Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Magic of Uncle Murray

There's no doubting that Murray Rothbard really was a genius. I've been blogging on a few other Austro-related sites over the New Year and every time someone has needed to demonstrate a point, a quote from Uncle Murray has often helped to succinctly illustrate a point and often helped to shut down any anti-Austrian commentator. It's one thing to argue with an under-educated blogger such as yours truly, who usually lacks a full easy command of defensive arguments available to hand, but if you know your Rothbard you arm yourself with an almost unarguable arsenal of rock-solid defensive equipment.

Examples of such Rothbard quotes include the following:

Blogger uses Rothbard to refute a point that Austrians should never work for the government

Keith Derrick demonstrates that Rothbard anticipated an idea of yours truly, by several decades

Only another genius, Stephan Kinsella, to my mind, has ever really managed to refute Rothbard. Kinsella did this with copyright and intellectual property rights, but Kinsella stood on a giant's shoulder by extending an earlier Rothbardian point that unscarce objects can never be property. Here's a couple of Rothbard quotes below, which almost anticipated Kinsella's later refutation of Rothbard's personal belief in copyright:
In the first place, all means are scarce, i.e., limited with respect to the ends they could possibly serve. If the means are in unlimited abundance, then they need not serve as the objects of attention of any human action.
What goods become property? Obviously only scarce means are property. General conditions of welfare, since they are abundant to all, are not the objects of any action, and therefore cannot be owned or become property. On the free market, it is nonsense to say that someone “owns” the air. Only if a good is scarce is it necessary for anyone to obtain it, or ownership of it, for his use.
I discovered both those quotes by following a New Year's resolution. Realising that I needed a bit more of a shield before venturing further into the fierce world of blogdom, after writing my piece on Mr Spock, I thought it was time for a second read of Man, Economy, and State. I'm finding it as hard as I found it the first time round. Rothbard carefully explains points which at first I find inpenetrable. But if you work at each page for long enough, the meaning of each idea under discussion suddenly becomes clear. It's a bit like looking at those 3D stereograms that were popular a few years ago, which suddenly come into sharp focus after a period of haze. I'm avoiding trying to memorize each point, but simply trying to understand Rothbard's reasoning. And once I do, point by point, his genius shines through ever more clearly. Marvellous.

So my Austro-recommendation for the New Year is this; if you have never read Man, Economy, and State, or if it's been a while since you last did so, now is a good time to do so. Forget giving up cigarettes, for the moment; just read the magic of Uncle Murray.

Now, let me get back to those directly exchanged horses and barrels of fish. Wish me luck!

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