Is Laissez Faire Capitalism Evil Since Firms “Condition” Customers to Buy Their Goods? No.

From: B
Sent: Wednesday, October 10, 2018 8:19 AM
Subject: Did Rothbard Smoke?

Dear Prof. Block,

I’m writing because I have a couple questions I’d like to ask. First, during episode 1200 of the Tom Woods Show, you described Murray Rothbard as everything your parents warned you about, saying that he smoked. But in Rothbard’s article ‘The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult’, he says that he’s allergic to smoke. Did Rothbard smoke?

Second, I’ve run into an anti-capitalist argument that has me stumped. A friend made a case that went something like this: “under capitalism, firms are incentivized to engage in advertisement in order to attract demand. Advertisement is the manufacturing of demand; a person may not want a new car, but effective advertising can psychologically condition him to want it.” It doesn’t appear a very powerful argument, but it’s the only interventionist argument I’ve run across against which I’m not sure how to argue. In your view, what is the correct way to reply to this argument?

I very much appreciate you taking your time to read this and hope to hear from you. Kind regards, B

Dear B:

I fear I erred on the smoking business. Murray did not smoke.

On advertising, we all do this to each other all the time.

A boy wants to date a girl. She’s reluctant. So, he buys her flowers. He “conditions” her to want him. A girl wants to attract a boy. He’s indifferent to her. So, she wears makeup. She “conditions” him to want her. I usually dress sloppy. I go on a job interview. I wear a suit and tie. I’m trying to “condition” the employer to hire me. I want to get my students to study. They are lazy, don’t want to. So I “condition” them to study by mentioning an upcoming exam. The six year old doesn’t want to go to bed. So the parent “conditions” him to do so by offering bribes, making threats.

There’s nothing untoward about such “conditioning.” It’s a basic part of the human experience. Capitalists do this too. This is not a rights violation.

Best regards,



1:35 am on March 7, 2019