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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/4371/the-skillful-professor-rothbard/

The Skillful Professor Rothbard

November 28, 2005 by

F.A. Hayek writes the introduction to a collection of methodological pieces by Murray Rothbard. It is particularly interesting piece of writing because Rothbard was a praxeologist who believed in pure deduction as the scientific core of economic theory, whereas Hayek held a much more moderate position. And yet, Hayek wrote that Rothbard not only mastered the praxeological method of Mises but had gone beyond him in many ways. FULL ARTICLE


Dennis Sperduto November 28, 2005 at 7:39 am

F.A. Hayek wrote: “Every educated person will in the coming years have to learn to understand what praxeology is and what its particular methods are.”

If only this statement by Hayek had been followed. Instead, the large majority of the economics profession and the general public (if it even considers such topics) still uncritically assert that the methodology of the physical sciences is the only correct methodology for scientific study in the social sciences. Superstitions do not die easily.

Jim Bradley November 28, 2005 at 5:36 pm

If only Mises.org would stick to praxeology and not wander into the strange moral world of Rothbard’s anarcho-fundamentalism …

Vince Daliessio November 28, 2005 at 5:56 pm

Jim, what is so strange about anarcho-capitalism? It is pretty straightforward, and deducible by praxeology – if you disagree with Rothbard’s conclusions, fine, but his methodology is above reproach. Your problem however, seems not to be so much with Rothbard, but rather the conclusions praxeology leads one to in the absence of an ingrained statist orientation. I don’t see how that qualifies you to disqualify Rothbard.

Jim Bradley November 29, 2005 at 9:23 am

Anarcho-capitalistic morality is not at all deduceable from praxeology. Praxeology is a undeniable (i.e. axiomatic) psychological explanation of economic behavior and the results from it. Praxeology does not specify (and in fact was DENIED by Mises to specify) a particular morality nor does it address the issues of extra-private-property morality. Rothbard dispensed with these considerations and acted as if the system of anarcho-libertarian thought could be implemented without a morality that exceeds private property … and assumption that is wholly unfounded and in fact contradictory to common reasonable experience (obvious examples are numerous such as producing biological weaponry on one’s property is prohibitable).

Rothbard barreled right through these issues in “Ethics of Liberty” in which he advocated a market in selling and buying children (imagine the pedophiles dream…), or willful (and legal) neglect, “child emancipation” meaning a child can divorce his or her parents at any age by their action of running away, etc. The entire edifice is preposterous and stupid. Really this is a leg up to the statists as they can point to unworkable systems like this as they go about dismantling whats left of our constitutional government.

David J. Heinrich November 29, 2005 at 10:10 am


The only thing that is proposterous and stupid is your outrageous misrepresentation and lack of understanding of what Rothbard said.

1. Buying and selling babies. Rothbard explicitly pointed out that what one was buying and selling was custodial rights and obligations. That is, the right to raise the child. This right can be forfeited by acts that are out of line with parental responsibilities, or initiations of aggression as we commonly understand the term to apply to children (e.g., does not preclude spanking, does preclude beating up).

This makes rational sense. You want to get babies away from parents unable or unwilling to care for them, and to parents willing and able to care for them. As for the assertion that this is a “pedophile’s dream”, taht’s outrageous. Pedophiles are more likely than other people to be losers, not as economically well off: they are, after all, mentally unbalanced. Thus, their ability to bid for custodial rights is limited. Furthermore, there’s no reason why an organized market in custodial rights (similar to the NYSE) wouldn’t have established rules on screening for bidders likely to be good parents.

Socialism doesn’t work, period. End of the discussion. What we have right now is adoption socialism, and it’s a disaster.

2. Willful (and legal) neglect. A parent who neglects their child in such a way to to endanger his/her health would be committing aggression, as they’d homesteaded custodial rights and responsibilities. Unless they abandon their children, they’re responsible for them. And abandonment has specific terms. To abandon something in a meaningful legal sense, you have to let others know you’re abandoning it. See Walter Block on this.

3. Child emancipation. Running away isn’t what establishes “child emancipation”. Running away and supporting one’s self is what establishes child emancipation. Absent that, it would be at a (basically arbitrary) age established by common law. You’ve clearly misrepresented Rothbard’s views here. The child must demonstrate that he’s capable of supporting himself. For some people, this might happen at 15, for others at 18, etc. It is idiotic to establish some age set in stone, because all people are different.

For those interested in reading Rothbard’s views — and not Jim Bradley’s caricatures of those views — see The Ethics of Liberty: Children and Rights.

David J. Heinrich November 29, 2005 at 10:11 am

Oh, also, on baby markets, see this revealing footnote from the above link:

Some years ago, the New York City authorities proudly announced that they had broken up an “illegal baby ring.” Babies were being imported for a price from Greece by enterprising merchants, and then sold to eager parents in New York. No one seemed to realize that everyone involved in this supposedly barbaric transaction benefited: the poverty-stricken Greek parents gained money, as well as the satisfaction of knowing that their babies would be brought up in far more affluent homes; the new parents gained their heart’s desire of having babies; and the babies were transferred to a far happier environment. And the merchants earned their profits as middlemen. Everyone gained; who lost?

Jim Bradley November 29, 2005 at 6:17 pm

David – #1 — The problem is David, that you have decided ahead of time that the ultimate authority is private property because any other system is more costly … are you sure? And how can you be sure? Libertarians spin off these undefended assumptions as if social structures are simply created by the wave of a market wand and subject themselves to all the criticisms Hayek leveled against the socialists.

After all, what standard should the “raising of children” conform to seeing that private property doesn’t always apply? And by what legal theory? Again, reasonable people understand the private property only rights system falls down (as does every other system). Some moral codes are necessary (that’s not a “statist” argument, by the way … the support and restriction of a state that in turn supports freedom and necessary morality is an argument for freedom – albeit always a dangerous undertaking as the majority grows lax).

The same people that I imagine you would object to making crazy court decisions frequently have children of their own, and if they have no reasonable power on their side for their decisions, how can they be adequate parents themselves – but wouldn’t you give them that unrestricted right? The criticism comes full circle. (I note Spooner made a similar argument about morality and conscience that I make in terms of “reasonableness”). Perhaps child decisions should be “trial by jury” or something else, but certainly not purely private property.

The fact that incentives would be in place to encourage the general selling of children has social implications that are breathtaking and the potential for harm is extreme.

#2 – “A parent that neglects their children is committing aggression”. That is clearly false. Committing is a positive act and under libertarian theory, including Rothbard’s, there are no positive duties. There’s no positive duty to notify others of abandonment either. Read your own link.

#3 In his own words:

… “Applying our theory to parents and children, this means that a parent does not have the right to aggress against his children, but also that the parent should not have a legal obligation to feed, clothe, or educate his children, since such obligations would entail positive acts coerced upon the parent and depriving the parent of his rights”

… “should a parent have the right to allow a deformed baby to die (e.g., by not feeding it)?[6] The answer is of course yes, following a fortiori from the larger right to allow any baby, whether deformed or not, to die. should a parent have the right to allow a deformed baby to die (e.g., by not feeding it)?[6] The answer is of course yes, following a fortiori from the larger right to allow any baby, whether deformed or not, to die. (Though, as we shall see below, in a libertarian society the existence of a free baby market will bring such “neglect” down to a minimum.)”

…”…For the child has his full rights of self-ownership when he demonstrates that he has them in nature—in short, when he leaves or “runs away” from home. Regardless of his age, we must grant to every child the absolute right to runaway and to find new foster parents who will voluntarily adopt him, or to try to exist on his own. Parents may try to persuade the runaway child to return, but it is totally impermissible enslavement and an aggression upon his right of self-ownership for them to use force to compel him to return. The absolute right to run away is the child’s ultimate expression of his right of self-ownership, regardless of age.”

It must be noted that a list of incorrigible results from horrible parents could easily be added, but I spare the reader and stick with the arguments.

David J. Heinrich November 29, 2005 at 7:39 pm


1. I’ve decided that private property rights are the ultimate authority in the political sphere of law, because that’s what’s just. Hans Hoppe has demonstrated that one cannot consistently argue for any ethic other than a private property ethic, because of the a priori of argumentation (ethics consistent with private property ethics are also things one can argue for). Private property — that is, libertarianism, propertarianism, anarcho-capitalism, whatever you want to call it — is the only system consistent with man’s nature. And as Gary North has pointed out in his commentaries on the Bible, the Bible provides extremely strong support for private property rights (e.g., thou shall not steal); also, many of the parables in the Bible spoken by Jesus refer to the property rights of the owner of a land, and his right to do what he will with his own property (the land-owner, or master, is usually symbolic for God in these parables).

Your paragraph about people making crazy court decisions is unintelligible to me. Please clarify.

As for the implications of buying and selling custodial rights/obligations, you don’t provide a plausible argument for why this would have atrocious consequences. I argue that it would result in babies going from parents unable/unwilling to care for them, to those who are able and willing (namely, from the poor and unattentive parents to more rich and more attentive parents). You make some wild claims about such being a pedophiles dream, but surely under libertarianism, child-molestation would be punished as a severe form of aggression, and child-molestors would be cast out of society (see Hoppe, community covenants). In any event, various faciliating exchanges (like the NYSE), would screen for this sort of thing. And pedophiles tend to be losers anyways — how are they going to pay for custodial rights?

And even a parents who can’t care for their children will tend to (because of natural emotion) want their children to go to good families. You seem to take the absurd view that most women who would want to give their children up for adoption on a baby-market due to financial/other reasons would, after 9 months of carrying their baby around in very intimate fashion, have extreme malice towards their babies, and want to give them to pedophiles, or have cold indifference, and not care. I argue the opposite, that in general even parents unwilling/unable to care for their children want to see them placed in good families: this is simply the result of natural biology, evolutionary fitness, etc.

One other thing you ignore: a market in custodial rights/responsibilities would most likely greatly reduce the number of abortions that occur, as free markets are efficient and don’t have the problems our current adoption-socialism system has. Mothers-to-be could know that the free market in custodial rights could find their baby a good home easily and quickly. What a “horrible” consequence that would be.

2. It is not true that there are no positive duties under libertarianism. Certainly, individuals have any positive duties they voluntarily agree to. Now, Rothbard argued that parents didn’t have positive duties to their children by default (because sex isn’t a contract to care for a child, and one can’t contractually obligate one’s self to an entity that doesn’t yet exist). However, this is not the only view. This is an area where some prominent libertarians, including Stephan Kinsella, disagree with Rothbard, arguing that parents do have obligations to their children. Also, if we take a spiritual view, the child does exist in spirit prior to conception.

In any event, irrelevant of which view one takes, community covenants can take care of the issue (on covenants, see Hoppe). Namely, there could be community covenants requiring anyone who lives there to take on positive obligations to their children, and at least notify others of abandonment. Also, there is nothing about libertarianism that precludes extra-private-property ethics; it just says that nothing that doesn’t involve the initiation of aggression should be prohibited by law, by default, under libertarianism (again, community covenant could over-ride this).

Also, regarding abandonmnt, you fail to understand what is meant by abandonment. Praxeologically, one cannot abandon one’s property in a legal sense without notifying others, and not until someone else homesteads it if he has ongoing obligations/liabilities (although one can physically abandon it). For example, if I have a nuclear power plant, I can’t just say up and abandon it, leaving it to malfunction and seap radioactive waste into the surrounding private property. In that case, indeed, I couldn’t abandon it until someone else voluntarily took on the obligations.

As for property with which there are no obligations/liabilities tied up, I simply have to announce to others that I’m abandoning it, and then that’s it. It reverts to an unowned state, and the first homesteader owns it.

As to what category custodial rights/obligations fall into, that’s a matter of debate. Obviously, Rothbard thought they fell into the latter category; I disagree. I’d argue that if a parent refuses to feed, clothe, or educate his child, he’s abandoned his custodial rights by default, and anyone else may homestead them (that is, take the parent’s child away). The educate issue is the gray area, but I’d argue that this is where child-emancipation come into play.

3. Those things are over-rideable by community covenant, and thus pose no serious problems for libertarianism. Furthermore, as a practical matter, if a parent refuses to feed his child — that is, lets his child start to die — he’s either:

a. Abandoning his custodial rights, under Rothbardian theory. In this case, anyone else can homestead them. Presumeably, there would be agencies looking for such occurences, so it wouldn’t be necessary for parents to notify anyone. There is very little practical opportunity for a parent to really kill their child in this way, without initiating aggression. If done in society, presumeably there would be agencies looking for this sort of thing. And, as Rothbard has argued, you can’t homestead a donut. That is, you can’t prevent others from homesteading property by failing to inform them of enclosed or abandoned property.

And, if this sort of thing is done out in the wilderness, it constitutes the initiation of aggression. The way this could be done in wilderness would be to take a child out in the middle of no-where, and simply leave him there. This is simply murder, no different than if I knock you out, and drop you off in the ant-arctic.


b. Failed to abandon his custodial rights/obligations, unless he’s notified anyone else of such. In that case, anyone else could step in and take care of the child.

Regarding child-emancipation, you have yet to illustrate how this has horrible practical consequences. I argue it has good consequences, as it allows young adults to express their individuality when they are ready, and not at some arbitrary age, by moving out and supporting themselves. It also serves as a last check againgt abuse: under such a system, children abused could run away from their parents, and wouldn’t be returned to their parents unless they chose such. Under our current system, children who run away from abusive parents are returned to them. See A Child Called It.

Roy W. Wright November 29, 2005 at 9:17 pm

It should be evident that under the state of affairs Rothbard describes, it would be contrary to a man’s rational self-interest to allow his child to die, or to harm it to the point of being damaged or fleeing, since every child would have a considerable market value. That some parents will act against their own interests is very likely, but this is true under any incentive system, including that of threats of violence. The idea of considering children to be essentially property, as Rothbard does, understandably illicits a negative “gut-feeling,” but like so many resources, the principle of private property may create the best incentive to the good treatment of children.

Roy W. Wright November 29, 2005 at 9:20 pm

Sorry, that should be “elicits.”

David J. Heinrich November 29, 2005 at 10:23 pm


Brilliant observation, but I think that has some reliance on empirical research, and is not purely praxeological. It might be very reasonable — almost to the point of being a postulate — to say that people would be willing to pay more for the custodial rights to children well-taken care of, hence parents have an incentive to take good care of him. But aren’t there some people — mostly of strong religious persuasion — who would want very much to adopt those children who are poorly cared for, as an act of charity?

Jim Bradley November 30, 2005 at 10:50 am

David — “child-molestation would be punished as a severe form of aggression” … and pray tell WHO or WHAT AGENCY and under what authority decides to do such a thing? And if children are not “emancipated” (and thus not accorded self-ownership), by what right CAN a person force another to yield his children over to authorities as those children are not accorded self-ownership? Is it an all-or-nothing proposition? And if not, why can’t an unborn child claim the same power over the body of the mother?

Clearly #2 violates the consistency of “negative rights only” and thus is an ad-hoc explanation avoiding outcomes deemed unpleasant: exactly the situation criticized by many participants on Mises.org.

And what if you live in the wilderness and simply abandon your children? Is that again murder in a different degree than withdrawing support of an ugly baby (as Rothbard posits would be allowable, and likely to happen given the premium for sale would be small)? Why? And why not buy children for their labor until they emancipate themselves?

“Praxeologically, one cannot abandon one’s property in a legal sense without notifying others” … again, a modification of the position that there are no positive rights … clearly you submit that other people have a right to know that a specific property is owned by a person and that person has a practical duty to inform them (such as trespassing laws). This is the “atomistic” pure-libertarian view which is fallacious — and as soon as the pure consistency is lost, then immediately the question is where to draw the line.

I think a pure-private property system is impossible — and in fact Hoppe presents a quasi-private property system in which disbursed “governments” (called “covenants”) essentially rule.

David J. Heinrich November 30, 2005 at 11:03 am


You illustrate a confusion about what Rothbard said…

1. Children themselves are not owned, custodial right (and in my view, responsibilities) are owned. Various private protection agencies would be enforcing such. As Rothbard clearly says, parents would not be free to aggress against their children.

2. #2 does not violate negative rights only; it is the view that parents, by homesteading custodial rights, also homestead custodial responsibilities. Nothing about libertarianism prevents one from voluntarily accepting positive obligations, either by explicit or implicit contract, written or verbal.

If you live out in the wilderness and abandon your children in the physical sense, I argue it’s simply murder.

Regarding “buying child labor”, you illustrate all the ignorances of the leftists, who regularly decry horrible child labor in the 3rd world (which actually greatly benefits children, as they don’t have to starve, become prostitutes, or become thieves). Also, arguably, employing when one doesn’t have to decreases capital value.

3. You’re welcomed to your opinion; you just haven’t backed it up by any reasoning. It is contradicted by history, as well. And Hoppe does not prevent a “quasi-private property system” with “disbursed ‘government’s”. Clearly, you do not understand his work. The covenants he speaks over are completely based on private property, based on completely voluntary agreements between private property owners. There could, of course, be holdouts from these covenants when they were forming; and if the covenant members wanted a contiguous geographical unit, they’d have to either pay a high price to the holdouts, or wait for them to die. Your misrepresentation of Hoppe’s covenants as “quasi property” and “disbursed ‘governments’” is gross.

Jim Bradley November 30, 2005 at 12:04 pm

David — Stay on point. Clearly the call isn’t to decry ALL child labor, just the fact that “buying children for labor” is likely to lead to huge problems requiring prescriptive law unless you wish to leave those problems in place. There simply is no justification for praxeologically tracing from private property economics to a comprehensive morality.

What authority enforces “covenants” and how is that materially different than a “state”? Does Hoppe’s system certainly advocates law that exceeds private property boundaries. Those are the questions that lead to the obvious conclusion that this isn’t pure libertariansm.

These renamed exceptions consistently show that a pure-private property universe is simply uncompatible with any reasonable person’s view of morality and justice. The defense of freedom requires legitimate boundaries of activity — and that means a shared morality AND private property AND disbursion of power AND limited government: What we had and what we should return to.

The point is — playing this game is a bad sort of philosophical fiction. A theory of rights needs to be grounded in the facts of the nature and practical implementation which are carried out by men. The U.S. theory of rights is grounded very much in common sense “religious” belief and morality. (I hesitate to use the term religious because it is viewed by many as a weakness. However, what scientific materialism essentially says claims in practice is “anything inconceivable is not a valid cause for an effect” and thus makes a metaphysical claim about the nature of truth).

David J. Heinrich November 30, 2005 at 12:55 pm


I would agree that we can’t derive a comprehensive morality from private property economics. We can only derive a political ethics: that is, what should/shouldn’t be prohibited by coercive force. Not everything that is immoral should be prohibited by coercive force. Being mean and obnoxious may be immoral, being lazy, being proud and arrogant, all these things may be immoral — but that doesn’t mean they should be prohibited by coercive force.

Who enforces the covenants can vary; it can be the members of the covenant. It could be a protection agency. It could be anyone, although practically it will be a protection agency and those who agreed to the covenant. Once the covenant is made, anyone is justified in enforcing it, provided they use their own resources, and provided the covenant isn’t revoked by the contracting parties.

Private property is perfectly compatible with a shared morality, and a disbursion of power (again, see covenants for voluntary segregation into homogenous units). A limited State (or any State), however, is not compatible with private property. All State’s, by necessity, require the violation of private property and of freedom, both by preventing competition in the provision of protection/justice (that is, being self-declared monopolies, and hence with all the problems of real monopolies in the classical sense), and by taxing or inflating.

Jim Bradley November 30, 2005 at 5:10 pm

David — But you argue a point of agreement. Surely no one here believes that legitimate state action and morality 100% overlap.

What is desired is a stateless voluntary society. Good and fine. How is that possible in our world knowing what we know about legal matters and social structure (neglecting the near impossible transition)?

Essentially you propose: (a) no positive duty to another person under any circumstance and (b) no deciding authority that can by force make people pay restitution for crimes (c) legal actionable causes be held exclusively to private property violations.

But (a) is in serious doubt in the matter of children no matter how it is redefined, butchered, pounded, or reshaped to “fit” into the libertarian paradigm, and it is in serious jeopardy in other instances as well (b) essentially demands that a “state” — no matter what you decide to call it (private agencies or whatever), exist, even if with volunteers and even if on a smaller scale, and (c) is simply incompatible with numerous instances of pre-emptive law which reasonable people agree. Not only that, I’d add (d) that commerce demands a certain level of shared agreement as to law (hence the UCC codes) so what extra-governmental agency will decide and how will crimes be punished (if at all?) And if insurance agencies are used, what justification do you have to pre-emptively demand that people engage in paying the premium? Isn’t it perhaps more equitable that crimes are punishable only after the fact?

I object to the easy target Mises.org has made of itself in the debate.

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