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The Decline of FEE–Part II: Schulman’s Reply

In a recent post I mentioned J.H. Huebert’s article, A Great Institution in Freefall, which describes the decline of the Foundation for Economic Education. Huebert’s website now lists various responses he’s had. Someone forwarded to me a letter by libertarian sci-fi author J. Neil Schulman critical of Huebert.

Huebert had criticised FEE for having non-libertarian Rudolf Giuliani as the keynote speaker and guest of honor at their annual trustees’ dinner, and for promoting other non-libertarians such as Nixon-admirer Ben Stein, who was selected to be the keynote speaker at the National Convention. In his response, Schulman first notes his libertarian credentials, and then attacks Huebert.

Incidentally, in listing his credentials, he refers to his “natural-law defense of property rights in information content”. He is referring here to his “logorights” theory. For an explanation of what is wrong with this theory and why it is contrary to libertarian property rights, see text at notes 48-49 to my article Against Intellectual Property. But I digress.

Getting back to Schulman’s attack on Huebert–first, he points out that back in 1993, he himself described Giuliani as “a small-time fed with ambitions of making a political reputation for himself as a Grand Inquisitor” and stated in a footnote to the article, “Rudolph Giuliani is one Republican I wish would go against the trend and become a Democrat. He’s a ruthless opportunist whose political career I hope stalls where it is.” Yet now Giuliani is rehabilitiated in Schulman’s eyes. Why? Because, “I don’t think any mayor could have done a better job than Rudolph Giuliani did following the attack on his city. His post-911 performance won my respect, and I even began resenting him less for his prosecution of Michael Milken once Ben Stein explained during his Q&A; why Milken was, after all, a thief.”

Of course, Giuliani’s actions in the aftermath of 9-11 do not mean that he is now a libertarian. I also cannot see why Giuliani’s “post-911 performance” means FEE should highlight him so prominently. By the way, what, exactly, did Giuliani do, that is supposed to be so great? That he kept his compusure in press conferences? If Giuliani had been a craven idiot at the time, what difference would it have made, exactly? Would 3000 people not have been killed? Would the city have been “sadder”? Would more federal dollars been given to NYC in welfare handouts? What? I’ve been mystified every since 9-11 at the worship of Giuliani’s “handling” of the crisis. The damage had already been done, after all. In any event, even courage under fire does not make one a libertarian, nor appropriate as a keynote speaker and guest of honor for a supposedly libertarian organization, and one that advocates economic education, at that.

Schulman concludes his letter, “By the way, I applaud FEE for inviting Mr. Giuliani to speak. Unlike Mr. Read, and like libertarians ranging from Murray Rothbard to Robert LeFevre to Karl Hess to Samuel Edward Konkin III, I consider that any idea worth holding is worth defending in lively debate. Mr.Giuliani just might learn in that setting why he should read Human Action.” Giuliani read Human Action? As Gary North commented, “If he gets paid $75,000 [by FEE as an honorarium] for never having heard of Human Action, it’s difficult to see why he should start now.”

As for Ben Stein, Schulman claims now that the illustrious jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none, the Clear-Eyes commercial actor, Ben Stein, “explained,” during a “Q&A;”, that Milken was, “after all,” a “thief.” If we are defer to authorities to settle the Milken issue, I’d prefer Rothbard to Stein, in both ethics and economics. In particular, take a look at Rothbard’s comments on Milken in chapters 28and 49 of his Making Economic Sense.

Schulman continues, “What I most object to in your article is your phrase ‘a panel on the war on terrorism where only one panelist, Harry Browne, took the libertarian position.’ Your statement is offensive, arrogant presumption.” Hunh? It’s not arrogant for Huebert to think the proper libertarian position is antiwar. What is arrogant is the belief that pro-war, pro-Israel libertarians have a monopoly on moral outrage. Schulman goes on:

Libertarians are divided on the war on terror. [] Some oppose the war because they take a pacifistic approach reminiscent of my old friend, Robert LeFevre. Some libertarians are knee-jerk opposed to anything done by the United States Government. Then there are libertarians such as myself who consider themselves American patriots in the tradition of the founding fathers, who object to theocratic terrorists hijacking our private-enterprise passenger jetliners and ramming them into our office buildings, murdering thousands of our countrymen, and laying waste to our country’s oldest commercial trading districts and our national defense headquarters.

This falsely implies that anti-war and anti-federal government libertarians do not oppose the 9-11 attacks and are not patriots. I.e., according to Schulman–if you don’t support the Feds on this one, you are not a patriot and you don’t even oppose terrorist attacks on American skyscrapers. Instead, either you are pro-war, or you are a “kneejerk contrarian [pacifist]”. No middle ground, eh Neil? Let me make it clear, Neil–any libertarian worth his salt of course condemns and opposes the murder of innocent Americans by crazed Islamic terrorists. (Duh!) Some of us even, gasp, support retaliation–yes, by the feds–against those acting in concert with those terrorists and posing a threat to innocent Americans. Of course this support is reluctant because, as libertarians, we recognize what a dangerous entity the feds are, and that much terrorism has been generated–but not justified!–by American imperialism. (See Lew Rockwell’s Peace Archive for insightful commentary on such distinctions and subtleties.)

Schulman is right in describing Islamic terrorists as “ongoing threat from a bunch of unreasonable dickheads who consider their grievances more important than our lives and property”. Of course this is correct. And of course, it is even more true of the feds, as Schulman knows. Every day the feds take about half my earnings from me. I suspect they will for the rest of my life. This is a serious, systematic, almost inescapable violation, and its chance of occurring is about 100%. Whereas, my chances of being harmed by a terrorist attack are much smaller, and even manageable to some degree. What would most reasonable people choose, if given the alternative: freedom from federal government taxes for the rest of your life; or a guarantee that you would not be killed in a terrorist attack? Well, I’d like to have both guarantees, but if I had to choose, I know which one I would pick (and I suspect Schulman, if pressed, would say the same). So which is the more dangerous criminal entity–the feds, or Islamic terrorists? Which violates the rights of Americans on a systematic, severe basis? Gee, I dunno.

Schulman also writes, “I consider myself an isolationist. I did not support the Gulf War, which I considered defense of a monarchy.” Waitasec–the problem with the Gulf War was NOT that it was a “defense” of monarchy. There were many reasons for libertarians to oppose the Gulf War–taxes, deaths of innocents, fomenting hatred of America, unconstitutional executive actions required to support it, etc.–but “defense of monarchy” is the weakest criticism imaginable. In fact, as Hans-Hermann Hoppe points out in Democracy: The God that Failed, monarchy is preferable to democracy, from a libertarian perspective, in many ways. Or was this curiously out-of-place attack on monarchy meant to be a veiled jab at the Mises Institute, LewRockwell.com, and Hans Hoppe?

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