story is part of Walter
Block's Autobiography Archive.
All Began With Fred Schwarz
Block has invited us to provide some autobiographical background
on how we came to be Misesians/Rothbardians. This is my contribution
to the cause.
Jerome Tuccille wrote a book thirty years ago, It
Usually Begins With Ayn Rand. It was a good book, especially
the sections on the Galambosian, but it was wrong. Back when he
wrote it, it usually began with The Freeman.
Today, it usually begins with LewRockwell.com.
I remember the lady who first handed me a copy of The Freeman.
It was in 1958. She was an inveterate collector of The Congressional
Record. She clipped it and lots of newspapers, putting the clippings
into files. She was a college-era friend of my parents.
She was representative of a dedicated army of similarly inclined
women in that era, whose membership in various patriotic study groups
was high, comparatively speaking, in southern California. These
women are dead or dying now, and with them go their files — files
that could serve as primary source collections for historians of
the era. I suspect that most of them disposed of their collections
years ago, cardboard box by cardboard box, when they ran out of
garage space, and their nonideological husbands and children finally
Back then, someone had already coined a phrase to describe women
like her: little old lady in tennis shoes. But she wasn't that old,
and she didn't wear tennis shoes. In fact, in all my days, I only
saw one ideological little old lady in tennis shoes: Madalyn Murray
O'Hair, who stood in front of the humanities departments' building
at the University of California, Riverside, to lecture to maybe
20 students. That was over a decade after I read my first issue
of The Freeman. By then, I was writing for The Freeman.
main academic interest in 1958 was anti-Communism. In 1956, the
lady had taken me to hear the anti-Communist Australian physician
Fred Schwarz, when I was 14, in one of his first speaking tours
in the United States. Shortly thereafter, I sent Schwarz's Christian
Anti-Communism Crusade $100 ($650 in today's money), which were
big bucks for me. I had been working in a record store after school
for $1 an hour for only a few months.
My parents were conservative Republicans. My father was in the FBI.
He monitored "the swoopers" — the Socialist Workers Party, a Trotskyite
splinter group. Once in a while, he would put on his Sherman Williams
Paint (SWP) cap for effect. But he wouldn't wear it while surveilling
Sometimes, dad would be called in to monitor "the real stuff": the
local Communist Party. He told me that one night, after a CP rally,
the local leader of the Party, Dorothy Healey, got into her car,
looked behind her at my dad's car, and waved her arm to follow.
Then she pulled into traffic and drove away. He, of course, followed
her. (I was disappointed that she didn't put this incident in her
1990 autobiography, Dorothy
To give you some idea of how conservative dad was, when the U.S.
Government suggested that employees drive with their lights on out
of respect to the anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination,
dad drove home that evening with his lights off, risking a ticket
and a collision. Yet he was one of the four Los Angeles FBI agents
who discovered evidence that identified James Earl Ray as King's
assassin, for which he was happy to take credit. He did his work
as a professional.
In the summer of 1958, I went to Boys State, a week-long program
in state government sponsored by the American Legion — Bill Clinton
attended in Arkansas a few years later — and that experience matured
me more in one week than anything ever has. It was there that I
gained my confidence to speak in public. I was elected to a state-level
office. Ironically, the office was Superintendent of Public Instruction.
That success gave me the confidence to run for student body president
the next semester. I won. I did it with a comedy speech that poked
fun at the system.
Another Boys State attendee that year was Dwight Chapin. He later
served as Nixon's appointments secretary. He went to jail because
he was the in-house contact man for Bob Segretti, of dirty tricks
fame. In March, 1970, I contacted Chapin for a job. He agreed to
help me get one. It did not work out.
I remember in the fall of 1958, when I was researching a 15-page,
double-spaced term paper on Communism for a high school civics class,
that the lady handed me my first copy of The Freeman. We
got into a discussion about civil government. She was opposed to
tax-funded education. I was amazed. She also did not trust the FBI,
which she said was a national police force, which the U.S. Constitution
did not authorize. I was even more amazed. It was then that I began
my odyssey from anti-Communism to free market economics.
There was another key figure in my life: Wayne Roy. He taught civics
("senior problems") at Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach.
(Its most famous graduate was surfer Dewey Weber, class of '56,
who lives on beyond the grave because of the Dewey Weber T-shirt
worn by Mackenzie Phillips in George Lucas' film, "American
Graffiti.") Mr. Roy was the best social studies teacher on campus,
and by far the hardest grader. I requested to get into his class,
and I became his best student that year. He was a fundamentalist
and a conservative. I was not yet interested in religion, but I
liked his conservatism.
He actually discussed Christianity in the classroom, especially
in the required marriage and family section. He later became notorious
among liberal educators in Southern California after the Supreme
Court decisions on religion and public education came down in the
early 1960's. He refused to pay any attention to the Court. Educators
from outside the school district tried to get him fired, but they
were not successful.
In the spring of 1959, he explained the economics of Social Security.
He told us that it was actuarially unsound and that it would go
bankrupt before most of us died. He primed us on questions to ask
the local Social Security PR flak who came to every school in the
district every year to promote the program. In the man's retirement
year, he told Roy that his were the only classes where students
ever asked him tough questions.
I have previously discussed the influence that Robert Nisbet had in
my career, beginning in 1960. At the University of California, Riverside,
I was one of fewer than two dozen visible conservatives on a campus
of 1,000. I was the only one involved heavily in campus politics.
The campus doubled in size during my stay, but the number of conservatives
Here is what I read. First and foremost, National Review.
In 1961, one issue included a stapled insert: Dorothy Sayers' 1947
essay, "The Lost Tools of Learning," a
masterpiece. I read selected essays in The Freeman and Modern
Age, and faithfully read the little-known monthly booklet, Intelligence
Digest, published in Britain by Kenneth de Courcy. I also read
Russell Kirk's University Bookman, which was sent free to
National Review subscribers. That was a very influential
little quarterly journal in my thinking.
I began subscribing to
New Individualist Review with the first issue in April,
1961. That was where I first read Milton Friedman. The NIR
ran an extract from Capitalism
and Freedom in the first issue. That issue was also where
I read the first libertarian critique of Hayek that I ever encountered,
an essay by Ronald Hamowy, "Hayek's Concept of Freedom: A Critique."
The NIR was edited by Ralph Raico and published by a group
of students at the University of Chicago who were associated with
the I.S.I. (On the I.S.I., keep reading.)
In that same year, I contacted F. A. Harper at the William Volker
Fund. I asked him a question regarding Human
Action. I had caught Mises in what I still think is a conceptual
mistake, his discussion of the Ricardian law of association, where
he used simple mathematics in an illegitimate way (HA, 1949,
p. 159.) Harper replied in a letter. I still keep it in my 1949
edition of Human Action. He said he agreed with me on this
point. He soon invited me to Burlingame to visit. He offered to
pay for the flight. I took his offer. "Baldy" Harper, who was not
bald, had been with the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE)
until his defense of zero civil government led to a break with Leonard
Read. He then went to work at the Volker Fund.
The Volker Fund was the one libertarian foundation with any money
in 1961. It was very low key, as its late founder, William Volker
("Mr. Anonymous") wanted. Through its front, the National Book Foundation,
the Volker Fund gave away libertarian books, such as B÷hm-Bawerk's,
to college libraries. Writing book reviews for the Fund were Murray
Rothbard and Rose Wilder Lane, although I did not know this at the
Harper was a master recruiter. He was a trained economist, a former
professor at Cornell University, along with W. M. "Charlie" Curtiss.
Both of them had joined FEE in its first year, 1946. One of their
students was Paul Poirot, who was became editor of The Freeman.
It can be said that academic libertarianism was born at Cornell,
though not nurtured there.
Harper wrote a few books, most notably, Liberty:
A Path to Its Recovery, but his main contribution to libertarianism
was his systematic recruiting of young scholars. In 1961, he was
publishing the William Volker Fund series of books, most notably
Economy, and State, which he sent me in the fall of 1962.
Also in the series was Israel Kirzner's Ph.D. dissertation, The
Economic Point of View (1960), which was a rarity: a Ph.D.
dissertation worth reading.
In the spring of 1962, I attended a one-week evening seminar given
by Mises. It was sponsored by Andrew Joseph Galambos, one of the
oddest characters in the shadows of libertarian history. He believed
that all original articulated ideas possess automatic copyright,
which is permanent, and no one has the right to quote someone else's
ideas without paying a royalty to the originator or his heirs. Galambos
was influential in shaping Harry Browne's thinking, as Browne has
discussed in a 1997 essay. The seminar
was held during the period when Human Action was out of print.
Yale University Press was in the process of typesetting the monstrosity
that appeared in 1963, the New Revised Edition. (Henry Hazlitt,
"The Mangling of a Masterpiece," National Review, May 5,
In the summer of 1962, I attended a two-week seminar sponsored by
the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists — now called
the Intercollegiate Studies Institute — at St. Mary's College
in California. I had been on the I.S.I. mailing list for about two
years. I read The Intercollegiate Review. During that seminar,
I listened to Hans Sennholz on economics, and I slept through Francis
Graham Wilson's Socratic monologues on political theory. I heard
Leo Paul de Alvarez on political theory. I remember nothing about
his lectures, but I'm sure they were suitably arcane. He was a Straussian.
Rousas John Rushdoony lectured for two weeks on what became This
Independent Republic (1964). I was so impressed that I married
his daughter — a decade later.
What I did not recognize at the time was that there had been a change
of administration at the Volker Fund. The director, Harold Luhnow,
who was Volker's nephew, had fired Harper and had brought in Ivan
Bierly, another ex-FEE senior staffer, and also a Cornell Ph.D.
Bierly then hired Rushdoony. He also hired the strange and erratic
David Hoggan (HOEgun), a Harvard Ph.D. and a defender of Hitler's
foreign policy (The Enforced War). When in his cups, he was
a defender of Hitler's domestic policies, too. He had already written
the manuscript for his anonymously published book, The Myth of
the Six Million, published years later. There have been many
strange figures in the conservative movement, but when it comes
to academic types, Hoggan was the gold medalist in weird. He could
provide footnotes, not all of them faked, in eight languages. There
was nothing libertarian about him. The other major figure on the
staff was W. T. Couch, a former Collier's Encyclopedia editor,
and a man who rarely bathed. There was nothing libertarian about
him, either. The Volker Fund was put on hold, replaced by the short-lived
Center for American Studies (CAS). A decade later, the Volker Fund's
money went to the Hoover Institution.
A SUMMER OF READING
Rushdoony hired me as a summer intern at the CAS after my graduation
in June, 1963. I was paid $500 a month to read, which was the best
job I have ever had. I read books that I had wanted to read in college:
Theory of Money and Credit; Socialism;
Man, Economy, and State; America's
Great Depression; and The
Panic of 1819. I read Wilhelm Roepke's A
Humane Economy and Economics
of the Free Society. I read Bohm-Bawerk's Positive
Theory of Capital. I also read a lot of typed book reviews
by Rothbard and Lane, which were in the files. I also read Cornelius
Van Til's The
Defense of the Faith. I had already decided to attend Westminster
Theological Seminary that fall, to study under Van Til.
summer, I spent every extra dollar I had to buy silver coins at
the local bank. Sennholz had convinced me the previous summer that
Gresham's Law would soon eliminate silver coins, because silver
dollars, which had a higher silver content, were already disappearing.
I sold my coins to my parents to pay for seminary. They kept the
coins, selling them only after silver's price soared. Silver coins
started disappearing that fall. Turnpike officials in the East Coast
had to go to churches on Sunday nights to buy coins tossed into
I lasted at seminary for one year. I could see the handwriting on
the wall. It was going from right to left.
I enrolled at UCLA in the fall of 1964 to study economics. The department's
war was on: the Keynesians vs. the Chicago School people, and I
was caught in the crossfire. I dropped out and transferred back
to UC Riverside, where I enrolled in the history program. I remained
there until 1971, when I joined FEE's staff. I was awarded my Ph.D.
in the summer of 1972.
The main influences on me in graduate school were these: Nisbet;
medievalist Jeffrey Burton Russell; Douglas Adair, a specialist
in the American Revolution and the reigning expert on who wrote
which essays in The Federalist Papers; Herbert Heaton, aged
yet still teaching, one of the founders of economic history as an
academic specialty; Hugh G. J. Aitken, another economic historian
and later the editor of The Journal of Economic History;
and Edwin Scott Gaustad, a specialist in American religious history.
I also banged heads with Marxist economist and science fiction aficionado,
Howard Sherman, who was a nonideological grader and who shared my
suspicion of the usefulness of simultaneous equations in economic
Nisbet was a great lecturer, but day in and day out, the best classroom
lecturer I ever heard in my entire academic career was Roger Ransom,
another economic historian. His book, One
Kind of Freedom, on the economics of sharecropping in the
Reconstruction era, remains a standard work. It shows that sharecropping
was an economically rational response to the post-war shortage of
capital in the South.
I received two fellowships: the Earhart Foundation (two years) and
a Weaver Fellowship from the I.S.I. That one came the second time
I applied. I think the fact that I had published a book, Marx's
Religion of Revolution (1968), and had been publishing in The
Freeman since early 1967 helped. I was a teaching assistant
in Western Civilization for three years. This enabled me to see
just how committed students were to academic pursuits. I decided
that if I could avoid college teaching, I would.
The Ph.D. glut hit right on schedule in the spring of 1969. The
date of this event had been predicted for several years, and the
prediction was accurate. The state's subsidy to education (increased
supply of graduates), coupled with the slowdown in university hiring
(tenure positions filled), created a double whammy that is still
in progress a generation later. I saw that the Ph.D. was no longer
a union card. It was a membership card in the reserved army of the
unemployed. But, in utter defiance of the doctrine of sunk costs,
I decided to complete my degree.
In 1971, I was offered a job at the James Madison College of Michigan
State University, but I turned it down. I think I know why I got
the job offer. I was lecturing on medical licensing, which I opposed.
At the conclusion, the most liberal member of the college's faculty
responded. "It sounds to me as though you are recommending that
consumers should be supplied with Fords rather than Cadillacs."
I don't know where my response came from. "I'm just trying to reduce
demand for used Hudsons." Student laughter ended the discussion.
When George Roche left FEE in 1971 to take over as president of
Hillsdale College, where he hired Lew Rockwell to launch the most
effective fund-raising newsletter in history, Imprimis, Leonard
Read offered me Roche's job at FEE. I joined the senior staff in
September, 1971, as Director of Seminars. This entitled me to ask
the secretary who ran the program, "Have you sent out cards to applicants
saying, 'We have received your application'?" and be told, "We don't
do it that way." But I got paid on time. I now had enough money
to get married.
I could see that FEE was an appendage of Read, and he was not going
to let FEE grow beyond what it already was: a place for him to schmooze
and for Poirot to edit The Freeman. The week that I arrived
in Irvington, Read informed me of his policy that FEE would receive
every dime I would ever earn in my off-hours, such as fees for writing
and lecturing, which were what I did best. I saw that this would
hurt my career in the long run. At $18,000 a year, I had counted
on outside income to enable me to compete with stockbrokers in the
local real estate market, which was merely high priced then, rather
than astronomical, which it is today — the main reason why
FEE has not been able to hire full-time young scholars since 1973.
If Read had allowed a 50-50 split, I might have stayed, but FEE
was too bureaucratic for my tastes. I began plotting my escape the
week I arrived. I quit FEE sometime in March, 1973, to sell silver
coins. Harry Browne was working for the same company, now known
as Monex. We both conducted evening seminars. He got the big cities.
I got the leftovers.
I started my newsletter, Remnant Review, in May of 1974.
In late 1973, RenÚ Baxter, a financial newsletter writer and coin
salesman, stopped me in the hall at a conference of the Committee
on Monetary Research and Education, and asked me: "Why don't you
start a newsletter?" I had no good answer.
If I had still been with FEE, I would not have started my newsletter.
Read would have vetoed the idea, and even if he didn't, FEE would
have received all of the money. Leaving FEE was one of my better
Nevertheless, I owe a great deal to FEE. Paul Poirot launched my
national career by publishing almost everything I submitted to The
Freeman. The money helped put me through grad school. His editorial
policy was simple: all or nothing. He sent back a submission if
he did not like it. He did not alter the author's text. He did add
bold-faced headings if the author didn't, so I started adding my
own. This affliction has never left me. I cannot write without headings.
I even ad sub-headings in my books.
In the summer of 1973, I went on staff at my father-in-law's Chalcedon
Foundation. I was the second full-time employee. I made $1,000 a
month with no benefits: retirement or medical insurance. I started
my newsletter less than a year later. He let me mail my first promotional
piece free of charge in his newsletter. That was what launched my
In 1974, I attended the now-famous Austrian Conference at South Royalton, Vermont, sponsored
by Harper's Institute for Humane Studies. Harper had died the year
before. There, a few months after Mises had died, and a few months
before Hayek won the Nobel Prize, the troops assembled. The old
warriors were there: Rothbard, Kirzner, Ludwig Lachmann, Hazlitt,
W. H. Hutt (of "consumer sovereignty" fame), and William Peterson.
Younger faces included Jack High, David Henderson, Richard Ebeling,
Shirley Letwin, Karen Vaughn, Laurence Moss, Walter Block, Walter
Grinder, Sudha Shenoy, Joseph Salerno, Roger Garrison, Mario Rizzo,
D. T. Armentano, Don Lavoie, and Gerald O'Driscoll. Milton Friedman
even showed up to deliver an evening lecture.
It was at that meeting that Walter Block and I first met. We found
a common interest: our sense of outrage at R. H. Coase's famous
theorem. I recall Block's succinct theoretical objection to Coase's
theorem: "Coase, get your cattle off my land." That pretty well
summarizes my position.
That conference was a major event in the recovery of the Austrian
economics movement. Out of that conference came The
Foundations of Modern Austrian Economics (1976). Edwin Dolan
had persuaded Cornell University's economics department to allow
our little group to meet there, but then they reneged, even though
Dolan was on the faculty. The South Royalton School of Law was a
fall-back position in every sense. We therefore can trace early
academic Austrianism in America from Cornell to Cornell (almost).
I joined Ron Paul's staff in June, 1976. He had just been elected
to Congress after the incumbent Democrat resigned to take a bureaucratic
job. Congressman Larry McDonald had told Paul that I was available.
(Seven years later, McDonald disappeared on Flight 007, which we
are told crashed, leaving no bodies or debris. Some people still
believe this official version. I don't.) It turned out that Paul was a subscriber
to Remnant Review, or so I recall. I joined his staff as
his research assistant. I even got a parking place. That was back
when you could by a 2,500 square foot brick home in the Washington
suburbs for $85,000.
It was an amazing staff. Bruce Bartlett was on it. He was an M.A.
in history, author of The
Pearl Harbor Cover-Up. He later went on to become Jack Kemp's
staff economist. There was John Robbins, a Ph.D. in political science,
a former Sennholz student, a Calvinist, and a disciple of philosopher
Gordon Clark, Van Til's nemesis. We shared the same back office.
I wrote a weekly newsletter for Paul. I wrote it as every journalist
writes: on the day it was due. It included a bi-weekly column, "Where
Your Money Goes . . . and Goes . . . and Goes."
When he was defeated by 268 votes out of 183,000 in November, I
went looking for another job on Capitol Hill. My friend Stan Evans,
who had just started the National Journalism Center — a terrific organization, by the way — had recommended me to his
old friend, an incoming Congressman from Indiana, Dan Quayle. Quayle
told Evans to have me contact his administrative assistant. I did.
My experience with that ideologically gray sludge, stonewalling,
flank-protecting character persuaded me to leave Washington. I wrote
an issue of Remnant Review, "Confessions of a Washington
Reject," which burned whatever bridges might have remained. Then
I moved to Durham, North Carolina, where I became a non-paying user
of Duke University's magnificent library.
If I had gotten that job with Quayle, I might have worked with William
Kristol, who ran Quayle's Senate and Vice Presidential offices.
I had met Kristol at a Philadelphia Society meeting in 1969, when
he was 17, at which time R. Emmett Tyrrell recruited us to write
for The Alternative, later called The American Spectator.
Somehow, I don't think our relationship would have worked out.
I joined the staff of Howard Ruff's newsletter, Ruff Times
in early 1977. I worked for Ruff until the fall of 1979. Ruff's
was the first hard money letter to gain a mass audience.
In the fall of 1979, I was appointed to the chair of free enterprise
at Campbell University in North Carolina, a position that William
Peterson had previously held. That semester was my one and only
full-time position in academia. By that stage of my newsletter-publishing
career, North Carolina's income tax was going to cost me more than
what the position paid. I moved to Texas in late December: no state
MY LIFE'S WORK
I decided at age 18 that I would try to discover the relationship
between the Bible and economic theory. I was persuaded by The
Freeman that Mises had the correct approach: market freedom.
But I had become a Christian at age 17, and I was convinced in 1960
that the Bible applies to all areas of life, including economics.
I wanted to know if Mises' economics related to the Bible. My first
published effort in this regard was my book, An Introduction
to Christian Economics (1973).
In the spring of 1973, my wife persuaded me to begin writing an
economic commentary on the Bible. I published my first chapter in
the May, 1973, issue of my father-in-law's newsletter, Chalcedon
Report. I recently completed St. Paul's first letter to Timothy.
This is volume 13 in the series: Genesis, Exodus (3 volumes), Leviticus,
Numbers, Deuteronomy, Matthew, Luke, Acts, Romans, I Corinthians,
and I Timothy.
There are also about ten volumes of appendixes and supplements,
including my story of the coup d'état that produced
the United States Constitution: Political Polytheism, Part
3. These books are all on-line for free at
www.freebooks.com. One volume is my hatchet job on R.
H. Coase's theorem, which I published as a book in 1991, The
Coase Theorem: An Essay in Economic Epistemology. I am happy
to say that a short version of that book is scheduled to appear
in an upcoming issue of The
Journal of Libertarian Studies.
Since 1977, I have devoted ten hours a week, fifty weeks a year,
to this commentary project. I plan to cease working on it at age
70 and write a treatise on Christian Economics. The section on socialism
I intend to call, "The Devil Made Me Do It."
What have I learned so far? This: "Stick to your knitting." Decide
what you want to leave behind, and begin working on it as soon as
you decide, systematically, week by week, until they find you lying
face down on your keyboard, with a screen filled with a single letter.
On my tombstone, I shall leave behind this assessment of my career:
"O deadline, where is thy sting?"
North is the author of Mises
on Money. Visit http://www.freebooks.com.
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