Just last week, I finished reading Murray Rothbard’s grand discourse, The Ethics of Liberty, surely a must read for anyone who fancies himself a libertarian, or, as some of us prefer to call ourselves, anarcho-capitalists. Rothbard’s Ethics is highly intelligent, intensely insightful, and at times painfully consistent. In short, it is the work of a real philosopher, a man who took the problems of life seriously, and didn’t just write books in order to hypnotize his readers into some sort of political voodoo.
I have been thinking a lot about Murray Rothbard these days. I did not know him; I didn’t even know who he was until a few years ago. Nevertheless, if there is one person whom I wish I could converse with but cannot about the economic turmoil we presently face, it would be Murray Rothbard. To these kinds of issues he brought all the common sense of Ron Paul, with the addition of devastating wit and a dash of pizzaz. (Who would not be charmed by his choice of hypothetical names such as “Hohenzollern” and “West Ruritania?”)
Rothbard devotes the final chapter of his Ethics of Liberty to discussing the prospects for a libertarian future, a future full of peace and prosperity and devoid of the State. He completed this work in the early 1980’s. At that time, the issues of hyperinflation, gas shortages, high unemployment and other economic tortures were quite present in the American mind. The government had quite openly, over the course of the preceding six decades, gotten its grubby mitts on the market, and the end result was sheer turmoil and Peanut Man’s “Misery Index.” In those early years of the Reagan administration, only modern liberals and fools (but I repeat myself) seriously thought that more government was the solution to the country’s woes. The prospects for true liberty, enthused Rothbard, were thus quite promising.
Not ten years later, Rothbard delivered a triumphant lecture after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and he was, if anything, more encouraged than ever before.
Fast forward to 2008. The economy is collapsing. Markets are falling, even after the Federal government tried to fix everything with its $700 billion magic wand. Banks are collapsing because they gave bad loans–loans that were often promoted by Leviathan. One might be tempted to say that this marks the end for all forms of Central Planning, that the Emperor is naked and everyone now sees the plain truth of the matter.
Alas, I cannot bring myself to be so hopeful. Indeed, I dare say that the Rothbardian hopes of the 1980’s and 1990’s have now eluded us, that we are in a decidedly worse position than we’ve been in for decades. Why? Because, while the government has, yet again, been sticking its grubby mitts in the marketplace, and while yet again the result–utter calamity–is the same, all of this meddling has been advertised by the present administration as “free market principles.” Jeff Tucker quite astutely observed the other day that the mindset of the present GOP sees the free market not as an entity which can function on its own, but rather as a policy to be enacted by bureaucrats.
The sharper knives in America’s drawers will be able to perceive all of this; nevertheless, Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Taxpayer-Voter-Serf only know that this economic downturn has come at the end of an era in which the government has been giving itself credit for enacting “free market” policies. Surely the socialists are licking their lips.
Were it not for the unjust prerogatives which the State enjoys, we could sue the Republican Party for false advertising, if not for fraud, too.
I suppose that we are left to hope that, somewhere up there, Murray Rothbard is organizing all the right principalities and powers so that, someday, somehow, the victory of liberty will be upon us. Until then, it’s hyperinflation and Central Planning for the lot of us.