Transcript: Ask David Gordon Anything

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Transcript: Ask David Gordon Anything

December 10, 2015

Earlier today, Dr. David Gordon took to the Mises Institute's Facebook page to answer questions submitted by our followers. 

Here's the transcript: 

Q: Would Mises have advocated for socialism if it turned out that it was better than capitalism at satisfying people's ends, encouraging economic growth, etc.? What about Rothbard?

Dr. David Gordon: In Mises's view, socialist calculation was impossible, He took this to be an a priori claim, so the state of affairs in which socialism is economically better isn't possible. Your question then can't be answered, because it asks about an “impossible possibility.” Rothbard would have agreed with Mises.

 

Q: Suppose technology advances in such a way that we really could make objective interpersonal comparisons of happiness based on neurological data. What would this mean for economic theory?

Dr. Gordon: When Austrians talk about utility, they mean how someone ranks his preferences. The view here isn't that it is difficult to measure “happiness”, leaving us with ordinal ranks as a second-best. Rather, the ordinal ranking is all that there is to the concept of utility. Neurological data, e.g, changes in the brain when people report certain feelings, have no relevance to utility as Austrians understand it.

 

Q: Libertarians reject the “implicit social contract”, but what about implicit things like the binding power of written contracts? What if two people sign a written contract that doesn't violate anyone's rights, but one of the parties claims that merely moving their hand in a certain fashion near a piece of paper while holding a pen doesn't constitute consent? 

Dr. Gordon: Libertarians have criticized tacit consent, but it doesn't follow from this that the notion of understandings that aren't explicitly stated is also rejected. The rejection of tacit consent is made because the libertarians deny that the behavior supposed to show such consent actually does so. The notion that you could, by your behavior, show that you rejected something isn't rejected. On the writing example, someone could make such a claim, but he would in the ordinary case be mistaken. If you are producing words on paper in the appropriate way, you are writing, regardless of your private understanding of the matter.

 

Q: Can you recommend a source for investment advice from an Austrian viewpoint?

Dr. Gordon: The Austrian Theory of the Business Cycle explains how booms culminate in depressions, but it doesn't tell us when this will happen. There are investment writers who know Austrian economics, e.g., Gary North and Peter Schiff, but exact predictions about investments aren't deducible from Austrian theory.

 

Q:  Do you think the foundations for Hoppe's Argumentation Ethics begin in Miletus with Thales? Is the Austro-libertarian tradition a refinement and continuation of what Thales began circa 600 BC? Thanks.

Dr. Gordon: Hoppe's view is certainly part of philosophy, an inquiry often said to begin with Thales. But it has no connection with Thales' views.

 

Q: Dr. Gordon, what is the philosophical nature of self-ownership? Is it dualistic or is it reflexive?

Dr. Gordon: “Self-ownership” is reflexive, in the same way as “self-respect” or “self-esteem.”. It does not mean that a separate “'self' owns the body. People who accept self-ownership aren't committed to substance dualism, although they are free to embrace this view if they wish.

 

Q: What exactly is a 'right'? For example, if I have a property right in my tie, this seems to mean I have the 'right' to stop someone else taking it, even harming them if it was necessary to stop the theft. So that would suggest that the 'property right' is identical to saying 'I am not morally wrong to harm someone, if necessary, if he tries to take my tie.' Does it follow that a 'right' is simply a statement about a situation where harming another person is morally acceptable?

Dr. Gordon: It is better, I think, to say that you are morally permitted to use or threaten force against violators of your rights, than to use the less definite concept “harm”.

 

Q: Why not defund “Progressive” education in K-12, university and Journalism Schools and replace it with “1776-Tragic-Liberty” common sense worldview pedagogy? 

Dr. Gordon:  I agree with you about the flaws of progressive education but do not think that any form of education should receive government funding, even ones that teach views I believe are correct.

 

Q: What are your thoughts on libertarian metaphysics and free will?

Dr. Gordon: Libertarian or contra-causal free will has much to be said for it. Peter van Inwagen, C.A, Campbell, Robert Kane, and other philosophers have written on this. But this issue isn't related to libertarian political philosophy.

 

Q: How long do you think it is going to take for the EU to break up, and what future do you see for the Europeans after that happens, in particular for the French and the Italians?

Dr. Gordon: I don't have any predictions to make on this. I suspect that the various European people will be able to get along quite well without the EU.

 

Q: Could you tell me why we cannot believe in polyteism?

Dr. Gordon: If you want to believe in polytheism, it is all right with me. William James was sympathetic to it, and the Egyptologist Jan Assmann praises it for its tolerance, as against monotheism. But I think that Cardinal Ratzinger effectively replied to him.

 

Q: Of all the European cultures, which is perhaps the most libertarian? British, French, German, Italian, or Spanish? And why is said culture the most libertarian?

Dr. Gordon: I think it is doubtful whether any of these cultures counts as more libertarian than the others,

 

Q: What was you studying schedulepattern throughout life? How did you learn all you know? Do you read every day?

Dr. Gordon: I don't have a fixed schedule but do enjoy reading as much as I can.

 

Q: What is your position on Monetary Equilibrium Theory with the likes of George Selgin and Steve Horwitz. Do you find it to be a valid assessment of markets based on the Wicksellian “natural” rate of interest? Much appreciated.

Dr. Gordon: I agree with Mises, Rothbard, Salerno, and other strict Austrians, that any quantity of money in the economy is optimal. Changes in the demand for money will change the purchasing power of money, and there is no need to increase or decrease the quantity of money in response to changes in demand. Supporters of monetary equilibrium theory say that purchasing power won't shift fast enough, but they fail to offer a criterion for how “fast” the purchasing power of money should change.

 

Q: Who do you agree with on abortion, Rothbard or Ron Paul? Can there be a consistently libertarian pro-life position?

Dr. Gordon: Rothbard's view is interesting because, like Judith Thomson in her famous article, he detached the question of whether abortion is permissible from whether the fetus counts as a human person. In his view, the mother can expel the fetus as a trespasser. Father James Sadowsky raised some good objections to viewing an unwanted fetus in this way, and I recommend reading their exchange in the Libertarian Forum.

 

Q: Rothbard said that he had a mathematician look at Keynesian economics and said Keynesian only works 30% of the time. Has there been new studies? Is there any hard numbers?

Dr. Gordon: The Keynesian system is theoretically flawed: see, e.g., the discussion of the topic in Man, Economy, and State, and the relevant books of Henry Hazlitt and W,H. Hutt. I don't think that the issues between Keynesian and New Austrian economics economics will be decided by statistical studies on which system “works.”

 

Q: Do you have a theory of evil? And if yes, can you describe its basic premises?

Dr. Gordon: I don't have a theory of evil. If you are interested in the topic, I'd suggest as a start. comparing Alvin Plantinga and William Rowe on the topic.

 

Q: Why vote?

Dr. Gordon: There is a well-known argument that voting is irrational, in that it involves some cost and one has almost no chance of affecting the outcome. There is a good book on the topic byt Brennan and Lomasky.

 

Stay tuned for more social media events with our Mises scholars. 

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