Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Murray Rothbard on Genetic Engineering

 My take on genetic engineering lines up very well with that of Murray Rothbard.

He wrote:

[W]e should stop being so afraid of science: We should recapture the optimism with which earlier decades greeted technological advances. But we should always guard against any abuse of civil liberties whether using primitive or advanced technology. The human race could not have achieved its millenial climb upward from the cave man to civilization and high living standards for hundreds of millions without the aid of science and technology. To say that we must not tamper with God’s gene pool is as sensible as saying that airplanes are evil because if God wanted us to fly he would have given us wings. Every time that men and women mate and produce children they are engaging in their own kind of “genetic engineering,” by deciding which individuals they will attempt to mix their genes with. Cloning and other scientific advances will allow individuals to choose freely and determine their fates with far more knowledge and precision. Probably few mongoloids and hemophiliacs, and more geniuses, will be produced in the future. Is this such a terrible fate?

Dropping the level of the discussion down a bit to the current COVID-19  vaccines, the vaccines should not be attacked just because the developers use mRNA technology.

I am the first to admit that it does not appear that the technology has been safely tested but this does not mean that in the future some methods for using mRNA technology might prove safe and effective.

I have my doubts about the COVID-19 vaccine but let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater. 

The first time Thomas Edison tried to create electricity he failed and many times after that but it was a noble effort that eventually paid off big time for civilization.

The problem with the current development of mRNA technology is the heavy hand of government which can muscle general use of a technology that may not yet be safe and properly developed.



  1. I like Rothbard's analogy. That said, doesn't Austrian Economics warn us of the hubris of central planners? Just as someone can not centrally manage an economy, they also can not centrally manage the health of a nation or world for that matter. Do any of these scientists monkeying around with genes honestly know the secondary and so on consequences of their actions? I doubt many of them have read Bastiat and think about the seen and unseen consequences of their actions.

    Someone recently stated something that helped me understand how scientists could develop such potentially dangerous products. Some business guy gives a scientist a task of developing a shot or vaccine that produces an antibody. The scientist doesn't ask why. He or she just focuses on accomplishing that specific task. Beyond that, most of these scientists exist in their own echo chambers, much as the people who run the Fed do. I would hope people that embrace the Austrian School of Economics would understand how so much of the mainstream of any specific field could be so wrong. Sadly it happens.

    1. Great comment! I would add that, after decades (and centuries) of censoring and coercion, choking so much free inquiry, science has proceeded down many wrong paths, and much criticism and remediation is needed - but, of course, such criticism is virtually banned in our current world! This needs to be taken into account more, before lauding genetic science as it exists today.


    2. Thanks. I agree that science can and does sometimes go down the wrong path for long periods of time. It was a lengthy expose at mises.org on the origin of the AMA and it's state chapters that helped open my eyes to the corruption and wrongheadedness of much of modern medicine.

    3. Being in the STEM field, I will say many scientists live in the weeds and don't necessarily think too deeply about the big picture. And that's nothing necessarily wrong with that.

      Market principles apply to science as well as it's driven by R&D funding. And society (both macro and micro scale) determines what sorts of research has value, from basic research to applied research.

      The problem is these days research is heavily impacted and centrally managed by governments. It affects not only the type of work that gets funded, but also what sorts of opinions are acceptable and published. IMO, this has eroded basic scientific principles and rigor of always challenging theories to make advances (nothing is every proven; only disproven). And we have seen how when government and politics gets heavily involved, it has silenced scientific debate and research when it pertains to COVID or climate change.

      Anyway, my point is blaming researchers and scientists is akin to blaming manufacturers of products. They're only doing what they're doing because there is a demand. And government interference and central management of R&D is a huge market distortion.

    4. I like your points and agree regarding the government interference in R&D/Science. I don't intend to attack all scientists...just those that don't put in any thought to what they're doing and especially those that step out of the lab to suppress debate (especially when they use the government to do it).

      You raised an interesting question to me and it probably means I need to read RW's PPS book and more Rothbard. Does demand for something mean it's morally (per PPS/Rothbard/actual libertarians) ok to satisfy that demand? I guess the answer would be, yes so long as it doesn't violate someone else's body or property rights?

  2. If you had the ability to create your preferred environment, what would it be? I would prefer the environment humans have had during interglacial periods enhanced by knowledge and technology so that I do not have to worry about the debilitation of the animal I am until a natural death.

    This means living in and with all of the beauties and horrors of nature with the knowledge and tech to survive and fully heal from the inevitable injuries nature will inflict.

    There is a lot more to this than I am prepared to include in this comment but, in the context of genetic, and all engineering, I am in favor of it until it adversely affects our environment. This is subjective for each individual.

    As for the mRNA tech it could be a game changer but, I am of the mind that there are natural aspects of humans and our environment that we will never fully control. The current C-19 mRNA vaccines are based on the Spike Protein of the virus. If we are to single out one aspect of C-19 to focus a vaccine on The Spike Protein is probably the best. But we humans have a tendency to lose the whole while focusing on a part we believe is the most important. We want the extract that is said to be the most beneficial rather than the complete herb.

    There are experts that contend that natural immunity to C-19 is much better than that provided by the current mRNA vaccines because there are other aspects of viruses that our immune systems react to that can be adversely effected by our reaction to the vaccines. That said there are those, such as the elderly, which have such diminished natural immune function these drugs may be better than nothing. I suspect this has more to do with lifestyle for most of the elderly than simply age but, that is another story.

  3. Jimmy Joe MeekerMay 4, 2021 at 5:41 PM

    The question isn't the mRNA technology or genetic engineering technology at all. It's about property rights. Nobody has the right to force mRNA tech on another person and nobody has the right to allow their genetic engineered organisms out into the wild so that genetic code infiltrates the next generation of organisms on another person's property.

    Furthermore food buyers should be informed what exactly the product on offer is without the hassle of carrying around some testing kit but that's a tangential discussion.

    Also there's a liability question. In libertarian society there would be liability if the genetic technology caused harm but in the statist society the GMO food is declared the same as it was before modification so no liability or a very hard case to make and the mRNA vaccine maker is protected from liability directly.