Reconsidering Rothbard

The memory of Murray Rothbard seems to have taken a lot heat over the past couple of years. In part this is a reflection of how the blogosphere has treated him: remember the debates comparing Rothbard to Milton Friedman. Although not specifically Rothbardian, Misesian economic method has been recently attacked from various angles, and Rothbard was probably the strongest defender ofa priori methodological individualism after the death of Ludwig von Mises. Of course, Murray’s political views — anarcho-capitalism — are probably the most unacceptable of all to the majority of people.

On the other hand, “the memory of Rothbard” is subjective, in that my own personal journey has seen a fluctuation in my intellectual sentiments regarding Rothbard’s work. I differ in important areas: while I’m no monetary disequilibrium theorist, I advocate free banking of the Selgin–White variety; I don’t believe there exists an objective morality; concerning method, I’m flexible and a limited skeptic; et cetera. It’s all these partings that have dissuaded me from reading more of Rothbard’s work, prioritizing other things instead — something, by the way, that I’ve long considered unfortunate.

Amidst all of this, Robert Murphy (“Rothbard’s Man, Economy, and State at 50“) and Joseph Salerno (“Murphy on Man, Economy, and State“) show exactly why Rothbard shouldn’t be marginalized, providing us with a glimpse of what he accomplished. Murphy writes on the synthesis of Austrian capital theory — Mises, Hayek, and Eugene von Böhm-Bawerk — and the rethinking of monopoly theory. Salerno points out the synthesis and improvement of the neoclassical theory of distribution. It’s no small detail that Salerno considers Man, Economy, and State “possibly the greatest economics treatise of the twentieth century” — note, perhaps more so than Mises’ Human Action (?).

Both Murphy’s Freeman piece and Salerno’s blog post, which also states some brief quibbles with the former, are well worth reading. Maybe afterwards, if you haven’t already, you should consider getting yourself a copy of Rothbard’s magnum opus.

[This semester requires a lot of reading, so I’m not sure how much recreational reading I can get done. But, I think it’s time to start on Man, Economy, and State.]

5 thoughts on “Reconsidering Rothbard

  1. Pete Walker

    As a history buff, Rothbard’s writings on history helped me better understand economics, politics, and people by giving concrete examples.

    see objective morality as an ongoing effort with a more realistic goal
    being a morality that’s not perfect but objective enough to be workable
    between different societies. For instance atheists could have
    memberships in ADROs, Catholics in CDROs, Muslims in MDROs, etc. (I
    don’t know how society will be in one or two hundred years; those are
    just examples.) Any DRO not compatible with the others
    would go out of business. (Credit for some of that idea goes to Hans-Hermann Hoppe.)

    1. JCatalan

      I definitely think that private society will be characterized by the rule of law, evolving over time in accordance with the preferences of society, moral or otherwise.

      The first treatise on the history of economic thought that I ever read was actually volume 1 of Rothbard’s two-part tome, and the two other books of his that Ive read are actually contributions to history: America’s Great Depression and A History of Money and Banking in the United States. Unfortunately, over the years I’ve found his first volume of his two-piece history of thought set less and less reliable — important errors.

  2. Peter St Onge recently put up full audio of MES, narrated by Riggenbach. Not a bad way to fill 2 months of spare time.


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