Murray Rothbard

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Murray Rothbard
Western Economists
20th-century Economists
(Austrian Economics)

Rothbard circa 1955
Full name Murray Newton Rothbard
School/tradition Austrian School
Main interests Economics, Political economy, Anarchism, Natural law, Praxeology, Numismatics, Philosophy of law, Ethics, Economic history
Notable ideas Founder of Anarcho-capitalism, Rothbard's law

Murray Newton Rothbard (March 2, 1926 – January 7, 1995) was an American economist of the Austrian School, intellectual and author who helped define modern libertarianism and founded a form of free-market anarchism he termed "anarcho-capitalism".[1][2] Building on the Austrian School's concept of spontaneous order, strong support of a free market in money production[3] and condemnation of central planning, Rothbard concluded that taxation represents theft on a grand scale, and "a compulsory monopoly of force" prohibiting the voluntary procurement of defense and judicial services, and considered central banking and fractional reserve banking (though he would not outlaw the latter[4]) as a form of institutionalized, legalized recursive embezzlement, antithetical to libertarian principles and ethics.[5][6][7]


[edit] Life and work

Rothbard was born to David and Rae Rothbard, who raised their Jewish family in the Bronx. "I grew up in a Communist culture," he recalled.[8] He attended Columbia University, where he was awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics and economics in 1945 and a Master of Arts degree in 1946. He earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree in economics in 1956 at Columbia doctorate under Arthur Burns.[9][10]

During the early 1950s, he studied under the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises at his seminars at New York University and was greatly influenced by Mises' book Human Action. In the 1950s and 1960s he worked for the classical liberal William Volker Fund on a book project that resulted in Man, Economy, and State, published in 1962. From 1963 to 1985, he taught at Polytechnic Institute of New York University in Brooklyn, New York. From 1986 until his death he was a distinguished professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Rothbard founded the Center for Libertarian Studies in 1976 and the Journal of Libertarian Studies in 1977. He was associated with the 1982 creation of the Ludwig von Mises Institute and later was its academic vice president. In 1987 he started the scholarly "Review of Austrian Economics," now called the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics.[9]

In 1953 he married JoAnn Schumacher in New York City whom he called the “indispensable framework” for his life and work.[9] He died in 1995 in Manhattan of a heart attack. The New York Times obituary called Rothbard "an economist and social philosopher who fiercely defended individual freedom against government intervention."[11]

[edit] Austrian School writings

Cover of the 2004 edition of Man, Economy, and State.

The Austrian School attempts to discover axioms of human action (called "praxeology" in the Austrian tradition). It supports free market economics and criticizes command economies because they destroy the information function of prices and inevitably lead to totalitarianism. Influential advocates were Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises. Rothbard argued that the entire Austrian economic theory is the working out of the logical implications of the fact that humans engage in purposeful action.[12] In working out these axioms he came to the position that a monopoly price could not exist on the free market. He also anticipated much of the “rational expectations” viewpoint in economics. His free market views convinced him that individual protection and national defense also should be offered on the market, rather than supplied by government’s coercive monopoly.[9] Rothbard was an ardent critic of Keynesian economic thought[13] as well as the utilitarian theory of philosopher Jeremy Bentham.[14]

In Man, Economy and State Rothbard divides the various kinds of state intervention in three categories: autistic intervention, which is interference with private non-exchange activities; binary intervention, which is forced exchange between individuals and the state; and triangular intervention, which is state-mandated exchange between individuals. According to Sanford Ikeda, Rothbard's typology "eliminates the gaps and inconsistencies that appear in Mises's original formulation."[15][16][17]

Rothbard also was knowledgeable in history and political philosophy. Rothbard's books, such as Man, Economy, and State, Power and Market, The Ethics of Liberty, and For a New Liberty, are considered by some to be classics of natural law libertarian thought. He studied the pre-Adam Smith economic schools, such as the Scholastics and the Physiocrats and discussed them in his unfinished, multi-volume work, An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought.

Murray Rothbard points out in Power and Market that the role of the economist in a free market is limited, but the role in a government which intervenes in the market expands. Thus the prejudice of many economists for increased government intervention.[18][19] Rothbard created "Rothbard's law" that "people tend to specialize in what they are worst at. Henry George, for example, is great on everything but land, so therefore he writes about land 90% of the time. Friedman is great except on money, so he concentrates on money."[20]

[edit] Political views

Rothbard "combined the laissez-faire economics of his teacher Ludwig von Mises with the absolutist views of human rights and rejection of the state he had absorbed from studying the individualist American anarchists of the nineteenth century such as Lysander Spooner and Benjamin Tucker."[21] He connected these to more modern views, writing: "There is, in the body of thought known as 'Austrian economics', a scientific explanation of the workings of the free market (and of the consequences of government intervention in that market) which individualist anarchists could easily incorporate into their political and social Weltanschauung."[22]

Rothbard opposed what he considered the overspecialization of the academy and sought to fuse the disciplines of economics, history, ethics, and political science to create a "science of liberty." Rothbard described the moral basis for his anarcho-capitalist position in two of his books: For a New Liberty, published in 1972, and The Ethics of Liberty, published in 1982. In his Power and Market (1970), Rothbard described how a stateless economy would function.[23]

[edit] Self-ownership

In The Ethics of Liberty, Rothbard asserted the right of total self-ownership, as the only principle compatible with a moral code that applies to every person – a "universal ethic" – and that it is a natural law by being what is naturally best for man.[24] He believed that, as a result, individuals owned the fruits of their labor. Accordingly, each person had the right to exchange his property with others. He believed that if an individual mixes his labor with unowned land then he is the proper owner, and from that point on it is private property that may only exchange hands by trade or gift. He also argued that such land would tend not to remain unused unless it makes economic sense to not put it to use.[25]

[edit] Anarcho-capitalism

Rothbard began to consider himself a private property anarchist in the 1950s and later began to use "anarcho-capitalist."[26][27] He wrote: "Capitalism is the fullest expression of anarchism, and anarchism is the fullest expression of capitalism."[28] In his anarcho-capitalist model, a system of protection agencies compete in a free market and are voluntarily supported by consumers who choose to use their protective and judicial services. Anarcho-capitalism would mean the end of the state monopoly on force.[26]

[edit] Free Market Money

Rothbard believed the monopoly power of government over the issuance and distribution of money was inherently destructive. The belief derived from Mises and Friedrich Hayek's Austrian theory of the business cycle, which holds that undue credit expansion inevitably leads to unsustainable credit bubbles and, eventually, economic depressions. He therefore strongly opposed governmental central banking and fractional reserve banking and supported free market banking. He himself advocated a voluntary gold standard and the benefits of full reserve banking.[9][29] Rothbard said that in a free banking system, banks would be allowed to engage in fractional reserve banking: "Let us also define a system of free banking as one where banks are treated like any other business on the free market. Hence, they are not subjected to any government control or regulation, and entry into the banking business is completely free. There is one and only one government “regulation”: that they, like any other business, must pay their debts promptly or else be declared insolvent and be put out of business. In short, under free banking, banks are totally free, even to engage in fractional reserve banking, but they must redeem their notes or demand deposits on demand, promptly and without cavil, or otherwise be forced to close their doors and liquidate their assets."[30]

[edit] Noninterventionism

Believing like Randolph Bourne that “war is the health of the state” Rothbard opposed aggressive foreign policy.[9] He criticized imperialism and the rise of the American empire which needed war to sustain itself and to expand its global control. Stopping new wars was necessary and knowledge of how government had seduced citizens into earlier wars was important. Two essays expanded on these views "War, Peace, and the State" and "The Anatomy of the State." Rothbard used insights of the elitism theorists Vilfredo Pareto, Gaetano Mosca and Robert Michels to build a model of state personnel, goals and ideology.[31][32] In an obituary for historian Harry Elmer Barnes Rothbard explained why historical knowledge is important: “Our entry into World War II was the crucial act in foisting a permanent militarization upon the economy and society, in bringing to the country a permanent garrison state, an overweening military-industrial complex, a permanent system of conscription. It was the crucial act in creating a mixed economy run by Big Government, a system of state-monopoly capitalism run by the central government in collaboration with Big Business and Big Unionism.”[33]

Rothbard discussed his views on the principles of a libertarian foreign policy in a 1973 interview: “minimize State power as much as possible, down to zero, and isolationism is the full expression in foreign affairs of the domestic objective of whittling down State power.”[34] In "War Guilt in the Middle East" Rothbard details Israel's "aggression against Middle East Arabs," confiscatory policies and its "refusal to let these refugees return and reclaim the property taken from them."[35] Rothbard also criticized the “organized Anti-Anti-Semitism” that critics of the state of Israel have to suffer.[36]

[edit] Children and rights

In the Ethics of Liberty Rothbard explores in terms of self-ownership and contract several contentious issues regarding childrens' rights. These include womens' right to abortion, proscriptions on parents aggressing against children once they are born, and the issue of the state forcing parents to care for children, including those with severe health problems. He also holds children have the right to "run away" from parents and seek new guardians as soon as they are able to choose to do so. He suggested parents have the right to put a child out for adoption or even sell the rights to the child in a voluntary contract, which he feels is more humane than artificial governmental restriction of the number of children available to willing and often superior parents. He also discusses how the current juvenile justice system punishes children for making "adult" choices, removes children unnecessarily and against their will from parents, often putting them in uncaring and even brutal foster care or juvenile facilities.[37][38]

[edit] Political activism

When young, he considered himself part of the Old Right, an anti-statist and anti-interventionist branch of the U.S. Republican party. When interventionist cold warriors of the National Review, such as William F. Buckley, Jr., gained influence in the Republican party in the 1950s, Rothbard quit the party. William F. Buckley later would write a bitter obituary in the National Review criticizing Rothbard's political views.[39]

During the late 1950s, Rothbard was an associate of Ayn Rand and her Objectivist philosophy, but later had a falling out. He later lampooned the relationship in his play Mozart Was a Red. In the late 1960s, Rothbard advocated an alliance with the New Left anti-war movement, on the grounds that the conservative movement had been completely subsumed by the statist establishment. However, Rothbard later criticized the New Left for supporting a "People's Republic" style draft. It was during this phase that he associated with Karl Hess and founded Left and Right: A Journal of Libertarian Thought with Leonard Liggio and George Resch, which existed from 1965 to 1968. From 1969 to 1984 he edited The Libertarian Forum, also initially with Hess (although Hess's involvement ended in 1971).

Rothbard criticized the "frenzied nihilism" of left-wing libertarians but also criticized right-wing libertarians who were content to rely only on education to bring down the state; he believed that libertarians should adopt any non-immoral tactic available to them in order to bring about liberty.[40]

Burton Blumert, Lew Rockwell, David Gordon, and Rothbard.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Rothbard was active in the Libertarian Party. He was frequently involved in the party's internal politics. From 1978 to 1983, he was associated with the Libertarian Party Radical Caucus, allying himself with Justin Raimondo, Eric Garris and Williamson Evers. He opposed the "low tax liberalism" espoused by 1980 Libertarian Party presidential candidate Ed Clark and Cato Institute president Edward H Crane III. Rothbard split with the Radical Caucus at the 1983 national convention over cultural issues, and aligned himself with what he called the "rightwing populist" wing of the party, notably Lew Rockwell and Ron Paul, who ran for President on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1988 and in the 2008 Republican Party Primaries.

In 1989, Rothbard left the Libertarian Party and began building bridges to the post-Cold War anti-interventionist right, calling himself a paleolibertarian.[41] He was the founding president of the conservative-libertarian John Randolph Club and supported the presidential campaign of Pat Buchanan in 1992, saying “with Pat Buchanan as our leader, we shall break the clock of social democracy.”[42] However, later he became disillusioned and said Buchanan developed too much faith in economic planning and centralized state power.[43]

[edit] Books

Cover from the first volume of the 2006 Ludwig Von Mises Institute edition of An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought
Cover of the Ludwig Von Mises Institute's 2000 edition of America's Great Depression.

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Miller, David, ed (1991). Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Political Thought. Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0-631-17944-5. 
  2. ^ Wendy McElroy. "Murray N. Rothbard: Mr. Libertarian". Lew Rockwell. July 6, 2000.. 
  3. ^ Free Market Money System by F.A. Hayek
  4. ^ Rothbard, Murrray. The Mystery of Banking. Ludwig von Mises Institute. 2008. p. 111
  5. ^ Hans-Hermann Hoppe. "The Ethics of Liberty". Ludwig von Mises Institute. 
  6. ^ The Mystery of Banking, Murray Rothbard
  7. ^ "Has fractional-reserve banking really passed the market test? (Controversy).". 
  8. ^ Life in the Old Right by Murray N. Rothbard,, first published in Chronicles, August 1994.
  9. ^ a b c d e f David Gordon, Murray N. Rothbard (1926-1995) biography, Ludwig Von Mises Institute.
  10. ^ Gary North, Ron Paul on Greenspan’s Fed , Lew, February 28, 2004.
  11. ^ David Stout, Obituary: Murray N. Rothbard, Economist And Free-Market Exponent, 68, New York Times, January 11, 1995.
  12. ^ Grimm, Curtis M.; Hunn, Lee; Smith, Ken G. Strategy as Action: Competitive Dynamics and Competitive Advantage. New York Oxford University Press (US). 2006. p. 43
  13. ^ See Robthbard's essay Keynes the Man, originally published in Dissent on Keynes: A Critical Appraisal of Keynesian Economics, Edited by Mark Skousen. New York: Praeger, 1992, 171–198; Online edition at The Ludwig von Mises Institute.
  14. ^ See Rothbard's essay, "Jeremy Bentham: The Utilitarian as Big Brother" published in his work, Classical Economics.
  15. ^ Ikeda, Sanford, Dyamics of the Mixed Economy: Toward a Theory of Interventionism, Routledge UK, 1997, 245.
  16. ^ Review of The Case Against the Fed by Murray N. Rothbard,, April 5, 2008.
  17. ^ Murray Rothbard, Chapter 2 "Fundamentals of Intervention" from Man, Economy and State, Ludwig von Mises Institute.
  18. ^ Peter G. Klein, Why Intellectuals Still Support Socialism, Ludwig von Mises Institute, November 15, 2006
  19. ^ Man, Economy, and State, Chapter 7-Conclusion: Economics and Public Policy, Ludwig Von Mises Institute.
  20. ^ Interview with Murray N. Rothbard, Ludwig von Mises Institute, Summer 1990.
  21. ^ Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Political Thought, 1987, ISBN 0-631-17944-5, p. 290
  22. ^ "The Spooner-Tucker Doctrine: An Economist's View" [1]
  23. ^ Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Anarcho-Capitalism: An Annotated Bibliography,
  24. ^ Rothbard, Murray Newton. The Ethics of Liberty. NYU Press. 2003. pp. 45 - 45
  25. ^ Kyriazi, Harold. Reckoning With Rothbard (2004). American Journal of Economics and Sociology 63 (2), 451
  26. ^ a b Roberta Modugno Crocetta, Murray Rothbard's anarcho-capitalism in the contemporary debate. A critical defense, Ludwig Von Mises Institute.
  27. ^ Michael Oliver, 'Exclusive Interview With Murray Rothbard, originally published in "The New Banner: A Fortnightly Libertarian Journal", February 25, 1972.
  28. ^ "Exclusive Interview With Murray Rothbard" The New Banner: A Fortnightly Libertarian Journal (February 25, 1972)
  29. ^ See also these Rothbard articles: What Has Government Done to Our Money?, The Case for the 100% Gold Dollar; The Fed as Cartel, Private Coinage, Repudiate the National Debt; Taking Money Back, The Mystery of Banking, Anatomy of the Bank Run, Money and the Individual
  30. ^ Rothbard, Murrray. The Mystery of Banking. Ludwig von Mises Institute. 2008. p. 111
  31. ^ Joseph R. Stromberg, Murray Rothbard on States, War, and Peace: Part I (also see Part II),, originally published June 2000.
  32. ^ See both essays, Murray N. Rothbard, War, Peace, and the State, first published 1963; Anatomy of the State, first published 1974, both at
  33. ^ Murray N. Rothbard, Harry Elmer Barnes, RIP, from “Left and Right” final issue, 1968, republished at
  34. ^ Rothbard on War, excerpts from a 1973 Reason Magazine article and other materials, published at, undated.
  35. ^ Murray Rothbard, War Guilt in the Middle East, "Left and Right", Vol. 3 No. 3 (Autumn 1967) (cited here.)
  36. ^ Murray N. Rothbard, Pat Buchanan and the Menace of Anti-anti-semitism, December 1990, from The Irrepressible Rothbard, published at
  37. ^ The Ethics of Liberty, Chapter 14 "Children and Rights."
  38. ^ See also Ronald Hamowy, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, Cato Institute, SAGE, 2008, 59-61 ISBN 1412965802, 9781412965804
  39. ^ William F. Buckley, Murray Rothbard, RIP - professor and Libertarian Party founder, National Review, February 6, 1995.
  40. ^ Lora, Ronald & Longton, Henry. 1999. The Conservative Press in Twentieth-Century America. Greenwood Press. p. 369
  41. ^ Murrary Rothbard, "Big Government Libertarianism", Lew, November 1994.
  42. ^ Lee Edwards, The Conservative Revolution: The Movement That Remade America, Simon and Schuster, 1999, 329.
  43. ^ Lew Rockwell, What I Learned From Paleoism,, 2002.

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