Murray Rothbard is one of the most important figures in Austrian Economics and the libertarian movement. Today Connor and Brittany dive into his biography and how he helped influence the modern liberty movement.
Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
Connor: Hey, Brittany.
Brittany: Hi, Connor.
Connor: We’ve gone through so many important economists, primarily Austrian economists, which are kind of free-market economists. and these are individuals that we should know about. These are important thinkers who’ve really tried to help create, arguments and discuss ideas that make the world a better place. And today, you know, I wanted to continue that discussion and talk about a man named Murray Rothbard. And in past episodes, we’ve talked about voluntarism, which, you know, is this idea that we should be free to choose what we want that human relationship should all be voluntary. You shouldn’t be coerced, or forced into a relationship that you don’t want to. but there’s another idea, another school of thought that is similar to Voluntarism, that was basically started by Murray Rothbard. And, we’ll have a whole separate episode about this, but it’s called Anarcho-Capitalism, and it’s been a major influence for many folks who support the free market, many libertarians. but let’s start with talking about Rothbard first himself. So Brittany, maybe a brief summary. Tell us a little, what do you know about Murray Rothbard?
Brittany: Well, aside from having a bunch of t-shirts and other items with his face on it, which I have many around my house, Rothbard was a brilliant man, and he wasn’t even, I mean, he wasn’t an economist. He wasn’t just an economist. He was also a brilliant historian. In fact, he has, goodness, it’s like a four-part book on, the Founding of America that I can’t even get through because it’s so big. But, he’s just so brilliant.
Connor: It’s called The Conceived liberty.
Brittany: Yep, that’s right. And we’ll link to it though. I don’t, I don’t know that some of our listeners will be quite old enough to read it yet.
Connor: Brittany, let me actually pause this. This is the fun thing for folks who listen to our podcast and join our Facebook group. And by the way, if you don’t know, we have a Facebook group, so you can go search, in the Facebook groups for Tuttle Twins, and you’ll find it where we like to share some little behind-the-scenes stuff. So I’ll pause very briefly to say, as you know, we take important books and ideas and turn them into kid’s versions. We’re working on a really big project right now for an American history kind of textbook, which uses Murray Rothbard’s conceived in liberty as kind of the basis, of the original text. And we’re gonna be teaching kids about American history. This is gonna take us like a year to do. This is a really, really big project, but especially for the parents out there with all that 16, 19 garbage and all that stuff floating around. Yes, we feel it’s so important to teach American history that like actually happened and Murray Rothbard did it so well, Brittaney’s, right? It, it’s kind of, you know, a power pack. There’s so much information and conceived in liberty. So as is our nature, we’re gonna kind of take it down for kids, simplify it, make it kind of fun, and teach ’em American history. So fun little tease for you guys, many, many months away, but it’s something we’re working on and Rothbard gets credit for really doing a bang-up job and teaching American history.
Brittany: Well, you said you said it. Well, I’m glad I brought it up, but it is one that I have to admit that I have not finished reading yet. I started it like eight years ago, so I’ll see if I finish it. But above all, Murray Rothbard was anti-state, so anti-government, anti-war, which was a big deal back in this day, and pro-free market. I think that’s the best way to give a brief summary of him before we dive into the details.
Connor: I think that’s right. You know, he was also a student of Ludwig Vaughn Mises. but he wasn’t, you know, always, it wasn’t until he read a pamphlet in college. He was going to Columbia University, and he read something written by Milton Friedman, another economist we’ve talked about. And so this actually got Murray Rothbard curious about Austrian economics. You’ll love this part. Brittany, he actually called the organization that printed the pamphlet to get more information. You know this is pre-internet, of course, decades ago. And, you know, you’d read these pamphlets and it would say, four more information, you know, call this number or write us here. And that’s just how people got information. So, Murray, he calls the organization that wrote this pamphlet. Who was it? It was the Foundation for Economic Education that you used to work for. Yeah.
Brittany: I love FEE.
Connor: It’s amazing. And it was actually at the FEE mansion. They had this like big, you know, house and headquarters where he first met Ludwig Van Mises, who was like the father of Austrian economics. That’s where Murray became very interested in the ideas of Mises. And so from there, he just threw himself in the Liberty movement. He’d go to, you know, FEE seminars. And you know, it’s important to say he also disagreed with Mises on some points. And this was, I’m gonna read a quote from, the Misys Institute. one of their writers, David Gordon. And so.
Brittany: He was a hilarious man, by the way.
Connor: He’s talking about Murray Rothbard. He says, as he deepened his understanding of laissez-faire or free-market economics, he confronted a dilemma. The arguments for market provision of goods, how, goods kind of circulate, move around, applied across the board. If so, should not even protection and defense be offered on the market rather than supplied by a coercive monopoly? So what is protection and defense? This is the police. He’s saying, well, wait a minute. If the free market is how we get the best goods and services, then what about the services that involve protecting us and defending us? And so Gordon continues, he says, Rothbard realized that he would either have to abandon, you know, this laissez-faire free market idea or embrace like this individualism, even this kind of idea of anarchy of not so much like throwing bombs, that kind of anarchy. We talked before about how one version of anarchy, one definition is it’s just without rulers, not this top-down government. And so, it’s very interesting that Rothbard is realizing that, well, wait a minute. If I’m gonna be purely for free markets, then that has some really interesting implications. Should we have a free market in money versus the government saying, you will accept dollars and, you know, only dollars? Should we have a free market in the military, in police, in firefighters, right? If we really believe that competition improves the quality of things and lowers the price, then why wouldn’t we want competition even in government? It’s a pretty radical and fun idea to think about.
Brittany: There’s a joke and I’m gonna butcher it. So at one point, Hayek, who we’ve talked about before, walked out of this meeting and said, you’re all a bunch of socialists. Or Wait, was it Mesis? No, it was Hayek said, you’re all a bunch of socialists. Wait, now it might have been Mesis, who knows? But it’s where Mesis. But then there was the joke is that Murray Rothbard was in a room with both of them and walks out saying, you are all a bunch of socialists. Because these guys, Hayek was seen as extreme, but to Mesis he wasn’t as extreme. And then you have Rothbard who was like the extremist of them all. And that’s why I think I was drawn to him is because I liked his attitude of like, no if we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do it. Right. We’re gonna be individualists all the way. Yeah. And another way he did that was being anti-war at a time where that wasn’t very popular, even in his own circles. So his support for what we call a non-interventional, that word non-interventionalist foreign policy, led him to kind of champion what was called the old, right? At the time, these were people who would’ve been called isolationists because they didn’t want to get involved in World War II. And a lot of people used emotional arguments like, cause there were terrible things going on during World War II. And they would say, you know, how can we just sit by and let this happen? But there were earlier people before Rothbard’s time who said, you know, let’s think about all the things war does. The people who die, the money we spend, we don’t need to get into this war. And so people called them isolationist, which was kind of a derogatory term, meaning it was like an insult to try to get people to say like, oh, oh, you want people to die? Oh, you want the world to you know, just, just be destroyed by these enemies. But Rothbard was very strong on his stance of anti-war. He believed that we shouldn’t intervene in other countries. That was no need for it, because the cost of war outweighed any, you know, benefits that might happen. So this time was when the Cold War was happening, and we’ve talked about that briefly, but we’ll do a whole episode on it. And there was a magazine called National Review, which is still around, it’s online today. started by a man named William Buckley, who was very, very important back in these more right, leading conservative circles. And Murray used to write for them until the Cold War because he couldn’t associate himself with people who were okay with just going to war. And they all had their reasons, but he condemned that. And there’s a word, and Connor, maybe I’ll have you help me digest or dissect this word cuz you and I have both been anti, this term for a long time. Neoconservative, what’s a neoconservative?
Connor: A Neocons conserve. So, you know, old-school conservatives long ago were much more limited government and individual rights and sound money. a Neoconserve, neo means new. And so it just means like a new version of conservative that is different than the old ones. They no longer believe in limited government. They like a strong government, they want to intervene. They don’t want sound money. And so, it’s kind of like how you and I, and countless others will say, classical liberal. Yes. Instead of liberal. Because the original liberal was kind of a libertarian. You believed in liberty. And today, when you say liberal, it’s quite the opposite. some even call them neoliberals, right? Yes. They’re the new liberals just to help distinguish and clarify that we’re talking about something different. And so a neo-conservative is basically not the old guard, the old right, that you were talking about that Murray Rothbard was a part of. But this more just kind of pro-government, pro-state control type of people.
Brittany: And very pro-war for some reason, they always tend to be pretty pro-war, which, you know, a lot of people would call Dick Cheney and George Bush, you know, big neo-conservatives, which I think is dead on. They were. But, so back to Murray. So in 1987, he started a journal called The Review of Austrian Economics. And that gave kind of a scholarly venue for up-and-coming economists and established economists to come and talk about Austrian theory. And then he later renamed that the quarterly Journal of Austria Economics, which is still around. So I think that’s really fun, in his comments on current events, and this is where he did so much, I think for the public. He was really, really good at taking a lot of really complex, you know, theories and, and topics and making them digestible. He was really good at talking to that. Now it doesn’t mean people always bought into it, right? Libertarians, which is what he was, we’re sometimes, what’s the word I’m looking for? No, no, it’s not for everybody. We are an acquired taste. So I’m not gonna say he got everyone bought into the ideology, but he was very good at explaining current events and putting them into these ideas of classical liberalism. And one of the ways he did that was in his book for New Liberty, which is one of my favorite books of his, I’ve read several except for conceived in Liberty. but they’re all very good.
Connor: One of the things that I remember, reading about when I was first learning about Murray Rothbard was I had just read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and our listeners and readers know that we have the Tuttle twins and the search for Atlas, which is based, loosely off, you know, the ideas and concepts in Atlas Shrugged. And Ayn Rand she, was kind of an objective, this separate kind of idea on total individualism. You know, selfishness is a virtue. Yep. it has some really creative and interesting ideas and there’s a bit of an overlap between being more of a libertarian versus an objective, but not a total overlap there’s some important differences. And and it’s interesting that you know, Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard who we’re talking about, they would sometimes have these feuds, they would kind of strongly disagree with one another. And what I find interesting about that is that you know, we have the same challenge today as you’ll find people who believe in like 80% of what you believe in, or 90% or 95, 99%.
Brittany: 99 even. Yeah.
Connor: And then rather than focusing on that shared set of values where you agree in saying, let’s work together, you know, it’s I guess human nature, it’s a tendency to just focus on the areas where, you know, you disagree. And people who loved Ayn Rand started hating Murray Rothbard. And then people who loved Murray Rothbard started hating Ayn Rand and there was these feuds and these problems and it was just, silly cuz I’m more of like a builder. I want, like, let’s create coalitions, let’s work together, let’s do some good on the things that we agree with. And so, you know, Rothbard, we’re all imperfect. We have our, quirks and so forth, and so did Rothbard. But what I really admire about him is he was prolific, which means that he wrote a lot. Yeah, A lot, a lot, a lot. And it was, you know, he’s just crazy. I mean, he is written so many books, but, and what that means is that he read a lot too. Yes. And I’m, I really admire that about him, that or anyone in that area, the founding fathers, all these people that, like, what did you do before the internet right? Like, you just have to like, sit in libraries and read, and read and read. Whereas we can kind of like pick and choose like, oh, I’m gonna grab that paragraph from this article and I’m gonna read a few pages out of this book and I’m gonna search through these books to find just what I’m looking for versus just having to consume all this information. And that’s what Rothbard did. But it made him smarter. It made him so creative in how he came up with arguments and what he referenced them to. And so his books are really enjoyable. He was a big influence on so many people, including Dr. Ron Paul, who we’ve had on the show before. A big influence for you and I, Britney will dedicate a future episode to this idea of anarchy capitalism. Yes. Kind of the legacy that Murray Rothbard left. There’s so many people today that call themselves anarchy capitalist. Well, what is that? Why aren’t you just a capitalist? Or is it an anarchist or is it a voluntary, what’s all these is. We’ve talked about so many isms before. There’s all these people who believe in different things. I guess you know, politically, as much as there’s all kinds of religious isms as well, people have their own beliefs, they come up with their own ideas, and that’s, great. We believe in freedom and they should be allowed to. But Rothbard had some really powerful ideas. And so we will link, to a profile about him, maybe is conceived in Liberty series and some resources on the show notes page. So make sure that you guys head to Tuttletwins.com/podcast. This is a guy worth learning more about. Yes. And I should note, since we haven’t already, one of our kids’ books is based off of one of Murray Rothbard’s books. He wrote a book called Anatomy of the State. This is, can’t even call it book.
Brittany: It’s a great one. It’s an essay, I think technically.
Connor: Yeah, yeah. It’s like a booklet. I mean, you can buy it in a little tiny booklet form. You can find the essay online. And a very powerful, essay that kind of partly lays out his ideas behind this anarcho-capitalism type of idea. Like really powerful freedom. Let’s be pure about free markets and freedom. So he wrote this essay, anatomy of the State, and then we borrowed some ideas from that to turn it into the Tuttle Twins and the fate of the future. So, you guys can go read a little bio in the back of that for Murray Rothbard or go check out, as I said, Tuttletwins.com/podcast. Thanks as always, Brittany, and until next time, we’ll talk to you later.
Brittany: Talk to you later.