Power & Market

Republicans are Reasonable to Prefer Kim Jong Un to Nancy Pelosi

06/20/2018Tho Bishop

In a constantly changing media landscape, the value of the shock political poll continues to stand the test of time. Whether it comes in the form of man-on-street interviews, or the slightly more scientific polling firm, seeing a surprising number of Americans give their support to an outlandish position is an evergreen idea to spawn clickable blog posts and perhaps even a spot on Drudge Report. Going beyond the obvious question of why, given the state of American politics, anyone continues to find humorous outcomes from these quasi-ballots is that sometimes they actually reveal a valuable insight about the public as a whole.

My personal favorite example was the 2015 PPP poll that found that 30% of the Republican base – including 41% of Trump supporters – endorsed bombing Agrabah, the country featured in Aladdin. Considering that online trolls were a natural core group of the Trump base, it’s fair to question the sincerity of the widely mocked poll’s findings. It does, however, correlate to another trend we see in public polling on military action. The Washington Post, for example, has found that Americans are more likely to support bombing a country if they couldn’t identify it on the map:

Does it really matter whether Americans can put Ukraine on a map? Previous research would suggest yes: Information, or the absence thereof, can influence Americans’ attitudes about the kind of policies they want their government to carry out and the ability of elites to shape that agenda….

The further our respondents thought that Ukraine was from its actual location, the more they wanted the U.S. to intervene militarily.

Given that, it’s not unreasonable to think that many Republicans really don’t mind attacking some random country with a vaguely Arab name. This would explain how some politicians still manage to find public favor, in spite of always being on the wrong side of history on matters of war.

Another valid insight couched in a poll shared for humor was an IPSOS poll that found Republicans have a more favorable view North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un than Nancy Pelosi Pelosi’s office naturally used the story to attack Trump supporters, with her spokesman telling The Hill:

On a daily basis, President Trump praises this dictator and thug so it only makes sense that his party is following his lead like lemmings over a cliff.

To be fair, the poll only compared generic favorability/unfavorability measurements to various other figures polled, with Pelosi only being seen a slightly less favorable to Kim. That being said, it would be reasonable for more Republicans – or Americans broadly – to find Pelosi a greater threat to their livelihood to than Trump’s latest bromance.

After all, for all the warnings about North Korea and its nuclear arsenal, the danger of it being wielded against American citizens is about as valid as fears about Saddam Hussein. Meanwhile Pelosi, and the rest of Washington for that matter, poses a very real threat to the life, liberty, and property of Americans on every day. While earnest human rights activists would undoubtedly point to the repulsive horrors of the Kim regime, Pelosi’s support for the Iraq War and other American escapades makes it difficult to defend her on even broad utilitarian grounds.

So yes, any American would be justified in hating Nancy Pelosi or just about any other politician in Washington. At least Kim has agreed to shake the hand of peace, something Congress is entirely unwilling to even consider.  

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Ron Paul on the Trump-Kim Summit

06/12/2018Ron Paul

"I can't help but feel a little bit proud that our views, which aren't mentioned very often, are really being talked about. They are talking about a peace treaty and ending the war. They are talking about bringing troops home. They are talking about spending less money and no more military games over there. Wow. That is very good." - Ron Paul


Who Won At The Summit? Trump or Kim?

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Rothbard Graduate Seminar 2018

06/11/2018Tho Bishop

Today was the first day of this year’s Rothbard Graduate Seminar. A total of 27 students from 13 countries have joined us in Auburn to dissect and discuss Murray Rothbard’s economic treatise Man, Economy, and State. RGS stands alone as the sole academic program in the world that applies the tradition of a great book seminar to Austrian economics. It has proved to be an invaluable asset in developing modern scholars in the Misesian tradition, and is possible thanks to the incredible generosity of  Alice Lillie.

Man, Economy, and State is a work deserving of the title "great book, it having played an important role in the history of Austrian economics. Dr. Joseph Salerno has credited the publishing of Rothbard’s masterpiece as being vital to the revival of the Austrian tradition in the United States. As he wrote in his paper, The Rebirth of Austrian Economics — in Light of Austrian Economics:

This handful of scattered contributions to Austrian economics forthcoming in the 1950s, however, would have defined the death throes of the school rather than the prelude to its rebirth were it not for the creative genius of Murray Rothbard, which came to fruition in the early 1960s. The revival of Austrian economics as a living scientific movement can be dated from the publication of Rothbard’s Man, Economy, and State in 1962, a contribution to Austrian economics and to pure economics in general that ranks as one of the most brilliant performances in the history of economic thought.

In his review of the book in 1962, Ludwig von Mises also identified Man, Economy, and State as an important contribution to economics that built upon the contributions of the Austrian school:

The main virtue of this book is that it is a comprehensive and methodical analysis of all activities commonly called economic. It looks upon these activities as human action, i.e., as conscious striving after chosen ends by resorting to appropriate means. This cognition exposes the fateful efforts of the mathematical treatment of economic problems…

In every chapter of his treatise, Dr. Rothbard, adopting the best of the teachings of his predecessors, and adding to them highly important observations, not only develops the correct theory but is no less anxious to refute all objections ever raised against these doctrines. He exposes the fallacies and contradictions of the popular interpretation of economic affairs.

Today’s RGS sessions focused on the first three chapters of Man, Economy, and State, with Dr. David Gordon lecturing on praxeology and Dr. Guido Hulsmann leading discussion on topics such as direct and indirect exchange.

Some photos from today’s sessions can be found below:



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Ron Paul on the War on Cash, Cryptocurrencies, and the Deep State

06/01/2018Ron Paul

Dr. Ron Paul recently joined Dan Dicks at Press For Truth for a great conversation. 

Ron Paul On The Coming Dollar Crash, Cashless Society, Cryptocurrencies, Trump & The Deep State!

(h/t Adam Dick with the Ron Paul Institute)

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Remembering Rothbard — And Bernard Malamud

05/25/2018Doug French

Economics professor Bernard Malamud made the local paper today as he is retiring after teaching at UNLV for 50 years. I had Professor Malamud for a class, but darn if I can remember what the class was.

Malamad showed up in 1968 when UNLV was but a dream. “The campus was a desert; there was nothing here,” he told the R-J “There were rabbits running around and coyotes running around, and what Tom [White] described was a big-city university. That’s what we’ve become.”

The article mentions several predictions he flubbed. He had projected the Las Vegas population to top out at 750,000 or a million. The real estate boom and subsequent 2008 crash, “As far as the spurt in property values here, I thought, hey, we’re just catching up to where we ought to be catching up, to big cities like Phoenix and even Los Angeles,” he said. “The bust and the severity of the bust did surprise me.”

What surprised me is he has been teaching History of Economic Thought. He told the paper, that it’s his favorite class. “It’s covering the whole spectrum of economics,” he said. “I get to reminisce about each of the themes of the economics discipline.” I would guess he would leave out the Austrian school despite having officed down the hall from the modern dean of the Austrian school, Murray Rothbard, along with the current dean of the school, Hans Hoppe.

Until January of 1995, Murray Rothbard taught the History of Thought class. I’ve written before about the experience. I had no idea who Rothbard was and a fellow student told me to avoid Murray, calling him a kook. Professor Malamud, an avid Keynesian, likely didn’t recommend Rothbard either.

The first night of class, Murray hit the door and started talking immediately, something about dumb politicians threatening the evil oil companies that were raising gas prices. From that thought, he just continued right into his History of Economic Thought lecture. He didn’t take roll, or hand out a syllabus. Murray didn’t have time for that; he had centuries of history to cover.

So the 8 or 10 of us in the class furiously took notes trying to keep up. I didn’t know it at the time, but only half of us were taking the class for credit, the other half were just auditing the course, having taken it previously for credit. Murray changed his History of Thought lectures each semester, so students took it as often as it was offered. In the fall of 1990, the course had a financial history emphasis.

Professor Malamud is a nice guy. He attended my thesis defense, but, as I remember, had to leave beofre I finished to teach a class. It’s unlikely he will be honored at an event such as the Mises Institute’’s 35th anniversary which was completely dedicated to Rothbard and where a group off Murray’s former students had a panel reminiscing about him and the effect he had on our lives (unfortunately the audio/video has not been posted by the Institute as of this writing).

Imagine how different the History of Thought class was with Rothbard (his 2 volume “An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought” was essentially his lectures) as opposed to Malamud’s version.

Natalie Bruzda writes some of the names Malamud was lecturing about when she visited.

Sir William Petty, an English economist who died in 1687, was on one end of the spectrum. John B. Taylor, an economist and professor at Stanford University, was on the other end. His favorite economist, John Maynard Keynes, also appeared on the whiteboard.

Murray never got to Keynes, who he referred to in class as “Maynard” followed by his signature cackle. My guess is Dr. Malamud didn’t spend any time on the Scholastics or the School of Salamanca.

In New York, our panel of Murray’s students remembered Murray’s lecture style. As I told the LMR report, “If students took everything down, lecture notes might start with Aristotle, then veer off to Hillary Clinton, then maybe to the New York City Mayoral race and back to Aristotle.”

I hope Dr, Malamud has a long and healthy retirement. He is 76. No doubt, another Keynesian has been hired to replace him.

Murray left us far too early, but his work lives on, as do our memories.

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Ryan McMaken on The Ingraham Angle

05/22/2018Mises Institute

Ryan McMaken joined Laura Ingraham and Chris Hahn last night to discuss whether America is really facing an "epidemic" of school shootings. As Ryan notes, studies indicate that the stats show otherwise, and picks apart some of the most widely used claims made by opponents of gun rights.

Is There Really an "Epidemic of Mass Shootings" in the US? | Ryan McMaken

Further reading: There Are Fewer School Shootings Now Than During the 1990s

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Ron Paul, Populism, and the Fed

05/16/2018Tho Bishop

I've been really enjoying David Beckworth's Macro Musings podcast - a nice, conveniently way of hearing some good econ discussions outside of my own personal bubble.

There was an interesting interview with Neel Kashkari who talks about why there has been very little movement within the Fed to really explore NGDP Targeting or pushing up the inflation target, in spite of the large amount of chatter about those topics among academics. He explains that it's because when Fed officials actually talk to real people in communities, in particularly community bankers, any discussion of playing around with inflation is instantly rejected - in part because the public as a whole has so much inherent skepticism and mistrust of the Fed as it stands now. (I'll also note that while I obviously don't like Kashkari's views on monetary policy, his candor and transparency in his Fed role has been great.)

I think this plays back to the success of Ron Paul's libertarian populist campaign, and a good push back to the argument that he never accomplished anything while in office. While it's certainly true that there aren't many legislative achievements to his CV, he effectively used his platform to push the Fed and money into public discourse and effectively won the argument. The impact isn't limited to simply the "public" either. Fed skepticism has become status quo GOP orthodox - to the point where some Republicans on the Hill have been frustrated with Trump's status quo Fed picks. We've also seen legislation advanced by House Republicans to reform the Fed (even though I don't think that highly of them) and Dr. Paul's Audit the Fed Bill has received the support of the majority Republican legislators when it has come up to vote. 

In fact, when you consider that Bitcoin was built on explicitly Austrian origins, it's possible that Ron Paul's impact didn't only help restrain the Fed, but actually inspired very real solutions to government-controlled fiat currency. The grassroots movements to legalize gold and silver at state levels obviously plays into this as well. All in all, by effectively using a populist appeal to engage and educate the public - rather than focus on trying to impose top-down reforms through legislation - Dr. Paul was able to have as large an impact on American monetary policy as perhaps any single legislator since the creation of the Fed. 

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Russia First: Putin Continues to Pull Back on Military Spending

05/15/2018Tho Bishop

Last year I noted that America would benefit from Trump acting more like Putin - at least in terms of military spending. After all, while Trump and Republicans were pushing for a $80 billion increase in the defense war budget, Putin's government had reduced their's to a total of around $50 billion.

As Frank Weir notes at the Christian Science Monitor, Putin appears prepared to continue that trend:

It may sound contrary to Western perceptions of Russia's global intentions. But the priorities listed in the new Kremlin strategic program suggest that Mr. Putin has decided to use what seems likely to be his final term in office to cement his already substantial legacy as a nation-builder.

The projected surge in spending on roads, education, and health care will have to be paid for. A key source of that funding will be the military budget, which had been growing by around 10 percent annually for much of the Putin era. 

“The times when the external threat was used to make cuts in social expenditures palatable has passed. We can't go on like that any longer,” says Pavel Zolotaryov, deputy director of the Institute of USA-Canada Studies (ISKRAN), which is part of the Russian Academy of Sciences. “A lot of the goals of military modernization have already been accomplished, so we can afford to slow it down, make selective cuts to fund social goals, while continuing the basic path.”

Weir goes on to note that along with a desire to focus more on their domestic economy, Putin's actions may be influenced by Russians growing tired from war:

Recent opinion polls suggest that Putin's priority shift coincides with a war weariness on the part of Russians, who have indulged their president as he shored up Russia’s great power status in the face of Western hostility and sanctions, by annexing Crimea and intervening in Syria. A survey last month by the independent Levada Center found that at least half of Russians appreciate their country’s return to great power status. But 45 percent fault Putin for “failing to ensure an equitable distribution of income in the interests of ordinary people,” up from 39 percent in March 2015 when the last survey was conducted.

It's also worth noting that the Kremlin's strategic plan also includes a desire to "speed up the introduction of digital technologies in the economy and the social sphere."

For the past year the Russian government has continued to show interest in blockchain technology, including Putin sitting down with Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin last June. Others in the Russian government have made it clear that they see blockchain technology as a sphere important to Russia's long term economic interests.

This does not mean, however, that Russia will follow the lead of countries like Japan and Estonia in liberating cryptomarkets, which they view as distinct from blockchain itself. While Russia sees the potential for a crypto-ruble to help them navigate past international sanctions, they are unlikely to embrace the freedom true monetary competition would allow its citizens. If Russia does indeed launch their own digital currency, don't be surprised to see it escalate their crackdown of private cryptocurrencies. 



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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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