Friday, March 10, 2017

A Scrap of Libertarian History

I just came across a letter I wrote to Edith Efron in 1978 on the anarchist/minarchist controversy. It occurred to me that others might find it interesting. I don't remember if she ever answered it. 

But then, I also don't remember writing it.


At 12:11 PM, March 10, 2017, Anonymous Iskander said...

Do you have the script (or any other details) of your talk on Nozick's book?
I found ASU to be a wonderful book and I'd love to see what your thoughts of it were/are.
I enjoyed Machinery of Freedom too, it made me think seriously about anarchism as beforehand I saw it purely as the Rothbardian farce that seems to have more widespread recognition.

At 11:14 PM, March 10, 2017, Blogger David Friedman said...


That was about forty years ago, so I'm afraid I don't. It's possible that someone recorded it, but not likely.

At 4:00 AM, March 11, 2017, Anonymous Iskander said...

That's a pity, thanks anyway!

At 9:25 AM, March 12, 2017, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of Machinery of Freedom,

I do feel like Libertarianism is making a lot of progress. Not too long ago, I saw an (attractive) female on the D.C. metro reading the Machinery of Freedom. I doubt you would see that 20 years ago. She even mentioned meeting David Friedman and being a fan. Libertarianism use to be the domain of white male nerds, but its expanded. I've seen quite a few Libertarians from non-traditional backgrounds: Blacks, attractive females, Hispanics, etc. I actually had a discussion with her on Rothbard vs Friedmans vision of Anarcho-Capitalism. I do get the sense that people see Friedman as more of a moderate while Rothbard's vision as extremely radical. I can see mainstream society buying into Friedman alot easier than I can see them buying into Rothbard once they dig into some of his outsider opinions (abortion, race, etc.).

At 4:54 PM, March 12, 2017, Blogger Andrew Hallman said...

That's very interesting, David. Thank you for posting it online.

Can you elaborate on the controversy surrounding the Cato Institute, and why you declined to write for it?

At 11:29 PM, March 12, 2017, Blogger David Friedman said...


It's a long time ago, but I think what was going on was that at that point Cato was controlled by Rothbard people with whom I had a variety of disagreements.

At 1:03 PM, March 14, 2017, Blogger Xerographica said...

Rothbard sure did commit a few errors. But he and Buchanan were some of the precious few people who truly appreciated that the fundamental problem with government is the massive scarcity of individual valuation. However, unlike Buchanan, for some reason Rothbard never publicly considered the possibility of taxpayers simply directly allocating their taxes. I know there were quite a few rather fruitless exchanges between Buchanan and Samuelson... but I haven't run across any exchanges between Buchanan and Rothbard. Did you have any exchanges with Buchanan?

Ayn Rand simply refused to examine the anarcho-capitalist position? Hah. Ain't that the worst!? I know of one awesome and prominent anarcho-capitalist, not going to mention any names (because it's a really short list), who simply refuses to allocate more than three sentences to the pragmatarian position! So I can certainly empathize. :D But to his immense credit, so far he's been super tolerant of my occasional pestering. :)

Have you seen this fundraising page on the LP website? There's a list of possible themes for the 2018 convention. Donors can "dollar vote" for their favorite themes. Now we can all see that the demand for "Taxation Is Theft" is relatively insignificant. Oh man, if only Rothbard was alive to see that! Last time I checked the most valuable theme is, "I'm That Libertarian". I had no idea what it meant. Given that it was the most valuable theme I decided to google for it. I found a Youtube video of some guy giving a pretty impassioned libertarian speech. It was a little awkward, as is usually the case with libertarians, but I gotta admit that it was somewhat inspiring.

What's super cool, and loads ironic, about the Libertarian Party's fundraising system... is that it's a pragmatarian system! Well... to give credit where it's due... it's Buchanan's system. Since donors are giving their money to the LP anyways, they have absolutely no incentive to conceal their true preference for the themes. Sure, the donations are voluntary rather than compulsory... so in this regard there is still the free-rider problem. Perhaps if all libertarians were required to make a minimum donation to their preferred theme, we'd super ironically discover that the "Taxation Is Theft" theme is far more relatively valuable. Nevertheless the LP's fundraiser quite nicely demonstrates the idea of using a payment to reveal/communicate the intensity of more specific preferences.

Last night I e-mailed Wes Benedict and asked if he was interested in being BFFs. In my e-mail I told him that it would be ultra awesome if he did the same thing with books! Which pro-market/freedom book is the most valuable?! Oh God I'd love to know! I'd love to be able to see the true value of things! Dear God in heaven please cure my blindness!!!

Oh, wow, Benedict seriously just replied to my e-mail. I'm honestly very pleasantly surprised that he did so! Hmmm... he didn't accept or reject my BFF offer. Seems like he's playing it safe. :)

At 12:05 PM, March 15, 2017, Blogger Russ Nelson said...

The beauty of MoF is that it assumes that it's possible to solve enough problems without government to let the ones you cannot solve slide. Then it goes on to show that in theory, anarchism can work, just like in theory, government can work.

At 6:13 PM, March 25, 2017, Blogger Ted Levy said...

It is not often one sees a letter beginning "Dear Ms. Efron" and ending "cc: Robert Nozick"...


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