Power & Market

Rothbard's Man, Economy, and State: a Memoir

04/13/2018Gary North

In October 1962, I was given a lifetime advantage: a copy of Murray Rothbard’s Man, Economy, and State. In the language of journalism, it was hot off the presses. It had just been published. I was sent a copy by F. A. Harper, known as Baldy, who was not bald. At the time, he ran the Institute for Humane Studies. Until early that year, he had managed the William Voker Fund. The Volker Fund had put up the money that subsidized the publication of Rothbard’s book. It was published by Van Nostrand, a small but respectable mainstream publishing house located in Princeton, New Jersey. Van Nostrand was also the publisher of a series of books that had been financed by the Volker Fund over the previous two years.

I was in my final year of college as an undergraduate. I had written to Harper the previous year about some questions I had about Ludwig von Mises’ Human Action (Yale University Press, 1949). Harper responded in a letter. I still have the fragments of that letter. For some unknown reason, I cut off the introduction to the letter, which would have had the date on it. I suspect this was in the summer of 1961.

By 1962, Harper was serving as my part-time mentor. I did not fully understand this at the time. In November 1961, he paid for me to fly to Burlingame, California, in order to spend a few hours with him. This was one of the turning points in my life, although I did not know this at the time. He gave me a copy of Israel Kirzner’s book, The Economic Point of View, which had been published by Van Nostrand in 1960. I wrote this on the front page: “presented by F. A. Harper November, 1961.” He was recruiting me. I have been grateful for this ever since. When he sent me Man, Economy and State, he was still in the process of recruiting me.

Within a few months after my visit, Harper was fired by the man who controlled the Volker Fund, Harold Luhnow, the nephew of William Volker, who died in 1947. Luhnow took over the management of the Fund in 1947. He shifted its focus from charitable activities in Kansas City, Missouri to financing the remnants of classical liberalism. In early 1962, he replaced Harper with Ivan Bierly, who had received his Ph.D. under Harper at Cornell years before. The Volcker Fund was renamed “The Center for American Studies.” That shift turned out to be crucial in my career. Bierly hired a new staff. One of the people he hired was R. J. Rushdoony. I wrote to him in the spring of 1962. I met him when he lectured for two weeks at a summer seminar sponsored by the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists. Rushdoony continued to recruit me in my senior year. He brought me to work for the Center as a summer intern in 1963, and I lived at his home. I spent the whole summer reading the basic texts of Austrian School economics, including Man, Economy, and State.


Rothbard’s book was a masterpiece, both conceptually and rhetorically -- the art of persuasion. He had a rigorously systematic mind. He also had a stupendous memory regarding materials he had read, which he demonstrated in the book’s footnotes. He had an unmatched ability to write clearly. I mentioned this in my article in the 1988 Festschrift for Rothbard, Man, Economy, and Liberty. In my article, “Why Murray Rothbard Will Never win the Nobel Prize,” I said that he wrote much too clearly to win it.

Mises was a clear writer. But in Human Action, he offered fewer footnotes than Man, Economy, and State. He also did not use the paraphernalia of modern economics. There are no equations and no graphs in anything Mises ever wrote. The famous supply and demand scissors are absent in his books. In terms of presentation, Rothbard in Man, Economy, and State was far closer to the mainstream academic community than Mises was. But he was not close to the mainstream community with respect to the content of what he wrote. He was an academic pariah in 1962, and he remained a pariah all his life. He shared this position with Mises.

This was not a liability in the long run. One of the important points made by Thomas Kuhn’s paradigm-shifting book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, also published in 1962, was this: major shifts in the worldview of intellectuals are usually generated from either the fringes of an academic guild or from outside the academic guild. If they are generated from inside, they are generated from young men who are reacting against the outlook of the guild. They are on its fringes. The other source of change in perception comes from brilliant outsiders who are in no way under the authority of a particular academic guild.

Mises was funded from outside of academia. New York University paid him no salary for a quarter of a century. He retired in 1969. He may have been the oldest professor in the nation. The money to pay his salary had been put up by rich friends of Mises, most notably Lawrence Fertig, who was on the board of New York University. He donated through the Foundation for Economic Education after its founding by Leonard E. Read in 1946. The Volker Fund also put up money for Mises and Hayek at the University of Chicago. The Volker Fund had put Rothbard on its payroll, mainly to review books, beginning in the mid-1950's. Rothbard was not on any university or academic payroll in 1962. Only after the demise of the Center for American Studies in 1964 did he get his first teaching position, which was at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute. The school did not offer an economics major. He taught budding engineers. He was on the fringes.

Mises and Rothbard were outsiders. That was their great advantage. This was not clear to me in 1963, but after I read Kuhn’s book in 1968, I understood. The economics guild had no control over either of them. Neither of them published in professional journals. Rothbard had published a few essays, but after 1960 he never bothered again. He made a wise decision. He did not have to conform to what any editor believed.


I have always appreciated clarity of exposition. In 1963, as today, I was of the opinion that an author had two primary responsibilities: accuracy and clarity. Persuasion is in third place. Rothbard was tremendous at all three. In this sense, he became my literary model. To the extent that I am known for my writing, I gained this skill more from Rothbard than anybody else.

In 1966, I took a graduate seminar on the American Revolution from Douglass Adair. He had been the editor of The William and Mary Quarterly. He had personally transformed it from a journal that published regional memorabilia into the premier journal of colonial history. He told us that he always used this criterion for screening manuscripts. If an article did not stand on its own merits without the footnotes, he would not publish it. He said that the footnotes were important to validate the thesis, but if the article was heavily dependent on the footnotes to make its point, it was not worth publishing. That impressed me at the time. I see in retrospect that everything scholarly/academic that Rothbard ever wrote would have qualified for publication in terms of Adair’s rule.

Adair made another observation. He said that every scholar would benefit from a year of editing a scholarly journal in his field. Why? Because he would discover how few of his colleagues have the ability to write clearly.

Rothbard had a huge advantage over his peers. He was the master of clarity in the field of economics. He was even more clear than Hazlitt. As a friend of Hazlitt's, I guarantee you that Hazlitt would have been the first to admit this. He was a humble man. For a man who achieved so much, he was an astoundingly humble man. He had an enormous respect for Rothbard.

F. A. Hayek was a clear writer, but as he admitted, he was not a systematic thinker. He divided schools of thought into two groups: systematizers and puzzlers. Hayek called himself a puzzler. In economic thought, this is clearly seen in Austrian School economics from the beginning. Carl Menger and Eugen Böhm-Bawerk were systematizers. Friederich Wieser was a puzzler. Not many people have ever read Wieser. Puzzlers are harder to read than systematizers.

Hayek gained attention in the English-speaking academic world beginning in the early 1930's. Mises was not well-known in academia outside of Austria. Hayek is still the best known Austrian School economist. He won the Nobel Prize in 1974. But Hayek never wrote a treatise on economics.

Henry Hazlitt was a clear writer. He was rhetorically gifted. He had the ability to sustain long, complex arguments, as he demonstrated in his refutation of Keynes, The Failure of the “New Economics.” It was published in 1959. We never see it footnoted in any scholarly journal. There are few people who have ever read it. Hundreds of thousands of people have read his little masterpiece, Economics in One Lesson (1946), but he wrote it in just a few months, and it is not systematic in the way that treatises are supposed to be. It was not meant to be a treatise. It was meant to be a popular book that introduced people to free-market principles. It succeeded. Nothing that Hazlitt ever wrote was a comprehensive treatise.

In 1949, the world of economic theory was waiting for a clear, comprehensive, systematic treatise.


Most of the pieces of the economic puzzle had been lying around in an unorganized pile ever since Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations (1776). They had been refined and trimmed by Carl Menger in 1871 in his Principles of Economics. The British economist Alfred Marshall in 1890 attempted to put the pieces together in his Principles of Economics, but as is true of so many British thinkers, he was something of a puzzler, not a systematizer. The British intellectual tradition is inductivist, not deductivist. It does not begin with first principles. The pieces in his textbook did not fit together well because they were not systematically based on methodological individualism in the way that Human Action is.

I will now make an admission. It was not until just a few years ago that I recognized what should have been screamingly obvious to me and everybody else. Human Action was the first comprehensive treatise on economics. This may seem like a preposterous statement, but if you look back over the books on economics prior to Human Action, there is no book that starts at the beginning – the acting individual – and develops a comprehensive theory of all aspects of the market process in terms of just a few principles, which Mises called axioms and corollaries. No other economist called them axioms and corollaries. That was what made Mises unique.

Rothbard was an a priorist (deductivist) in epistemology, just as Mises was. In 1962, this made a grand total of two economists. In Man, Economy, and State, Rothbard laid out the chapters of the book in a systematic fashion. From Chapter 2 on, each chapter is a development of the previous chapter. This is what a prioristsare supposed to do. They start with axioms, and they develop the axioms, point by point. Mises had done the same thing in Human Action. Rothbard did it with greater precision. He also did it with greater clarity.

The first person to understand the uniqueness and comprehensive nature of Human Action was Rothbard. He saw this in 1949. This gave him an edge over all of his contemporaries. That is why Man, Economy, and State, which took him over a decade to write, was so important to my generation of budding economists. He systematized what was already a systematic introduction to economic theory. He made it easier for us to grasp the importance of what Mises had done.

Mises put together pieces of the puzzle. Rothbard took that completed puzzle and made it more palatable for younger economists who wanted to see graphs. Fortunately, he never used an equation. That would have sullied the product.

Rothbard never claimed uniqueness for his book. He fully understood that it was a derivative product. But as an introductory treatise that uses the paraphernalia of the modern economic textbook, Rothbard’s book is more serviceable than Mises’s book. In 1962, the enormous volume of his footnotes represented a survey of almost everything that had been published in the journals over the last 50 years. I have never seen anything like it. Admittedly, this dates the book. But that was inevitable, given Rothbard’s strategy. He wanted to introduce the basics of Austrian economic thought, and he wanted it within a framework of the sweep of economic opinion as of 1960 or thereabouts.


I don’t know if younger scholars read Man, Economy, and State before they read Human Action. In retrospect, I’m not sure whether I finished Man, Economy and State before I finished Human Action. I do know that I read quite a bit of Human Action in 1961. I wrote to Harper about the book in 1961. But I don’t remember if I read the whole book before the summer of 1963. I had finished both books by late August 1963. But there is no question in my mind that Rothbard opened the categories of economics more clearly to me than Mises had done. Rothbard’s literary style and his approach to economics was exactly what I needed in 1963. His book gave me an edge on my contemporaries. It shaped my work dramatically both in graduate school and subsequently. I even wrote a term paper for a course in apologetics – the philosophical defense of Christianity – on Rothbard’s epistemology. That was in 1964.

If someone has never read any economics, and he wants to start at the top, I recommend that he read Human Action first. But if he is in graduate school as an economics major, he probably would be wise to read Man, Economy and State first. If you like supply and demand graphs, read Rothbard’s book first. If you don’t like graphs, read Mises first.

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Rand Paul's Attacker Should Never Have Been Tried in Federal Court

03/13/2018Ryan McMaken

Rene Boucher, who attacked Rand Paul at his Kentucky home last year, has pled guilty in Federal court:

At first glance, this appears to be as things should be. Given what information is publicly available, it seems clear that Boucher was the aggressor ,and attacked Paul, although Paul posed no threat to Boucher. 

But there's a problem here. The case was tried in federal court even though there is no shortage of state laws that forbid assault and battery. So why is the federal government involved? Well, it should surprise few people that there are two sets of laws in the United States: one for high ranking government officials, and another set of laws for everyone else. 

By attacking a very-special member of the American ruling class, Boucher opened himself up to federal charges of "assaulting a member of Congress resulting in personal injury, a felony under federal law."

This situation is relatively new, however. 

Once upon a time, attacks against federal politicians were handled by state law. As one legal blog correctly notes, this changed with the adoption of 18 U.S.C. 351into the US code: 

This law provides for a death penalty for killing a member of Congress, a presidential or vice presidential candidate, or a Supreme Court justice, as well as imprisonment up to life for attempting to kill such a person...

The background of this law is interesting. When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963, it was not a federal crime to kill a U.S. president. Had alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald been tried, the trial would have taken place in a Texas state court. In 1965, Congress passed a law, 18 U.S.C. 1751, making it a federal crime to kill, kidnap, or assault the President or the Vice President.

In 1968, presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles. That was not a federal crime at the time, and Sirhan Sirhan was convicted in California state court for the murder and sentenced to death. (That sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1972, when that state abolished the death penalty, and Sirhan remains in a California state prison.) In 1971, Congress enacted 18 U.S.C. 351, which extended the protection of the Federal criminal law to members of Congress, paralleling that extended to the President and the Vice President.

One can be sure, of course, that when important federal personnel are victims, federal investigators will bring to bear a large amount of focus and resources. On the other hand, when it's just ordinary school children, as in the case of the Parkland school shooting in Florida, the FBI is much too busy to pay attention. 

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Rubio: Send 18 Years Olds to War, but Don’t Let them own a Rifle at Home

02/22/2018Tho Bishop

Prior to the 2016 election, Ryan McMaken noted that voting Republican has proven to be the best way to grow government. At the time, he was referring to the growth of government spending under four of the past five administrations. Of course one of the Trump administrations first legislative “achievements” of the year was passing the largest spending increase since 2009.

The last 24 hours serve as a great reminder that the GOP can’t even be trusted on gun rights. During last night’s town hall on gun violence, Senator Marco Rubio said he now supports raising the age required to buy a rifle or shotgun, as well possibly banning larger gun magazine. Donald Trump tweeted support for similar matters this morning.

This is another great illustration of the intellectual incoherence of “conservatism”, with Rubio’s backtracking particularly striking. After all, Rubio has regularly advocated for great user of the American military on the international stage. To Republicans like Rubio, an 18 year old isn’t mature enough to own a rifle in America – but is perfectly equipped to be armed and deployed throughout the world.  

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Rand Paul May Stop Marvin Goodfriend's Nomination

02/08/2018Tho Bishop

I'm not a fan of Marvin Goodfriend. His views are dangerous, and he has been blatantly dishonest in order to hide them. Ron Paul even personally introduced a bill back in 2000 targeted directly at his idea of taxing cash

Today, Goodfriend received the endorsement of the Senate Banking Committee with a 13 to 12 vote down partisan lines. While it's not surprising to see a nominee driven purely by party preference, it is worth noting that Jay Powell managed to get Democratic support when he went through the nomination process. Multiple reports from Washington indicate that Democrats will stand opposed to Goodfriend when his vote comes before the full Senate.

That is when things could get interesting. John McCain has yet to make a Senate appearance yet due to his health, meaning a single Republican dissenter could stop Goodfriend's nomination. Today, following the Committee's approval, Rand Paul has said he will oppose Marvin Goodfriend's nomination.

Of course, bad ideas have a way of never truly going away. It is likely that Senator Paul will be tempted with a deal - perhaps another vote on Audit the Fed - to turn his no to a yes. Of course, since a majority of Senators still cling to the absurd notion that a Fed audit would erode the Fed's mythical "independence", this vote would be purely symbolic and end in defeat. Considering the very real danger Mr. Goodfriend poses, particularly with tremors rumbling in US and global markets, this would be a terrible deal. 

There is also the risk that John McCain could be rolled back to Washington in order to push the nomination through. Hopefully the handful of other Senators who occasionally talk a good game about the Fed, including Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, can be convinced that the last thing America needs is an economist more radical than Ben Bernanke on the Fed. 

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Raico on Churchill

12/28/2017Tho Bishop

Inspired by the recent interest in the film Darkest Hour and Netflix's The Crown, our friend C Jay Engel at Austrolibertarian was inspired to share the late great Ralph Raico's thoughts on Winston Churchill.

From his essay Rethinking Churchill

When, in a very few years, the pundits start to pontificate on the great question: “Who was the Man of the Century?” there is little doubt that they will reach virtually instant consensus. Inevitably, the answer will be: Winston Churchill. Indeed, Professor Harry Jaffa has already informed us that Churchill was not only the Man of the Twentieth Century, but the Man of Many Centuries.

In a way, Churchill as Man of the Century will be appropriate. This has been the century of the State — of the rise and hypertrophic growth of the welfare-warfare state — and Churchill was from first to last a Man of the State, of the welfare state and of the warfare state. War, of course, was his lifelong passion; and, as an admiring historian has written: “Among his other claims to fame, Winston Churchill ranks as one of the founders of the welfare state.” Thus, while Churchill never had a principle he did not in the end betray, this does not mean that there was no slant to his actions, no systematic bias. There was, and that bias was towards lowering the barriers to state power.


Yet, in truth, Churchill never cared a great deal about domestic affairs, even welfarism, except as a means of attaining and keeping office. What he loved was power, and the opportunities power provided to live a life of drama and struggle and endless war.

There is a way of looking at Winston Churchill that is very tempting: that he was a deeply flawed creature, who was summoned at a critical moment to do battle with a uniquely appalling evil, and whose very flaws contributed to a glorious victory — in a way, like Merlin, in C.S. Lewis’s great Christian novel, That Hideous Strength. Such a judgment would, I believe, be superficial. A candid examination of his career, I suggest, yields a different conclusion: that, when all is said and done, Winston Churchill was a Man of Blood and a politico without principle, whose apotheosis serves to corrupt every standard of honesty and morality in politics and history.

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Remembering the Bill of Rights

12/15/2017Ryan McMaken

The Bill of Rights was finally ratified on December 15, 1791. Most of the new Constitution of 1787 was devoted to raising taxes, centralizing government, and destroying self-rule in the independent states. 

The Bill of Rights, however, was a bright spot in an otherwise unhelpful and unnecessary document. 

From 2015's article "The Bill of Rights: The Only Good Part of the Constitution":

Patrick Henry and the Anti-Federalists pointed out — correctly — that the US already had proven it had sufficient means to deal with European powers, and that in the bloody history of states, the true threat to freedom lay not in there being too much freedom, as the Federalists claimed, but in the overweening power of centralized states.

Virtually no one believed that a new constitution was necessary to secure what they had earlier called their "English Liberties," including freedom of speech, a right to due process, jury trials, and more. Those freedoms were already assumed to be assured to all non-slaves. Those freedoms had been won in the Revolution. The people didn't need a more powerful Congress to protect them. If their freedoms were threatened, the people could rely on highly-democratic (for the time) state legislatures and a decentralized militia system.

But, in the end, the Federalists won out after they promised to adopt a Bill of Rights to limit the power of Congress. As we know, though, the Bill of Rights began to break down immediately, and it was only a matter of time until the Alien and Sedition Acts, Jefferson's embargo, and other even worse crimes perpetrated on the states and the people.

It was the Constitution of 1787, after all, that strengthened the institution of slavery, set the stage for the fugitive slave acts, and made provision for the criminal prosecution of those who attempted to help set escaped slaves free.

That's what sort of "pro-freedom" document the Constitution was and is.

What the Constitutions Should Have Said 

The Bill of Rights would never have been necessary, however, if so much power had not been granted to the central government by the constitution of 1787 in the first place

Indeed, the earlier constitution of 1777 (the so-called Articles of Confederation) had itself been too detailed and powerful.

After all, the whole idea of a national constitution had always been sold on really just two premises: 1) It would assist in national defense and 2) it would facilitate trade among the member states.

In other words, it should never have been anything more than a customs union and a mutual defense agreement.

So, in the service of sound political science, I have composed a new constitution for us:

Article 1. The United States shall meet every two years in Congress assembled to negotiate terms for the maintenance of a union of independent states. There shall be no duties or taxes imposed on trade among the states or the people therein. The states, in Congress assembled shall set the standards for membership in the United States and provide provision for member withdrawal and the conditions for receiving the benefits of mutual defense as a member of the Union.
The End. 

Nothing more is necessary or prudent. Independent states enter into mutual defense agreements quite frequently, without surrendering their independence, and trade agreements are a quite mundane affair in the history of states.

Any appeal to "patriotism" or lofty ideas of "America" or the fanciful notion that people in Arizona are the countrymen of people in New York has no backing in the day to day realities of living. Never in history was there a group of 320 million people spread across four million square miles who were part of the same community and who shared the same experiences, interests, or even the same economic ties.

In reality, the people of Colorado, for example, have more in common with the people of Saskatchewan — in terms of economic interests, culture, and history — than with the people of Georgia or Delaware of Pennsylvania. People only believe the residents of the US states make up "one people" because they were told as much by their third grade teachers. Actual experience tells us otherwise.

Those who demanded the Bill of Rights had attempted to preserve this idea of government on a human scale: government that reflects the realities of daily life, human relationships, and the necessity of free commerce — rather than the ideological fantasies of nation builders. Even to this day, the idea that the minutiae of life and commerce should be governed by a group of millionaires sitting in luxury 2,000 miles away is repugnant to the the reasonable mind. In preventing this, the Bill of Rights has largely failed, although things most certainly could have been worse.


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RT Interview on Iron Law of Convergence

10/31/2017Mark Thornton

Here is the link to my RT "Boom-Bust" interview on the topic of the Iron Law of Convergence.

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Rothbard and Friedman: The Irreparable Break

As a follow-up to Peter Klein’s post, I want to suggest that Rothbard and Friedman’s relationship may have definitively fractured at the famous Austrian economics conference in South Royalton Vermont in June 1974. 

In the May 1974 issue of the Libertarian Forum, Rothbard published an article entitled “Uncle Miltie Rides Again,” in which he criticized Mllton Friedman for advocating indexation for the U.S. economy, which was then suffering from a painful combination of recession and high inflation.    Indexing both government taxes and business, including labor, contracts, Friedman had argued, would reduce both the government’s incentive to inflate and the iniquities and pain wreaked on the public by inflation.   Among other criticisms, Rothbard argued that widespread indexation, to the extent that it actually worked, would neutralize growing public pressure to end inflation.  After all, widespread indexation in Brazil, which had inspired Friedman’s indexing scheme, had not made a dent in the extremely high Brazilian inflation rate in the long run.  

In his critique, Rothbard labeled Friedman a “crank,” which he defined as a “man who habitually comes up with a single technocratic gimmick to solve deep and complex economic problems.”  These gimmicks are usually designed to extricate the State from serious problems created by its previous interventions into the free market.  In addition to inflation indexing, Rothbard listed the withholding tax, school vouchers, and the negative income tax as “crank gimmicks” devised by Friedman ”to save the State’s bacon.”

Back to the South Royalton conference.  Curiously, Friedman, whose summer home was nearby, was invited to the conference by the organizers at the last minute to give a few informal remarks at the opening dinner.  Friedman showed up in the late afternoon and was immediately surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd of graduate students, including me, Richard Ebeling, and Don Lavoie.  While we jockeyed feverishly for position to address questions to him, his primary concern was to angrily discourse on the fact that Rothbard had called him a “crank.”  Far from dismissing Rothbard as an economist whose opinion was of little weight, Friedman’s reaction revealed that Rothbard’s critique cut deeply and that he took it quite seriously.  

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Rothbard and Friedman

10/27/2017Peter G. Klein

In a recent social media discussion someone raised the issue of Murray Rothbard's relationship with Milton Friedman. I reported that Rothbard had a good relationship with Friedman and other academic libertarians in the 1950s and early 1960s, with Friedman even recommending Rothbard for a post at Chicago. Thanks to the Mises Insittute's archivist Barbara Pickard I have the details handy. In early 1956 Friedman discussed with Richard Cornuelle, then running the Volker Fund, the possibility of getting Rothbard to Chicago for a postdoctoral fellowship. Friedman wrote that he and his colleagues "would be delighted to have Rothbard apply for one of these" and that "I am sure he will be considered very favorably" though he could not guarantee acceptance. Ultimately, Rothbard decided not to apply, presumably because of his strong preference to remain in New York. It's interesting to wonder how the academic libertarian movement might have developed if Rothbard had gone to Chicago.

More generally, Rothbard and Friedman reportedly had a cordial relationship until the early 1960s. According to Rothbard: "There was another group coming up in the sixties, students of Robert LeFevre’s Freedom School and later Rampart College. At one meeting, Friedman and Tullock were brought in for a week. I had planned to have them lecture on occupational licensing and on ocean privatization, respectively. Unfortunately, they spoke on these subjects for thirty minutes and then rode their hobby horses, monetary theory and public choice, the rest of the time. Friedman immediately clashed with the Rothbardians. He had read my America’s Great Depression and was furious that he was suddenly meeting all these Rothbardians. He didn’t know such things existed." 

By 1971 Rothbard's view of Friedman became highly critical, as described in his essay "Milton Friedman Unraveled," in which he described Friedman as "the Establishment's Court Libertarian."

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