Hit Piece on DiLo
by Bob Murphy: Rise
of the Free-Market Zombies
Any LRC reader
who’s not been holed up in Guantanamo has by now read all about
Paul’s historic opening hearing in his new role as head of the
subcommittee that oversees the Federal Reserve. In my naďveté, I
am still shocked at the laziness of Dr. Paul’s critics.
In this particular
case, the critics directed their fire at Tom DiLorenzo, one of Paul’s
witnesses. Tom has already answered their general charges here,
but I think it will be useful to go through and dissect this
Washington Post article by Dana Milbank, since it so
beautifully epitomizes the half-hour hatchet job in these affairs.
(Full disclosure: Tom is a personal friend.)
Hiding His True Views?
Right off the
bat, Milbank implies that DiLorenzo was trying to sneak his anti-Lincoln
views under the subcommittee’s radar:
takeover of the House put a chairman's gavel in the hands of Rep.
Ron Paul of Texas, the gadfly GOP presidential candidate with
a cult following. On Wednesday, he used that gavel for the first
time to remarkable effect.
itself was lively based on Paul's desire to abolish the Federal
Reserve and bring back the gold standard but what really stood
out was Chairman Paul's leadoff witness: a Southern secessionist.
bio" the witness provided with his testimony omitted salient pieces
of his resume, including his 2006 book, "Lincoln Unmasked: What
You're Not Supposed to Know About Dishonest Abe." But the subcommittee's
ranking Democrat, William Lacy Clay (Mo.) did some homework and
learned more about the witness, Thomas DiLorenzo of Loyola University
gives the impression that DiLorenzo had taken all of his "nutjob"
Lincoln stuff out of his bio, and perhaps left in only his doctoral
dissertation and some other academic pieces – hoping against hope
that the lazy congressmen wouldn’t find out about the dark side
of DiLorenzo the bomb-thrower.
who knows Tom, knows that he is hardly squeamish about his views.
So I asked Tom to send me a copy of the "short bio" he
sent to the subcommittee. It contains this:
major research and publication interests are economic history,
industrial organization, and political economy. He is the author
or co-author of fourteen books, including The
Real Lincoln and How
Capitalism Saved America: The Untold History of Our Country, From
the Pilgrims to the Present. His latest book is Hamilton’s
Curse: How Jefferson’s Archenemy Betrayed The American Revolution
– And What It Mean for America Today. Among his other
books (co-authored with James T. Bennett) are Official
Lies: How Washington Misleads Us; Underground
Government: The Off-Budget Public Sector; The
Food and Drink Police: America’s Nannies, Busybodies, and Petty
Tyrants; and Destroying
Democracy: How Government Funds Partisan Politics. Barron’s
magazine labeled The Real Lincoln as its "top pick"
of books with economic themes for 2002.
Does the above
look like somebody who is trying to pass himself off as a moderate
Republican bean counter? It’s true, the title "The Real Lincoln"
by itself could suggest a book explaining what a great and religious
man Honest Abe was. But in the context of all those other incendiary
titles? I hardly think DiLorenzo was looking to avoid raising eyebrows.
dishonesty in DiLorenzo’s representation of his views, Milbank then
moves in for the kill:
the congressman told the committee, had called Lincoln "the
first dictator" and a "mass
murderer" and decreed that "Hitler
was a Lincolnite." Worse, Clay charged, "you work*
for a Southern nationalist organization." "The League of the South
is a neo-Confederate group that advocates for a second southern
secession and a society dominated by European Americans."
At the witness
table, DiLorenzo scoffed and waved his hand dismissively at Clay.
But neither he nor Paul attempted to refute Clay's allegations.
after the hearing, the witness said: "I gave a couple of a lectures
to a group of college students 15 years ago that are associated
with this thing called League of the South."
As it turns
out, "this thing" called the League of the South Institute was
listing DiLorenzo on its Web site as recently as 2008 as an "affiliated
scholar." A secessionist Web site, DumpDC,
identified DiLorenzo the same way last year when it published
an interview with DiLorenzo in which he is quoted as saying "secession
is not only possible but necessary if any part of America is ever
to be considered 'the land of the free' in any meaningful sense."
And there you
have it: DiLorenzo had the chutzpah to say a guy who was directly
responsible for a war that left over 600,000 people dead, was a
"mass murderer." (For those questioning Lincoln’s responsibility,
keep in mind that (a) the Confederate states didn’t want to take
over the entire United States, they simply wanted to secede and
(b) things like Sherman’s
March were war
crimes, if that term is to mean anything.)
As far as DiLorenzo’s
affiliation with the League of the South: I realize Dana Milbank
may not be familiar with how academia and non-profit relationships
work, but there is nothing contradictory in DiLorenzo saying he
merely gave some talks to a group, and then that group still listing
him as an "affiliated scholar" years later.
At this point
we can wonder what Milbank’s point is. Don’t worry, he tells
a self-proclaimed historical revisionist, is entitled to say whatever
he likes. But it raises doubts about Ron Paul and his causes if
this is the best he can come up with for his first act as chairman
of the Financial Services Committee's monetary policy subcommittee.
I have gone
back and re-read the previous paragraphs in Milbank’s article. I
confess I still don’t see what DiLorenzo’s views on the necessity
of secession have to do with Ron Paul’s agenda with respect to auditing
the Fed or bringing back the gold standard. Milbank certainly did
nothing to refute DiLorenzo’s claim that only secession could
restore freedom to parts of America.
in his article to deploy his hatchet on Ron Paul and Richard Vedder.
Milbank first accuses Paul of bad math, though here Paul probably
meant dividing total Fed bailouts by the number of unemployed (rather
than the whole population of the United States), in which case the
As far as Vedder,
yes he fell into a cross-examination trap. He had said that the
Federal Reserve fosters bubbles, but declined to speculate on where
the next bubble would arise. Vedder went so far as to say, "Economists
who make predictions are foolish."
This then opened
him up to a Democratic critic (Al Green of Texas) who asked him
if the gold standard would be better for America, and then when
Vedder said yes, Green brought up Vedder’s earlier disdain for predictions.
Okay, very nice, but that hardly disqualifies Vedder’s general position
that (a) we can be confident that a central bank will screw up the
economy without (b) being able to predict beforehand exactly the
form the screw up will next take. (By the same token, I could "predict"
to the leaders of North Korea that pure capitalism would greatly
enrich their people, but I would have no idea how many shopping
malls would be in Pyongyang two years after the reforms.)
In his final
paragraphs, Milbank moves the crosshairs back to DiLorenzo:
went so far as to say there is no need for the government to guarantee
bank deposits. "I'm not sure before we had an FDIC you could make
a case bank runs were worse," he argued.
"We had the
Great Depression," Green pointed out.
for a few short periods," the witness allowed.
It was peculiar
to portray the Depression as "short." Then again, it was peculiar
of DiLorenzo to say
last year that "I saw it as my duty to spread the truth about
what a horrific tyrant Lincoln was." And it was peculiar of DiLorenzo
in 2005 that "the League of the South advocates peace and
prosperity in the tradition of a George Washington or a Thomas
As far as the
FDIC issue, obviously Tom DiLorenzo was not saying the entire Great
Depression was short. What he was saying is that there were a few
years of bank runs during the Great Depression, but that this was
not sufficient to make the case for FDIC. (DiLorenzo was contrasting
taxpayer-guaranteed bailouts of irresponsible banks, with the earlier
system of bankruptcy proceedings.)
Now on to Lincoln,
the real "problem" with DiLorenzo: Yes, it is "peculiar"
for him to hold those views, in the sense that most Americans have
been taught that Lincoln is a hero, the greatest of presidents who
"saved the Union." Yet as DiLorenzo’s work has documented,
Lincoln was a tyrant. And it’s not even the "mere"
issue of not allowing people to leave the government of which he
was the sitting head, but also rather tyrannical things like locking
up newspaper editors who disagreed with his policies. (Here’s an
example from a non-pro-Southern website of Lincoln seizing newspapers
for apparently printing hoaxes. The reader can surely see the slippery
slope involved, but again I am offering this "understandable"
example since it comes from a neutral source that isn’t condemning
Lincoln in the discussion.)
worry about the abuse of civil liberties under the Bush and Obama
administrations should recall that Lincoln famously suspended
the writ of habeas corpus. Fortunately, we live in a system
of checks and balances, and a U.S. district court overruled Lincoln.
Oops, he just ignored them. But, when you’re trying to achieve important
goals, you can’t be bothered by individual rights and what a U.S.
district court thinks of your policies.
deal with Milbank’s last "shocking" quotation, where DiLorenzo
praises the League of the South as being in the tradition of George
Washington or Thomas Jefferson. First of all, if you click through
the article, you will see that DiLorenzo is defending his friend
Tom Woods from similar character attacks. In other words, when Woods
made a splash with his own book on American history, people trotted
out the zombie
strategy of linking him to the "neo-Confederate" League
of the South. So DiLorenzo was only talking about the League of
the South to defend his buddy; it’s not (as Milbank is obviously
trying to imply) that DiLorenzo looked at his calendar and said,
"Whoa, it’s that time of the month when I have to go out and
promote my employers, the League of the South."
But more important
is the fact that someone who thinks the Southern states should have
been allowed to secede is quite clearly endorsing the principles
of the Declaration of Independence. That’s the whole point, after
all: When a people think that they are being oppressed by a government
that is not representing their interests, then they have a God-given
right to dissolve their ties with that government and form their
own. That’s what the people in the Confederacy were doing.
the elephant in the room in all this is slavery. Obviously it was
an awful thing that the institution existed in the first place,
and that the political leaders in the South wanted to perpetuate
it. But guess what, Mr. Milbank? George
Washington and Thomas
Jefferson both owned slaves. And when the American
colonies declared their secession from Great Britain, they consisted
of a lot of slaveholders. If King George had – halfway through the
War for American Independence – declared a new objective of freeing
all U.S.-based slaves, would Milbank now say that the wrong side
won that war?
This is the
crux of the matter. If someone (like DiLorenzo) wants to praise
the good things in the writings of the Founders, and also of the
arguments in favor of Southern secession, that’s consistent. If
someone else (say a Black Panther) wants to denounce the
Confederacy, but also all the hypocritical Dead White Males who
signed the Constitution and endorsed its offensive
3/5 clause, that too is consistent; fair enough.
But what doesn’t
make any sense is for Milbank (and related critics like Paul
Krugman and Matt
Yglesias) to go along with the standard American civics lesson,
which teaches that slave-owners George Washington and Thomas Jefferson
were heroes of liberty, but then to recoil in horror at the idea
that the Southern states should have been allowed to secede, because
they had slaves and therefore forfeit any possibility of our (qualified)
endorsement in that terrible episode in American history.
One of the
most basic insights of Western civilization is that the ends don’t
justify the means. (For example, everyone is praising the nonviolent
methods through which the Egyptian people recently achieved political
change.) Nobody in this day and age is defending the institution
of slavery as it existed in the Southern states. Even so, that doesn’t
mean Abraham Lincoln was right to wage an awful war, even if one
of its outcomes was the eradication of slavery.
On the matter
of consistency, neo-conservatives are fine: They supported George
W. Bush’s invasion to bring freedom to Iraqis, and they revere Abraham
Lincoln as the greatest Republican of all time. But people like
Krugman and Milbank are again being inconsistent: If Lincoln is
so great – such that we don’t even need to explicitly defend him
from the criticisms leveled by critics such as DiLorenzo – then
George W. Bush should at least be a pretty good guy. And yet Krugman
have been quite critical over the Bush administration’s handling
In any event,
this entire episode actually encourages me. Everyone now knows that
when Ron Paul holds a hearing on how the Fed contributes to unemployment,
the "other side" has nothing much to say, except attacking
the background of the witnesses.
resonate with professional pundits, and it may indeed raise doubts
among some regular Joes who have never heard of Tom DiLorenzo. But
I still bet if you polled a large number of black teenagers, and
asked, "Do you think Ben Bernanke can’t sleep at night, knowing
that the official unemployment rate in your demographic is just
shy of 50 percent?" they probably would laugh at you.
*NOTE: In Milbank's
original article, he quotes Clay as saying that DiLorenzo "worked
for" the League of the South. However, DiLorenzo claims that Clay
actually said "work for." Although the audio quality is poor, it
does indeed sound as if Clay said that (at
about the 55:00 mark in this video).
Murphy [send him mail],
adjunct scholar of the Mises Institute,
is the author of The
Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism,
Human Action Study Guide,
Man, Economy, and State Study Guide.
His latest book is The
Politically Incorrect Guide to the Great Depression and the New
Best of Bob Murphy
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