to Alexander McCobin
by Walter Block: Advice
for Ron Paul
I wrote this blog: "Reason
Foundation Is Not libertarian; for Shame"
Alexander McCobin wrote me as follows in response:
I just read
your recent blog post on LRC that claims "Reason is anti
libertarian" and goes on to recommend people shouldn't give money
to Reason, which is, in essence, a way of saying you don't
think Reason should exist. I have to say, I was surprised
and disappointed by the post given our past conversations when you
expressed a strong desire for the libertarian movement to avoid
infighting and work together to advance liberty. What's more, when
we last spoke, you said that your criticism of other libertarians
was meant to advance the search for truth and was done with a sense
of respect for those you criticized. I am having a difficult time
interpreting a post like this as either overcoming infighting within
the liberty movement or written with respect for Reason or
Bob Poole, in particular.
On a different
note, I also think your criticism of Poole's article is wrong. There
is a difference between promoting libertarianism as a philosophy
and promoting liberty as a cause for a freer society. I think it
both poor strategy and unprincipled to say that we should only promote
libertarianism as a philosophy at the expense of liberty by requiring
people to make decisions and judgments using the same philosophical
rationale as us. If we want more people to support the cause of
liberty and make a difference in the world, we need to use persuasive
techniques and analysis that goes beyond quoting our favorite libertarian
figures. Just because "[i]t could have been written by any mainstream
urban analyst" does not mean it is not advancing liberty. In many
ways, because its analysis is not indebted specifically to libertarian
figures, it can appeal to more individuals and shows that liberty
is a sound position simply on face.
Co-Founder & Executive Director
Students For Liberty
essay is an attempt to reply to this critic of mine.
I answer McCobin
under three headings.
Mangu-Ward. If this Reason editor was really a libertarian
who thought Ron Paul has a poor chance of becoming president
of the US (not a totally unreasonable stance) she could have praised
him to the skies, and then said something along the lines that there
simply aren’t enough libertarians in the populace to give him a
win in 2012. She could have gone on to say that if any person could
create enough libertarians for this purpose, and has almost
done so, it would be the very Ob-Gyn from Texas under discussion.
Did Mangu-Ward do that? Did she even come close? Not at all. Instead,
she stated that even Ron Paul, along with everyone else, knows that
he won’t be president, and that explains his supposed lack of coverage.
Her proof? Dr. Paul "has no plan for becoming president."
But that is a blatant falsehood. His plan, reiterated over and over
again, and over and over many times again, is peace with foreign
nations (pull the troops home), economic freedom at home via a sound
money (no Fed), limited government (eliminate some half dozen federal
departments plus HUD), lower taxes (no IRS), personal liberties
(end the drug war), and Constitutionalism. How did Miss Mangu-Ward
ever get to be a political commentator for Reason and not
be acquainted with these basics of his plan for becoming president?
We either have to conclude that Miss Mangu-Ward is very stupid,
which I do not for a moment believe, or something far worse. More
evidence in this regard: Mangu-Ward extols the candidacy of Gary
Johnson, a libertarian lightweight with far less of a chance of
becoming president than Ron Paul. If the likelihood of being elected
is so important, how can her support for Johnson be explained?
no libertarian she, was by far more sensible. No eye rolling at
Congressman Paul’s expense for her. Instead, a fair assessment:
that the Texas congressman was tapping into something important,
a new interest in liberty, and tiredness with all of those wars,
none of which are defensive. Indeed, a fair minded commentator who
didn’t know better might well have concluded that Trotta was the
libertarian, and Mangu-Ward anything but. I listened to that Trotta
– Mangu-Ward tape again before responding to Alexander McCobin,
and, let me tell you, it really made my blood boil at Reason
for unleashing this woman upon the public. She was just so totally
unfair to the man who is now promoting liberty to a greater
extent, perhaps, than any individual in the entire history of the
world. She would fit in, fine, at a place like CNN, ABC, PBS, NBC,
CBS, the New York Times, etc. Has Reason fired this virago
for her attempted trashing of Ron Paul, and thus diverted her career
toward a more appropriate employer, such as one of the above? No,
they have not. Have they even publicly upbraided her? Again, alas,
no. Instead, they issued a mealy mouthed semi apology, semi explanation,
the lines of upholding diversity of opinion. Diversity of opinion
on a periodical supposedly devoted to promoting liberty? Well, yes,
perhaps, on a complicated issue where eminent libertarians cannot
agree. But the contribution of Ron Paul to promoting liberty, surely,
cannot be considered one of these.
I had no difficulty,
then, when I wrote this critique, in concluding that Reason
is not a libertarian organization on this basis, nor do I now, Alexander
McCobin’s views to the contrary notwithstanding. In fact, in reconsidering
this episode, I am far more sure of my ground than before.
For more on
this, see here, here
Poole. He is, if anything, guilty of far more a serious breach of
libertarian propriety than is Mangu-Ward. He is a veteran, presumably
of our movement; she, far younger than he, is a mere beginner. We
can be far more justified in excusing an error made by an apprentice,
than by a supposed master of the craft.
Bob Poole has
for many years now been an efficiency expert for the state, not
a libertarian. In the specific issue under debate, Poole takes the
position that government should not subsidize high speed rail. Well
and good. For a libertarian, that is surely a no brainer. But why
not? Is it based on the libertarian case that such government subsidies
are predicated on compulsory taxes (or unjust government land grant
subsidies) which are incompatible with libertarianism? Not at all.
Instead, Poole’s opposition stems from cost considerations, passenger
miles, population densities etc. This is not a libertarian argument
at all. Indeed, if cost considerations and population densities
were the only relevant consideration, then private enterprise should
not invest in these amenities either. In contrast, the libertarian
view on the matter, the only libertarian view on the matter,
is that private individuals should be free to invest their hard
earned money in whatever economic areas they wish, and the free
market with its profit and loss considerations will properly settle
the issue of whether or not this was a wise decision. When Reason
was begun, all its well wishers hoped for the day when its spokesmen
would have the ear of the readers of a periodical such as USA Today,
where Poole published his statist screed, so as to be able to promote
liberty far and wide. To think that the day has finally come upon
us, where people like Poole are given a national podium, and for
them to promote not free enterprise, but pretty much its very opposite.
Oh how the gods must be laughing at our feeble attempts to promote
is not at all happy with these critical comments of mine on Poole.
Instead, he takes the not unreasonable position that we should not
try to force every jot and tittle of our own philosophy down the
throats of others, only its main focus. For example, if I am a deontologist,
and reject government subsidies to high speed rail because they
violates rights, and Poole is a utilitarian, and opposes them on
the ground that population densities simply will not support such
investments, then it is improper for me to criticize Poole for leading
us to liberty via a slightly different route than my own. This at
least, is how I understand McCobin’s objection. If my interpretation
is correct, his point fails. For Poole is not opposing government
subsidies to high speed rail solely on utilitarian grounds. As he
concedes, there are some areas where such investments would
actually be justified. For example, Boston – NYC – Washington D.C.
and San Francisco – L.A. Here, Poole’s analysis does not support
the libertarian solution at all.
accuses me of demanding that Poole "quot(e) … our favorite
libertarian figures." But I made no such demand; I wonder from
whence this charge springs? My critic further avers: "Just
because ‘[i]t could have been written by any mainstream urban analyst’
does not mean it is not advancing liberty." Nonsense. No, nonsense
on stilts. Mainstream urban analysts are without exception supporters
of urban socialism, central planning for cities, etc. To say that
Poole’s analysis is indistinguishable from theirs is to clearly
assert that this author is one of theirs, not ours.
Reason exist at all? McCobin interprets my remarks in precisely
this way: "You (Block) go … on to recommend people shouldn't
give money to Reason, which is, in essence, a way of saying
you don't think Reason should exist." Certainly, my
critique of this organization is compatible with a desire that they
close shop, but it does not at all logically imply any such thing.
Indeed when I wrote my critique of Mangu-Ward and Poole, I did not
have that in mind at all. I was hoping, first, that these two would
see the error of their ways, apologize for their mistakes, resolve
to take a more libertarian path in future, etc. Failing that, I
would have welcomed Reason firing whichever of these two
remained adamant in their error. It is only if Reason stood
behind both of these miscreants that I would even contemplate this
more radical solution. But I would have done so only reluctantly.
Reason magazine, and Foundation have been in business since
1978. They have done many, many good things over the years. It would
be a crying shame if such an organization were to come to an end.
However, I am not closed-minded. Now that McCobin has raised the
issue, I am willing to at least contemplate the demise of this organization,
even though, frankly, I did not really have any such thing in mind
At the outset,
I think it would be difficult to make the case for Reason
closing its doors. I am guided in this, as I am on so many other
things, by Murray Rothbard, who was a "big tent" libertarian.
Many is the time I have heard Murray say, "Every dog gets one
bite." What Murray meant by this is that if a person deviated
from plumb line libertarianism on one or even a few important issues,
he was still a libertarian. Surely, the peccadilloes of Mangu-Ward
and Poole, and even Reason’s refusal to upbraid them for
these, would not rise to the level necessary to consider them nonlibertarian.
Of course, you can only take this so far. When an organization becomes
guilty of "a train of abuses and usurpations" then perhaps
it is time to consider whether they belong in the movement at all,
big tent as it is. Then, we might well consider alternatives.
So, would the
libertarian movement be better or worse off if the Reason
enterprise came to a halt? In part this depends upon where the money
that otherwise would have accrued to them would go instead. If to
the Brookings, American Enterprise, Hoover or Heritage Foundations,
well, then, maybe, better Reason than those other worthies.
Sure, Reason is a son of a bitch, but at least they are our
son of a bitch. On the other hand, if these monies went, instead,
to the Independent Institute, or to Antiwar.com, or to the Mises
Institute, or to the Ron Paul campaign, then we have pretty much
of a no brainer. These latter groups have been stalwart undeviating
supporters of liberty for decades. On the other, other hand, if
Brookings, AEI, Hoover, etc., were financially strengthened at the
expense of Reason, at least no one would be able to use that
old charge, "Well, even libertarian Reason concedes…."
Friedman and Hayek, bless their souls, have been used as a stick
with which to beat up on libertarians for lo these many years in
such a manner. With no Reason in existence, at least we might
spared this stab in the back.
Do the two
episodes of Poole and Mangu-Ward, heinous as they both were, rise,
or rather fall to the level where libertarians should seriously
consider cutting Reason off at the knees and encouraging
its dissolution. Of course not. These are only two Rothbardian "bites,"
after all. However, thanks to McCobin’s challenge, I have done a
bit of research, and come up with a horrendous list of many other
"bites." Read them and cringe. On the basis of all of
them, and I have been assured by my researchers that even all of
these comprise, merely the tip of the veritable iceberg, I say,
Down with Reason. This organization has been doing its level
best to undermine liberty, from a supposed libertarian point of
view, for years. Libertarians, do please send your contributions
elsewhere. Here is the evidence upon which I base such a conclusion:
on Poole on the TSA; Klein
on Poole on Buckley; Vance
on Poole on McCain/Bush; Gregory
on Reason on inflation; Woods
on Reason on Ron Paul; Rockwell
on Reason; Kwiatkowski
on Reason on Ron Paul; Parfitt
on Reason; Kinsella
on Reason on IP; Rockwell
on Reason on Libertarian Heroes; Kinsella
on Reason on rights of patients; Mortellaro
on organ donations; Wicks
on Rand Paul and slavery; Raimondo
on Reason and Ron Paul.
I thank Skyler
Collins and Dick Clark for providing me with this information.
Block [send him mail] is a
professor of economics at Loyola University New Orleans, and a senior
fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He is the author of Defending
the Undefendable and Labor
Economics From A Free Market Perspective. His latest book
Privatization of Roads and Highways.
© 2011 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in
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