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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/3858/harry-potter-and-walter-blocks-decline-to-the-state/

Harry Potter and Walter Block’s decline to the state.

July 21, 2005 by

Walter Block’s recent thread “I blew my chance to be on the payroll with everyone else!” reminded me of a scene out of the recent Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.

The context of the scene is as follows. The wizarding world is in a state of unrest as the evil wizard Lord Voldemort has returned and begun a subversive movement of Death Eaters wreaking havok against the innocent. In the previous book Harry and Voldemort went head to head at the wizarding community’s equivalent of government headquarters (The Ministry of Magic) where a prophecy was revealed which portrayed Harry as “the Chosen One” (the only wizard capable or destined to rid the world of Voldemort). Since such time the Ministry has served almost completely useless at bringing Voldemort or his cohorts to justice. The following excerpt is a conversation between Harry and the Minister of Magic himself (Scrimgeour).Taken from pages 344 – 346, “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.”
“Peple believe you are ‘the Chosen One,’ you see,” said Scrimgeour. “They think you quite the hero – which, of course, you are. Harry, chosen or not! How many times have you faced He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named now? Well, anyway,” he pressed on, without waiting for a reply, “the point is, you are a symbol of hope for many, Harry. The idea that there is somebody out there who might be able, who might even be destined, to destroy He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named – well, naturally, it gives people a lift. And I can’t help but feel that, once you realize this, you might consider it, well, almost a duty, to stand alongside the Ministry, and give everyone a boost.”

“If you were to be seen popping in and out of the Ministry from time to time, for instance, that would give the right impression. And of course, while you were there, you would have ample opportunity to speak to Gawain Robards, my successor as Head of the Auror office. Dolores Umbridge has told me that you cherish an ambition to become an Auror. Well, that could be arranged very easily….”

Harry felt anger bubbling in the pit of his stomach…
“So basically,” he said as though he just wanted to clarify a few points, “you’d like to give the impression that I’m working for the Ministry?”
“It would give everyone a lift to think you were more involved, Harry,” said Scrimgeour, sounding relieved that Harry had cottoned on so quickly. “‘The Chosen One,’ you know…It’s all about giving people hope, the feeling that exciting things are happening….”
“But if I keep running in and out of the Ministry,” said Harry, still endeavoring to keep his voice friendly, “won’t that seem as though I approve of what the Ministry’s up to?”
“Well,” said Scrimgeour, frowning slightly, “well, yes, that’s partly why we’d like-”
“No, I don’t think that’ll work,” said Harry pleasantly. “You see, I don’t like some of the things the Ministry’s doing. Locking up Stan Shunpike, for instance.”
Scrimgeour did not speak for a moment but his expression hardened instantly. “I would not expect you to understand,” he said, and he was not as successful at keeping anger out of his voice as Harry had been. “These are dangerous times, and certain measures need to be taken. You are sixteen years old-”
“Dumbledore’s a lot older than sixteen, and he doesn’t think Stan should be in Azkaban either,” said Harry. “Your making Stan a scapgoat, just like you want to make me a mascot.”
They looked at each other, long and hard. Finally Scrimgeour said, with no pretense at wamth, “I see. You prefer – like your hero, Dumbledore – to disassociate yourself from the Ministry?”
“I don’t want to be used,” said Harry.
“Some would say it’s your duty to be used by the Ministry!”
“Yeah and others might say it’s your duty to check that people really are Death Eaters before you chukc them in prison,” said Harry, his temper rising now. “You’re doing what Barry Crouch did. You never get it right, you people, do you? Either we’ve got Fudge, pretending everything’s lovely while people get murdered right under his nose, or we’ve got you, chucking the wrong people into jail and trying to pretend you’ve fot ‘the Chosen One’ working for you!”


Tom July 21, 2005 at 9:34 am

Comparing Walter Block to Harry Potter seems appropriate for some reason. I certainly wouldn’t compare Walter Block to, say, Ludwig von Mises.

Daniel J. D'Amico July 21, 2005 at 9:49 am

No I’ll leave the reserved complements of comparing Block to Mises to more credentialed schoalr than myself. The follwoing quote is taken form F. A. Hayek.

“Looking through ‘Defending the Undefendable’ made me feel that I was once more exposed to the shock therapy by which, more than 50 years ago, the late Ludwig von Mises converted me to a consistent free market position. Even now I am occasionally at first incredulous and feel that “this is going too far,” but usually find in the end that Block is right. Some may find it too strong a medicine, but it wills till do them good even if they hate it. A real understanding of economics demands that one disabuses oneself of many dear prejudices and illusions. Popular fallacies in economics frequently express themselves in unfounded prejudices against other occupations, and in showing the falsitty of these stereotypes Block is doing a real servic, although he will not make himself more popular with the majority.”

Tom July 21, 2005 at 9:58 am

Let me clarify.

Comparing Walter Block to Harry Potter seems appropriate for some reason. I certainly wouldn’t compare Walter Block to, say, Ludwig von Mises with respect to government service.

I suppose people will now be claiming that Ludwig von Mises was a tool of the state!

Sherman Welshe July 21, 2005 at 11:15 am

It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

Stop complaining about reality if all you care to do is read the same 5 books over and over and purchase framed prints of the dead authors to hang on the wall above your bed.

David J. Heinrich July 21, 2005 at 12:38 pm


Where this desire to insult Prof. Block comes from, I don’t know. Perhaps you’re really Tom Palmer posting here.

Also, Ludwig von Mises said that anything, he regretted the few compromises he’d made; e.g., that he hadn’t been too compromising, not the other way around.

You seem to have some ridiculous, naive, opinion that there’s someone in the US State Department who’s read Block’s work and agrees with it. Nonsense. This person got a referral from the CATO institute to Block as someone who was an “expert in near eastern economic development”. They didn’t agree with anything Block’s said, and it’s ridiculous to think they’d actually use some of his suggestions (like, for example, backing out of Iraq and letting the free market work). More likely, they’d ignore his suggestions, then cite his name saying that “even Prof. Block, a free-market economist, supported their decisions”.

What they wanted was advice on how to intervene in the free market. They didn’t want to hear, “dont’ intervene in the free market”. When you pull your head out of the sand, please come back.

Mr. Welshe,

Thank you for the meaningless platitudes, hyperbolies, and red herrings.

Adam Martin July 21, 2005 at 12:59 pm

“Stop complaining about reality if all you care to do is read the same 5 books over and over and purchase framed prints of the dead authors to hang on the wall above your bed.”


There are actually 6 Harry Potter books. You can apologize any time.

Tom July 21, 2005 at 2:05 pm

If you find the comparison of Walter Block to Harry Potter insulting, then I suggest you address your complaint to the author of the article “Harry Potter and Walter Block’s decline to the state.”

You suggest that Ludwig von Mises thought his government service was somehow “compromising” in some non-specified way. Please provide some quotes to back up your assertion.

“They didn’t agree with anything Block’s said, and it’s ridiculous to think they’d actually use some of his suggestions (like, for example, backing out of Iraq and letting the free market work).”

And what did Walter Block say, “I told him that my consulting fee was $400 per hour.”…”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.”

The guy called on Walter Block’s expertise in economics, but Walter wanted to give him advice on political, military and logistical decisions, area’s one would not consider Dr. Block an expert on.

Economists can make a difference like Ludwig von Mises did:

“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.”

“What they wanted was advice on how to intervene in the free market. They didn’t want to hear, “dont’ intervene in the free market”.

But I suppose, like Block, the only economic advice Mises could offer was “advice on how to intervene in the free market.”

xteve July 21, 2005 at 9:38 pm

I, for one, thought the comparison was apt. What the respective governments were asking was “sign on with us. Join our Team. We won’t do anything you suggest or stop doing any of the things you object to, but hopefully your suporters will become our supporters. Our actions will appear more legitimate, while you get to feel as though people are listening to your ideas. Come on, Block/Potter, don’t you want to be seen hanging out the the Cool Kids?”

Or as Homer Simpson once put it: “But Lisa, if I JOIN the mob I can help steer it in wise directions! Now where’s my foam hat & airhorn…”

Michael A. Clem July 22, 2005 at 9:29 am

Heh. Love that Homer Simpson quote. Sometimes it takes the most ridiculous characters to say the most apt things.

Lisa Casanova July 22, 2005 at 1:33 pm

Hey, the Simpsons are the source of some of the most pithy observations about life. Don’t forget the police chief’s “I just said the government couldn’t help you. I didn’t say it couldn’t hurt you.” That said, this is all about the government trying to figure out how to manage the economy. That carries a whiff of….central planning, maybe? I hardly see why Dr. Block should get excited about a chance to participate in that.

Tom July 22, 2005 at 2:09 pm

Ludwig von Mises (central planner)! Lew should rename this website to: the Central Planner Institute.

Lisa Casanova July 22, 2005 at 4:18 pm

I am merely pointing out that some people might not see any benefit from in taking part in what appears to be government planning of an economy. In this case, it also involves participation in directing affairs that are the result of military occupation of another country, something on which people have sharply differing moral views. If Dr. Block does not wish to involve himself in this particular circumstance, it does not mean that Mises was wrong to work for the government, just as the fact that Mises worked for the government does not mean that it is always a productive pursuit to do so.

Tom July 22, 2005 at 6:33 pm


You say that Dr. Block did “not wish to involve himself in this particular circumstance”, but Dr. Block was willing to involve himself for a fee of $400 per hour. As many people have pointed out, it was the man from the State Department who refused Dr. Block’s services.

The impression I have gotten from many people writing on this is that it is per se wrong for an economist to advise to government. Some of the reasons working for the government is wrong were: a) an economist would have to give knowingly false advise to the government b) working for the state (e.g. a state university) is in itself objectionable c) working for the government is tacit agreement of the (objectionable) goals of the state d) since taxation is theft, one working for the government is therefore receiving stolen money e) the ideas of the economist will be ignored and it is therefore a waste of time f) being on the payroll of the government is to be effectively silenced g) even if your ideas are listened to, the government will simply mess up the implementation of your ideas h) the only ideas an economist can offer will merely be more ideas on how the state can plan the economy. I am simply reminding people that Ludwig von Mises worked for the government.

I would like to think that Dr. Block’s response to the guy from the State Department was simply a knee jerk reaction of his libertarian political philosophy and not a well thought out responsible reaction as an Austrian economist; that he never had any intention of advising the government (for any amount of money per hour); and he was just being a smart-aleck. Although, now that I say that, I will probable be put in my place and be told that it was not a knee jerk reaction, but a well thought out measured response!

Paul Edwards July 22, 2005 at 8:08 pm

Hi Tom: Entertaining discussion you’ve got going on here. I guess I’ll bite too. So Block is ignoring von Mises’s fine example in civic duty, huh? Good one! There are some important differences between the two situations, though.

It appears that von Mises suspected the request for his advice was sincere, that his advice would be followed and that he would be allowed to make a huge single-handed difference to Austria’s economy (by guess how: getting the government off the back of the people). He was right. He’s been known to be right from time to time. That was lucky for the Austrians.

In contrast, it appears Block suspected the request for his advice was insincere, that his advice would not be followed, and that rather, his name would be used, as Jeffrey put it, “…to silence potential opposition and bolster the credibility of the governing class”. He too was right. This is not too surprising either. This is unlucky for Americans (to say nothing of the Iraqis), but it is not Block’s fault.

I think the legislative aid as quoted by Jeffrey sums up the present administration’s attitude towards its imperial ambitions and its need to give credibility to them: “We can buy all the intellectuals we need when the time comes.” Block simply perceives this, as do many of the readers of Mises.org.

tarran July 22, 2005 at 11:00 pm


A couple of additional points. Mises’s opposition to government meddling in the economy was the product of his years of doing just that and watching the disastrous results. Mises did a less bad job as a government manager than others who did similar tasks. He kept Austria sputtering along while the German economy imploded. His management of the Austrian empire’s conquests in WW I was pretty benign and led to a marginal improvement in the lives of the conquered peoples.

However, he learned from his experiences that centrally managing an economy was an impossible task in that it would leave people worse off than if there was no intervention. Thus, he demonstrated the capacity to learn from his mistakes.

I cannot seem to find the source, but later in his life someone asked him what he would do if he were put in charge of a Central Bank and he responded simply that he would immediately resign. That’s hardly the response of a believer in central planning!

Now, there is nothing wrong with economists advising governments. It is the quality of the advice and the implementation that matters. Nor does giving such advice constitute central planning; let us say that through some miracle, I was placed in a position to advise the government on fiscal or economic matters, and I worked to reduce government intervention. The argument that that constituted central management of the economy would be like arguing someone releasing his slaves is still controlling them, because the act of releasing them constitutes a form of ordering about.

Man, that’s an awkward simile. Guess I’m too tired to do better. Anyway, I hope that helps.

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