November 4th, 2014

Rothbard on Voting

Murray Rothbard discusses the merits and morality of voting in a great interview from 1972:


[This interview was first published in the 25 February 1972 edition of The New Banner: A Fortnightly Libertarian Journal, Vol. I, No. 3.]

NEW BANNER:  Some libertarians have recommended anti-voting activities during the 1972 election.  Do you agree with this tactic?

ROTHBARD:  I’m interested to talk about that.  This is the classical anarchist position, there is no doubt about that.  The classical anarchist position is that nobody should vote, because if you vote you are participating in a state apparatus.  Or if you do vote you should write in your own name, I don’t think that there is anything wrong with this tactic in the sense that if there really were a nationwide movement — if five million people, let’s say, pledged not to vote.  I think it would be very useful.  On the other hand, I don’t think voting is a real problem.  I don’t think it’s immoral to vote, in contrast to the anti-voting people.

Lysander Spooner, the patron saint of individualist anarchism, had a very effective attack on this idea.  The thing is, if you really believe that by voting you are giving your sanction to the state, then you see you are really adopting the democratic theorist’s position.  You would be adopting the position of the democratic enemy, so to speak, who says that the state is really voluntary because the masses are supporting it by participating in elections.  In other words, you’re really the other side of the coin of supporting the policy of democracy — that the public is really behind it and that it is all voluntary.  And so the anti-voting people are really saying the same thing.

I don’t think this is true, because as Spooner said, people are being placed in a coercive position.  They are surrounded by a coercive system; they are surrounded by the state.  The state, however, allows you a limited choice — there’s no question about the fact that the choice is limited.  Since you are in this coercive situation, there is no reason why you shouldn’t try to make use of it if you think it will make a difference to your liberty or possessions.  So by voting you can’t say that this is a moral choice, a fully voluntary choice, on the part of the public.  It’s not a fully voluntary situation.  It’s a situation where you are surrounded by the whole state which you can’t vote out of existence.  For example, we can’t vote the Presidency out of existence — unfortunately, it would be great if we could, but since we can’t why not make use of the vote if there is a difference at all between the two people.  And it is almost inevitable that there will be a difference, incidentally, because just praxeologically or in a natural law sense, every two persons or every two groups of people will be slightly different, at least.  So in that case why not make use of it.  I don’t see that it’s immoral to participate in the election provided that you go into it with your eyes open — provided that you don’t think that either Nixon or Muskie is the greatest libertarian since Richard Cobden! — which many people, of course, talk themselves into before they go out and vote.

The second part of my answer is that I don’t think that voting is really the question.  I really don’t care about whether people vote or not.  To me the important thing is, who do you support.  Who do you hope will win the election?  You can be a non-voter and say “I don’t want to sanction the state” and not vote, but on election night who do you hope the rest of the voters, the rest of the suckers out there who are voting, who do you hope they’ll elect.  And it’s important, because I think that there is a difference.  The Presidency, unfortunately, is of extreme importance.  It will be running or directing our lives greatly for four years.  So, I see no reason why we shouldn’t endorse, or support, or attack one candidate more than the other candidate.  I really don’t agree at all with the non-voting position in that sense, because the non-voter is not only saying we shouldn’t vote: he is also saying that we shouldn’t endorse anybody.  Will Robert LeFevre, one of the spokesmen of the non-voting approach, will he deep in his heart on election night have any kind of preference at all as the votes come in.  Will he cheer slightly or groan more as whoever wins?  I don’t see how anybody could fail to have a preference, because it will affect all of us.

How Wilson and the Fed Extended the Great War

6950Mises Daily Tuesday by Brendan Brown:

With European powers broke and economically ailing by 1916, World War One would have ended much sooner had the Federal Reserve and its cronies not stepped in to help England and France keep the bloodshed going. Meanwhile, US economic intervention led to a huge post-war bust in America.


If We Quit Voting

4764Frank Chororov examines the practice of voting abstinence in today’s Mises Daily:

For 25 years my dereliction has been known to my friends, and more than one has undertaken to set me straight; out of these arguments came a solid defense for my nonvoting position, so that the lady in question was well parried with practiced retorts. I pointed out, with many instances, that though we have had candidates and platforms and parties and campaigns in abundance, we have had an equivalent plenitude of poverty and crime and war. The regularity with which the perennial promise of “good times” wound up in depression suggested the incompetence of politics in economic affairs. Maybe the good society we have been voting for lay some other way; why not try another fork in the road, the one pointing to individual self-improvement, particularly in acquiring a knowledge of economics? And so on.

Should Government Stabilize the Price Level?

pricesBelow, Rothbard explains that one reason given in support of a government-regulated monetary system is that it would allow for imposed stability of prices.   Rothbard explains why “stabilization” in prices is a misguided program. He wrote this in What Has Government Done to Our Money in 1963, so the context of the discussion of commodity money was quite different from what it is today.  The passage of time may at least partially explain why many commenters on the topic, including some who have submitted articles to us for publication, claim that one of the chief benefits of commodity money is greater stability in prices. This is, of course, a reversal of the older assumption that commodity money was less stable. Yet, whether commodity money is more or less stable is beside the point. The price level is a function of the market place, and prices changes are always “optimal” as explained here by Mateusz Machaj.  Government interference in the price level, on the other hand, leads to shortages, gluts, and business cycles. Rothbard writes:

Some theorists charge that a free monetary system would be unwise, because it would not “stabilize the price level,” i.e., the price of the money-unit. Money, they say, is supposed to be a fixed yardstick that never changes. Therefore, its value, or purchasing power, should be stabilized. Since the price of money would admittedly fluctuate on the free market, freedom must be overruled by government management to insure stability. Stability would provide justice, for example, to debtors and creditors, who will be sure of paying back dollars, or gold ounces, of the same purchasing power as they lent out.

Yet, if creditors and debtors want to hedge against future changes in purchasing power, they can do so easily on the free market. When they make their contracts, they can agree that repayment will be made in a sum of money adjusted by some agreed-upon index number of changes in the value of money. The stabilizers have long advocated such measures, but strangely enough, the very lenders and borrowers who are supposed to benefit most from stability, have rarely availed themselves of the opportunity. Must the government then force certain “benefits” on people who have already freely rejected them? Apparently, businessmen would rather take their chances, in this world of irremediable uncertainty, on their ability to anticipate the conditions of the market. After all, the price of money is no different from any other free prices on the market. They can change in response to changes in demand of individuals; why not the monetary price?

Artificial stabilization would, in fact, seriously distort and hamper the workings of the market. As we have indicated, people would be unavoidably frustrated in their desires to alter their real proportion of cash balances; there would be no opportunity to change cash balances in proportion to prices. Furthermore, improved standards of living come to the public from the fruits of capital investment. Increased productivity tends to lower prices (and costs) and thereby distribute the fruits of 383 free enterprise to all the public, raising the standard of living of all consumers. Forcible propping up of the price level prevents this spread of higher living standards.

Money, in short, is not a “fixed yardstick.” It is a commodity serving as a medium for exchanges. Flexibility in its value in response to consumer demands is just as important and just as beneficial as any other free pricing on the market.