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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/3849/i-blew-my-chance-to-be-on-the-payroll-with-everyone-else/

I blew my chance to be on the payroll with everyone else!

July 19, 2005 by

I just got a call from one [name left out for fear of acts of vengeance for having blogged this], from the U.S. State Department. He wanted to consult with me about improving the Iraqi economy. He told me he got my name from [a certain Washington think tank with a libertarian reputation], as an expert in near eastern economic development. I told him that my consulting fee was $400 per hour. He didn’t bat an eyelash at that. But then I said that as I was opposed to the US being in Iraq, I was only interested in consulting with him on how the US govt could get out as quickly as possible. He said, “Oh, ho!” thanked me for my opinion, and hung up.

{ 41 comments }

Marty July 19, 2005 at 3:38 pm

And lost your chance to implement good ideas. Ever think the reason government has no good ideas is the people with the really good ones won’t participate?

Cogito July 19, 2005 at 3:45 pm

Indeed this was a mistake, Walter!
Here was a chance to get some decisionmakers on a libertarian trail, but you blew it because you preferred to do some Libertarian macho flashing.
What if Iraq now gets a collectivist economy? Then it’s YOUR fault, Walter! :-)

Bretigne July 19, 2005 at 3:57 pm

Marty, they weren’t interested in Walter’s good ideas. They rejected him, not the other way around.

Michael A. Clem July 19, 2005 at 3:57 pm

There’s no reason to assume that the administration would have implemented Walter’s ideas, and if they had, no certainty that they wouldn’t have messed it up, somehow. Still, he would have had somebody’s ear, and got paid for it, too!

Devin W. July 19, 2005 at 4:31 pm

Good point, Britigne. They simply weren’t interested in what he had to offer. That’s just too funny.

Jeffrey July 19, 2005 at 4:34 pm

I recall being stuck at a dinner party with two legislative aids talking about the opposition to their scheme (whatever it was) and the fact that it had a number of academic experts on its side. The aid waved his hand dismissively and said: “We can buy all the intellectuals we need when the time comes.” That always struck me as a good summary position of the view of state toward intellectuals. And that’s the whole idea of getting them on the payroll–to silence potential opposition and bolster the credibility of the governing class.

gene berman July 19, 2005 at 4:43 pm

Walter’s a Blockhead! If he’d accepted, I’d have been glad to subcontract @ $300.

Paul Edwards July 19, 2005 at 4:50 pm

Jeffrey, that’s a classic! And if they can pay $400 an hour, they must know they can buy all the credibility they want (but not from the Mises scholars).

fancyleprachaun July 19, 2005 at 6:59 pm

Cato, err, i mean [a certain Washington think tank with a libertarian reputation] must’ve been messing with that State Dept terd… i mean [guy].

I’ll bet they’re having a grand laugh now.

Georgist July 19, 2005 at 8:04 pm

Some day in the future:

US Government: Prof. Block, we’ve read your books and are completely overwhelmed by your ideas! Never before have we seen so clearly that what we do is wrong. We vow to change our ways and usher in a new era of freedom. Tell us, what should we do to implement your ideas?

Walter Block: Go away, I don’t associate with governments.

Tom July 19, 2005 at 9:34 pm

“He wanted to consult with me about improving the Iraqi economy.”

“I was only interested in consulting with him on how the US govt could get out as quickly as possible.”

Walter, please turn in your economics PhD or at least stop calling yourself an austrian economist.

If you are worried about getting on the government dole, you could have offered to consult for free. Even if you are opposed to the war you could still have offered positive advise that would help the Iraqi people. Good economic policy in Iraq would be conducive to getting the US gov’t out. If you are really serious about getting the US out of Iraq and want to actually DO SOMETHING about it, you would get the guy’s phone number, call him back, and tell him you have had a change of heart about helping.

P.S. Don’t listen to all the malcontents, they have nothing positive to offer. Austrian economics, on the other hand, does.

K. Chris Caldwell July 19, 2005 at 9:49 pm

You should be proud of yourself. Most would have accepted the $400/hr. payoff and justified it to themselves–”I’ll make a small difference, but a difference none the less.” and etc.

You stated your position and what services you could offer–take it or leave it–and they chose to leave it. When they TRULY need you down the road for advise on how to get out, they will know where to call.

Wish I could hear a recording of the caller’s response–I bet he’s not used to hearing what you told him when $400/hr. is up for grabs.

Bravo once again to you for honesty and integrity.

Paul Edwards July 20, 2005 at 2:17 am

Anyone who thinks Washington is interested in implementing Austrian policy in any shape or form, forget about in its wacky foreign policy, should re-read the caller’s response: “He said, “Oh, ho!” thanked me for my opinion, and hung up.”

And Georgist: That’s quite the unlikely scenario you got going on in your imagination there. “we’ve read your books and are completely overwhelmed by your ideas!”? More likely “we’ve burned your books and we have some ideas for you…”.

queequeg July 20, 2005 at 6:03 am

Professor Block,
I believe you may have missed an opportunity to do some good in the world (not that you haven’t DONE some good already)

The public opinion tide seems to be slowly turning toward the belief that on net, world prosperity would improve without the US occupation. At any rate, I think it is a safe bet that US involvement/intervention will diminish sooner or later. Therefore, the real question is one of exit strategy, and transition. There may in fact be ways in which your advice could affect this transition for the good of all.

Do it for free. Then no one could call you a hypocrite.

Manuel Lora July 20, 2005 at 8:54 am

Has anyone noticed that Dr. Block was offered Federal Reserve Notes? If he had been offered 1 oz of gold per hour, I’m sure he would have accepted!

steve July 20, 2005 at 11:05 am

“Good economic policy in Iraq would be conducive to getting the US gov’t out.”

Ah yes, if we only had the right people involved with the government, we could change the government’s policy. (laughter)

Curt Howland July 20, 2005 at 2:18 pm

Had Mr. Block done the consultation, he might have gotten a few hour$ out of them, but the moment they read what he gave them it would have been boxed, shelved and forgotten.

Better to stand up and tell the truth, and have done with it, than to waste your time and my tax money.

NamedForRep.Ron July 20, 2005 at 5:10 pm

Bravo to Walter and his refusal to be bought off with stolen loot. Anyone who criticizes him for not getting on board the State Train should spend a few dollars and mail the Department of State flunkie some Block and Rothbard.

Georgist July 20, 2005 at 7:37 pm

“And Georgist: That’s quite the unlikely scenario you got going on in your imagination there.”

I’m just explaining the logical implications of Block’s position. It seems he wants to avoid any chance to offer the government libertarian advice. Where does it stop? If the government one day asked him “what should we do about the economy” should he “nobly” refuse to deal with them?

Doug July 20, 2005 at 10:55 pm

Gramscian strategy has been enormously successful for Marxists. This was a wonderful opportunity to use their tactics against them.

I suggest that all libertarians wishing to avoid compromising their ideals stop driving on public roads, refuse to pay any taxes, not eat any subsidized US agricultural products, burn everything in their house made with government-protected union labor, and refuse employment by any institution that receives any benefit from government policies.

Since there really is no way to live without receiving the benefit of some government externality, maybe libertarians should just wade out into the ocean and drown themselves. But then the Coast Guard would be employed at taxpayer expense to retrieve their bodies. Theft! What to do?

Otto Kerner July 20, 2005 at 11:05 pm

Georgist, I’m not a big Ayn Rand fan, but, have you read “Atlas Shrugged”? Towards the end, the government goes to John Galt and demand that he tell them what to do about the economy. He tells them to deregulate and end the income tax. They tell him that that’s politics, not economics.

I suspect a similar, if less operatic, outcome in case Mr. Block takes your advice. Do you really think that they are interested in hearing what he has to say? When he suggested they withdraw from Iraq, it was the G-man who hung up on him, not the other way around. Still, if they are willing to listen, I guess it couldn’t hurt to try.

Roger July 21, 2005 at 8:23 am

While I appreciate Prof Block sticking to his convictions, I think his confused economics with politics. The government asked for his economic advise and he gave them a political answer. Austrian economics is not married to political libertarianism, but Prof Block and others at this site seem to think the two are inseparable siamese twins. Whatever his feelings about the war, Prof Block missed an opportunity to help people in desparate need of guidance in order to express his political views.

Tom July 21, 2005 at 8:39 am

The Mises Institutes defeatist attituted!

It is interesting to compared the attitude that is found at the Globalization Institute and compare that to the defeatist attitute that can be found here at the Mises institute!

http://www.adamsmith.org/blog/archives/001529.php

“Alex and the GI have made a real mark very rapidly, putting the case for free trade, and against tariffs, quotas and subsidies, and achieving wide media coverage. The case the GI makes is increasingly listened to by governments.”

Michael A. Clem July 21, 2005 at 8:57 am

Doug, there’s a difference between having a choice and not having a choice–it’s that simple. As for Block’s decision, I’m mixed. Of course it’s possible that he might have blown a chance to offer and possibly even implement libertarian economic ideas in Iraq, but again, there’s no guarantee that they would have actually wanted or used any economic advice he might have offered. On the other hand, the government might have put influence or pressure on Block to simply dress up whatever the administration wants to do in Iraq for public consumption, to put on a pretty face or front.
It probably would have been good if he had explored the possibility and found out if they had wanted serious advice or not, but I’m not going to hold it against him for not going that far. Government is like fire, and who wants to get their fingers burned?

Ike Hall July 21, 2005 at 10:16 am

Murray Rothbard wrote an excellent article regarding ethical stances, in which he stated that for an economist to advise an institution necessarily implied his agreement with the stated goals of that institution. The only favorable way for, say, an Austrian economist to advise the Federal Reserve is if the Fed wanted to make the transition to hard currency (which would have to be a stated goal–riiiiight) or if he could make the Fed less efficient at its inflationary goals. In the same way, one cannot simply be a guard at a concentration camp without tacitly supporting its goals of mass incarceration and murder.

I’ll give a personal example. I once worked at a DOE complex for a private contractor. During the Cold War, this facility built nuclear weapons. I could not have supported this goal. However, during my tenure, the only activity was dismantlement, so I had no problems working there while they were doing the Lord’s work, as it were.

The point is, Dr. Block would have been happy to advise the US Government if its goal was disengagement, and thus meshed with his own. Some say he should have advised them for free. He already has, many times, often on this very website.

Kudos to fancyleprechaun above for noting that the recommendation was likely a practical joke by Cato.

Dr. Block, I’ll be proud to buy you a beer next week! See you all there.

RPM July 21, 2005 at 3:26 pm

I suggest that all libertarians wishing to avoid compromising their ideals stop driving on public roads…

This is a particularly ironic response, because that’s exactly what Walter said to me, when I explained that I would not consider teaching economics for a state university. (Although he doesn’t now, I’m pretty sure Walter taught at a state school in the past. He was lecturing me for shooting myself, and the movement, in the foot by not considering such employment options.)

Of course I am proud of Walter’s handling of this incident, but (as some have tried to point out) he didn’t refuse to deal with them on libertarian principle. He told the guy what his suggestions would entail, and the guy wasn’t interested.

So are the “pragmatist” critics willing to say that one should write opinions that one believes are false–so long as doing so might move things in the right direction?

Tom July 21, 2005 at 3:38 pm

RPM,

Ludwig von Mises gave advice to the government. So tell me, which beliefs of his [Mises] were false when he advised the government?

“For example, Mises’s position as privatdozent at the University of Vienna was prestigious but unsalaried, so his income from 1909 to 1934 came from his position as economic advisor, and then chief economic advisor, to the Austrian Chamber of Commerce, similar to the U.S. Department of Commerce.”

“Among his duties, he wrote economic analyses of proposed government actions, and he managed almost single-handedly to keep Austria from following Germany into hyperinflation during the early 1920s. He also established the Austrian Institute for Business Cycle Research and hired F.A. Hayek, who later won a Nobel prize for his work on Mises’s trade cycle theory, as the Institute’s first director. Mises’s famous private seminar in these years attracted the best minds in Europe, and produced many outstanding economists.”
http://mises.org/content/mises.asp

Georgist July 21, 2005 at 8:30 pm

Georgist, I’m not a big Ayn Rand fan, but, have you read “Atlas Shrugged”?

Yes: I loved how it promoted Georgist principles, just like Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy. As for your criticism, see my response to RPM.

So are the “pragmatist” critics willing to say that one should write opinions that one believes are false–so long as doing so might move things in the right direction?

I don’t think anyone advocated making false statements. Block could easily have couched any advice he gave them in truthful terms: “The present author believes that the best action the United States government can now take is to leave Iraq. However, as long as it is imposing a tax, it should not tax capital gains.”

Would it have been a lie to avoid mentioning this caveat until on the payroll? I don’t know: is it lying to avoid discussing the libertarian position on the War on Drugs until you’ve explained other libertarian views to them? Or should we “on principle” market our ideas poorly? Should we have denounced the Eastern Bloc reformers, never mind that communism is several orders of magnitude worse than welfare state democracy?

Ike Hall July 21, 2005 at 10:38 pm

Would it have been a lie to avoid mentioning this caveat until on the payroll?

No, keeping certain opinions to oneself is not lying. In this case, though, a forthright declaration of principle was called for.

(I)s it lying to avoid discussing the libertarian position on the War on Drugs until you’ve explained other libertarian views to them?

Of course not. Single issues can be treated as such. However, it’s often a good way of bringing your audience around to other libertarian views.

Or should we “on principle” market our ideas poorly?

Of course not. The Advocates for Self-Government is an example of good marketing for libertarian ideas. Admittedly, they soft-sell it somewhat, but few people are ready to hear the unvarnished truth about liberty. The approach taken on this site is hardly the only version.

Should we have denounced the Eastern Bloc reformers, never mind that communism is several orders of magnitude worse than welfare state democracy?

*sigh* Ah, yes, the good ol’ “perfect-is-the-enemy-of-the-good” criticism. All Dr. Block did in this case was tell the gummint what he was willing to do and how much it would cost them (that is, us), and thereby saved everyone a lot of time and money in the process. Three cheers.

Michael July 22, 2005 at 3:45 pm

Walter!

You had the chance to get back $400/hr worth of your taxes and refused? That’s immoral. You have a positive obligation to suck resources away from the Federal Leviathan. Call the guy back and tell him you have some great ideas for Iraq.

Michael

Georgist July 22, 2005 at 8:36 pm

No, keeping certain opinions to oneself is not lying. In this case, though, a forthright declaration of principle was called for. … All Dr. Block did in this case was tell the gummint what he was willing to do and how much it would cost them (that is, us), and thereby saved everyone a lot of time and money in the process. Three cheers.

What Dr. Block did was scare off a potential convert by being far too upfront about his views, no different from introducing someone to libertarianism by saying “We want to legalize heroin.” What he should have done, in my opinion is this: avoid mentioning his actual position on what the government should do, and phrase ALL of his advisories in terms of “as long as the US government is going to be ruling Iraq, X is better than Y”. Advocate that the government implement libertarian policies in Iraq, presenting arguments which, if someone were to take them to their logical conclusion, would mean government shouldn’t do much of anything (though don’t, at first, say this explicitly). If your anti-war, anti-intervention position comes up in a negative light and it looks like they’re going to kick you off, point out the benefits of having such a person among them: they could become more popular by having “diverse advisors”. Try to gradually get the band of statists to realize the harms in any economic or social intervention.

I mentioned Leo Tolstoy before. He was a very principled pacifist, and by extension, an anarchist. Yet even he advised his government to continue to intervene, though much less severely than before. He wrote letters to Tsar Nicholas II, begging him to implement (statist) Georgism and even spelling out how it would be done. Did that compromise his ability to preach pacifism?

Zach July 23, 2005 at 12:25 pm

“Georgist”, how can an anarchist be in favor of Georgism (a statist idea)?

Georgist July 23, 2005 at 2:42 pm

Zach, he can favor it as being vastly superior to a present system. Do you know any anarchist who favors, say, monarchy to democracy as long as government exists?

Paul Edwards July 24, 2005 at 2:05 am

Being “in favor of” as opposed to “favoring” may, on the surface, seem like only slightly different things, but the difference is quite important. For instance, I favor a beating to being murdered. But i’m not in favor of either. I might reluctantly take monarchy over democracy, but i am in favor of only anarchy.

Is a Georgist-anarchist as reluctant to advocate the georgist position as a libertarian-anarchist is reluctant to advocate monarchy? I suspect not by a long shot.

Georgist July 24, 2005 at 12:14 pm

I thought Austrians believed you couldn’t “value A over B more than you value C over D”!

Doug July 25, 2005 at 12:58 pm

Robert,

As I read it, Prof. Block wasn’t given the Hobson’s choice of supporting the American occupation or advising the government on what economic policies Iraq should pursue.

By Block’s rigorous standard, it can be fairly said that by not refusing to pay our taxes and by declining to provide material support to the insurgency, we too are acquiescing in the illegal occupation of Iraq.

I think we should plant seeds wherever we can.

Bruno Panetta July 25, 2005 at 1:53 pm

Doug: we can hardly “refuse” to pay our taxes since they are stolen every month from our paychecks. Gone are the days when Americans used to pay their taxes on March 15th each year…

Phillip Conti July 25, 2005 at 2:57 pm

I think that Professor von Mises had to deal with much frustration in his work with the government and probably grew tired of his advice being ignored. If Mr. Block was within his conscience in refusing to work for the government, I can certainly respect that.

Doug July 25, 2005 at 3:14 pm

Bruno,

You absolutely have the choice to refuse to pay taxes, just as you absolutely have the choice to join the Iraqi insurgency. It may be a difficult choice, but you still have it.

Jacob July 27, 2005 at 4:40 pm

I’m just dreamin’ of an Iraq with a 100% gold currency, private roads, freedom of secession, no regulation of medical research and no income tax. And I’m thinkin’ it sounds like a pretty good place.

Too bad I’m just dreamin’.

I think it could be useful to have someone to say, “Eliminate your central bank. No, don’t go shutting down unlicensed businesses. Don’t you have better things to do than raid organ markets? Wasn’t Social Security a bad enough fiasco the first time arround?” Maybe he wouldn’t have much effect and I certainly think an economist such as Block might have more profitable uses of his time, but I certainly think some good could be done in that situation.

Also, does anyone think the “think tank with a libertarian reputation” could have been the Heritage Foundation? They seem to be more in-touch with the establishment than Cato.

averros July 27, 2005 at 5:58 pm

Doug – you absolutely have the freedom to stop breathing when you’re forcefully penetrated from behind with a baseball bat by a gang of inner-city third-generation welfare products.

Excuse me for being so graphic, but this is merely to show the ludicrousness of your statement.

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