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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 3, 2009 at 4:28 pm

Beautiful post, Dr. Rizzo. It reminds me of Leonard Read’s wisdom about “the power of attraction”. (See Two Kinds of Influence and The Essence of Americanism.)

DD December 3, 2009 at 4:58 pm

Perhaps Dr. Rizzo would advice his colleagues at the free banking school to stop their own ad hominem attacks when presenting their free banking theories.

Trying to discredit Rothbard by portraying him as some nut case seems to be a popular tactic among some lectures that I witnessed.

Billy December 3, 2009 at 5:03 pm

Amen, Dr. Rizzo!!!!

Lively debate is great and usually productive. Name calling is NEVER productive. Seems silly to have to say it…

EIS December 3, 2009 at 5:15 pm

If you’re not an interventionist, then you’re not an interventionist; but if you are, you should be called out. We don’t need people turning Hayek into Keynes, and attacking Rothbard (neither of which is alive to defend themselves).

As far as the free-banking vs 100% gold reserve debate is concerned, I’d say it’s very productive. Both sides have valid positions and serious flaws.

Daniel Coleman December 3, 2009 at 5:33 pm


What you recommend seems to me to be precisely what Dr. Rizzo is attempting to avoid. Sophists will be sophists, and even some of the ‘good guys’ will always indulge in personal agendas and character assassination. By rule of thumb, the most noble thing one can do in response is continue to shine as brightly as possible. If the freebank camp wants to attack Rothbard, that is to their own detriment.

Renaud Fillieule December 3, 2009 at 6:08 pm

Greatly benefiting from both blogs:
I find some controversies between Austrians way too harsh…

Stephan Kinsella December 3, 2009 at 6:51 pm

Daniel, great point. DD, let us please, at least here, avoid stoking flames. Let’s stick to substance. If fellow libertarians and free market economists attack us, let us ignore it and keep our eye on the ball.

EIS, the freebanking debate is fine, as long as it is substantive and not personal; charitable, not nasty.

Rafael, let’s try to avoid profanity.

You know, in honor of the end of Anthropogenic Global Warming and the doubtless onset of global cooling, maybe we should strive for a cooling (warming?) of the cold war between people who should be allies.

In the past there have been personal battles between various libertarian, Austrian, and free market factions. Despite any merits of various participants in these disputes, nothing much has changed as a result of these petty squabbles over the last couple decades, except a waste of time and energy of all involved, and possible alienation of potential new adherents and students.

As Rizzo said, little headway has been made by either side with opponents on the other side, as a result of personal fighting, nitpicking, and battling.

From what I can see, some progress, reconciliation, has been made in recent years, and that this has been the result not of personal attacks and arguing, but as the result of the power of attraction as Read explained. Our steadfast devotion to libertarian principle, our incessant work in the service of liberty and sound economics, has gradually worn down some of our opponents and warmed their hearts towards us (I will not mention names but I have some firm ones in mind; and I am grateful to them). It has made them realize we are allies, not enemies. That we are principled, and honorable–not horrible and nasty.

We also need to realize our fellow libertarians and free market economists are our allies in a grand struggle.

We should renew our commitment to our primary goals of advancing the principles of liberty and sound economics. We should commit to eschewing time-wasting personal battles and internecine squabbles, and to using that freed time to fighting our enemy–the state, and economic illiteracy. I call on our Austrian, free-market, libertarian, liberal, and classical liberal brothers to join us. We should just move forward; considering the slate to be wiped clean, even if this is a fiction.

If future personal attacks arise, we should ignore them, and focus on working for liberty and wisdom, and hoping and praying for our separated brethren.

Let us all in the liberal community renew our commitment to each other, to our core values, and to our cause.

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.

(Read’s words also call to mind those of Nock: “The only thing we can do to improve society, he declared, ‘is to present society with one improved unit.” Let each person direct his efforts at himself or herself, not others; or as Voltaire put it, ‘Il faut cultiver notre jardin.’”

John David December 3, 2009 at 7:03 pm

Professor Rizzo is the peace ambassador! We should have a comprehensive Austrian conference, I think this is actually great. It shows how diverse our paradigm is. It’s like the Keynesians battling the neoclassicals over sticky prices… It shows we are a growing paradigm with differences! Yes.

Let’s do this.

(8?» December 3, 2009 at 7:14 pm

Like everyone else, I’m all for a cessation of name-calling.

That said, I would like to someday see the differences in theory presented here for examination, otherwise, to me it seems that this place is too close to an echo chamber, with outlying theories attacked in defense of “The Institute.” (aka typical collectivst madness manifesting in protectionism of the collective)

I was once a monthly sponsor of both LvMI (and LRC), up to the day that they started publishing these very type of articles, where ad-hominem attacks were posed as “English Debate” (according to Lew, who I exchanged emails with on the subject), calling anyone who did not agree with them “monetary-cranks.”

I do not for a second accept the infallibility of Mises, or Rothbard, nor do I think that LvMI does anything to promote their ideas by defending them with ridicule towards others. Yet these attackers find a home here within LvMI.

It is my hope that the promotion of ideas can move from an intra-austrian squabble to an intra-austrian sharing of perspective, as that is what I usually see as the main difference during the debates on theory. (By perspective, I mean viewing a theory within the model presented, not removing it from the presenter’s model and placing it within your own, where it is easy to show how it cannot fit. These actions are nothing but construction of strawmen, merely being a tool of sophist debate.

As I then told Lew, I do not see debates, English style or not, as a method to share ideas but as a method to do battle with them, something I have absolutely no interest in.

I would love to see LvMI reach outward to embrace the rational consideration of all ideas, not withdraw inward in a circling-the-wagons stance, all in order to “protect” the purity of Austrian Economics. Otherwise, I see no future for LvMI that has not happened already to Cato. Stagnation of ideas leads nowhere but to intellectual death, hollowing out an institute, leaving nothing but a promotional facade to be abused by power seekers.

But then again, thanks to Rothbard, I’m biased against ALL institutionalized collectives, as I’ve yet to see one survive the test of time uncorrupted.

Matthew December 3, 2009 at 7:34 pm

I like seeing things like this here. It goes very well with the “freedom train” analogy.

There are lots of different kinds of libertarians out there, and there are plenty of disagreements among them. They all can agree on the idea that we need less government than we have now.

This is where the “freedom train” idea comes in. You can ride the freedom train as far as you want, and you can choose to get off at any “station,” whether that be constitutionalism, minarchy, or anarcho-capitalism.

The fact is, libertarians need to focus on getting the train moving in the first place before they should start arguing about what station to get off at. Even if libertarians can get that “freedom train” moving, they have a long ride ahead of them to think about what station to get off at.

So I echo Dr. Rizzo’s statement that Austrians need to work together. There’s a much bigger enemy out there than a guy who disagrees with you on a few points. There are Keynesians and Socialists out there that don’t want libertarians to get the “freedom train” moving at all. Libertarians can’t even attempt to get the “freedom train” moving if they are still arguing about what station to get off at instead of fighting the people that are keeping the train at a standstill.

T. Ralph Kays December 3, 2009 at 8:51 pm

Around thirty years ago, as a young man, I attended a week long seminar that included Murray Rothbard as a lecturer. The seminar was intended for libertarians and those interested in austrian economics. The attendees were an amazingly diverse group and varied greatly in their understanding of the basics of both libertarianism and austrian economics. The evenings were devoted to casual open discussions that lasted until the wee hours of the morning. Ice chests full of beer were provided and the conversations were wonderfully lively. The discussion groups that Murray Rothbard attended proved to be the most interesting and entertaining, one of them finished up at a local Dennys (I think it was a Dennys) where we all had a very early breakfast, mostly because Murray insisted that he wanted food. The discussion never waned all night. That night Murray and another professor spent a great deal of time in a discussion with one particular young man. This young man had made somewhat of a nuisance of himself, he was a devout environmentalist and he believed firmly that any action, anywhere on the planet, that impacted the environment necessarily affected the entire eco-system, thus harming other people. He insisted that this justified any restriction of freedom necessary, because any damage (very very broadly defined) to the environment no matter how small, anywhere on the planet, constituted an assault on all other people on the planet. He once said that even a single molecule of pollution released into the air on the west coast of the US would harm people living on the east coast of the US.
This young man was eager to push his view and engaged many people in conversation, but unfortunately was so tied to his own views that even when individuals exposed the fallacies in his assumptions, or quoted reliable but contrary scientific evidence, or simply pointed out logical inconsistencies, he pushed on because it was still possible ‘somehow’ that a third party ‘somewhere’ would be harmed by even the smallest possible amount of ‘pollution’. When he was present it was impossible for any discussion of libertarianism or austrian economics to even get started. The talk always got bogged down on the question of whether it was possible for any individual to live their life without affecting the eco-system and his point that humans necessarily harm each other just by existing, so someone had to control peoples behavior. In his view all of libertarianism was false because we missed this basic point. He could not be dissuaded.
The night that we ended up at Dennys, Murray Rothbard and the other professor took it upon themselves to explain to this young man that he was playing the part of the ‘eternal skeptic’. They proceeded to tell a long involved story about a man driving a car with the ‘eternal skeptic’ as a passenger. The car stops running and the driver pulls over and says “we must be out of gas”, the ‘eternal skeptic’ replies “no, maybe something else is wrong”. The driver points to the gas gauge which reads empty and says “see, no gas”. The eternal skeptic says, “maybe the gauge is defective”. The story goes on and on in this vein and ends up with the empty gas tank removed from the car and split open with an axe. Yet still the eternal skeptic insists “maybe we just can’t see the gas because of the angle of the light or something”.
At this point Murray Rothbard and the other professor leaned forward and said to the young environmentalist “Do you know what the proper and logical response to the ‘eternal skeptic’ is at this point?” The young man said he didn’t know, at which point Murray Rothbard and the other professor said in unison “f*ck you”.

Fallon December 3, 2009 at 9:06 pm

T. Ralph,
Outrageous! That is maybe the funniest (and effective) anecdotes I have ever heard.
Oh my word, the stomach hurts.

Jake December 3, 2009 at 9:08 pm

What an anecdote, Mr Kays. Thank you for that.

RTB December 3, 2009 at 9:20 pm

I find it disheartening to see such name calling and personal attacks. There is nothing better than an open, honest and lively discussion. How else can we advance? We must each constantly challenge our own ideas to better understand them and the world around us. There is not much worse than a dogma followed by blind apostles.

We are human and we need to think. Austrian economics is not a religion, it is a way of thinking. Discuss the ideas. Discuss why something is right or wrong. This shows that it is an active, live philosophical body of work, not some Catholic religion or an Ayn Rand type of cult.

We all have a common cause here. Can’t we all just get along?

Oh, and once again…T. Ralph Keys rocks!

RTB December 3, 2009 at 9:22 pm

Make that Kays, not Keys. Sorry Mr. Kays.

Stephan Kinsella December 3, 2009 at 9:28 pm
Esuric1 December 3, 2009 at 9:44 pm

The Keynesians battle each other all the time. The Post-Keynesians attack the Neo-Keynesians about capital, mathematical modeling, ISLM, Philips Curve, Keynesian Cross, endogenous vs. exogenous money, ect. Austrians debating Austrians is absolutely fine; in fact, it makes the school stronger. But I agree, Austrians should worry about discrediting the Post-Keynesians and Monetarists before they turn on each other.

Sean A December 3, 2009 at 10:01 pm

This article is absolutely correct in pointing out the misplaced animosity between schools of thought within the Austrian school.
However, we must also be wary false prophets who claim to be Austrians and are anything but. This is not a group but rather individuals who perhaps clung to a quote they read by Mises a speech they heard from Mr. Kinsella on IP.
I have heard self-proclaimed “Austrians” argue for inflationary policy; hell, the founder of the central bank of Sri Lanka called himself an Austrian.
The point is it is detrimental for these false idols to call themselves Austrian [edited].
As for the arguments between free-banking and hundred percent reserve–We should of course keep the debate lively but clean; however the attention must be focused on the real enemies of freedom: the Keynesians, the Monetary cranks, the central bankers, the aggregators—all those crooks who call themselves Economists while preaching the gospel of government spending.

Caley Mckibbin December 3, 2009 at 10:20 pm

“At this point Murray Rothbard and the other professor leaned forward and said to the young environmentalist “Do you know what the proper and logical response to the ‘eternal skeptic’ is at this point?” The young man said he didn’t know, at which point Murray Rothbard and the other professor said in unison “f*ck you”.”

I lol’d.

T. Ralph Kays December 3, 2009 at 11:27 pm

I find it curious that someone who helps run these blogs is disappointed in the behavior of people in this blog community.
I have a fair amount of experience living in chaotic communities, I built my first home in the heart of Del Paso Heights in North Sacramento, still a dangerous slum to this day. Before that I lived in Oak Park, another dangerous slum in Sacramento. In Oak Park I could stand on my back porch and look across the parking lot that backed up to my backyard and watch the pimps, hookers, and drug dealers selling their wares up and down Stockton Blvd. Burglaries, muggings, rapes and murders were weekly events all around us. The police were useless, worse than that, because they would not differentiate between law abiding residents and criminals, we all lived in fear of them as well as the criminals. The chaotic environment favored the worst elements in the area, law abiding individuals could be targeted with impunity in open daylight, everyone around would ‘mind their own business’. At least it was that way everywhere but on the block my wife and I lived on.
We were lucky enough to move into a sane community in the middle of a totally insane community. Our next door neighbors were in their 70s and had lived there all their lives. The husband had actually been born in a house just down the street. He would tell me stories of Oak Park before the city government destroyed it by cleaning up the depressed downtown area by simply driving all of the problem residents out of downtown and into Oak Park. This elderly couple lived in the center of the block and set the tone for the entire block. They knew everyone who lived on the block, when new people moved onto the block they quickly found out what sort of people they were. There was a complete cross section of America living on our block, but we all looked out for each other. We were all different, we all had different ideas, but we all had the same basic understanding of community. We supported each other, when conflicts arose with people who didn’t share our understanding of community we came forward to help, we also corrected each other when we made mistakes. No one was left isolated, we never just looked the other way. It created an oasis of reasonableness in a chaotic desert. It means that when people came to our community we gave them a chance to be a part of the community, but if they were there to cause trouble we shut them down quickly. If they were slow to get the hint it would quickly get ugly, we learned the hard way that tolerating dishonest behavior at all had serious consequences. All around us the only way to survive was to be as coarse as the streets you lived on, a consequence of the isolation people suffered under.We had the example of the surrounding slum, the chaos that resulted from people not involving themselves, to keep us on our toes. If you don’t like the community you have created, maybe you should step forward and be a part of it.
I would put it to you that this community here could learn a little from that old couple.

DD December 4, 2009 at 12:35 am

I think that Ralph Kays’ story/comment should be posted on the Mises blog tomorrow.

Jay December 4, 2009 at 2:22 am

Thank you Dr. Rizzo for your eloquent, inspiring, and very much needed words of wisdom. I appreciate you taking the time to post them in this forum.

Dr. Murray Tyson December 4, 2009 at 3:05 am

A good start, Stephan, would be by apologizing for the lie-filled posts you make smearing the CATO Institute. Go ahead, act on your words!

Fallon December 4, 2009 at 4:48 am

Dr. Tyson,

Can you back up your charge with evidence please?

Jeffrey December 4, 2009 at 6:32 am

Thank you Professor Rizzo for this excellent reminder – an application of the Misesian theory of peace to the world of ideas. It is not a sacrifice of principle or one’s attachment to truth to abide by common standards of decency, respect for others, and civility. If Mises could do this through his astonishingly difficult life, surely all of us, who experience a tiny fraction of these difficulties, can do better.

Robert Wenzel December 4, 2009 at 6:51 am

I have no problem with ending name calling, but Dr. Rizzo when you refer “to various strains of Austrian economics” debate. I’m not sure that it properly frames the current situation.

We now have at least two people who have called ABCT a religion. That doesn’t sound like a strain, but more of a denial.

I’m all for a summit debate “Is ABCT a Religion?”, but I am afraid that many students of ABCT would consider such a debate an insult, and I wonder if the otheside would show up.

But, if we are all seeking truth, let’s get it all in the open, act like scholars and stage the summit and have all the best arguments pro and con on record and published.

I think ABCT would not only survive such a summit, but become even stronger.

Tyler Cowen/Tom Plamer are you in?

Mark Morton Glasgow December 4, 2009 at 6:54 am

I once had a teacher who taught me that I should be tolerant with others and hard on myself. I have always found that to be sage advice. My father taught me to worry about myself, as that would afford me a lifetime of gainful employment. He was correct and I have always heeded his wise counsel. From the Bible, I imbibed that only the sinless, could cast stones at others, another excellent lesson. Finally, I learned that by toleration, harmony increases and the highest degree of harmony can tolerate any amount of opposition. Such tolerance is most obliging and that, my dear friends, is the royal road to peace.

Dick Fox December 4, 2009 at 7:02 am

I actually don’t understand the concern. Austrian economics is strong enought to withstand the harshest criticism. Making anyone feel that they canot criticize freely feeds ignorance. Responses to irrational criticism often illuminates others following the debate.

We sometimes think it nice if everyone agreed with us but imagine if you had no one to debate. I often wonder what I would criticize if the government actually wasn’t so stupid. Total agreement leads to a boring world.

My interaction with the Keynesian bloggers and world has shown me that they are much more confused and argue about stupid things. Austrians argue about substance.

As for me, bring it on!!!

Jeffrey December 4, 2009 at 7:21 am

Dick, you have missed the point. Prof. Rizzo is not against disagreement, only incivility.

Stephan Kinsella December 4, 2009 at 7:51 am

Tyson: I have never lied about Cato. But I am wondering what good it does to harp on what I perceive to be their flaws. We are all part of a broad coalition of people generally in favor of human liberty. Our real enemy is the state, and economic illiteracy.

Jorg Guido Hulsmann December 4, 2009 at 8:01 am


Bruce Koerber December 4, 2009 at 8:15 am

Peaceful Investigative Blog Entries.

It seems that those interested in classical liberalism, and Austrian economics specifically, should find it relatively easy to understand that there are different ways of perceiving what has happened, what is going on, and what will occur in the future. Afterall, it is subjectivism that is at the heart.

Also, part of the subjectivism is the irresistable human search after truth with whatever tools we have at our disposal. Use of those tools can be done politely or discourteously. Of course we are all constantly refining ourselves so there has to be some leeway.

But what about the insincere, and who has the right to identify them as such? Can someone who blocks themselves from grasping subjectivism actually be in a refinement process? Not if they fit into the mold of the ‘eternal skeptic’ encountered by Murray Rothbard and his friends in the above story.

We can distinguish ourselves from the insincere by recognizing our subjective nature and by being courteous in our investigations. Those who are insincere will become obvious.

P.M.Lawrence December 4, 2009 at 8:39 am

Stephan Kinsella, I would agree with you, only… sometimes, that lets through loopholes that are of the “only a little bit pregnant” variety, that would grow to defeat the whole object of the exercise. Now, that wouldn’t be a problem if we could agree to disagree using a basis that doesn’t concede the point – but, usually what happens is, the side that doesn’t see it as a problem doesn’t say “very well, as I don’t see that as a big deal but you do, it makes sense to leave that out until it all becomes clearer and one or the other of us changes his mind” but rather “I am not persuaded, so I’ll stick to it”. (The former is the approach St. Paul recommended to disagreeing Christians, not to create stumbling blocks for others when they themselves didn’t see a big deal.)

Not to be personal, but to draw on a case you are familiar with, you insist on enabling corporations where I and others have a concern about them – yet, since you personally believe that they could emerge anyway, there seems no point to your insisting on enabling them; but you still do.

Hume December 4, 2009 at 8:45 am


You wrote “I have never lied about Cato. But I am wondering what good it does to harp on what I perceive to be their flaws.”

I agree. One thing that irritates me greatly is the internal struggle among libertarians for the “libertarian purity award.” For example: I am greatly influenced by Rothbard’s works, but why spend 4 chapters dissecting alternative libertarian theories and none refuting Rawls, Dworkin, or G.A. Cohen? I would prefer to see his critiques of Friedman, Berlin, Hayek, and Nozick in a libertarian journal, not in his major work in political theory.

This is all too common today. The battle between LvMI/LRC and CATO needs to end. The opportunity cost is too high.

Dr. Mark Thornton December 4, 2009 at 9:16 am

Bravo Professor Rizzo!

Jeffrey Herbener December 4, 2009 at 9:19 am

Professor Rizzo is to be commended for calling on those who are engaged in vigorous debate not to succumb to the temptation to degenerate into personal attacks. Such behavior is not the path of truth. All who aspire to walk this path and convince others to join them should heed professor Rizzo’s call.

Adam Martin December 4, 2009 at 9:27 am

Hear, hear.

Peter G. Klein December 4, 2009 at 9:31 am

Mario is quite right. There is room for healthy disagreement and spirited debate — indeed, this is critical to the vitality of an academic discipline, approach, or school of thought — but it must be conducted in an atmosphere of civility and mutual respect.

Noah Skuce December 4, 2009 at 9:36 am

Dear Professor, I am not not commenting on your Austrian purity, but I am calling you out on your vocabulary impurity.

foregone = that which has gone before (usually in time)
forgone = that which is gone without

a foregone conclusion is one that has already been made

a forgone conclusion is one that was not made

In your phrasing, “The main opportunity foregone in this case is …” the context suggests you meant ‘forgone.’ I take the risk of assuming you already know this and it is a spell-check issue. The forego/forgo confusion is so widespread, I raise it at every turn lest we lose the meaning of the difference. For those who stumble over these, I suggest they look up forbear and forebear, foresee and forswear.

Respectfully yours,

Noah Skuce
Southeastern Field Representative
Committee on the Mother Tongue, Phyllis Dean Chair

Stephan Kinsella December 4, 2009 at 9:43 am

Lawrence: I have no idea what you are trying to say or ask. I don’t know what it means to “enable” corporations.

Hume: I see nothing wrong with engaging in criticism of our allies substantive views; there is room for a division of labor, after all. But I think it’s a waste of time to get involved in petty personal feuds and squabbles–even if it’s in reaction, or defensive. A better tack would probably be to ignore those who insist on doing this, let them isolate themselves, and continue to fight for economic literacy and against statism.

Timothy Terrell December 4, 2009 at 10:46 am

I appreciate Dr. Rizzo’s comments. I was introduced to Austrian economics as an undergraduate and have benefited immeasurably from the work of the Mises Institute in the last fifteen or so years. Other institutions have been helpful as well, though not nearly to the same extent. I have benefited from civil discussion with those I strongly disagree with on matters of fundamental importance, and count those people as personal friends.

There are those wolves in sheep’s clothing who need to be identified and called out on their errors because they are hurting the effort more than they’re helping. But we should always do so remembering how we came to this place ourselves. How many among us were once neocons, for example–and how many of us would still be neocons if someone from this group had not kindly and gradually challenged our thinking? Would we be where we are today if we had seen only infighting instead of courageous attacks on the outright statism all around us?

Dennis December 4, 2009 at 10:53 am

Professor Rizzo, thank you for the thoughtful posting.

Echoing Jeffrey’s comment, Mises conducted himself with outstanding civility and decency despite great adversity and a lack of reciprocation from many of his intellectual opponents. We should all strive to emulate his outstanding example.

Mathieu Bédard December 4, 2009 at 11:00 am

Thank you Pr. Rizzo. I couldn’t agree more.

Roderick T. Long December 4, 2009 at 11:29 am

Hear, hear, Mario! I couldn’t agree more.

Incidentally, I notice that whenever someone calls for peace between group A and group B, there are always two objections that come up.

One is that someone from group A (or B) will say “but group B [or A] said/did hostile thing X!” as though that were an objection to peace. Of course group B said/did hostile thing X; that’s part of the problem to which peace is being offered as a solution. (Plus, the fact that some people on either side won’t agree to peace is not enough reason for the rest of us to keep fighting.)

Another is that someone will say “but there are genuine disagreements between us — why should we sweep these under the rug?” No one’s asking anyone to do that; ceasing to snipe nastily at each other is not the same thing as ceasing to debate.

Oh, another thing to watch out for is the tendency to slide from, e.g., “someone at the Mises/Cato Institute said objectionable thing X” to “all those Misoids/Catoids say objectionable thing X,” which is seldom true.

Bob Murphy December 4, 2009 at 12:33 pm


Thank you for the courageous post. Some might think that is an odd term to use, but it takes courage to say what 95% know is the right thing yet could be construed as “wimpy.”

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.”

So I challenge all of us (who agree with Mario) to not merely ask before firing off an email or especially a blog post, “Am I being a jerk here?” but to up the ante and ask, “Will my email lead to a response, which will lead to a response, which will then provoke someone else to be a jerk and start another battle?”

Lord Buzunghulus, Bringer of the Orange Light December 4, 2009 at 12:43 pm

Sorry to be a party-pooper here, but civility in debate is not the same as peace. It’s necessary of course, but not sufficient. Furthermore, civility in debate has nothing to do with opportunity costs of alternative debates, eg fighting Keynesians. I am wondering from his statement about such costs if Prof Rizzo is more concerned about intra-Austrian debate as such, and not the tone of debate.

I would think that such debates DO strenghten Austrian theory, precisely thru ferreting out error. But let me ask: if I attack the Keynesian concern with sticky prices, am I violating the peace? Because, many Austrians on the ME side likewise share that concern.

Brent December 4, 2009 at 1:06 pm

95% know it to be true that we should be civil to one another, ESPECIALLY since we are largely in agreement on the merits of liberty (which certainly puts us in the minority in a world full of statists). Fair enough, of course. But really, 95% of the time, libertarians of various persuasions are civil to each other.

Nonetheless, some things ought to be debated, including educational strategies, and they will be regardless of what anyone says. These debates are inevitably going to be heated. After all, who has ever heard of a harmonious (peaceful) debate between libertarians?

Perhaps we would all be better off if we didn’t act as though we are so shocked and offended every time we get in an argument. Adults should be able to understand that if you attack someone, you are probably going to get attacked back. If you don’t want to get in a skirmish, then just get out of the way and ignore the “feuds”.

Richard December 4, 2009 at 1:19 pm

Excellent post. I suspect for most people the scrapping between Austrians simply comes across a petty and irrelevent. I for one would prefer to see a civil debate between the fractional reserve free bankers and 100% reserve gold standers for example.

Martin OB December 4, 2009 at 1:20 pm

I think a good initiative would be to start a debate about how Austrians may agree to disagree.

Why don’t you guys build a table representing different issues on which LvMI and Cato agree/disagree, and then, on those issues where you disagree, represent schematically the reasons why you disagree. Then try to find out the ways in which the issues where you disagree may undermine your agreement in other areas, and sort them out, so that you effectively isolate the controversial issues from the issues where both can speak together to a wider audience.
I think a wiki would be a nice medium to do that. The main idea would be, rather than avoiding the controversies, building a common ground, isolated from those controversies.

By the way, some of the controversies are rather silly, in my view. For instance, 100%-reserve bankers think fractional banking is fraud, so it should not be legal for banks to do it, but I guess that, being libertarians, they wouldn’t forbid someone to open a “bankoid” which does fractional (pseudo?) banking with fully-informed clients. For instance, the contract may say “all the notes of this bankoid are redeemable in gold on demand, except in the event of a formally declared bankoid run” ; if I am correct on this, all that remains is a disagreement between them and free-bankers about terminology (shoud it be allowed to call itself a bank?).

Jeff Riggenbach December 4, 2009 at 1:47 pm

“Mises conducted himself with outstanding civility and decency despite great adversity and a lack of reciprocation from many of his intellectual opponents. We should all strive to emulate his outstanding example.”

It is perhaps worth noting that not everyone saw Mises in this way.

In a 1981 essay reprinted by the Mises Institute five years ago, Fritz Machlup, “an economist and friend of Mises’s,” recalled that even many “libertarians—classical liberals—who share the views of Ludwig von Mises on all issues enumerated” nevertheless “dislike him, or dislike his way of expressing the shared views.” Some of these “consider the Mises style as abrasive.” Still “[o]thers condemn his intransigence.”

Machlup also singled out among Mises’s “antagonists” the many “[m]athematical economists and econometricians” who find “[h]is strictures against mathematical economics . . . too harsh not to arouse reciprocal animosity on the part of those attacked.” And he quoted Friedrich Hayek as opining that Mises, whom Hayek considered “one of the most original thinkers in the domains of economic science and social philosophy,” a man “who had received his doctor’s degree in 1906 and his lectureship at the University of Vienna in 1913, was not offered any full professorship during the next twenty years” in part because of his apparent “inability to conceal his contempt for the mediocrity and gross ignorance on the part of his professional colleagues.”



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