Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Daniel Klein has one of the most unusual minds of all the libertarian intellectuals I know. He will get on a subject where I see nothing there, and then, with fairly simple exposition and examples, make a powerful argument that causes me to go “Ah hah.” His recent talk at Universidad Francisco Marroquin, “Challenging, Bargaining, and Royalty: An Analysis of Libertarian Argumentation,” is the latest example. In it, he borrows categories from my Hoover colleague Shelby Steele, who has used these categories to look at black/white relations in the United States, and applies the categories within the libertarian intelligentsia.

His basic idea is that some libertarians are bargainers–they try to work more within the system they are in and try for incremental change–and some libertarians are challengers–they express their ideas more radically and push the ultimate goal rather than for smaller changes. As you’ll see in the talk, Dan values both and thinks that both are very important. His talk starts right away and goes to about 27:30. I’m an impatient listener but even I found myself drawn in and not being impatient.

By the way, to see someone who doesn’t get Dan’s point at all, and see Dan handle him gently but firmly, go to about the 28:20 point.

One of Dan’s prime examples of a challenger is the late Murray Rothbard. I agree with Dan’s categorization of Murray. Interestingly, though, I was once in a long conversation with Murray and two mutual friends, Harry Watson and Ida Walters, in which I saw the bargaining side of Murray. That caused me to respect Murray more. Harry was a junior economist with President Ford’s Council of Economic Advisers. It was Christmas 1975 and I was visiting Harry and Ida in Washington. So was Murray and, if I recall correctly, his wife, Joey.

Recall that President Nixon had made a hash of the energy sector of the economy with price controls on gasoline and oil. Ford had inherited these controls and was not doing much to decontrol. However, within the Ford administration there were some policy people who wanted to decontrol and others who wanted to keep controls and/or heap further controls on that sector. Harry was telling us about all the players, most of whose names I’ve forgotten. One of them was a guy named Frank Zarb and I’ve forgotten whether he was a “good guy” or a “bad guy.”

Murray was delighted–delighted–to hear about the battle of the good guys. Like Harry (in the quintessential “bargaining” job) and me (who, as a summer intern in Nixon’s Council of Economic Advisers, had also been a “bargainer”), Murray wanted them not to screw up the economy further. I still remember him cackling as Harry told us all about the internal politics and this or that triumph, however small, of the deregulators.