Friday, February 23, 2018

On the American Economic Association’s proposed Code of Professional Conduct


Prologue

On February 6 of this year, the Secretary-Treasurer of the American Economic Association (AEA) sent the following email to the members of the Association:

In October 2017 Alvin E. Roth formed an Ad Hoc Committee to Consider a Code of Professional Conduct for Economists, and charged it with evaluating various aspects of professional conduct, including those which stifle diversity in Economics. The ad hoc committee, composed of John Campbell (chair), Marianne Bertrand, Pascaline  Dupas, Benjamin Edelman, and Matthew D. Shapiro discussed an interim report and  draft code with the AEA Executive Committee at its meeting on January 4, 2018, and provided an update to the AEA membership at the Annual Business Meeting on January 5 in Philadelphia. The interim report and draft code are now ready and available for viewing and comment by the AEA membership at large, and the Executive Committee encourages your participation and assistance in bringing these items ahead to final versions.
The ad hoc committee's interim report is available here:

The draft Code of Professional Conduct is available here:

https://www.aeaweb.org/resources/member-docs/draft-code-of-conduct


To offer comments on either or both items, please use the link below before March 15, 2018:
https://www.aeaweb.org/comments/code-of-conduct/?token=faSyK6QDtnirZ6faYFs7Y33R3d9H5QEE

My Comment 


When I began the study of economics, almost seventy years ago, as a young adolescent, almost everyone seemed to take it for granted that full respect for individual rights, including property rights, as called for by the American Constitution and Bill of Rights, would inevitably result in a society in which greedy capitalists drove the wages of the great mass of people down to or below minimum subsistence, while lengthening the hours of work to the maximum possible, and imposing nightmarish working conditions.

Even today such are the beliefs of the great majority of people. This becomes clear simply by asking what most people believe would happen if there were no pro-union or minimum wage laws, and no maximum hours or child labor laws.

Now, today, we can observe both in the “Interim Report” on considering a code of professional conduct and in the “Draft AEA Code of Conducthow much the intellectual horizon of the economics profession, at least as represented by the AEA, has shriveled. It has gone from concern with world-shaking, life-and-death issues to concern with insignificant trivia.

Such questions and concerns as whether or not capitalism exploits the average worker have been replaced with such questions and concerns as “Ending harassment”—sexual harassment (p. 5 of the “Interim Report”). Not even rape, mind you, (which is against the law and severely punished, and is attended to by the police and prosecutors, not economists)—but sexual harassment, which can mean something as small as a man repeatedly asking a woman to go out with him despite her repeated refusals. This is what economists are now to be concerned with.

This is not to be the only concern of economists. They are also to be concerned with “creating a professional environment with equal opportunity and equal treatment for all economists, regardless of age, gender, race, …” and so on and on ad nauseam. (The only thing missing is an enumeration of the alleged 63 genders.)

Such lists are intended to prove one’s acceptance of “diversity.” Yes, there is diversity—in utterly irrelevant respects. There is virtually no diversity in ideas and theories. True diversity would mean such things as making the ideas and theories of Ludwig von Mises a standard part of the discussion instead of ignoring them.

The “Interim Report” urges what is implicitly a program of spying, which it calls “Monitoring and reporting on climate.” For example, observing and quantifying “the extent to which there is unproductive aggressiveness in economics or its subfields.” (p. 4.)

Enough of the “Interim Report.”

The “Draft AEA Code of Conduct” calls for, among other things, “the disclosure of conflicts of interest.” This language leaves the door wide open for any Marxist to claim that if his opponent advocates a policy of any kind that protects the property rights of the rich, and at the same time is himself “rich” or in the employ of the “rich,” he is dishonest, guided by his alleged “class interest” rather than considerations of truth or falsehood.

The “Draft” repeats verbatim the language it believes establishes “diversity” credentials.

A paragraph earlier, it writes of “the “perfect freedom of economic discussion.” This “freedom” is apparently to be established by an environment of spying and fear, as called for in the “Interim Report.” In addition, the document totally ignores the violations of the freedom of discussion that go on, on college and university campuses across the country, in which student thugs forcibly prevent speakers from speaking.

The motive of the “Interim Report” and the “Code” is not any legitimate concern with advancing the state of economics, but rather it is the very illegitimate and downright evil motive of gaining power over the economics profession, by imposing a reign of fear on economists, who will have to be concerned with whether or not they are violating the code, which they might do simply by offending someone.

If this code, or anything remotely like it, is adopted, I for one will resign from the American Economic Association, which I will then regard as just one more group dedicated to political “correctness” rather than to knowledge and truth. Indeed, I would then think of the AEA as an organization of such small mindedness and so laughable as to deserve a membership comprised of nothing but clones of Saturday Night Live’s “Church Lady,” indeed, of Church Lady’s maiden aunt.

In any event, I will never allow any “Big Sister” to watch me.

                                                                                                                      

Monday, February 12, 2018

Obituary and Eulogy for My Wife Edith Packer



OBITUARY

Edith Packer, J.D., PhD. was born on Oct. 27, 1924 and passed away on Feb. 4, 2018. She leaves behind a husband, George Reisman, a daughter, Adrienne Packer, and two grandsons, William Packer and Daniel Salmieri. A Holocaust survivor, she lost both parents and an older brother in 1944, when the Holocaust came to Hungary.

Edith requested that contributions in her memory be donated to St Jude's Hospital for Children.


 
Eulogy

Delivered at the O’Connor Mortuary in Laguna Hills, California on February 9th 2018

As I’m sure you all know, Edith was an extremely talented and unusual woman. She earned a J.D. degree in law and a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. She was in practice as a psychologist and psychotherapist for 48 years, and through her knowledge and therapeutic techniques greatly improved the lives of most of her patients, in many cases dramatically. She continually sought to inspire her patients to become the best and most accomplished people they could be. Again and again, her practice resulted in young people who came to her riddled with psychological problems and stuck in a seemingly hopeless life, finding the courage to do what was necessary to break free and go on to successful careers and successful relationships and to far more satisfaction and happiness in life than would have been possible without her.

She was also an author and lecturer. She wrote nine pamphlets, which were the result of lectures she delivered for the Jefferson School in the 1980s and 1990s. (I invite you all to take a copy of each of them, and of her interview with Jerry Kirkpatrick, with my compliments. They’re on a table somewhere in this room. And they’ve all been put together as an Amazon.com Kindle book under the title Lectures on Psychology: A Guide to Understanding Your Emotions. To find it, just search Amazon in the section Kindle books and then under the name Edith Packer.)

*****

Edith was born on October 27, 1924. At this point, I don’t think she can hold it against me for revealing her age. So when she died this last Sunday she was over 93 years old. I had always expected her, and ardently desired her, to live to be at least 105. The fact that she didn’t, has devastated me. For over 48 years her presence filled my life, and now it’s simply gone. I feel a great void.

It’s somewhat unusual for someone to live to be 93. What is truly unusual, indeed, amazing, is that Edith was still in practice as recently as a few days before this last Christmas. Her practice was small—about seven or eight patients a week—but it still existed. And she was still very sharp. In her prime, she often saw seven, or even eight, patients in a day.

Edith was born in a small city called Ushorod. According to her passport, Edith was born in the Ukraine. Actually, she was born in what was then the eastern-most province of Czechoslovakia, called Carpatho-Russia. The Munich Pact in 1938, when Edith was 14, gave that province to Hungary, which held it until 1945, when it became part of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union made it part of the Ukraine, which was it’s second-most important territory.

From 1920 until April of 1944, Hungary was ruled by a Regent, Admiral Horthy, whose administration could generally be compared to that of Mussolini in Italy. From 1938 to early 1944, Jews could still live in Hungary, but only in an increasingly oppressive environment. They were banned from practicing various professions; Jewish students had to sit in the back of the classroom. Edith, who had been elected president of her class in Gymnasium, was removed from that position because she was Jewish. Toward the end of the period, Jews were compelled to wear yellow stars of David on their clothing. Young Jewish men were drafted into labor battalions, where many of them died, including one of her older brothers, who had been a lawyer and who had been prohibited from practicing his profession. In April of 1944 the conditions of Jews changed from bad to horrible: the Holocaust came to Hungary. Under the direction of Adolf Eichmann, the Hungarian government began rounding up the Jews for deportation to concentration camps and death.

At the age of 19, Edith saw the death camps coming. She urged her parents and the rest of her family to flee. She kept hammering at them with the question of how would the Germans feed them? Why would they feed them? Her family, particularly her parents, had the opportunity to flee. But they chose to stay, stuck like deer in the headlights of an oncoming truck. According to Edith, her mother stayed because she couldn’t bear to give up such things as the familiarity of her home, and her father stayed because he was the leader of the Jews in Carpatho-Russia and believed that leaving would be a betrayal of his fellow Jews.

But Edith fled. And despite his own choice to stay, her father supported Edith’s decision for herself and had a special pair of shoes made for her, which contained a supply of gold coins and diamonds, so that she would not suffer want during her flight. She also found help from a Hungarian senator, who provided her with false papers. This senator became her first husband, and the father of her first child, Eva.

Eva was the mother of a member of our audience: Daniel Salmieri, who is now a New York Times best-selling illustrator and author of children’s books. Will Daniel, Edith’s grandson, please wave or stand up, to let people see you? Eva was also a graduate of Hunter College summa cum laude, a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and a Woodrow Wilson Scholar. She attended graduate school at Columbia University, and was employed as a freelance editor at several major publishing houses. To Edith’s great sorrow, Eva died of cancer in 1990. Her husband, Robert, was and is a successful artist and designer.

Edith, being blonde and blue-eyed and with false papers was able to avoid being identified as a Jew and succeeded in saving her life. She hid out for the remainder of the war first in Budapest and then across the border in Romania. But she felt guilty about having left her parents. I thought she had overcome the guilt many years ago, but it came back in her final days. I say that any guilt should have belonged to them, not to her. It was they who did wrong in refusing to leave, in refusing not just at the last minute, when it really was too late for them, since, not being blonde and blue eyed, they could easily have been identified as Jews, but much earlier, when the facts were already clear and they chose to ignore them. Edith, did absolutely right in leaving and thus living, not dying.

                                                *****         

When I first met Edith in 1969, I learned of her escape from the Nazis and of her experiences. Listening to her and looking at her—she was really very beautiful—I felt like I was in an adventure movie, in the presence of a beautiful heroine, who was radiating waves of courage and daring. That’s when I started to fall in love with her.

Sometimes people ask where I first met Edith. I met her in Ayn Rand’s living room. We were both students in a series of lectures Ayn Rand was giving on non-fiction writing.

I’ve mentioned that Edith was born in a small city called Ushorod. It was quite a journey from Ushorod to Ayn Rand’s living room. Escaping from the Nazis was an essential part of it, but not the only part. The journey began years before, when she was a little girl, and continued for years afterwards. A major signpost appeared in Edith’s childhood, showing the direction in which she was travelling. Her mother gave her a very fancy, deluxe baby carriage. Edith rejected the baby carriage and never played with it. She thought it was stupid.

To Edith then, and to me now, and, I believe, to anyone who seriously considers the matter, toy baby carriages, dolls, and most other toys for little girls are nothing more than early job-training tools for what traditionally has been assumed to be the future career of little girls, when they grow up and become women. That career is supposed to be motherhood, to the exclusion of practically everything else. Edith would have none of that.

She believed from the very beginning that she was a full-fledged person, or destined to become a full-fledged person when she grew up, not just a baby-making auxiliary to a full-fledged person, traditionally believed to be only men. Even as a very young child, she possessed profound, deep-seated independent judgment and believed that she was capable of doing or becoming anything she wanted to. She always had the strength to stand up and fight for whatever she believed in.

One of my favorite examples of her independence and confidence was the fact that as a child of about ten, she would march to the dressmaker’s, select materials, and order her own dresses.

Qualities like this, almost always associated with men, rather than women, led her father one day to say, with great pride, that Edith was his only son. (This was the same sentiment that von Mises expressed about Ayn Rand when he said “Ayn Rand is the only man in America,” after the publication of her article “Big Business: America’s Persecuted Minority.”) Statements like this don’t mean that one thinks a woman is a man but only that she has the intellect and character values usually associated only with men.

In her childhood, Edith decided at one point that she wanted to be a lawyer when she grew up. Her mother told her that “women are not lawyers.” But Edith personally knew a woman who lived nearby and who was, in fact, a lawyer. After that, she adopted the same kind of attitude toward her mother that years later, President Reagan adopted toward Gorbachev: “Trust but verify,” which actually meant “verify before accepting or believing.” This was a major reinforcement of Edith’s independence. It taught her that she always needed to think and judge for herself.

*****

Edith became an American citizen on May 7, 1951. The name on her citizenship document is Edith Packer. She and her first husband had divorced and she had married her second husband Max Packer, who was a physician in New York City. She and Max had two children: Adrienne, who is an attorney, and Steven, who was a successful businessman but unfortunately died in 1996.  Adrienne is here tonight. I hope she’ll wave to you, so that you can see her if you don’t recognize her. And Adrienne’s son, William, Edith’s grandson, is also here tonight. Will is currently enrolled in the joint MBA/MPA programs at the Wharton School and Harvard University. Until entering that program, he was the Director of Educational Technology at a network of twenty schools named Democracy Prep Public Schools. Please wave or stand up, Will.

Edith was an ardent believer in education. Even in her flight from the Nazis, she still managed to carry with her a copy of her transcript from the Gymnasium from which she had graduated. Now, settled in the United States, Edith decided to go back to school. She enrolled at Hunter College in New York City, and graduated as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. She then decided to go to law school. She was accepted at Fordham University School of Law, which is a well-respected Roman Catholic institution. But she wanted to go to the NYU  School of Law. Even though her grades at Hunter had been outstanding, she was initially rejected by NYU because she had not done sufficiently well on the multiple choice questions on the entrance exam. She called the Dean of the school and challenged her rejection. She got him to change his mind and was admitted. At NYU her class was divided into two sections, in each of which there was one woman and 99 or 100 men.

Even though, within a few years, after working both for a law firm and then in private practice, she came to dislike the practice of law, largely because of the corruption that prevailed in the New York City justice system, she always believed in the value of studying law. Again and again, she said how much it had improved her ability to think, and implied that it should be a part of everyone’s education.

*****

When Edith’s husband Max made house calls, Edith sometimes went with him. On one such occasion, a woman she had come to know somewhat, offered her a book to read, while Max was busy with his patient. The woman said she thought Edith would like it. The book was Atlas Shrugged. Edith loved it. Max’s reaction was that there would now be “no way of holding her.”

She and Max became part of the Objectivist “scene,” so to speak. Alan Blumenthal, an MD and a first cousin of Nathaniel Branden, then Ayn Rand’s designated “intellectual heir,” was conducting a series of workshops on psychology and psychotherapy for physicians. Max enrolled. The physicians were allowed to bring their wives. Edith came with him. She was fascinated.

In the workshops the physicians were often given the opportunity to perform psychological diagnoses and to hold mock therapy sessions. Edith was invited to participate. She performed better than the physicians. Alan Blumenthal was so impressed with her that he urged her to go into the field of psychology, which she did. She earned a master’s degree in personality theory at NYU. She gained hands-on experience by working for a year or more at New York’s Bellevue Hospital, widely regarded as the leading psychiatric hospital in the world. Then, with patients referred by Dr. Blumenthal, she entered private practice in 1969. In the same year, Edith and Max divorced.

In 1979 Edith obtained her doctorate from Florida Institute of Technology. But a substantial number of her classes were held in Switzerland, where we spent two of the most beautiful summers of our lives. We would wake up in the morning and see beautiful hills and mountains, and across the street a few cows with cowbells on.

I moved into Edith’s apartment in October of 1973. We married on November 19, 1978. In all the years thereafter, we always celebrated two anniversaries: not only our wedding anniversary but also the anniversary of our first-date, which was on September 13, 1969.

*****

As I’ve said, Edith’s passing has left a great void in me. And my knowledge and commitment to reality and rationality have only made it worse. I know that Edith no longer exists as any kind of actual being. All that physically remains of her is a small pile of ashes. She no longer has eyes and so she cannot see me. She no longer has ears and so she cannot hear me. There just is no longer any “she.” But nevertheless, I pretend that in some way, she still exists and that she can still see and hear me, and so I still talk to her every day. And when I’m alone, out of anyone else’s hearing, I talk to her out loud. So I now need Edith more than ever—as my psychotherapist, in addition to everything else.

But you know what. Until just this last Sunday, I did talk to Edith out loud, in reality, practically every day, for almost half a century. And so it feels much more normal to go on talking to her, even if only in pretense, than to slam into the brick wall of the fact that she simply is no more. So what I think I’m doing is trying to tap the brakes gently, so to speak, and come to a smooth stop, if that’s possible. I don’t think that’s actually unreasonable.

*****

I want you to know that the beautiful music you’ll hear before this service concludes was chosen by Edith herself. Many times over the years, she told me that her favorite opera was La Traviata and that I must be sure to play it at her funeral. The final aria in the opera, the death scene, certainly expresses the way I feel and have been feeling since Sunday morning, when she died.

*****

I want to thank a number of people who’ve contributed to this service: Bob and Bita Klein, friends of Edith for many years, for preparing brief audio excerpts from a few of her lectures. Monique Vallier, who was Edith’s principal health aide for the last two years and who has helped to organize the service. Dr. Linda Reardan, who also participated in preparing the service and who will be a speaker in the program. Linda was a close friend of Edith’s for many years, and was designated in Edith’s Advanced Healthcare Directive to be in charge if Adrienne and I were unable to be.  And Linda’s husband, Dr. Jerry Kirkpatrick, a friend of Edith’s since her days in New York, and who will now take charge of the remainder of this service, first, by expressing his own memories of Edith; next by introducing the remaining designated speakers, and then by recognizing whoever else is here who has known Edith and wishes to make some brief comments about her. 

Jerry, please take over.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Celebrate Columbus Day Not Savages Day


Today, October 12, 2017, is the 525th anniversary of Columbus’s landing in the New World.
Here is a series of tweets I published yesterday in his honor.

Humans have been on earth for a million years. Yet the oldest civilization is less than 6000 years. In the interval everyone was a savage.

Some people, such as various tribes in Spain, France, and England were savages as recently as the time of Julius Caesar.

Others, such as various tribes in Germany, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe, were still savages even centuries later.

The “indigenous people” of the Western Hemisphere were savages when Columbus reached them and brought them into the civilization of his day.

In bringing civilization to savages, one enables them to achieve what they had not been able to achieve for hundreds of millenia.

Those who bring civilization to savages are cultural heroes. Columbus, who brought it to the people of 2 continents, is one of the greatest.

Civilization is incomparably better than savagery. So celebrate Columbus Day not savages day.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

What Is Western Civilization

An excerpt from Reisman’s pamphlet Education and the Racist Road to Barbarism, p. 4.
 
From the perspective of intellectual and cultural content, Western civilization represents an understanding and acceptance of the following: the laws of logic; the concept of causality and, consequently, of a universe ruled by natural laws intelligible to man; on these foundations, the whole known corpus of the laws of mathematics and science; the individual’s self-responsibility based on his free will to choose between good and evil; the value of man above all other species on the basis of his unique possession of the power of reason; the value and competence of the individual human being and his corollary possession of individual rights, among them the right to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness; the need for limited government and for the individual’s freedom from the state; on this entire preceding foundation, the validity of capitalism, with its unprecedented and continuing economic development in terms of division of labor, technological progress, capital accumulation, and rising living standards; in addition, the importance of visual arts and literature depicting man as capable of facing the world with confidence in his power to succeed, and music featuring harmony and melody.
 
 
Dr. Reisman’s pamphlet Education and the Racist Road to Barbarism can be ordered in Kindle format from Amazon.com for 99¢ at http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B001KCWY0Q 
 

 

 

 

Monday, October 09, 2017

Why Columbus Is In Fact the Discoverer of America



Today marks the celebration of Columbus Day, in honor of the man who discovered the Western Hemisphere. (October 12 is the actual date of his discovery.)
 
In view of the fact that there are growing numbers of barbarians living in the midst of modern Western Civilization, who have no understanding or appreciation of its value, I find it necessary to quote from my pamphlet Education and the Racist Road to Barbarism to explain why it is that “… I regard the discoverer of the Western hemisphere to be Columbus, rather than the very first human beings to arrive on the North American continent (probably across a landbridge from Asia), and rather than the Norwegian Leif Ericson. I consider Columbus to be the discoverer not because of any such absurd reason as a preference for Europeans over Asiatics (Leif Ericson was as much a European as Columbus), but because it was Columbus who opened the Western hemisphere to the civilization I have made my own. Columbus was the man who made it possible to bring to these shores my ideas and values. It is not from the perspective of the residence of my ancestors, who were certainly not Italian or Spanish or even West European, that I regard Columbus as the discoverer of America, but from the perspective of the residence of my ideas and values. Just as at an earlier time, they resided in Greece and Rome rather than in the Russia of my ancestors, so in the 15th and 16th centuries, the home of my ideas and values was in Western Europe. I hold Columbus to have been the discoverer of America from that perspective. This is the perspective that any educated person would hold.” (p.6)
 
Those who deny the fact that Columbus was the discoverer of America demonstrate that they have not made the knowledge and values that constitute Western Civilization their own. They are self-confessed and self-made aliens living in the midst of Western Civilization yet preferring to all of the knowledge and values that constitute it, the meagre, primitive state of knowledge and values constituting the culture of “indigenous peoples,” who are at a level comparable to that of people who lived many thousands of years ago, with no knowledge of reading or writing, and hardly any knowledge of science, mathematics, philosophy, music, or art.
Whoever, in the words of Ludwig von Mises, prefers life to death, health to disease, and wealth to poverty, is logically obliged to prefer Western Civilization and its offshoots of individual freedom and capitalism to all other civilizations and cultures that have ever existed.
 
Dr. Reisman’s pamphlet Education and the Racist Road to Barbarism can be ordered in Kindle format from Amazon.com for 99¢ at http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B001KCWY0Q.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

The “White Privilege” Scam


Over the course of American history, the individual rights of whites have been far better respected than the individual rights of blacks. Whites were never enslaved; they were never murdered by lynch mobs; they were never the victims of government-imposed racial discrimination/segregation in housing, schools, restaurants, stores, railways, buses, movie theaters, and elsewhere.

Now the obvious, blazingly clear solution for the lack of respect historically shown for the individual rights of blacks, is to put an end to that disrespect, and henceforth to show the same respect for the individual rights of blacks as is shown for the individual rights of whites. The guiding principle is very simple: In each and every individual case, the rights of the individual, black or white, must be respected.

Indeed, to a large extent, this has already happened. Black slavery was ended in the Confederate States by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and then, in 1865, by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, in whatever states in the Union that still allowed it. The last reported lynching in the United States occurred in 1981. Racial segregation and discrimination have also greatly diminished as the laws that imposed them were repealed or struck down by judicial decision.

The obvious path that needs to be followed in order to complete the job is to extend to blacks recognition and respect for the same individual rights held by them that have been far more often recognized and respected in whites than in them. Nevertheless, a widespread movement has developed that holds that a very different solution is required. This alleged solution is the elimination of respect for the rights of whites insofar as it exceeds respect for the rights of blacks. The greater respect shown for the rights of whites is transformed from a matter of respect for individual rights into an alleged matter of group “privilege,” in this case “white privilege.” Thus whites allegedly enjoyed a privilege in not being enslaved. They allegedly enjoyed a privilege in not being murdered by lynch mobs. They were allegedly privileged in not being victims of government imposed racial discrimination/segregation.

The concept of white privilege is a giant scam. Like any other scam it leads people to give up something that is valuable, such as their life’s savings, in exchange for something that is valueless. In this case, they are bamboozled out of paying attention to and valuing the concept of individual rights and are left instead with the utterly nebulous and highly destructive concept of white privilege.

The very concept of privilege implies injustice and calls for the abolition of whatever privileges are in question. But since white privilege is used as a different name for what in fact is respect for the individual rights possessed by whites that have not been properly respected in blacks, the actual effect would be the loss of respect for those individual rights of whites. By the logic of the situation, whites could be enslaved, lynched, and otherwise wrongly treated all in the belief that it was merely a matter of stripping away white privilege. The concept of white privilege is an invitation to the violation of the rights of whites to the same extent that the rights of blacks have been violated.

The concept of white privilege is a formula for massive injustice. It obliterates the concept of individual rights and thus destroys the possibility of respect for anyone’s rights, white or black. It aims at a society in which everyone is a slave—not to a plantation owner perhaps, but to the state.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Ralph Raico, RIP*



Ralph Raico died on Dec. 13, 2016.

I first met Ralph Raico in 1952, when we were both 15 years old and students at The Bronx High School of Science. The occasion was the school’s mock political convention for that presidential election year. I was the speaker for Sen. Robert Taft, the most prominent conservative politician of the time, who was seeking the Republican nomination for President in competition with General Dwight Eisenhower, who later that year won the nomination and then went on to become President.

It was a few minutes before the start of the proceedings and I was seated on the stage. A thin young teenager approached me, wearing a pull-down woolen cap. At that time, in the Bronx and the rest of New York City, Taft supporters were met with even greater hostility and contempt than Trump supporters are today in those places. Thus as soon as I saw that he was about to say something to me, I took for granted that it would be some kind of hostile comment, and so I reflexively delivered a pre-emptive such comment of my own: “What’s on your small mind, I asked?” “I wanted to know if your arguments are well-prepared,” he replied.

After briefly assuring him that they were, and satisfying myself that he was not an enemy but a genuine Taft supporter himself, we agreed to meet after school.

When we met, I learned that he was already actively campaigning for Taft, along with several other, older teenagers who were affiliated with Taft’s campaign headquarters in Manhattan. I also learned that it had been he who had glued a Taft campaign sticker to the wall of a stairwell in the school. A sticker that in the circumstances had seemed to me to be the equivalent of a sign of life on an otherwise dead planet.

Ralph and I agreed to meet on the next Saturday afternoon, across 42nd St. from the main branch of the New York Public Library. I think we had gotten a literature table and supply of handouts from the Taft headquarters. Our table was set up a couple of hundred feet west of 5th Ave. Before we knew it, we were surrounded by a small crowd of onlookers, and were both engaged in vigorous intellectual arguments with various members of the crowd.

To my considerable surprise and pleasure, Ralph showed himself to be a keen student of Henry Hazlitt’s Economics In One Lesson, arguments from which easily rolled off his tongue in the back and forth between himself and members of the crowd. After our first experience of this kind, I learned that Ralph, as was I, was also an avid reader of The Freeman, a magazine that in those days, 1950-1954, when Henry Hazlitt played a major role in its operations, was a really serious and outstanding publication.

I don’t know how many more such intellectual encounters we had, but there were at least several. I know that we soon reached the point where if one of us stopped speaking for a moment, the other was capable of stepping in and completing his thought and the rest of his argument. I felt that Ralph was truly my intellectual brother. And I believe that he felt the same.

Our intellectual comradeship resulted on one occasion in our winning a formal debate at our far-left school in favor of Senator Joseph McCarthy, a man for whom the intellectuals and the media of the time had nothing but seething hatred. The result of our victory had to be announced to the school assembly. And thus one morning, one heard that at the debate club it had been “Resolved: Senator Joseph McCarthy Is a Great American” (or at least words to that effect). 

On another occasion, our intellectual comradeship and support for McCarthy, led us to organize a group of students to go and picket on behalf of McCarthy at a Federal Courthouse in lower Manhattan, where relevant hearings of some kind were scheduled to be held. Our group included not only students from Bronx Science, but also students from Stuyvesant High School in lower Manhattan, and elsewhere. If my memory of events of sixty-five years ago serves me correctly, among them were Bob Hessen, Leonard Liggio, Sam Greenberg, Bill Schultz, George Stryker, Fred Preisinger, Dan Hodes, and others.

When we arrived at the Courthouse, we learned that the hearings had been cancelled. Since we had all the necessary makings for picket signs, however, we decided to use the opportunity to picket the UN instead, which was not more than 2-3 miles away. Ralph called the various local newspapers to let them know of our picketing. Despite the fact that our signs were as provocative as possible, for example, “US out of UN, UN out of US” and “One in Three [UN workers] a Spy,” we got zero press coverage. We hadn’t realized that a requirement for press coverage is that one’s cause be among the same far-left causes as those of the press itself.

I think it was on this day that, after the failure of our picketing attempt, all of us decided to march over to the office of The Freeman, which was then located within walking distance from the UN, at 240 Madison Avenue.

The Freeman’s staff in attendance included two of its top editors, John Chamberlain and Suzanne LaFollette. We subsequently learned that they and every other staff member in attendance were both shocked and delighted to learn that their magazine had produced such a cadre of serious young men dedicated to upholding the cause for which the magazine fought.

Ralph and I were both ardent admirers of the writings of Prof. Ludwig von Mises, the man whom I consider to be the leading advocate of capitalism in the history of economic thought. In fact, at around the very same time that I spoke before the previously mentioned mock political convention, I was in process of completing reading Mises’s great classic Socialism. We both wanted very much to meet him. Our intellectual comradeship, combined with our young age, led in this instance to our committing an embarrassing juvenile act.

We had learned Mises’s address, and decided that we would meet him simply by going to his apartment, ringing his door bell, and claiming to be selling subscriptions to The Freeman, hoping thereby to engage him in conversation, which in turn would tell him enough about us that the beginnings of a relationship might be established. Mises opened the door dressed in formal attire, lacking only his tuxedo jacket. When we announced that we were selling subscriptions to The Freeman, he responded, in a heavy German accent that “I haff ze Freeman,” and proceeded to close the door. I felt as though I had suddenly lost all but a few inches of my height. I knew that Ralph felt terrible as well.

But, of course, that was not the end of the story. Not many months later, Ralph wrote to The Foundation for Economic Education, then located in Irvington-On-Hudson, New York, just a few miles north of the city. He arranged an invitation for us to visit the Foundation.

We spent most of the visit in serious conversation with Ivan Bierly and Baldy Harper, two of the Senior staff members of the Foundation, and thanks to their good offices and the favorable impression we had made, they arranged for us to meet Prof. Mises at his apartment not long afterward. The date of that meeting was February 23, 1953, a date inscribed by Mises, along with his signature, in my copy of Human Action.

After several hours of discussion of such matters as the significance or possible lack of significance of the national debt and of our ability as students to argue with faculty members, Mises was sufficiently impressed with us as to invite us to attend his graduate seminar at NYU, an invitation we immediately and enthusiastically accepted. The one condition he imposed, in view of our extreme youth, was that we “not make noise.” Thus while still in high school we were vaulted into the highest reaches of pro-capitalist scholarship, an event which played an enormous role in our lives thereafter.

We both began attending the seminar, a few weeks later. It was located in the main conference room of NYU’s Graduate School of Business at 90 Trinity Place, which was practically next door to the American Stock Exchange and a matter of yards from Trinity Church and its small cemetery.

Already present as members of the seminar were, among others, Hans Sennholz and his wife Mary, Percy Greaves and his wife Bettina Bien, William Peterson and his wife Mary, George Koether, and Murray Rothbard.

In very little time, Ralph and I established a friendship with Murray, which greatly intensified in the following fall and endured for the next five years.

Early on, the “Cobden Club,” named after the great 19th-Century free trader Richard Cobden, and comprised of Ralph and myself and some members of the group of high school students I described earlier, became the “Circle Bastiat,” led by Rothbard. In this period, largely thanks to Rothbard, Ralph and I both received grants from the William Volker Fund to translate works of Mises. I translated Epistemological Problems of Economics in the summer of 1955 and Ralph translated Liberalism in the summer of 1956.

In 1954, Rothbard introduced the Circle Bastiat to the subject of Ayn Rand and her writings. He had seen a portion of the manuscript of the novel she was then working on, namely, Atlas Shrugged. All of us were excited by what Rothbard told us and urged him to arrange a meeting with Miss Rand.

It turned out that there were two meetings, lasting from about 8 in the evening until 5 in the following morning, on the weekends of July 10/11 and July 17/18.

I did not see Ayn Rand again until September of 1957, following the publication of Atlas Shrugged. However, in this period, Ralph remained in touch with at least one of her leading followers: he and Bob Hessen were the audience for Leonard Peikoff’s delivery of some of his early lectures on philosophy.

Following the publication of Atlas Shrugged, everyone in the Circle Bastiat was an enthusiastic admirer of Ayn Rand. This lasted for not quite a year, until July of 1958, when a blowup occurred between Ayn Rand and Rothbard, which also had the effect of tearing apart the Circle Bastiat, leaving myself and Bob Hessen on one side, supporting Ayn Rand, and Ralph and most of the other members supporting Rothbard.

At that point, my relationship with Ralph ended. And although, years later, we were able to meet and speak cordially to one another, our friendship could not be reestablished.

Over the years Ralph’s ideas had changed on some important subjects. For example, he gave up his support of Senator McCarthy, describing some of McCarthy’s claims as “over the top.” More significantly, in a lecture at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, he described the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia as defending freedom, a statement that in my judgment was equivalent to the claim in the novel 1984 that “freedom is slavery.”

I deeply regret the passing of Ralph Raico. In his youth, he was my brother.

 * George Reisman, Ph.D., is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics and the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics. His website is www.capitalism.net. Follow him on Twitter at @GGReisman. See his Amazon.com author’s page at http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B001KCWY0Q