Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Walter Block Comments on WaPo Story and Ron and Rand Paul

Comment on the Washington Post on Ron and Rand Paul, and Me

By Walter E. Block

I had a nice little chat with David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post a week or so ago. We discussed “shoes and ships and sealing wax, and cabbages and kings. And why the sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings.” Also mentioned were politics in general, libertarianism and the presidential race. Oh, I almost forgot, we also mentioned the very interesting relationship between Ron and Rand Paul.

As a result of that discussion, this journalist wrote the following story for his newspaper:

What I intend to do now is comment on it. First consider this statement of Fahrenthold’s:

“But supporters of the two men are concerned that Ron Paul’s continued activism will weigh on his son, even if they never appear onstage together. They worry that Rand Paul may have to repeatedly draw and re-draw the lines between his father’s views and his own.

‘If I were Ron, and my son were running for president, and we were in the same situation, I would shut up,’ said Walter Block, an economics professor at Loyola University in New Orleans. He rated Ron Paul a 98 on his personal scale of libertarianism and Rand Paul a 70, and said he supported them both.

“‘Ron is a millstone around Rand’s neck, in the sense that he’s not helping him — or, at least, he’s not helping him be Rand,’ Block said. ‘Because Rand is a compromiser, and Ron and “compromise” don’t belong in the same sentence.’”

As you can imagine, gentle reader, I was aghast and appalled when I first read this statement. I am such an idiot. I should have tape recorded that interview. I can’t believe I just came out and plain told Ron to “shut up.” That is not me at all. Isn’t it usual journalistic practice to check with sources before publication to see if they are accurately quoted? Well, Fahrenthold never did so. If he had, he might have written a more accurate account.

What I meant to say, what I think I said, what I’m almost sure I said, was that if I were Ron, and my son were running for president, and my only desiderata was that I wanted him to win, I’d shut up.

But, there are other things that are important, more important, even, than my son winning, and that is promoting liberty. And Ron is the master of doing just that.

The interviewer cut out this qualifying material that I am pretty sure I said: “But, there are other things that are important, more important, even, than my son winning, and that is promoting liberty. And Ron is a master of promoting liberty” which very much changes the import of what I said. I stand by my claim: Rand would likely have a better chance of becoming President if Ron were silent. A very strong case can be made for this supposition. However, I didn’t and don’t advocate Ron being silent, as implied by this truncated out of context quote. Grrr! Well, at least the Washington Post didn’t say I favored slavery.

To put this matter in another way, if the following words were inserted into what I am quoted as saying, it would be a much more accurate depiction of my views than what actually appeared in this newspaper:

if my sole concern is that my son have the best possible chance of becoming president of the U.S.

If so, that would turn this statement: “‘If I were Ron, and my son were running for president, and we were in the same situation, I would shut up,’ said Walter Block, an economics professor at Loyola University in New Orleans. He rated Ron Paul a 98 on his personal scale of libertarianism and Rand Paul a 70, and said he supported them both.”

Into this one: “‘If I were Ron, and my son were running for president, and we were in the same situation, and if my sole concern is that my son have the best possible chance of becoming president of the U.S. I would shut up,’ said Walter Block, an economics professor at Loyola University in New Orleans. He rated Ron Paul a 98 on his personal scale of libertarianism and Rand Paul a 70, and said he supported them both.”

I would never in a million years tell Ron to “shut up.” That is grotesque, and horrid. Ron is THE most important person in the libertarian movement. My book on Ron Paul is my love letter to him:

Block, Walter E. 2012. Yes to Ron Paul and Liberty. New York: Ishi Press.

I love Ron Paul. I revere him. I am honored that I can call him a friend. He has done more to promote liberty to the masses of people than any other person in all of history.

The Washington Post does not distinguish between Kant’s categorical imperative and his hypothetical imperative.

The former, the categorical imperative is: “Ron, be silent.” I would never, ever say that.

The latter, the hypothetical imperative is: “If Ron is silent, Rand will likely have a better chance of becoming president.”

The former is an order to Ron. I, a mere nothing compared to Ron, would never have the temerity to say any such thing. I don’t order anyone around, least of all Ron.

The latter is an empirical estimate, a judgment of mine, one that I stand by: If Ron is silent, Rand will have a better chance of becoming president.

I’m glad I’m not in a position with regard to my son as Ron is with his son. Were I, I would do exactly what Ron is doing: promoting liberty magnificently; well, in my case, trying my best, in any case.

Here is a letter I sent to Ron Paul:

I never meant to cause you even a moment’s disquiet. I fear I have.  If so, I greatly regret it.

First, I cause you disquiet when I talked about my views on evictionism in Tampa, Florida.

Now this.

All I can say is that I’m doing my best, my very best, to promote liberty.

You’re my hero, my mentor, my guide, my friend. Please don’t take this the wrong way, I know you won’t: I love you.

Here are two other statements that also appeared in this WaPo story. They do not affect me directly, but I cannot leave them as is without comment, since they wildly misunderstand the Ron (and Rand too) message:

Ron Paul’s solution, it appears, is to invite more calamity so that Americans are forced realize that the system is broken.

“Those opposing worldviews — one looking up, the other looking for rock bottom — have led the two Pauls to enunciate sharply different outlooks on American politics.”

There are problems here, too. Ron is not “inviting” calamity. He is predicting devastation, surely a very different thing. Yes, Ron is “looking for” rock bottom, but not in the sense of welcoming it. Dreading it, more like. But, his yearning for the truth compels him to speak truth to power, and let the chips fall where they may.

A few other comments on this situation. I told the Washington Post that I rated Ron Paul as a 98% on my personal libertarian-meter, and Rand Paul as a 70. Why the former? I disagree with Ron on two and only two issues: first, he favors the pro-life position, I support what I call evictionism: Block, Walter E. 2014. “Evictionism and Libertarianism.” Journal of Medicine and Philosophy. Volume 35, Issue 2, pp 290-294.

Second, I favor open borders (Block, Walter E. 1998. "A Libertarian Case for Free Immigration," Journal of Libertarian Studies: An Interdisciplinary Review, Vol. 13, No. 2, summer, pp. 167-186; Gregory, Anthony and Walter E. Block. 2007. “On Immigration: Reply to Hoppe.” Journal of Libertarian Studies, vol. 21, No. 3, Fall, pp. 25-42). Ron does not. Other than that, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a word out of his mouth, or a sentence that he has ever written, with which I disagree. No, wait, I am also not in full accord with him regarding his perspective on Israel. Of course, I am not cognizant of everything he has ever spoken or written, but I would be “shocked and awed” if there were anything else of substance separating us.

What of Rand Paul and the 70% I awarded him? Before I get into that, here is an economics joke: An economist was asked, “How is your wife?” Can the answer: “Compared to what?” Precisely. When compared to Ron, Rand just doesn’t cut it for a radical Rothbardian anarcho-capitalist such as me. The two are indeed far apart on all too many issues. But, compared to just about anyone else, despite his deviations from pure libertarianism, Rand is excellent. Excellent. First, he never calls himself a libertarian simpliciter. Rather, he characterizes himself as a “libertarian Republican” or a “Constitutional libertarian,” or a “Constitutionalist” or some such. So he cannot be accused of hypocrisy, or mislabeling. Second, I am not historian to know if Rand it the most libertarian member of the U.S. Senate, ever (William Borah might win this honor, I am not sure), but there can be no doubt that he is by far and away the best supporter of freedom and liberty now in the Senate. In fact, the only other notable politician who also deserves about a 70% in my opinion is Gary Johnson, former Governor of New Mexico, and Libertarian Party candidate for president in 2012. No other modern politician, in my humble opinion, deserves as much as a 10% grade, and, remember, that is out of 100%. Oh, wait, I’ll award a 50% to Dennis Kucinich for his anti-imperialist viewpoints.

One last point about the WaPo article. Fahrenthold makes much of the point that while Rand is off raising money for his campaign, and making institutional arrangements for it, Ron is maniacally supporting of all rabid things, secession. This journalist makes it appear as if Rand is the responsible adult, here, and Ron is some crazy old coot. I don’t know where Fahrenthold went to university. Probably, in some Ivy League school where they all major in feminist studies, black studies, queer studies, multiculturalism and other victim studies like sociology. It is therefore likely that he is not that much if at all aware of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. This document states: “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” If that is not secession, or revolution, then nothing is. Is it unreasonable to discuss, as did the Mises Circle event in Houston to which he refers, whether we are at a point when “when a long train of abuses and usurpations” has already taken place. This does not seem at all far too radical to me. Rather, it would appear to be the carrying out of the single duty imposed upon all U.S. citizens by the Declaration.

Some more comments and reactions. My very good friend Bob Wenzel wrote this “Walter is really taking to its logical conclusion what a supporter of Rand has to do, and that is call for those who are the principled advocates of liberty to shut up.” Bob and I have had a long-standing, on-going debate about the libertarian, credentials of Rand Paul, and the prospects for liberty of his presidency; me very much taking the positive, him the negative. But, unlike some, Bob had the decency to question the accuracy of the quote the Washington Post attributed to me. Mr. Wenzel said: “Is the quote accurate? If there is anything you would like to add to the quote, please send it along and I will gladly post it.” Let me just say the following in response. No, it is not a logical implication of libertarian support for Rand to tell Ron to “shut up.” Yes, of course, there is a tension between the two gentlemen, father and son. Any unsophisticated person can see this. The mere fact that Ron will not be campaigning for Rand dramatically underlies their differences. But I see no tension between believing that Ron is the greatest promotor of liberty the world has ever known, on the one hand, and supporting Rand for president, who’s overlap with the freedom philosophy is very strong, albeit of course not complete by any measure. (I regard Murray N. Rothbard as Mr. Libertarian, but he affected and inspired mainly scholars and intellectuals; he was not the leader of a mass movement as is Dr. Ron Paul.)

In rereading what I have written above, another thought occurs to me, and this also tends in the direction opposite to the one Bob Wenzel has laid out. It is by no means a done deal that the Ron-Rand differences of opinion – while the former continues to articulate his magnificent views as the latter runs for president -- hurts his presidential candidacy. Yes, there are good and sufficient reasons to believe that the two are not complementary with each other; that the one detracts from the other. But there is also another side to this empirical examination.

How many republican candidates are there at present? Well, if we count all those who have been widely mentioned, we come up with the following:

Jeb Bush, Governor of Florida; Lindsey Graham, U.S. Senator South Carolina; John R. Bolton, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; Michele Bachmann, U.S. Representative Minnesota; Jeb Bush, Governor of Florida; Ben Carson, author; Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey; Bob Corker, U.S. Senator Tennessee; Ted Cruz, U.S. Senator Texas; Bob Ehrlich, Governor of Maryland; Carly Fiorina, business executive; Jim Gilmore, Governor of Virginia; Mike Huckabee, Governor Arkansas; Bobby Jindal, Governor Louisiana, Peter King, U.S. Representative New York; George Pataki, Governor of New York; Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska; Rand Paul, U.S. Senator Kentucky; Mike Pence, Governor of Indiana; Rick Perry, Governor of Texas; Mitt Romney, Governor of Massachusetts; Marco Rubio, U.S. Senator Florida; Rick Santorum, U.S. Senator Pennsylvania; Donald Trump, business magnate; Scott Walker, Governor of Wisconsin; Herman Cain, Godfather's Pizza; Mitch Daniels, Governor of Indiana; John Kasich, Governor of Ohio; Susana Martinez, Governor of New Mexico; Rick Scott, Governor of Florida; Rick Snyder, Governor of Michigan.

True, not all of these are “serious” candidates. Many will soon drop out. But, right now, there are 30 of them. Count them: thirty. If not for Ron, right in the midst of the pack somewhere would be the Junior Senator from Kentucky. If his name were instead Paul Rand, how much of media and donor attention would he garner? My estimate is a proportional one thirtieth of it. Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and Mitt Romney would probably hog up the lion’s share.  Cain, Fiorina and one or two others would perhaps capture less than a proportionate amount. However, which one of these thirty has a famous politician father with whom he does not see perfectly eye to eye? There is only one. This is thus a real man bites dog story. Thanks to Ron, Rand will on this account obtain coverage at least in the top five. That is, if his dad keeps piping up. On the other hand, if Ron “shuts up,” then this distinction now owned by Rand and him alone pretty much disappears. So, contrary to the “millstone” hypothesis, there is indeed a case that can be made that an active dad continuing to espouse high octane libertarianism is just what his son needs.

What about my decision to do an interview with a journalist from the Washington Post, a sort of sister organization to the New York Times, with which I had such a devastating experience? Well, there are two schools of thought on this. One, the mainstream media, all of them without exception print and electronic, are liars and scoundrels, not to be trusted to give accurate reports. They will slander, libel, misreport anything a libertarian says to them, and we should avoid them like the plague. I think there is more than a grain of truth in this assessment. Two, like it or not, they still have a far bigger megaphone than we libertarians enjoy, and we have no choice, if we want to get the word out, to work with and through them, even if they continually misrepresent us. The former position is too ostrich-like for my tastes. Lookit, this is not a matter of praxeology and pure logic. This is an empirical issue that concerns strategy and tactics. This is a matter of prudential judgment, in which people otherwise on the same wave length may sharply disagree. I may well be wrong in this decision of mine to keep talking to them, but I believe the benefits outweigh the costs. Perhaps this is because I am still in some ways living in the mid-1960s, when I asked Murray Rothbard how many libertarians there were in the world, and he said about 50. Yes, we’ve come a long way, baby. We libertarians now flood the blogosphere, have our own magazines, scholarly journals, even radio programs, but, in my assessment, we still need the big boys if we are to communicate with the masses of the people.  And, it is crucially important that we do so. I’ll bet that this story in the Washington Post resulted in more people being drawn to our banner than dozens of far better stories in the libertarian blogosphere.

Some libertarians who ought to know better think that the quest for the presidency of the U.S. is unimportant. The president, they aver, has little power, especially against an entrenched oppositional (non-libertarian) congress. Stuff and nonsense say I. First of all, the chief executive officer of the country has great influence over foreign policy. A more libertarian defensive posture can save hundreds of thousands of innocent lives. Secondly, there is no one and only one right way to pursue liberty. Not every libertarian has to become involved in politics. I am more of an academic, myself. But why besmirch those who, like Ron Paul himself, made a two decades long career out of being Dr. No, and in so doing publicizing the case for liberty like no one else has ever done before or since? Third, there is the veto. A libertarian president, especially one who could use the bully pulpit well, would be in a position to stop in its tracks our downward slide into totalitarianism. Well, at least slow it down, which is important. Let us each promote liberty in our own manner, and not dismiss out of hand other ways of pursuing this precious goal.

Walter Block earned his PhD in Economics at Columbia University. He is an author, editor, and co-editor of many books which include Defending the UndefendableDefending the Undefendable II: Freedom in All RealmsThe Privatization of Roads and Highways: Human and Economic FactorsThe Case for Discrimination.


  1. "This is a matter of prudential judgment, in which people otherwise on the same wave length may sharply disagree. I may well be wrong in this decision of mine to keep talking to them, but I believe the benefits outweigh the costs."

    I agree with you Dr. Block and I'm glad you will continue to talk with the MSM. I'd just offer that you should remind them of their own standards and tell them you're recording everything at the outset of each interview, if possible get them to agree to send you their final draft before publishing so you get a chance to discuss it with them. A little "CYA" will help here.

    I read the one of the commenters suggest you shouldn't talk to them, probably out of frustration, but I agree with you that they(NYT's, etc.) have a big megaphone and any time your name, Ron Paul's, or Lew Rockwell's pop up in the MSM it's a good thing because there will always be thinking, curious people that will explore things on their own, even if they are a very small minority.

    Heck, I found out about LRC/Lew Rockwell from a casual verbal bash on Ron Paul on a MSM news network broadcast back in 2006 and it changed my philosophical life. Obviously, the direct opposite intended effect for the MSM outlet....haha.

    My argument is if these large MSM outlets have posted a "standards" policy(and most have), they have explicitly put an understanding/contract out there by which they are obligated to implicitly when you interact with them.

  2. "First of all, the chief executive officer of the country has great influence over foreign policy. A more libertarian defensive posture can save hundreds of thousands of innocent lives."

    - Walter Block

    I wonder how Walter reconciles this statement with Rand's current foreign policy positions. How "libertarian" is it to inflict human suffering and incite war with Iran by voting for trade sanctions? How libertarian is it to engage in the 3rd war in Iraq by proposing bombing ISIS? How libertarian is it to use taxpayer (i.e. stolen) money to provide monetary support and a security guaranty to a foreign entity? And because that foreign entity is surrounded by enemies and because that foreign entity is a persistent agitator, war is virtually inevitable. How libertarian is that?

    I think Walter is caught up in the cult of the presidency. Typically, people project all of their hopes on a political messiah rather than seeing that person for who they truly are. There are people who believe that Rand is "playing the game" and once in office he will turn libertarian. They don't see that the only ones who are being played are themselves.

  3. Please note that our opponents distort EVERYTHING we say 24/7. Their "analysis" of basic Austrian concepts is on par with their "Russia has invaded Ukraine" nonsense. Did Keynes address the ubiquitous nature of human action or the problems of economic calculation under a regime of funny money in TGT? Why show surprise? Why expect anything else? Ever?

  4. I'm with Walter on this. Rand at 70% is acceptable. I remember Walter going over a range of Libertarianism that started with 1) AnCap, 2) Ayn Rand, 3) Ron Paul, and then 4) classical liberals like Hayek, Rand Paul, and Friedman. Walter had a critical but gracious attitude.

    I’m open to a range of strategies too.

  5. Walter keeps putting his foot in his mouth. Maybe you should tape record all interviews with the press Walter.

  6. He must of went to Harvard,as he wrote for the Crimson:

    I like this article from David, as it shows how the Fed helps out those closest to the Money by making debt cheaper by devaluing the dollar:

    Premise: The awe and shock of the average debt of a Harvard Grad in 2000 was ~$14k. My comment: Chump change now thanks to the Fed and Government intervention in the Education marketplace!!!

  7. Dear Dr. Block,

    Your analysis is bang on, as usual. I would just second what some other comments have said: you have to keep your wits about you when surrounded by knaves. There is no reason to be aghast or appalled at what you read in Washington Post, no matter how friendly or down to earth the journalist was with you, because at the end of the day the elite employ these members of the intellectual class to misrepresent, deceive, conflate. Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. Don't think they won't hesitate to quote you out of context to suit their agenda. That's their job.

    I agree with your approach, this is a pragmatic, tactical matter and we should not be dismissing out of hand different approaches. So you have two options: 1) You go the Lew Rockwell "pure Clint Eastwood" route, tell them they are part of the regime and to get lost http://www.economicpolicyjournal.com/2014/01/lew-rockwell-faces-down-new-york-times.html
    Or 2) You don't do an interview without it being recorded.

    Otherwise, expect to receive many more phone calls as election season approaches. Soon, your name and number will be in the rolodex of every mainstream journalist in America. Anytime they need a "libertarian insider" to give a damaging quote against Ron or Rand or to make an inflammatory comment, they're going to call you up, chat with you for hours about “shoes and ships and sealing wax, and cabbages and kings. And why the sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings,” and then only use the 1 or 2 out of context lines they need to get the job done, do their damage against someone's character, and collect their paycheck.

  8. Knowing better, Rand Paul seems as willing as any other candidate to risk the blood of his countrymen in unnecessary foreign wars in order to further his political ambitions. That is not compromise, it's murder. When it is a question of foreign policy, 70% is just not good enough.

  9. Dear Dr. Block, when are you going to learn that if mainstream media calls, it is a trap, just like Rand Paul is a trap, since MSM covers him?

  10. "Ron is a millstone around Rand's neck."

    Given the source of the idiom, to the extent that Rand is willing to compromise the cause of Liberty and has influenced many of his Dad's ardent supporters to, at best, lose faith, and, at worst, to go wobbly - especially on issues of foreign policy, maybe Ron Paul is the proverbial millstone around Rand Paul's neck.  And that's a good thing.

    "...but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea." (Matt 18:6)

  11. Since the same problems are recurring, maybe there needs to be a "best practices" list for any libertarians talking to the mainstream media, e.g.:

    - always record the interview
    - don't use extreme examples to vividly illustrate points
    - don't far separate conditional phrases from the core statement