because we first make fools of ourselves.

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Stephan Kinsella December 4, 2009 at 1:50 pm

Bob Murphy: “I think what all of us–and I myself played a part in the recent unpleasantness–need to remember is it’s not simply a matter of personally refraining from using profanity. There is also the matter of provoking a heated debate that then leads other people to “go too far.”"

Agreed; but not only that, there is the matter of being charitable–sort of the Wikipedia rule “assume good faith.” That would militate against ascribing reprehensible, dishonest, or dishonorable motivations or “secret beliefs” to people to explain why they hold substantive views you disagree with. Just discuss the substantive views and why you think they are wrong. Don’t assume someone is a statist, or unlibertarian, or dishonest, or has ulterior motives, or is a bigot, etc.

Dennis December 4, 2009 at 2:54 pm

Mr. Riggenbach,

Thank you for your response. I am aware of Machlup’s and Hayek’s comments regarding Mises and even the occasional outburst from Mises. That is why I used the term “outstanding,” as opposed to “always” or a similar term.

My opinion is that Mises has been unduly criticized because he refused to compromise or become wishy-washy when he believed his argument to be correct. Some would characterize this as intransigence; others would call it directness or intellectual honesty. And Mises certainly paid steep professional and personal prices for his directness.

Regarding Machlup’s comment on mathematical economists, the actual record of mathematical economists in attempting to consistently and accurately quantitatively predict economic phenomena, in addition to the cogent theoretical arguments against mathematical economics illustrate the sterility of this approach to economic theory. Mises understood this as well as anyone, and I see nothing wrong or uncivil in his blunt criticisms.

On another subject, I enjoyed your introduction to revisionist history. In particular, the book fills a gap in the literature that needed to be filled.

Renegade Division December 4, 2009 at 3:09 pm

I am quite glad to find conflicts among Austrians over viewpoint. I mean make no mistake the disputes should be civil and on based on logic, but I was under the impression that AE is a very monolithic single viewpoint entity. Contradictions breed creativity.

Jule Herbert December 4, 2009 at 3:49 pm

T. Ralph Kays: Are you sure the name of the place was not Sambo’s? Seems like they even had one in Lewiston, Maine.

Joseph Salerno December 4, 2009 at 4:36 pm


Thank you for the eloquent reminder that verbal sniping and intemperate language have no place in scholarly discourse and only impede our great common enterprise of seeking truth in political economy.

Gene Callahan December 4, 2009 at 8:19 pm

OK, I will sign. Warily.

So let me explain my signing and my wariness.

My wariness arises from the fact that I spent eight years making just such pleas, to people on both side of this divide. (I don’t really know anyone at CATO — and I agree Tom Palmer is as over the top as the worst of the folks on the other side — but I corresponded with both LVMI and Reason folks, saying much what Mario has written.) I thought I was getting somewhere, until Dave Weigel and Julian Sanchez wrote what I took to be a mildly critical piece of investigative journalism discussing the infamous “Ron Paul letters.” In response, I saw them being smeared as “losers,” who “weren’t real journalists,” and who were selling out to Beltway interests. At that point, I felt I had to speak up, and declaim what I saw as an outrageously ad hominem response to their reporting on an issue that even Ron Paul saw as troubling, since he took pains to say the HE didn’t write those columns.

In response, I was called “a loser” who was “cracking up,” and who had “failed out of multiple PhD programs.” Now, as to whether or not I am a loser or am cracking up, I will let others judge. (You might ask Joe Salerno, who sees me nearly every week at NYU, as to whether he has seen signs of my “cracking up.”) But the “failed out of multiple PhD programs” was an absolute fabrication — the only connection to fact was that I had voluntarily transferred from the LSE PhD program (which required 3 years residence) to one at Cardiff (which required no residence) because I had decided that I ought not to be away from my children so long a time. At that point, I decided that the critics of LVMI were right, after all — this was a cult that allowed no dissent.

The chief reason I am signing on to this peace is the continuing decency and reasonableness of my friend Bob Murphy, who never “broke” with me, and kept urging me to be forgiving of others transgressions. I am further encouraged by Guido Hulssman, Peter Klein, and Joe Salerno’s endorsement of Mario’s peace proposal.

My wariness is this: Guido, Peter, Joe, etc., the next time someone from the LVMI camp starts up with such ad hominem attacks, your job in he peace agreement is to call them out on this “from the inside.” Now, I have never even met Tom Palmer, and have no sway whatsoever over his often crazed denunciations of LVMI, but I have risked my association with Reason folks criticizing them for an overly negative take on LVMI — so the next time some loose cannon on your side starts calling people “losers,” step in and tell them to cut the cr*p out, OK?

Thanks, Bob.

Bob Murphy December 4, 2009 at 9:13 pm

I guess I should say something in light of Gene’s post. Unfortunately applying my own just-announced rule, I can barely say anything that will not, in three short steps, lead to a resumption of hostilities. :)

I cannot agree to Gene’s request simply because I am too young. If older–not saying “old,” mind you, just “older“–Austrians from both camps start brawling, there’s nothing I can say since I was not yet a zygote when some of the issues occurred.

But like I said, I will certainly refrain from drawing attention to the latest “attack” on “us” etc. at my blog or in my Mises Daily articles.

Last point: For those of you who don’t understand what all the fuss is, I am going to hope you don’t really get what we’re talking about. This isn’t about an intellectual disagreement over fractional reserve banking. I could have written two op eds denouncing Bernanke in the amount of time I spent deleting blog comments that were quite literally pornographic this week.

As Austro-libertarians (especially the Rothbardians) the only thing we really have going for us is (we hope) the moral and intellectual high ground. It’s not as if we go into this stuff for the money, power, and parties. So it is ridiculous to devolve into infighting that we can recognize as hilarious / dumb when we see Marxists doing it to each other.

Lord Buzunghulus, Bringer of the Orange Light December 4, 2009 at 9:56 pm

I’m genuinely confused by Bob Murphys post. He first says the issue is not about, eg, FRB, but rather the obscenity used in the blog posts. Fine. But then he says Austro-libertarians should not engage in infighting. Isn’t that what a debate about FRB is? Is such a debate legitimate or not? This “peace” I keep hearing about sounds a bit too one-sided.

T. Ralph Kays December 4, 2009 at 10:12 pm

Lord Buzungulus
Good post.
I am somewhat sickened by all the goody two shoes here that copy Rodney King. “Can’t we all just get along?” You all helped make this community. People who sit back in their ivory towers and do nothing when a bunch of nut jobs intellectually mug a well intentioned aspiring austro-libertarian have no right to object to the language used.

Tina Brewer December 4, 2009 at 10:18 pm

Stephen Kinsella wrote:

As for Read and the power of attraction, he wrote:

Attraction is the best answer to influencing others creatively. Daily experiences supply evidence to support this conclusion. If one would influence another to become a better cook or golfer, he should increase his own proficiency at cooking or golfing. He should attain a perfection, a leader ship, a head-of-the-class status that would attract others to draw on him. No person is influenced to greater creative activity on any subject by one who is inferior on that subject. Influence of one on another in upgrading materialistically, intellectually, spiritually–is by attraction only.

One can do things to others destructively, but not creatively. Creatively, one must confine himself to what he can do for others. One can do things for others materialistically by having money or tools to lend or give, or goods and services to exchange; intellectually by having knowledge and understanding; spiritually by possessing insights that can be imparted to those who want them.

Self-interest can best be served by minding one’s own business-that is, by the process of self-perfection. It isn’t that this idea has been tried and found wanting; it is that it has been tried and too often found difficult, and thus rejected. Actually, coercive meddling in other people’s affairs has its origin in the rejection of self-perfection.

Many persons conclude that they can easily improve others in ways they refuse to attempt on themselves. This is an absurd conclusion. Thus it is that in our dealings with our fellow men, we so often try to coerce them into likenesses of our own little images instead of trying to make of ourselves images that are attractive and worth emulating.

….which reminded me of this simple and graceful phrasing of the same basic idea:

“Become the change you wish to see in the world.”

Anonymous December 4, 2009 at 10:19 pm

Truly heroic post from Murphy – The Man – Magnificent draws fire.

Bob Roddis December 5, 2009 at 1:28 pm

In the midst of our present chaos, a vision from the distant past (1978).

Stephan Kinsella December 5, 2009 at 4:05 pm

Lord B and Ralph Kays: Re obscenity–I think that is more of a rule here on this private forum. I don’t think that concern is the same as the call for civility. The call for civility is based on several considerations, I think. For one, it’s just a respectful way to conduct oneself. For another, it’s less likely to provoke flamewars or to make others assume you are being personal. It also sets a good example and makes it more difficult, and thus less likely, for one’s opponents to smear and personally slam us, since it makes them look more ridiculous to outside observers.

Bob Murphy says, “I could have written two op eds denouncing Bernanke in the amount of time I spent deleting blog comments that were quite literally pornographic this week.” It is certainly true that some time is wasted because of interpersonal sniping etc.–and given that such battling hasn’t accomplished much in the last 30 years other than make newcomers wonder what is going on, it seems like the time wasted is not being wasted for any gain. That said, there division of labor and specialization is all to the good. Some may want to focus only on the external world–on statists and socialists, on the errors of mainstream economics; but others may want to focus at least somewhat on pure theory and on debating with fellow free market economists and libertarians; and this is all to the good too. If some Austrians want to battle out FRB issues, on either libertarian/ethical (is FRB inherently fraud or not?) or pure economics grounds (is FRB inherently unstable or not), there is nothing wrong with this either; it’s just that the debate ought to be substantive and civil.

There will no doubt always be ill-willed carpers and malcontents who spread lies, who smear and slander and libel. If merely responding to such wicked attacks could easily debunk them, if personally mocking or ridiculing such odious people would work, maybe it would make sense to do it; but this apparently only gives attention to the mudslingers and eggs them on. It seems it’s better to just ignore the occasional haters and malcontents and focus on discourse with those worth our time and respect. Hopefully over time they will be more and more marginalized, taking the wind out of their sails and relegating them to screeching in a phone booth.

T. Ralph Kays December 5, 2009 at 4:22 pm

You won’t even consider that your own behavior has contributed to the problem you are complaining of.

Stephan Kinsella December 5, 2009 at 7:38 pm

Ralph, this post is not about me, but sure, I agree I have wasted time and probably given some potential adherents cause to have distaste about the whole movement, and given some destructive, dishonest haters more time than they deserved. That’s why I’m agreeing with the idea of promoting a new, more positive, less personal, approach. thanks, SK

jeffrey December 5, 2009 at 8:00 pm

That link above is remarkable. thank you for that. That’s very good ad copy actually.

Bob Roddis December 5, 2009 at 8:50 pm

Let’s not forget that CATO used to love Ron Paul too. Here’s a CATO ad from the back of the October 1979 issue of Reason.

There was an ad for a free copy of Human Action on the back of the April 1978 issue of Reason when Tyler Cowen was 16.

Actually, the CATO ad with Murray Rothbard as a CATO founding father is from the back of the May 1980 issue of Libertarian Review edited by Roy Childs. Inside that issue, there was a short article by Bruce Bartlett promoting a gold standard, here and here. Imagine that.

Douglas French December 7, 2009 at 8:24 am

Mario Rizzo’s plea for peace amongst the Austrians is long overdue. He made all the relevant points that are often forgotten concerning the costs of such warfare. But just to amplify, those that have participated in this name-calling and personal attacks are reportedly in the business of studying markets and market participants.

Yet what businesses have ever succeeded solely by way of bad-mouthing the competition? McDonald’s doesn’t try to attract customers by running ads claiming, “Burger King and Wendy’s serve fake burgers.” CVS doesn’t erect a sign when it opens a new store across the street from its biggest competitor that shouts “Walgreen’s pharmacists are stupid and evil.”

Successful entrepreneurs wake up every day wanting to attract more customers and build more loyalty to their brand. They do this by improving their product and, dare I say, learning from their competition.

There are nearly 7 billion people in the world and very few have even heard of Austrian economics. We must embrace the competition to expose all 7 billion to Austrian ideas, and believe that the ideas of Mises, Rothbard and Hayek will make the world a better place.

If another organization thinks their strategy will be more successful at reaching the masses, good for them. If they believe their secret sauce is better, fine. But neither side builds capital (intellectual or otherwise) by spending precious time and donor money tearing the other down.

Civilization was built through capital formation and the division of labor. Those with high time-preferences may seek the immediate gratification of landing a punch through mud-slinging.

But for civilization to advance those with a low time-preference must lead. Thank you Professor Rizzo: for taking the lead.

Lord Buzungulus, Bringer of the Purple Light December 7, 2009 at 10:14 am

I assume Douglas French is referring to nasty anonymous comments made on blogs, as I am
unaware of any prominent Austrian publicly calling his comrades stupid or evil.  Blog
discourse can and should be cleaned up, either by the participants acting with good
character or with stern moderation.  But I am still failing to see what this has to
do with spreading Austrian ideas as such.  All due respect, but I don’t know what it means
exactly to spread the ideas of Mises, Rothbard, and Hayek.  Which ideas?  These men had
very different viewpoints on a wide number of subjects.  It’s not sufficient to simply
say that Austrians stand for liberty and against the State.  Why individual Austrians do so
depends, to a large degree, on which thinker they follow closest.  Certainly there are common
themes within the Austrian school which can and should be presented.  But to pretend that at
some point a choice does not have to be made (eg, regarding the status of FRB, or methodology, etc)
is mistaken, I’m afraid.

I’m sorry, but I’m having a hard time viewing these calls for peace as anything but a call
to end debate, however politely conducted.  

D.W. MacKenzie December 7, 2009 at 12:17 pm

I will have to agree with Gene on this one and sign on, albeit warily. My reasons for wariness are different than his- no need to go into detail, lets just say that I have found enemies on both the Rothbardian and the SDAE sides of the fence. I will confess to having made a few snide remarks- by private email and in person- over the years. But private remarks are not at issue here, and at this point I just ignore certain Austrians anyway (though not their published work). So the marginal cost to my abiding to this peace is effectively zero. One thing I don’t see is any enforcement or coordination mechanism to maintain such a peace more broadly. Free speech allows for rancor. As long as there are different branches of Austrian Economics, someone will be inclined to stir up trouble. Mario has probably done as much as is feasible with his plea. Any real enforcement mechanism here would pose a greater threat to free speech itself- which would lead to what Mises termed ‘the peace of the graveyard and of pacfiers’ rather than peaceful cooperation among Austrian scholars. So I am quite at ease with the general inability to suppress rancor, though not with the rancor itself. We might just have to accept the bad with the good.

Beefcake the Mighty December 9, 2009 at 2:03 pm

It appears the peace has been broken already.  At the GMU blog,
those who find merit in the conventional Mises-Hayek theory of
the business cycle are deemed to be engaging in “ancestor worship:”


Care to guess who made this comment?

Charles N. Steele December 10, 2009 at 5:36 pm

A quick defense of Professor Rizzo: He did not say what BtM suggests. Rather, he argues that the original ABCT wasn’t Austrian (as Mises & Hayek themselves said) and that new versions are sufficiently different that the Austrian label isn’t appropriate. His comment is directed to two people with whom he’s having a civil discussion, and isn’t a calumny.

John P. Cochran December 11, 2009 at 2:12 pm

Let me echo Joe Salerno’s comments, “Thank you for the eloquent reminder that verbal sniping and intemperate language have no place in scholarly discourse and only impede our great common enterprise of seeking truth in political economy.”

While not always bringing total agreement, legitimate scholarly engagement and debate enhances understanding.

Given the current economic situation it is imperative that we make better progress in fighting statist fallacies and policies.

Let me recommend an excellent recent article in RAE by Young and Subrick, “Nobelity and novelty: Finn Kydland and Edward Prescott’s contributions viewed from Vienna.”

They conclude, ” Austrians should be to some extent encourage. KP’s methodology is in several ways radically different than both Keynesian and neoclassical methodologies and many of these differences parallel to Austrianism. … At least their contribution signals that the mainstream can be and has been persuaded to accept a radically different type of analysis.”

“On the other hand, KP’s achievement should also give pause to Austrians to critique themselves. … Why is ‘time inconsistency” a critique of policy makers to be reckoned with while the ‘necessity of economic calculation” is now rarely discussed in the main stream?”

Stephan Kinsella December 17, 2009 at 9:41 pm
Russ Nelson December 20, 2009 at 7:27 am

May I ask an Austrian question about the proposed Austrian Peace? What do y’all plan to give up to get it? Everybody always claims to want peace, but how many people are willing to pay the price?

Beefcake the Mighty March 12, 2010 at 10:09 am

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