by Stephen Mauzy
delightful book Defending
the Undefendable introduced me to the Austrian School of
economics. His book was discovered during one of those serendipitous
defining moments. I was scouring the Internet for an unrelated text
and just stumbled upon the title. I can't remember the text I was
originally searching for, but the abstract of Block's book was too
titillating to resist.
with the Austrian School was limited to, well, nobody at that time,
but I was a convert in the waiting. Before reading Defending
the Undefendable, I had read Milton and Rose Friedman's Free
to Choose and the putative pinnacle of free-market exegesis,
Adam Smith's magnum opus The
Wealth of Nations. I thought there was nowhere else to go.
How wrong I was.
away the irrational, inchoate underbrush of my own thoughts, along
with my belief in the Chicago School's free-market bona fides, with
sweeping scythe-like passages that cleared a path toward Rothbard,
and more Walter
the Undefendable is fun because it is provocative, and if there
is a shortage of anything in this world, it is provocateurs. The
planet is overrun with narcissistic conformists who deserve to
nay, must be exposed as the puny, prevaricating
poltroons they are. A good dose of strapping logic, which Walter
Block supplies in Defending the Undefendable, is the politically
incorrect antidote to their interventionist venom.
More than anything,
Defending the Undefendable is stimulating; you can't help
but conjure additional examples of the undefendable that need a
good defense. The tax cheat and the smuggler sprang immediately
to mind for me; I'm sure you have your own examples.
was another, and it has been given the bum's rush in recent years,
particularly in the salons of higher education, where emotion and
omphaloskepsis increasingly trump logic and erudition. Stereotyping
is denounced wrongly as unseemly, as being narrow-minded and bigoted,
and, rightly, as prejudice when the judgment precedes the
evidence, you are prejudging. Stereotypes are often negative, but
who's at fault: the person engaging in a negative stereotypical
act or the person interpreting an act negatively?
correct bien-pensants always fail to recognize that stereotyping
is a form of deductive reasoning. If you see something repeatedly,
but not necessarily without fail, you form an opinion, which is
layered with a degree of truth. A subset of the human race, based
on ethnicity, inclination, or geography, will spring to mind after
reading each of the following words: financier, migrant worker,
male flight attendant, NASCAR driver, sprinter.
I'm sure most
of us immediately conjured similar images. Yes, it is unfair to
impose a group characteristic onto an individual, but we did so
nonetheless. To belabor the obvious, each of us is an individual,
not a group. When the stereotype is proven fallacious for an individual,
But if it is
not, don't. Stereotypes give reason to pause and think when they
are violated. For example, if someone were to profess to being a
Jewish migrant worker, the brow should furrow and the lips should
purse. Jewish migrant workers might very well exist, but I suspect
that few of us have met any, so we would naturally, and rightfully,
question the occupational assertion: it violates our stereotype,
which was developed from experience. Is it so offensive to reply,
scandal of the blog A Gay Girl in Damascus exemplifies how
questioning the violation of a stereotype raises healthy skepticism.
According to Wikipedia,
Arraf al Omari [the "Gay Girl,"] was a fictional character
or hoax persona created and maintained by American peace activist
and graduate student Tom MacMaster. The identity was presented
as a Syrian-American blogger, identifying herself as a lesbian
on her weblog … and blogging in support of increased civil and
political freedom for Syrians.
A noble cause,
but a fraud nonetheless. Ms. Arraf's, or rather Mr. MacMaster's,
writings stopped abruptly one Monday a few weeks ago and took a
soap-opera twist: In a posting on A Gay Girl in Damascus,
a "cousin" wrote that Amina had been hauled away by government
security agents. News of her disappearance swelled into an Internet
and mass-media sensation. The US State Department started an investigation.
Peter Beinart, wishful thinker and former editor of the New Republic,
importuned, "The Obama administration must speak about this.
This woman is a hero."
authenticity should have been questioned from the get-go, and maybe
it was, but doing so in front of the wrong crowd would have offended
too many delicate sensitivities. What should have aroused skepticism?
Arraf's photograph violated the lesbian stereotype, appearing
to appeal more to the fantasy of a heterosexual male (perhaps Mr.
MacMaster) than another woman. Of course, it is statistically possible
that a woman who preferred the company of other women would also
be appealing to most heterosexual men, even in Damascus. It would
just be less statistically probable.
man pretending to be a gay girl in Damascus is harmless neoteny.
There's a problem, though, when political correctness and wishful
thinking supersede experience. Consider the stereotypical terrorist:
a Middle Eastern, religiously fanatical, dour male with brown skin,
black hair, and facial hair. The stereotype is very real and very
the obvious again: a miniscule subset of Middle Eastern males are
terrorists, and a stereotype fails to encompass the whole of a person.
That said, the subset of female septuagenarians of western European
descent who are terrorists is even more miniscule, if it exists
at all, which is the reason Grandma Walton isn't stereotyped as
That is, she
isn't stereotyped as a terrorist if you are a private citizen. The
TSA, in its pathological desire to avoid all appearance of stereotyping,
will categorize the old gal as a possible terrorist, along with
her six-year-old grandchild, thus making travel more miserable for
all, including Middle Eastern males.
And what about
Austrian School economics? Its adherents are stereotyped as uncompromising
free-market anachronisms by its detractors. I'm indifferent to the
stereotype, because there is truth in it. Yes, we are for free markets
(truth). Are we an anachronism? To the majority who label us so,
that majority is shriveling. Stereotypes change as perceptions change,
and the stereotype of Austrians continues to change for the better
as our influence on the mainstream media grows (check here,
here, and here).
I suspect in time our stereotype will evolve from free-market anachronism
to free-market hipster.
Why the optimism?
The truth whether it be Mises's prediction of Soviet collapse
or the inevitable undressing of Mr. MacMaster always prevails.
The truth is that free markets are always superior to markets manipulated
by outside actors. The Austrian School doesn't adhere to the principles
of liberty, limited (or no) government, and property rights for
their own sake. These are only means to an end, and the end is a
healthier, wealthier, more civilized, most equitable society. We
know that government intervention and violations of individual sovereignty
invariably produce more costs than benefits.
Our job, the
truth, is to explain how and why free markets operate and to reveal
all the unpleasant consequences when free markets are violated.
Economists more interested in personal glory and recondite faux
algorithms than truth are the real undefendables wanting for a defense,
and not even Walter Block can provide that.
Mauzy [send him
mail] is a CFA charterholder, a financial writer, and principal
of S.P. Mauzy & Associates.