Penthouse Interviews Murray Rothbard

Dec 2013
Beware of watermelons
The Murray Rothbard wall poster depicts a graying professor pecking at a typewriter. His words rise magically from the machine and blend into a black flag of anarchy rippling above his head. Beneath the drawing is the caption: “Murray N. Rothbard—the greatest living enemy of the state.” The poster, like almost everything else relating to politics, causes Rothbard to laugh. He has a penchant for humor that, in his younger days, let him to write an Off-Broadway play, Mozart Was a Red, which poked fun at the Ayn Rand cult of the individual. Today he still laughs very easily. If someone mentions the name of almost any establishment economist or political figure, Rothbard will respond with a nasal guffaw. Abe Beame, Jerry Ford, Hubert Humphrey, John Kenneth Galbraith, Alan Greenspan, Ronald Reagan—they all receive the same response: a laugh followed by a theoretical disputation in which Rothbard employs buzz-saw logic to rip into these persons he views as enemies of liberty, prosperity, and the common good.
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Dec 2013
Beware of watermelons
Penthouse: If you had a magic wand for correcting what’s wrong in America, what would you do?

Rothbard: I would get the government out of the lives and the properties of all American citizens. I would first repeal all the legislation that’s been undertaken and all the administrative edicts of the last century or so.

Penthouse: Even the laws have been designed to help the poor, to protect consumers, and to provide for the young, the ill, and the aged?

Rothbard: Yes. The laws to help the poor are phony. The poor don’t really benefit from the welfare state.

Studies were made of a ghetto district in Washington, D.C. After estimating the taxes those people paid to the federal government and balancing that figure against the money the federal government gives back to them, it turned out that they are getting less from the government than they are giving. They’re paying for the welfare state just as much as everybody else! The money is simply siphoned off into the military-industrial complex, into bureaucratic salaries, and so forth.

Penthouse: If welfare programs don’t benefit the needy, why are they continued?

Rothbard: Because they build up a constituency of government employees for the rulers of the country, for the state apparatus, and for the people who benefit from it. Also they build up a façade of altruism, behind which the people who actually benefit from the state—the people who get the contracts and the subsidies and the monopoly privileges and so forth—are able to operate.

Penthouse: Can you be more specific?

Rothbard: For example, the Civil Aeronautics Board, which regulates the airline industry, was created because of lobbying pressure from the big airlines: Pan Am, United, and others. It was created in order to raise the rates, not to benefit the consumer. And that is how the CAB has functioned. It creates monopolies, restricts airline service on various key routes, and keeps rates up. The result has been the inefficiency and the high costs that the consumer has had to live with. The CAB put out of business quite a few small airlines that were operating very efficiently and very safely but that were undercutting the rates of the big airlines. The CAB just stopped issuing them “certificates of convenience and necessity,” I think they’re called. That’s just one example of the sort of thing the government does on the federal, state, and local levels.

Penthouse: Then you are advocating that all governmental functions be abolished.

Rothbard: I think all these functions could be performed considerably better by voluntary means—financed by the consumers who actually use these services, not by taxpayers who are forced to pay for something they don’t personally receive. The income of the policemen, the firemen, and the civil servants should be equivalent to the efficiency of their service to the consumers, not based on political manipulation and coercive taxation. Then they wouldn’t be an entrenched bureaucracy anymore. Government employees would have to shape up like everybody else. All other goods and services are provided by businesses or individuals who receive their compensation because they have efficiently supplied a product that consumers want. The government supplies services through coercive taxation and therefore doesn’t have to be efficient.

Penthouse: But how could the free market provide such services as the police?

Rothbard: There is no difference between saying that and saying, “How can the free market provide shoes?” In the present society, wealthy people can hire private guards—and they do just that, it’s the poor people who have no choice but to rely on the public police.

Right now almost everybody has some kind of medical insurance, Blue Cross and that sort of thing. I see no reason why police insurance would be more costly than that. People would pay premiums every year for having police on retainer, so to speak, in case anything happened.

Those people who couldn’t afford such payments would still be provided police aid. We now have legal-aid societies that provide indigent prisoners with free legal counsel, and in a libertarian society the same thing would happen regarding police protection.

Penthouse: If you did away with government and every service was provided by free enterprise, how would the poor be able to survive?

Rothbard: Well, in the first place the poor are only helped by free enterprise. It is private-capital investment and private entrepreneurship that have raised the standard of living from what it was in pre-industrial times to what we have today. This has all been done through private investment, not by government. The government is a drag on the system; it is an impoverishing devise and a parasitic burden on the productive system, not the opposite. Government doesn’t help the poor; it hurts them.

Penthouse: We had private charity up through the nineteenth century. Dickens described the horrors it caused. Is that what you wish to return to?

Rothbard: No, the guiding aim of private charity has always been to get people on their feet so they wouldn’t have to depend on charity. And private charity was largely successful in doing that. Today the Mormon church has a system of private aid, so that no Mormons are on welfare. The same is true of other ethnic groups that are opposed to any kind of welfare dependency. Albanian Americans in New York are very poor. They’re virtually on the lowest income level, and yet none of them is on welfare because they think it’s demeaning and degrading and they help each other out, voluntarily.

Penthouse: But if private charity is to work, the economy must be healthy; and many economists feel that an unhampered free market leads to recessions and depressions, which are cured only by government intervention.

Rothbard: Depressions and recessions are not brought about by a free-enterprise system. They are brought about by the government and its process of inflationary counterfeiting. It’s the government’s banking system that creates inflation, recession, and depression. The government distorts the economy and creates unsound investments. These investments have to be liquidated, and the result is a period of depression. Then the more the government intervenes in the depression—as it did in the 1930s—the longer the depression lasts. In a truly free market system, there would be no depressions.

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