Sunday, November 1, 2015

A New Vicious Attack on Libertarianism

Over at EPJ, I have posted on the new Lanny Ebenstein book, Chicagonomics (See: When Friedman Readily Admitted He Didn't Understand Hayek's 'Prices and Production', Milton Friedman on the Difference Between Hayek and Mises on Gold and Did Hayek Not Like Criticism or Was He Just Being Polite to Milton Friedman?)

The references in the posts come from the interview between Ebenstein and Hayek that is an Appendix to Chicagonomics.

I turned to the interview first because of a Tyler Cowen mention of it. But, now I am reading the main content of the book and am absolutely horrified.

It is quite simply the most vicious attack on libertarianism I have ever read.

Ebenstein writes:
Contemporary libertarianism is dead dogma. It is hostile to new ideas....

Moreover, that some ideas are of enduring worth does not mean all public policy positions are carved in stone, as many contemporary libertarians appear to believe...

According to the conservative author Russell Kirk in 1981:"The representative libertarian of this decade is humorless, intolerant, self-righteous, badly schooled, and dull."...

[M]any contemporary libertarians take their extreme antigovernmnet positions for granted (or, in some cases, amazingly, derive them from self-evident, deductive premises-Ludwig von Mises's "praxeology")
First, it should be pointed out that Mises did not derive his advocacy of a free world based on praxeological self-evident truths,  To be sure, praxeology was at the foundation of his study of economics and society, but it was not the justification he used to advocate for a free society.

In his role as advocate, he was a utilitarian (This differed from Rothbard's approach).

So what does Ebenstein prefer over libertarianism?

He prefers the University of Chicago "classical liberal" approach. He provides as an example of what this means as opposed to libertarianism by quoting a passage by University of Chicago economist Henry Simons from his book A Positive Program For Laissez Faire:
[Classical] Liberals cannot wisely oppose all "socialistic" experimentation, they should not fear its possible successes...Libertarian prophecies of impending doom, save for global war, are as romantic as adolescent-radical notions of how all social problems can be solved.
Ebenstein makes the point that the University of Chicago was a place of open scholarship and highlights this via a comment by Milton Friedman:
The evidence is clear that the economics department at Chicago historically has been a very diverse place. This came about, Friedman argued, because of an insistence from the start that "intellectual quality and intellectual quality alone be the base of appointemnst to the faculty." 
Yeah, right. Here is Friedman in the interview with Ebenstein on why Hayek wasn't allowed to teach in the economics department at Chicago:
[T]hey refused [him a position in the economics department]. I was there at the time, but in a very junior capacity. I was not involved in the decision in any way. But in retrospect, I think they were right....

[T]hey didn't agree with his economics. Prices and Production, his capital theory-if they had been looking around the world for an economist to add to their staff their prescription would not have been the author of  Prices and Production.
That said, at least Friedman recognized the importance of  libertarians Ralph Raico and Ron Hamowy, who studied under Hayek:
Hayek's influence on Chicago...was not through the economics department....Hayek's influence was much more through the students he brought, through the group that established the New Individualist Review---his influence there was very strong and very great.



  1. Is there any criticism of libertarianism based on substance in the book? Those few paragraphs posted just seem like ad hominem attacks based on nothing.

  2. "humorless, intolerant, self-righteous, badly schooled, and dull."...

    Sounds like the past 3 fed reserve heads...

    1. They don't make 'em like 'Tall Paul' anymore!!

    2. He seems to have confused libertarians with liberals:

      Humorless? Obviously he's never read or heard Rothbard or listened to David Gordon.

      Intolerant? Yes, I suppose if you consider it intolerant to advocate that people be able to live however they want (so long as they're not violating someone's property rights).

      Self-righteous? Well, to be self-righteous one needs to have an unfounded belief, not one on a rock solid foundation.

      Badly Schooled? Perhaps he means poorly credentialed (not the right degrees, in the right universities with the right-thinking professors), not poorly learned.

      Dull? Maybe he actually has never met a living libertarian at all?

  3. This is to be expected from Ebenstein as a large portion of his "biography" of Hayek (2001) seems derived from Friedman and is full of cheap shots all clearly derivative from Uncle Milton. Since Friedman was, in monetary matters, essentially a "stabilizer" in Hayek's terminology, a quote I have put forward before comes to mind: From his Monetary Theory of the Trade Cycle written prior to the crash in 1928. This is mainly a critique of the "stabilizers" like Fisher (and Krugman). Best line: "The same superficial view which sees no other harmful effect of a credit expansion but the rise of the price level, now believes that our only difficulty is a fall in the price level, caused by credit contractions." (This from the 1933 English preface.) One can't read Prices and Production without understanding Hayek's previous work. "Macro" is aggregation, and aggregation masks what is actually going on in the "real economy." (In fact "real economy" is an over aggregation notion.)