Thursday, November 12, 2020

Stockman vs. Block: Walter Block Responds on the Value of Trump to Libertarians

By Walter E. Block

 I first saw only the first paragraph of David Stockman’s response to my recent op ed in the Wall Street Journal on the Libertarian Party’s vote helping Biden at the expense of Trump, Block, Walter E. 2020. “Libertarians Spoil the Election; Jo Jorgensen exceeds Biden’s margin in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Arizona and Georgia.” November 9:

 With Due Respect: A Commentary On Walter Block’s Damn Nonsense AboutLibertarian Voters"

 Professor Walter Block may be the dean of libertarian thinkers and his yeoman work for the cause over the decades can’t be gainsaid. But when it comes to grasping the fraught political forces at large at the present historical juncture and the real significance of the 2020 election, the good professor is wearing some pretty opaque blinders.

My initial reaction was to be extremely pleased by his very nice compliment to my career and contribution to libertarianism and the free enterprise system. I was also puzzled by his rather harsh rejection of my latest attempt to promote liberty. “Damn Nonsense” is not a characterization typically tossed around when applied to friends. And, indeed, I do regard David as a friend. He and I have overlapped at several free market conferences, and have always gotten along fine. Indeed, I am a huge fan of his decades-long contribution to the promotion of good economics and liberty. He and I have a mutual admiration society. Hey, I’m not some commie Marxist about whose writing “Damn Nonsense” might be accurate summary. And, even then, our goal is, should be, to convert our friends on the left to the one true faith in economic freedom. “Damn Nonsense” is not likely to attain this end (True confession: I sometimes lose my cool too and characterize some of them as “economic illiterates”; but I strive mightily not to do so). But I can’t remember treating a fellow member of the freedom philosophy tribe so bitterly. Ok, ok, another true confession: when I read his title and first paragraph, I was ready for a knock down drag out fight. I am happy to say that no such thing is in the offing.

I feel that David and I are like the proverbial blind men who are arguing about the physical nature of the elephant. One grasps the trunk and thinks there is a snake there. The other grabs the leg, and avers he is holding onto a tree trunk.

Now that I have read David’s brilliant essay in its entirety I can say that one of the parts of the elephant is the short run and the other the long run. I was entirely in the former camp in my Wall Street Journal op ed. I was looking, solely, at Trump versus Biden, and vastly preferred the former. I did acknowledge that he had some flaws (he’s a protectionist, not a free trader; he appointed conservative, not libertarian judges). But I maintained then, and still do now, that “on the libertarian-o-meter,” Trump scores far higher than does Biden. 

According to that old joke, the economist was asked: “How is your wife?” Came the answer: “Compared to what?”

Well, David waxes eloquent about all of the many other flaws our present president brings to the table (I love his charge of “fiscal incontinence and monetary madness”). And I have no quarrel with any of his incisive and highly noteworthy criticisms. But forget about the future for the moment. Which of the two, Trump or Biden, is closer to our shared and fervently held beliefs in “the old time Robert Taftian religion of sound money, fiscal rectitude, free markets, federalism, small government and nonintervention abroad.” If David replies that the weather-vane Marxist Biden is more of a libertarian than Trump, then we really do seriously diverge. I can’t believe he would take any such position. Yet he comes precariously close to writing along those very lines.

Mr. Stockman is very dramatic when he writes about: “Trump’s absolutely destructive, and we’d dare say, demented, views with respect to the central bank and the public debt. These horrendous positions outweigh everything else including court appointments and jousting with woke progressives over the 1619 Project’s besmirchment of American history, and by a country mile. Trump’s ham-handed attacks on the Fed for even its tepid attempt to normalize interest rates and its balance sheet last year and his cheerleading for the absolute lunacy of $3 trillion worth of bond-buying during the 90-days after green-lighting Dr. Fauci reign of economic terror in midMarch are beyond the pale.”

True, all true. And well said. No, eloquently stated. But, I contend, David is comparing the wrong things. He should be contrasting Biden versus Trump. Instead, he is analyzing whether on net balance Trump is a force for good or evil. My debating partner takes the latter position. But this is irrelevant to the burning issue: who should we libertarians favor to take over the White House for the next four years. It is my contention that no matter how bad the Donald has been for our commonweal and is likely to be for the next term, Biden (with Bernie, Kamala, the Squad, Pocahontas pulling the strings) would be far worse. I really don’t relish moving in the direction of Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea.

Instead, his view, if I understand it correctly, pertains to the longer run: if Trump loses, then “the Republican Party can be purged of Trumpian right-wing statism” and we can go back to the “Taftian religion.”

Now I acknowledge that David is more of an expert on this sort of thing than I am, so I write under correction. But it is my belief that if Donald were to retire forthwith, would not go back to any such Ron Paulian situation (I vastly prefer the views of Ron Paul to Robert Taft, although I acknowledge that the latter was not all that bad). Rather, I think it is most likely that would revert to a Bush I or II type administration. Perhaps Mike Pence would take over the leadership of the Republican Party. My crystal ball is a bit cloudy at this juncture. Yes, Trump is a bully (that first debate might have cost him the election!) and a lot of people think he is obnoxious (he’s from Queens, I’m from next door Brooklyn, so I’m accustomed to that type of personality), but insofar as policy is concerned, apart from free trade, and, ok, the debt, inflation, etc., Trump might even be better than Bush by a short nose.

But let us consider a hypothetical, arguendo. Posit that if Biden beats Trump in 2020, we will have Rand Paul in 2024. Now, he is no Ron Paul, but he is right now by far the most libertarian member of Congress. Whereas, if Trump assumes a second term, Pence will take over, and, apart from a vast personality improvement, will pretty much follow Trumpian policies.

This I think is what he is arguing for. If so, there is no unambiguous way to determine which is “best.” We in effect part company over an issue of time preferences. As a fellow Austrian economist, I’m sure he will acknowledge that not only de gustibus non disputandum, but that this also applies to time horizons. Is the added suffering we would experience with Biden for four years (Kamala Harris in the offing would be far worse), worth the benefits of Rand Paul vis a vis Pence or some other Bushite? As I say, there is no non-ambiguous answer to this question. There is no correct time preference rate.

Consider this statement of Stockman’s: “Indeed, at this juncture the long-haul revival of a genuine conservative Opposition Party of the type that could be led by Senator Rand Paul is 100 times more important than the marginal short-term policy differences between Trump and Biden that were at stake in the 2020 election.”

Here, my friend and I sharply diverge. First, there is no guarantee of a Rand Paul in 2024. Second, I see the differences between Trump and Biden as far more serious than he does. But, apart from that difference between us, I think he errs when he elides the time preference issue. Which is better, more valuable: $100 now, or $200 in four years? As I never tire of drumming it into the heads of my undergraduate students, this question simply cannot be answered without what? Without an interest rate! Or, in the present case, without an agreed upon internal discount rate which simply does not exist.

Here is another absolute gem of Stockman’s “It is these hardened Swamp Dwellers who will shape and table a feckless Dem agenda over the next four years, not political freaks like AOC or even Bernie, and most certainly not some honest-to-goodness socialist professors from Amherst College or Berkeley.” 

I hope and pray that he is right on this, but I fear he is not, particularly if the two races for senator in Georgia go Democratic. Then, all bets are off in favor the Swamp Dwellers. (I am now working on my book Defending the Undefendable III; thanks to David, I’m going to have to give serious consideration to including the Swamp Dwellers as “heroes.” Who would have thunk?). If the Democrats take over the Senate, there is a real danger, as far as I can see, of Supreme Court packing, plus two new states, Washington DC and Puerto Rico. This will make Stockman’s dream of a President Rand Paul in 2024 exceedingly unlikely.

This debate Stockman and I are now having reminds me of the one I had with Bob Wenzel in 2015. He favored Hillary over Donald for similar reasons Stockman put forth for Biden over Trump. Yes, Hillary would be worse, far worse, than Donald, Bob argued, but it would be worth it, due to the fact that out of the ashes something better would arise with a strengthened libertarian movement. I was not then convinced of his case, nor am I of Davids, along similar lines.

This is from p.65 of The Irrepressible  Rothbard: "Clinton will be so bad he will discredit the Democrats and lead to our triumph in four years… This is an example of ‘the worse the better’ argument allegedly advanced by Lenin. But again I've got news for you: Lenin was too smart to make such an argument. I find it particularly irritating that my own name has been invoked as a theorist of ‘the worse the better’ and that therefore this is supposed to be a long-standing ‘Rothbardian’ strategy. Please guys: allow me the courtesy of knowing my own views better than you do. In the first place, this doctrine is almost always untrue. In most cases, the worse the worse. The government gets worse, things are bad, but the public gets inured to these measures, they can't identify the cause-and-effect relations anyway~ and so things steadily get worse. How come that the terrible deeds of the Progressive Era, the Wilson administration, the New Deal, etc. have not already provoked any backlash reaction? How come things just keep getting worse? What makes you boys think that four years of Clinton will be any different? Most likely people will be inured to more statism under Clinton."

As with most words penned by Rothbard, I think these are definitive. I fear that both Wenzel and Stockman have adopted "the worse the better" argument. There is nothing wrong with it in my opinion, from a praxeological point of view. It commits no logical contradiction. As Rothbard opines, it is only “almost always untrue.” But I think Mr. Libertarian makes a powerful empirical case that it boomerangs in the overwhelming number of cases. Moreover, he explains exactly why: “the public gets inured to these (interventionist) measures, they can't identify the cause-and-effect relations anyway.”

In any case, it is an honor to cross swords, well, pens, no, computers?, with David Stockman in this way. Hopefully, some good will come out of this discussion. 

Walter E. Block, Ph.D. is the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics, Loyola University New Orleans and author of numerous books including, Defending the Undefendable and The Privatization of Roads and Highways: Human and Economic Factors.


  1. Walter wins the debate hands down with 36 electoral votes.

  2. I would like to know from Stockman what did Reagan, a possibly fake conservative, do? Giving amnesty to 3 or so million duh-versities pretty much handed CA to the left, but remember Stockman has his millions and never had to live next to these people much less compete for jobs.

    Here some things accomplished by Trump:

    1. Tax Cuts - I've seen the spreadsheet done by an accountant of before and after. Most people got more money back.
    2. Pulled us out of the Paris Accords and put down AGW as the stupidity it has always been.
    3. Kept us out of new wars more or less for now.
    4. Spoke out against the military/industrial complex. The last president with a nice looking wife who did that got shot.
    5. Inadvertently showed that the press and both parties are sacks of waste who work against the average American.
    6. Mostly abolished Obummercare. Though I"m unhappy with him trying to 'replace it'. Get government out of healthcare already!
    7. Kicked the CCP out of the port of LA. I'm sure (((Feinstein))) was unhappy about it.
    8. Tried to get hospitals and drug companies to post prices - both shot down I believe by an Obummer judges. Changed it so some Americans could by the drugs they need from Canada and other countries. I'm sure big Pharma hates Trump for this one.
    9. Has not openly tried to abolish the 2nd Amendment though I'm still suspect on his real thoughts, but he knows this is a big issue.
    10. He did get some minorities to finally wake up a bit - Latinos for Trump, BLEXIT.

    1. The only thing lolbertarians seem to care about is the leftist moral posturing of getting to call the orange man a racist and a nazi, and therefore not having to debate the merit of anything because they don't waste their time debating racist nazis.

    2. I sympathize with most of their views, but it seems most of their thought process boils to everything down to a damn dollar.

      Funny that white Europeans created the most functional societies after centuries while the rest have stagnated or tried to implement the European way but still have shithole countries.

      But it's 'da rasis' to talk about that.

      Look at my #10; what is the minority support for their party? Probably in the .01's at best.

    3. #4b is a Biggie vs Ugly Communists.

  3. This is sad but it is a good example of why I think the Libertarian movement is dead in the water. Block argues that Trump is better at allowing loopholes to keep the free market on life support and Stockman thinks that getting rid of Trump will allow the Republican party to return to its Taftian history despite the fact that Taft had his day and it did not change the outcome. Neither Trump loopholes nor Taftian Republicanism could save us from our current disaster.

    1. Let's face it most republicans might as well be democrats and hate Trump just like they hate the American people. There is no saving the replublican party. They are just as dirty as their demon counterparts, save a few. Oh, and BTW, Trump just ditched the Defense Secreatary so that when the marxist riots are given the full go-ahead, we might finally see a lot of them get shot dead. Trump+1

  4. Reposting my comments from the previous post: ( Block is right about the here and now)

    There is truth to both what Block and Stockman say.
    No doubt that Trump is hardly the conservative we would like to see running,
    and just as true that votes for the libertarian helped Biden.

    We would like to see the end of RINOs across the board and Trump would be on that list of RINOs.... So What do we do? Vote for Communists/Marxists instead? Vote for RINOs (Communist lites) or Vote for libertarians knowing it will secure a victory for the Communists? Don't Blame Trump, Don't blame people voting for Trump... It is far too late for that. We are headed toward One World Government and if Trump could delay that for 4 years (or maybe longer) so be it. I don't see Trump inviting UN forces on U.S.A. soil, but Biden would certainly be for it or his soon to be replacement. We are in a very very bad spot. Civil War, Martial Law, Foreign invasion is where we are.


    I've voted in a handful of presidential elections.
    1988 Ron Paul
    1992 Andre Marrou
    1996 Harry Browne
    2000 Harry Browne

    And then gave up on the fake LP after they supported the post 9/11 measures (see Harry Browne's writings post 9/11)

    I stayed away from all of it until 2020 in the communist state of New Jersey where I voted for Donald Trump, little good it did though, and straight fake Republicans down the line.

    Libertarianism and Free Markets? I got it and I got it a long time ago, but now was the time to stop (or delay) the Marxists that are here now and ready and eager to kill us. We are doomed... Get it? but I'll greet and welcome fellow libertarians and converts on the real physical battlefied when the time comes.

    Libertarians sure took the "Make Your Vote Count" slogan too literally without thinking of what that would mean in our current situation.

    BTW: Fakes are not limited to the Republican Party.

    The LP proved itself to be a joke after 9/11 and then again in 2008.

    See the clip below.

  5. This article sums up some of the goals of a 2nd Trump administration:

    "It will take many baby steps to fix the West. The first, populism — which rejects globalism, diversity as a goal, socialism, and political machines — will give way to many others. Not all solutions are political, and a cultural wave will do the hard stuff.

    However, Trump has made a glorious start and with this election trap, he has opened the door not to just a triumphant second term, but the fundamental reinvention of America."

    1. That article was a nice daydream. Trump was too concerned about pleasing Israel and it's default citizens to worry about his constituents.