Block and His Readers

Block Replies To Readers, Part II


I write a lot for Lew I have published over 100 articles on this site. This is not as much as some contributors. Gary North for example is one of the most prolific, with over 600 op eds to his credit. Other "big hitters" on LRC are: Lew Rockwell: 503; Ron Paul: 496; Charley Reese: 493; Tom Engelhardt: 363; Bill Bonner: 350; Jim Lobe: 261; Paul Craig Roberts: 257; Michael S. Rozeff: 241; William L. Anderson: 235; Mike Rogers: 227; Karen Kwiatkowski: 217; Murray Rothbard: 207. My contributions pale in comparison with theirs, but, still, mine are significant in terms of quantity, I think I can say without much fear of contradiction.

Previously, I selected some of the more notable of my readers’ responses to these writings of mine, and answered them here. I am devoting the present publication to another such sampling.

The format is as follows: I will cite the inquiry in full, followed by my response. In some cases, there are several iterations thereof.

I cannot answer all letters sent to me in response to my op-eds. There are simply too many of them. Hopefully, this present attempt of mine will at least go part way in the direction of being responsive. All of this material has been lightly edited by me, sometimes in order to preserve anonymity.

Ia. Career

I read your comments (on LRC) about a career in liberty with great interest. I am a long-time libertarian with a strong interest in Austrian economics, and I’ve been struggling with two decisions: whether or not to go to grad school, and what to study in grad school. My job would support me in going part-time, and XX College, only an hour away, has several Austrians on faculty. On the down side, at most one of them will be teaching graduate students, and most grad classes are taught by adjuncts. I don’t think I’m qualified to go to graduate school for economics full-time, or at least I don’t think I’d get support if I did, since I don’t have much undergraduate coursework. On the other hand, I could probably get accepted with support into a strong program in math and study logic. Is it possible to teach liberty within a math department? Probably not.

I’m also nervous about going to grad school full-time with the coming depression. Is it not foolhardy to give up current employment and commit yourself to 5—10 years of unemployment while predicting the worst depression in US history? I see that you are still urging students to go to grad school — what do you think about this issue?

Ib. Block’s Reply to Career

Ultimately, only you can decide what to do in such circumstances. Let me tell you what I would do were I of the age I assume you to be, early 20’s. I would go for it; enroll in graduate school. Now is the time to apply. You need not confine yourself to the geographical area you mention. Nowadays, graduate schools offer some $15,000—$20,000, plus zero tuition, sometimes with a teaching/research requirement, sometimes not. That is probably more than your part time job pays. The biggest obstacle, I find, to attaining the Ph.D. in economics (the sine qua non for university teaching) is, wait for it, math skills. But this is your strong suit! I suppose one could promote liberty while teaching math, but it would be a real stretch. I strongly recommend economics instead of math. And, as for the depression we now seem to be undergoing, some schools have gigantic endowments, and would be in a position to continue their financial support of you all throughout your 4—5 year training (not 10 years). If you chose this course of action, get in touch with me again and we can discuss places to apply to. My "philosophy" on this is to go to the most prestigious university that will take you, either assuming equal financial considerations, or ignoring them.

IIa. Former Friedmanite:

I have been an avid reader of and ever since a former boss and mentor converted me from a Friedmanite/monetarist to an Austrian. I have always been a libertarian, although I did not always fully realize it. I dabbled, like most, with Rand, but I find Objectivists a bit too kooky. Not that anarcho-libertarianism is devoid of kooks, they are just my kind of nuts.

Anyway, I’ve been reading your correspondence with readers that you’ve posted on the Lew’s blog. So I thought I would take advantage of your good nature and seek any advice/insight you might offer.

I have a BA in Economics (when I became a monetarist) and worked as an economist at a bank in Chicago (where I became an Austrian). A few years ago I got my MBA and went to work for a major US oil company. And then dilemma set in…

I like my job and I like the industry, for the most part. I am able to travel around the world and it is quite lucrative. I’m fascinated by geology and the essentially useless gunk that we take out of the ground and convert into very useful things. Nevertheless, I have several problems working in XX.

One obviously is that there are few industries more in bed with government (both in the US and abroad) than XX. Second, because of point one, if I am to rise through the ranks, at some point I will hit the bank of the Rubicon (or maybe the Euphrates given that I’m in oil). The more senior I become the more likely I would have to directly/publicly participate in/support lobbying efforts and other statist-corporatist shenanigans. Currently I can hide in the middle ranks and avoid direct participation. But I’m not sure for how long. Finally, by the nature of being in finance & accounting, I play the role of politruk, charged with enforcing compliance to Sarbanes-Oxley and other rotten regulation. Of course this is true with almost any SEC-registered company, but I chafe at it nonetheless.

Anyway, after this long-winded bellyache (assuming you are still reading), I’m not so sure what to do. As I said I like my job. I do not foresee myself going back to school for a Ph.D. in Economics. (I considered that, but opted for a MBA instead.) I’ve considered teaching high school economics at some point in the future (but I know your thoughts on that). In the meantime, I’m working on a couple of libertarian novels, but as a libertarian I still have pangs of guilt and hypocrisy working for "big XX."

IIb. Block replies to former Friedmanite:

I used to think of myself as the Jewish mother of the Austro-libertarian movement. In answering yours and these other letters, I suppose I’m morphing in to Aunt Liberty. In any case, here goes.

  1. Get out of big XX. Get your Ph.D. in economics. Become an economics professor. Help win the hearts and minds of the next generation for liberty. If you can’t or won’t do that,

  2. Stick with big XX. Just decline promotions and raises. Put your heart and soul into your novels, or whatever other way you can support liberty (e.g., promote the Mises Institute, Ron Paul’s new initiative, etc.) Maybe you can avoid the quandary by remaining in middle management. But even this position is not all that enjoyable to you; it just beats selling out at a higher level. Endurance and staying power are ordinarily good characteristics. But, it seems to me, your present professional life is not that enjoyable, and your not unreasonable fear is that it will get worse.

  3. Get out of big XX and into some other field where your MBA will serve you in good stead. The finance field is now in a bit of the doldrums, but a degree in business ought to open up some other doors.

Sorry I can’t be more helpful, I just read what I said and it sounds pretty pathetic, even to me. But, I suppose, that is a function of the present (mixed economy) situation. But the perfect is the enemy of the good. The solution, here, as I see it, is to maximize happiness, productivity, liberty, etc., in a situation where none can be fully attained. Ah, the real world.

IIIa. Young libertarian

You have written many times in favor of libertarians taking jobs with the government or government dependencies. Usually this has involved academia. So here is something that might be new. I have a background in Electrical Engineering and Physics, all of the job offers I have been receiving are funded at least in part by government and most are designing weapons for the DOD. The pay is rather good for this work as well.

I know that if I was in the business of making weapons it would be likely that sometime someone would buy my goods and do evil with that, I wouldn’t have a problem with that. I would have a problem with being hired by the mafia to design and build weapons knowing what they tend to do with those weapons.

What is a young libertarian to do?!

IIIb. Block responds to young libertarian

One of the worst villains of Atlas Shrugged was Dr. Robert Stadler. He worked as a developer of new weapons for the state. I would have no compunction in recommending that you stay your present course, as you outline above. You could still remain a libertarian, if you were to attempt to undermine the entire enterprise. But, given that you do not want to become too well acquainted with the inside of a jail, I do not recommend such a policy. I do not recommend it even if you were willing to take this risk. As an advocate of the economic doctrine of specialization and comparative advantage, I look to my own in this regard: academic and intellectual pursuits.

What is a young libertarian in the munitions business to do? Why not try the private sector in this regard. Would not enterprises such as Smith and Wesson be suitable, if you want to stay in the field of developing and perfecting weapons? Would not your degrees enable you to engage in many other types of pursuits?

IVa. Transportation planner

I enjoyed listening to your recent interview on “road socialism.”  I work as a transportation planner for a metro planning organization, and confess that I find myself agreeing with much of what you say.  I am curious if, given your research, you would have any suggestions on where someone with my background in working in transportation would be able to put my skills to good use, presuming that you don’t think that is with the government naturally.  In other words, until there is a revolution that sweeps away public roads, how can one best work in a less than ideal situation?

Thanks for any input you can offer.

IVa. Block replies to transportation planner

Are there no jobs for transportation planners in the private sector? I know nothing of this, firsthand, but, it occurs to me that Disney World, Six Flags, and other such private concerns build large parks that also have roads and other internal transportation facilities (conveyor belts, moving walkways, etc.) Then, there are many large indoor shopping malls. The one in Edmonton, Alberta is gigantic and there are others still larger. Would they not be able to avail themselves of your services?

Do you consider the hallways in high-rise buildings, and the aisles in grocery stores, as transportation corridors? If so, then here are yet more opportunities. If not, and these are, instead, the province of architects (you see the limitations of my knowledge of this field), then an option is become one of them.

But suppose there are no such other jobs, and you don’t want to become an architect. May you remain with your present job, and still be compatible with libertarianism?

In my view (see other answers in this letter) what is important is not so much who you are employed by, but what you do in your career. For example, if by working as a transportation planner you could somehow promote private roads and highways (don’t ask me how; you undoubtedly know more about this than I), then I would say you are justified in doing so. But, still, you would likely be guilty of some contravention of the libertarian code. The practical way to deal with this, as I see it, it to make some not insignificant financial contribution to a libertarian organization. (I won’t insult your intelligence by mentioning a specific one; I’m sure you can readily guess).

To me, the most poignant moment in the movie Gandhi when someone comes to Gandhi and says that he killed a young Hindu (or was it Muslim? I don’t remember) boy. What can he do to make amends? Gandhi suggests adopting a homeless orphan Muslim (or was it Hindu? I don’t remember) boy, and raise him in his own tradition. This is not exactly the libertarian punishment for murder, but it does strike a certain libertarian chord. If you do a small wrong, and want to remain consistent with libertarianism, you should make some sort of fair compensation for it. This applies, particularly, in my opinion, in such complex areas as now under consideration.

I have even gone so far, in some of my writings, to pose the question of the "spy" libertarian, working behind enemy lines in a Nazi concentration camp. By doing so, he is able to save, oh, 10 lives out the 100 he is instructed to murder, but must kill the other 90, in order to maintain his cover. We stipulate that in the absence of his intervention, all 100 would have been done away with. May he do so? May he murder 90 people, in order to save 10? My answer is yes, provided he is willing to pay whatever (compatible with libertarianism) penalty the heirs of the 90 victims choose to impose upon him. My hope is that these heirs will regard the murderer as the hero I think he is, and impose no penalty upon him, whatsoever, as is their right. Saving 10 lives is no small thing. But this would be up to these heirs. Well, if it is "legitimate" to work in a Nazi concentration camp for this purpose, no doubt this applies, even more so, in your specified case. (I have no doubt that someone will lift my words out of context, and claim that Block says "It is legitimate to work in a Nazi concentration camp and murder 90 innocent people." How can you stop that sort of thing? I really don’t know.)

But, to return to reality, well, practicality. What about a job in a think tank, as a journalist, writing about the importance of privatizing vehicular thoroughfares? What about teaching these insights? There are entire think tanks devoted to transportation; maybe one of them might be appropriate. I wish I could be more helpful, but that is the best I can do.

Va. Football

There’s an ongoing news story out of Blue Ash, Ohio where an elderly woman is charged for petty theft after refusing to return a neighbor boy’s football that had reportedly landed in her yard on several occasions.

Now, my take on this is that, if it is indeed true that the boy had ignored prior warnings against carelessly tossing his football into the woman’s yard, I feel that the woman was right to confiscate the football. Flagrantly throwing the ball into her yard constitutes a form of trespass and I believe that the boy has no right to property (the football) with which he flagrantly violates the property of others.

It seems that the townspeople of Blue Ash (I might add that Blue Ash is a very affluent suburb of Cincinnati) don’t see it that way. They feel that the greater evil is this woman’s “theft” of the football and even went so far as to get formal charges pressed. Fortunately, the DA dropped the charge, but it just goes to show how vehement these folks were! Now, this isn’t to say that the woman couldn’t have perhaps handled this a bit better, say, by negotiating a settlement with the kid’s parents. Nonetheless I fail to see how she should be compelled to do so.

Of course, you tend to see things in ways I myself don’t readily see. How to you opine on this? Who’s right here?

Vb. Block replies to Football

How old is the boy? How many times has the ball trespassed?

Vc. Football

Good questions both. The details in the news releases are sketchy. I can only infer that the child is probably between the ages of 7 and 17. Most six-year-olds don’t chuck footballs and the fact that the child remains unnamed throughout suggests that he’s not legally an adult.

Only one news release implied that the football landed in the yard multiple times. The woman claims that the neighbor kids in general have a history of carelessly tossing their toys into the woman’s yard. This of course is not necessarily an indictment against the specific child. It was apparently known, as evidenced by the woman’s and parents’ own words, that she had a policy of confiscating balls that happened to land on her lawn, thus there appeared an element of prior warning before the dispute arose.

I did find one interesting development, however. When the woman got charged with petty theft over it, the football was being held by police, which tells me that the woman actually surrendered the ball, albeit not to the owner. I don’t think that the fuzz are going to charge themselves with petty theft though. Of course, that’s just a fudge factor as if it weren’t for the police, she’d probably still possess the ball.

Vd. Block replies to Football: 

If there were a condo association, they would undoubtedly handle this better. Government creates a moral vacuum, as in this case, when it is not busy being a moral evil. There really is no right or wrong here; just as in the case of marches on public streets, or whether or not children in public school should wear uniforms, and, if so, of what color.

Why might a condo association be more likely to successfully deal with this sort of situation than the apparatus of the state? Because if the former does not, the capital value of the houses will decline, and this will give impetus in the direction of a common sense solution to this conundrum. In contrast, when there is government failure, the people responsible for it do not lose any of their own wealth.

How, specifically, might a private housing group settle such an issue? I presume something along the following lines. If the ball being thrown onto the ladies garden was an accident, and only occurs a few times (say, less than once a month), then she has to give it back. On the other hand, if the ball was thrown there purposefully with an intent to annoy the woman, or, if it is a regular occurrence, then, not only does she get to keep the ball, but the children are prevented from playing in that spot. Condo associations usually anticipate these sorts of difficulties. When they do not, they have a mechanism for deciding: majority vote of the owners of the condo association, who have every interest in reasonable solutions.

VIa Dilemma:

I have been caught up in a moral dilemma that I need to work through.  I was hoping that you may either help me reason through this or place me in contact with someone who will.

I’ve been reading your site for over a year now and have come to respect your writing, the writing of the LRC community, and the writing of members of the Ludwig von Mises institute.  The ideas of the Austrian School of Economics resonates very deeply with me for its logical consistency and self-evident axioms.

Last December I dropped out of college with one semester left for a degree in Physics. I was double majoring in Physics and Mathematics and had a full scholarship.  I dropped out because I had, over the years, saved enough money to support myself while attempting to start a business of my own.  This all came to an end because I did not pay capital gains taxes for a year… the year was at the transition point when my parents stopped filing my taxes with theirs and I began to file my own.  Penalties and interest had accrued to the point where I would no longer be able to support myself.  At the same time that I received the notice from the IRS I had made a poor investment decision which, although I could still support myself, left me not being able to both support myself and pay off the IRS debt.  In fact, it was bad enough that I didn’t have the capital to pay off the debt in its entirety.

Luckily (or perhaps unluckily), I had done an internship with a defense contractor between my Sophomore and Junior years.  I got the internship due to a connection (my brother).  I obtained a TS/SCI clearance which is the highest attainable.  My boss and one of the lead physicists/software developers took a liking to me during my summer there.  When my boss got word that I had rejected an offer for a full time job at the company, he personally gave me a call.  I told him I was dropping out of school and didn’t really have any interest in working for a government contractor.  He said that’s fine, but let’s just see if I can’t get a job anyway.  He ended up getting me a job offer at almost the same salary as the original offer.  With the situation I was in I took it, as it was the only way I saw that I could pay off the mounting debt.  Perhaps that was a wrong decision…

So, here is my first dilemma: 

My job does not do any direct harm such as killing or stealing.  Although, you could say it works in support of the military and thus helps them carry out their killing (such things are very much removed from what I do).  So could the same logic used in the application of taking government loans and grants for college be used with my job?  It allows me to build up the skills, experience, and money in order that I may contribute to the fight against it.  However, in the back of my head I’m thinking that it still may be wrong what I am doing.

Here is my second dilemma:

I have reached an end after 8 months with my current project as it is no longer challenging and I’m just going through the motions.  My old boss offered me a position as a Junior Java Developer on the contract he’s currently managing.  The work they’re doing is infinitely more interesting from a technical perspective and would allow me to learn much more useful and applicable skills for private industry.  The difficulty I’m having is that what this contract does makes me somewhat uneasy… although in reality not any more uneasy than what most of the government is doing.  The customer for this contract has no relation to the military and is well known by the public.  However, for safety reasons, the affiliation with the customer for people who work for it are kept secret.  In fact, the contract itself is public knowledge… but again, for safety reasons, affiliations are kept secret.  In reality this is already in place and the money for it has already been apportioned.  What’s the difference between me doing this and Ron Paul joining the military?  Correct me if I’m wrong, but Ron Paul wasn’t drafted, was he?  So long as I’m not mistaken (which I may very well be), then won’t this opportunity in the long run make me better able to oppose and fight the state and all it does?  Or am I just inventing justifications…

VIb. Block replies to Dilemma: 

Were Murray Rothbard to be responding, he would no doubt give a different point of view, despite the fact that he and I both start with, and base our libertarianism upon, the non-aggression axiom and private property rights. I knew Murray, and I’m no Murray, so, in listening to me, you are quite probably getting less of an insight than would otherwise be the case. (Nary a day goes by when I do not think about him; I used to run problems of this sort by him, and always learned from him. Ah, well. Without Murray, perhaps the best libertarian insights can be provided by disciples of his, such as, pathetically, me.)

As I understand him, Murray took the view that it is illegitimate to work for, have anything to do with, any government institution that is per se a violation of laissez faire capitalism. Since, for example, the Fed would not exist in such a milieu, it would be illicit to work for them. As for me, in contrast, the way I see things is that it all depends upon what an individual DOES when he works for the Fed. Merely working for them, period, is not sufficient to determine whether the action is compatible with libertarianism. So, for example, if I were offered the job as head of the Fed, I would take it. And, then, I would do my utmost, within the law, to undermine the Fed, to argue for its demise, and for a return to the gold standard, etc. I would use it as a bully pulpit from which to promote libertarian theory in general, and, in particular, as it related to monetary matters.

With that as an intro, let me now attempt to come to grips with your situation.

First dilemma.

If you were working, directly, as a support for illicit activities, e.g., making bombs to kill innocent people, then I would say you could STILL take on such a job, and be on the side of the angels, but ONLY if you were throwing monkey wrenches into the machinery. For example, rendering the bombs impotent. But, suppose you could do so for, say, 10% of the bombs, while, in order to keep your “cover” you had to do a good job on the other 90% of these evil bombs. I would regard you as a libertarian hero. However, the heirs of the victims of the 90% of the bombs would have a case against you; unless they forgave you for your illicit acts, you would have to pay the penalty, perhaps the death penalty, when the libertarian Nuremberg court took effect.

However, you say you are not doing any such thing. Please tell me, specifically, what it is that you are actually doing. For example, if you were working on making planes go faster and/or more safely, and this helped both “good” and “bad” planes, then we enter into a sort of grey area.

I think government loans and grants are beside the point. They are ALWAYS justified, in that the government is a robber gang, and the less money they have, and the more money others have, the better for liberty. (See Ayn Rand’s Ragnar Dannesjkold on this; also look here.) As for building up your skills, and money, given that this is a grey area, one suggestion I have is that you tithe 10% of this to a group like the Mises Institute, which is clearly on the side of the angels.

Second dilemma.

I’d like to help here, but I’m afraid that the information you give, above, is insufficient. As I say, while for Rothbard things are more clear, well, black and white, for me it is CRUCIAL to know exactly what this work entails.

I wish I could do better than I have done. If you can’t share more info, I can’t help any more.   

PS. I will say this. Anyone with your misgivings, anyone with your concerns, has GOT to be one of the good guys!

VIc. Dilemma:

Thank you very much for taking the time to do this (thanks to Dr. Rockwell, too).  Sorry for the late response, but a lot has happened in the past two weeks that kept me modifying the email.

My current project is no different than what any IT department carries out at a large corporation.  We write and maintain software for the purposes of internal communication and automation of "business" processes.  The software we write could range anywhere from tracking payments and costs to providing a means for people to gain security clearances.  I suppose this project is pretty applicable to private industry (contrary to what I said in the last email).

The other project however is different.  It’s a relatively small project (13 people).  Its purpose is to build a system to collect and store data from surveillance activities (conducted on public property) in order to sift through it so that connections can be made when law enforcement officials open up a case against someone.  The data which is being collected comes from cameras placed on highways.  The back license plate, the front license plate, and a photo of the driver is captured. The project is currently funded by the DEA (it’s directive supposedly comes from an executive order)… surprisingly, half the funding doesn’t come through taxes but through the seizure (theft) of the “criminal’s” property.  This is apparently the first project of its kind and is getting a lot of interest from local and state law enforcement officials.  I’m pretty certain that all of this is unclassified (I have not been given a security briefing on it), but I’m still uncomfortable with having this information published.

I was leaning towards going ahead and taking the job.  I had the project manager send me the paperwork so that I could look over it.  As I did, I saw that one of the questions asked was “do you foresee any conflict of interest between your personal habits and beliefs and the DEA mission, which is to provide a drug-free environment?”  I guess I do see a conflict of interest… a fairly large and glaring one.  I just don’t want any part of it nor do I want to contribute anything to my current customer.  I was talking to my parents about this over the phone last night.  I was telling them about how I’ve found that it wouldn’t be very conducive to my happiness to keep on working in this industry.  I have a brother who works for XXX (which makes toiletries and cleaning products… pretty much anything and everything you would find in someone’s bathroom cabinet) and I made the point that, as odd as it sounds, at least his job at the end of the day has a purpose that someone could be proud of.  People buy his company’s products because they make their lives better in some way.  People don’t buy my company’s products, the government does.  The government doesn’t buy the products to make peoples lives better, but to force things and ideas upon people.  That is its nature.

Dr. Block, you gave me the example of working to make planes go faster to point out that there exists a sort of gray area between right and wrong.  You also pointed out that sabotaging work to the point that you didn’t get caught may even make a man a libertarian hero.  Perhaps you’re correct… but there is still something unsatisfying about that.

As to the second example, I had used similar reasoning to justify my current job.  It wasn’t so much to the point that I would sabotage, but rather that I would put in my time until I was in a position to change something.  It was an argument based on the fact that since I had done that type of work, maybe I would eventually, far into the future, gain enough respect from the people in the field to the point that I could change something.  After all, if I didn’t take the job, someone else would.  So it might as well be me who would use it to my advantage.  In my mind there exists something wrong with this… I think it is because I believe that the means by which you change something is just as important as the fact that it has changed. 

As to the first example, I have to disagree.  I used the same reasoning as the second example, except with more certainty.  But I believe that the means by which you make something better is just as important as the fact that something has been made better.  Yes, government funding could very well cause a plane to go faster.  Which in turn would provide a benefit to people outside of government.  But does the benefit cover the costs of having stolen from someone?  What if people didn’t want to work as hard in order to pay for that plane to go faster… or what if they just wanted to use that money to buy a faster car?  The cost of such actions are immeasurable due to the fact that people’s wants, needs, and hopes are subjective to each individual… and due to the fact that they change with experience and situations.  Also, what if the research was successful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams?  Then socialists everywhere would point to it as an example of how much good government does, and the only thing that needs to change to make other parts of government successful is the management.  The possibility of providing that as an argument makes me uneasy.

P.S.  I’ve decided that the best course of action is for me to reapply to the University of XXX, finish my degree, get a masters (maybe a Ph.D. after that), and go work in the private industry.  Right or wrong, working for the government (especially the intelligence community) is incredibly unsatisfying.

VId. Block replies to Dilemma:

I am delighted that you have resolved your own personal quandary by deciding to go back to school. My best wishes for your future career. I certainly agree with your emphasis on subjectivism; as an Austrian economist I could of course do no other. But this is true even as matter of common sense. Working "behind enemy lines" is not for everyone.

A few more comments.

I fear I misspoke when I said above that with regard to making "planes go faster and/or more safely, and this helped both “good” and “bad” planes, then we enter into a sort of grey area." I should have said, instead, "complex" area. To me, grey areas are the enemy of all that is good and true in libertarian philosophy. They constitute an acquiescence that perhaps there is a conflict in rights, which is very problematic.

I also agree with you when you say that "the means by which you make something better is just as important as the fact that something has been made better."  Certainly, making things better through theft is not ordinarily seen as compatible with libertarianism. But what about that case in the movie Dr. Strangelove, where, in order to save the entire world, the protagonists had to shoot open a soda machine? Or the case where a man is stuck hanging on to a flagpole, 15 stories above ground, and wants to move, hand over hand, to a patio and to safety. Or, suppose B is burning to death, while A is watering his garden nearby, while refusing to put out the fire. Are we to order C not to grab the hose out of A’s unwilling hands and save B’s life? Are we to tell such people, on libertarian grounds, that they may not do these things? I think, rather, that the libertarian answer is that they may, but must pay the appropriate (destruction of property, trespass, water stealing) penalty for doing so. (Of course, the owners of, respectively, the coke machine, the 15th floor patio, the water hose, have a right to fight off these respective rights violators, but that is a different question. By analogy, the taxpayers who finance the government enterprises you are now happily not going to work for have a right to resist making the necessary tax payments.)

It has been a pleasure trying to wrestle with these conundrums. You have helped me think about these issues. I only hope I have been as much help to you as you have been to me.

VIIa. Young man

I understand that there are not a lot of employers who care about Austrianism. The real question, then, is whether or not there are positions available in furthering Austrianism. I am not so blind as to walk into a field without an exact position in mind. If the position does not exist or would be highly unlikely to attain, I would appreciate your honesty anyways. I don’t want to go into economics if I am to be used as a pawn by a corporation that does not hold my specific views and beliefs. Any advice you could give me would be appreciated. I want to help free the people of this world anyway that I can, even if it means feeding the poor myself. I believe that the change needs to come from the top down, though. Thus, my interest in an economic position.

VIIb. Block replies to Young man:

Please answer these questions, so that I may better advise you. How old are you? What academic degrees do you have? What is the level of your math skills?

VIIc. Young man

I am 23 years old as of November the twenty second. I went to the XX School of Business for Computer Applications. I completed the program and received a diploma. It was not an Associate’s Degree but rather a certificate of completion (a joke, but enough to land a job). The highest math I have completed was Algebra 2 and Geometry. I took a math course at XX, but it was basic. I realize that these are not very difficult classes, but my level of understanding far exceeds my scholastic accomplishments in every area. I hope this information is helpful to you.

VIId. Block replies to Young man

I don’t hold out much hope at all for a Ph.D. degree in economics. If we had our own Austrian graduate school, mathematics and statistics would not, I think, be a gigantic barrier. But, the way most graduate schools in this discipline are now constituted, you need a LOT more math than you now have. If you have a facility for this, and are willing to devote at least an entire year plus two summers to taking (and doing well in) math and stat courses, I might revise my opinion on this matter.

As to non-academic jobs, most employers who want a free enterpriser would not be aware of Austrianism; indeed, many of my colleagues at most universities I have been at have never heard of this school of thought. On the few occasions they have, they think it is just a more radically free market type of Chicagoism.

I think that a great majority of Austro-libertarians are motivated precisely as you are: to help free people, to help end poverty, starvation. Milton Friedman, who is not one of my favorite economists, nevertheless said something that moved me very much. Allow me to share this with you. He said (my paraphrase): "Due to the efforts of economists, all of us, from the days of Adam Smith to the present, we as a profession have been responsible for the fact that tariffs are, oh, 1% lower than they otherwise would be. And with that, we have paid our salaries 10,000 times over." If you become an economist, especially a free market economist, and, even more important, an Austrian economist, you will join in this splendid tradition of doing the Lord’s work.

Will you pay a financial penalty for trying to make the world a better place in this manner? That is hard to say. In my view, some of us who labor in this particular vineyard would be far better off financially were we to have undertaken different pursuits (e.g., in the corporate, financial, real estate, investment worlds). Others of us would have come out about the same. And there is a third category that does far better, financially, as an Austro-libertarian (professor, think tank analyst), than would otherwise be the case. In terms of psychic income, all I can say is that being an Austro-libertarian is a real rush. I look forward to Monday mornings, surely a litmus test for this sort of thing. Heck, I look forward to every morning because that means I get to start doing what I love to do: trying to promote liberty and pushing back the envelope on economic knowledge by that one more millionth of a per cent.

To be honest about it, as you ask me to do, of course there is a downside (aren’t there downsides to just about everything?) Speaking of my own profession, economics, it cannot be denied that the Keynesians and main-stream economists hold the prestigious academic positions at places like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Chicago. They are the ones (except for Hayek) who win the Nobel Prizes in economics. They get to write regular op-ed columns in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and other such places. I would imagine that something of the same sort occurs in the corporate world.

I hope and trust you will see this as an honest assessment of career paths and choices


My name is XX. I have been learning about Austrian economics for about a year now and have become interested in the movement. I feel that there are not enough Austrian economists in the field. I am very interested in going into the field of economics and would like some information. First of all, any suggestions on schools that provide Austrian economics in their teachings? Secondly, I want to have a position in mind before I enter into school. Could you point me in the right direction for finding jobs in the economic field that specifically deal with the use or teaching of Austrian economics? And finally, I understand the importance of self-education and would like some suggested readings, please. I want nothing more than to dedicate my life to the cause of liberty. I understand that in order to be free, one must have the freedom of a sound, stable money. Please, help to point me in the right direction, that I might help others to understand as I understand.

VIIIb. Block replies to XX

For universities, go to the Mises web and look for Block, advice.

For jobs, there are none that I know of that call, specifically, for Austrian economics, as opposed to a general free market orientation. For example, there are almost 50 state-oriented free-market think tanks; there are numerous national and international free market think tanks. With the exception of the Mises Institute, I don’t know of any who would place a premium on Austrian free market economics as opposed to any of the other schools which veer in this direction (e.g., Chicago-ism, Public Choice).

For readings on sound stable money, you might start with these:

Rothbard, Murray N. 1962. “The Case for a 100 Percent Gold Dollar,” In Search of a Monetary Constitution, Leland B. Yeager, ed., Cambridge , MA : Harvard University Press, pp. 94—136, and Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1991. See also “The Logic of Action One” pp. 364—384.

Rothbard, Murray N. What Has Government Done to Our Money?, Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1990.

Walter Block Archives