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Man, Economy, and State Paperback – June 15, 1993
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About the Author
Murray N. Rothbard (1926-1995) distinguished himself as an economist, writing a major treatise on theory, several important economic histories, and a highly praised history of economic thought. But he was also known as the pioneer thinker of libertarianism, the political philosophy that roots freedom in private property ownership and decries the state as inherently contrary to the ethics of a free society. Writing from this perspective, he gained a reputation as the most provocative and influential contributor to the anarchist tradition in our century.
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Another thing that keeps it fresh nearly 50 years after publication is the almost complete lack of topical material that could go stale. A peculiarity of the original edition is that the projected third volume had to be shortened into a single chapter because its total condemnation of government was too controversial for the publisher. That third volume was later published as "Power and Market: Government and the Economy." It is bound in with the original Man Economy & State in the Scholar's Edition, which somewhat confusingly still includes the original summary chapter.
This book assumes no background in economics, and takes the reader straight through from the most basic aspects of human action through the whole of economics without the artificial break between micro and macro that corrodes present-day economic thinking. Rothbard spins out long chains of reasoning, which although they are clearly presented, do require sustained attention. If you are willing to give it that attention, the book will repay you handsomely. Rothbard leads us to the standard laws of supply and demand, but grounds them in a way that standard textbooks miss. His treatment of monopoly is unique, arguing that very concept of a monopoly price is illegitimate because one the "competitive price" with which it is to be contrasted cannot be identified, and therefore one cannot distinguish a movement along a demand curve from a sub-competitive price toward the alleged competitive price from a movement upward from that price.
There is much more that is unique to Rothbard (and much that is consonant with standard economics), but I will just mention one more thing, a favorite of mine. That is his classification of violent behavior into (1) autistic intervention, e.g. forcing someone to salute a flag, (2) binary intervention, e.g. robbery or taxation, and (3) triangular intervention where the aggressor forces or prohibits exchanges between others, e.g. through price controls.
In the course of 1,000 pages or so Rothbard does slip occasionally. And he runs into the ditch in his attempt to discredit the concept of velocity and the equation of exchange. Nonetheless this is a masterful, enjoyable, and highly rewarding book.
It should be noted that this review should be read in light that this author freely admits that his understanding is limited, flawed, and weak on the subject of this book.
I was not completely lost on this book and there were some ideas I had to sit and chew on for quite a few days. I would even dream about them, literally, to work them out. Sometimes I succeeded and other times I did not. With Rothbard being such a pillar it's hard not to want to read and like this book. The other good thing about that fact is so many other people have written about his ideas form other perspectives that are written for all sorts of variety degrees of understanding. I did pick up Robert Murphy's study guide on this book and found a few articles online of people boiling down the points by chapter. Another helpful resource was the Mises Institute website and Youtube page.
Again, any critique I give is flawed and is probably not as informed as it should be. I would have like Rothbard to go into more comparison/contrast with Keynesian and would have loved to see way more examples of some of the pure concepts.
I did not hate reading this book and I did learn a lot. There might be a day where I pick it back up again but as I wrote above, so many good people within the community look up to Rothbard and can distill down these large concepts for people like me. It shows you how well Rothbard really was. Final Grade - B
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