22 Sep 2016

Never Bet on Black

Pacifism, Shameless Self-Promotion 21 Comments

My Freedom Fest debate with Conrad Black, on whether FDR is a champion of liberty.

I did not handle my time well; I really need to get something besides my iPhone (where the screen disappears when it’s idle). But, in watching this video, I think I at least got my point across. If you’re curious, I wasn’t trying to “win the debate” in terms of the Freedom Fest crowd, but rather I wanted to have this video exist where I make my appeal to right wingers.

21 Responses to “Never Bet on Black”

  1. Josiah says:

    Were you pro or anti FDR as a champion of Liberty?

  2. Dan says:

    You can set your iPhone to not turn off when idle.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      It’s too easy. Sounds like a trap.

      • Dan says:


        • Tel says:

          Remember to switch it back to normal after the debate, because the screen blanking feature saves a LOT of batteries.

          Should be compulsory for every speaker podium to have a USB charging outlet. I think this might be a reasonable case for government regulation.

  3. Khodge says:

    The one point you made in your book that made the deepest impression on me was that people were starving because food had to be destroyed to keep prices up. Mr. Black, in essence, confirmed that when he described the government aiding in the development of a food cartel.

    Yes, let’s raise prices in the midst of a depression so the select few can become wealthy. It was after all a “free-market” thing because it was democratically voted on. It would have been nice had there been more time (or even if the entire war question had been skipped).

    • Darien says:

      It’s a true fact: in American History class back in high school, we studied the depression, and we learned about the government buying up and destroying food to force prices up. That was one of the major formative moments on my journey to libertarianism; I never believed in government economic management again.

  4. Tel says:

    Hey Bob, just some general commentary. Conrad Black is obviously a crackerjack historian of the World War II era; kind of intimidating to go up against him, even when the audience is on your side. I’m sure you did better than I would have done under the circumstances.

    I feel like you never captured the essence of Black’s argument. What he said (in a nutshell) was this: if you are going to have a central planner, then FDR wasn’t too bad compared with the other central planners on offer during the same era. I think that’s probably true. So Black pointed out that FDR’s internement camps were not as bad as the Nazi concentration camps (fair point) and not as bad as Stalin’s forced labour camps in Siberia (also a fair point). We face an even sharper contrast in as much as Herbert Hoover was also a central planner (and Hoover wasn’t doing a great job of it, either) and Winston Churchill was an old fashioned imperialist tending toward martial law*. This kind of background promotes FDR, who looks good from a relative perspective.

    That’s where Black was coming from, and it’s hard to beat, when the debate comes down to one central planner against a different central planner.

    Also, I’ve been reviewing “Economics in One Lesson” and there’s this quote:

    When the government comes to repay the debt it has accumulated for public works, it must necessarily tax more heavily than it spends. In this later period, therefore, it must necessarily destroy more jobs than it creates. The extra heavy taxation then required does not merely take away purchasing power; it also lowers or destroys incentives to production, and so reduces the total wealth and income of the country.

    The only escape from this conclusion is to assume (as of course the apostles of spending always do) that the politicians in power will spend money only in what would otherwise have been depressed or “deflationary” periods, and will promptly pay the debt off in what would otherwise have been boom or “inflationary” periods. This is a beguiling fiction, but unfortunately the politicians in power have never acted that way. Economic forecasting, moreover, is so precarious, and the political pressures at work are of such a nature, that governments are unlikely ever to act that way. Deficit spending, once embarked upon, creates powerful vested interests which demand its continuance under all conditions.

    I don’t need to tell you that Hazlitt was anti-Keynesian, but his general gist about looking carefully at short term effects and ALSO looking carefully at long term effects is such a great rule of thumb. This applies just as much to an FDR debate as it does to Keynes. Sure, Black can throw out examples of the short term results that FDR achieved but to get some balance on that we would need to consider long term.

    Many of FDR’s projects did attract those “powerful vested interests which demand its continuance under all conditions” and we could look at the Fannie Mae and how the housing bubble crashed in 2007, we could look at Social Security and how it’s been raided and can’t possibly continue in the current format. We could look at overall expansion of Federal powers and the long term effect this has had on liberty… ultimately leading to the corporatism of today. We could consider the entrenched privileges that the union movement has been able to hang onto right up to the present day.

    Yes, I noticed you alluded to some of those things, I just never heard you actually make the argument. Not with the clarity that Hazlitt was able to.

    And yeah, I know that it’s very easy to cut-and-paste a chunky quote from a good reference book onto a blog post but that just doesn’t work in a live debate. I’m not pretending to be a great debate strategist…

    * Richard North has something to say on the topic of Winston Churchill as a central planner, but North is an anarco-socialist (both anti-state and anti-capital but also pro-demos) so there might be some risk in bringing up his points at an an-cap venue, also hardly anyone knows him. BTW: there’s more than one Richard North, I’m talking about the EU-Referendum guy (Brexit supporter), and author of the book “The Many Not the Few”

    • Major.Freedom says:

      “That’s where Black was coming from, and it’s hard to beat, when the debate comes down to one central planner against a different central planner.”

      It is easy to beat when we are not brainwashed into believing that we have to limit our comparisons of people to the worst of the worst in the world.

      I mean, no matter what I do, it won’t ever be as bad as Hitler, right? Hey I’m noso bad after all. Can’t beat that argument!

      • Tel says:

        I’m guessing you never vote. Right?

        Sometimes you do need to pick between bad options, I doubt we ever get what we really want and probably if we ever did get it we would also find that disappointing.

        Anyhow, from a debate perspective, if you don’t at least capture the gist of the opponent’s argument, it’s very difficult to argue against it. You might slide past them and perhaps bump them on the way through, but the audience then needs to fill in a lot of gaps for themselves.

        • Major.Freedom says:

          We are not and never have been forced to pick between two bad options. Even those who do vote can vote for Pee Wee Herman if they want to.

          • Tel says:

            Fair point, in some cases there may be three bad options.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Tel so you would agree that Catwoman is a hero for following the law? I mean, she’s way better than the Joker and the Riddler.

      • Tel says:

        I would vote for Catwoman.

        I suspect a lot of other people probably would too, after she gets into government what she does after that would automatically be legal (much like what Obama does).

        • guest says:

          I would vote for Michelle Pfeiffer, too.

  5. Khodge says:

    Tel, I like it: “wasn’t too bad compared with. the other central planners.”

  6. Patrick Szar says:

    “A few timid people, who fear progress, will try to give you new and strange names for what we are doing. Sometimes they will call it “Fascism,” sometimes “Communism,” sometimes “Regimentation,” sometimes “Socialism.” But, in so doing, they are trying to make very complex and theoretical something that is really very simple and very practical.”


    You have to redefine liberty to support this guy.

    • Darien says:

      Which was, of course, exactly what he set out to do in his infamous “Four Freedoms” speech.

  7. Harold says:

    One should perhaps always be wary of betting on a convicted fraudster.

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