David R. Henderson  

Friday Night Video: David Friedman vs. George Smith

A Pacifist History of Westeros... Weekend Wall Street Journal...

Rarely do I get totally engrossed in watching a debate, especially one that's almost 2 hours long. But I recently discovered this 1981 debate between economist David Friedman and philosopher George Smith on the issue: Ethics vs. Economics as a Foundation for Liberty. Both David and George are at the top of their game.

One of my favorites is at the 10:27 to about the 11:30 point. I would tell you but David says it so well, in his impish way, that I don't want to ruin it.

Two other interesting highlights.

At the 1:44:32 point, a very young-looking Jeff Hummel asks a tough question of David Friedman that I think Friedman answers well.

At the 1:51:30 point, feminist Wendy McElroy asks David a question. Again, I think David handled it well.

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CATEGORIES: Economic Philosophy

COMMENTS (9 to date)
Wolff writes:

I had a friend who attended a debate between these two on the topic of anarcho-capitalism and said it was quite a compelling discussion. This was in San Francisco at Laissez Faire Books in the late 1990's. I believe it was recorded but never released for some reason. Anyone know someone who from LFB (before it closed) that might have a copy of it?

Russell Hanneken writes:

Wolff, I worked at LFB from October 1995 until (I think) 2002.

I don't remember us hosting a debate between George Smith and David Friedman, though it's possible we did and I don't remember it. If we did, it probably wouldn't have been about anarcho-capitalism, since their opinions on the subject are roughly congruent.

We did host an anarchism vs. minarchism debate between George Smith and a local Objectivist named Phil Coates. Maybe that's what you're thinking of?

John S writes:

Hmm, I must say I found Friedman's answer to McElroy's question to be quite uninteresting; the only way the question is interesting is if the feminists in question actually believed what they said.

McElroy's question is still a good one. I feel a lot of young people today are genuinely committed to greater egalitarianism and "social justice" above all else, even if it might hypothetically cause some decline in overall living standards (of course, most claim that greater income equality and govt involvement would boost econ growth).

Among my lefty friends, I find significantly more sympathy with libertarian ideals on "ethical" issues (e.g. drug legalization, NSA snooping, and foreign wars) rather than utilitarian economic arguments. Both ethical and utilitarian arguments are needed to promote liberty, but imo Smith wins this debate.

John S writes:

The 10:30 to 11:30 segment is genius, though. I will have to try this out sometime.

Wolff writes:

Russell- you may be right about it being Phil instead of George Smith but I could have sworn the topic about the justification of anarchism (moral vs utilitarianism). I emailed DF to see what he remembers. Was the debate with Phil recorded? Sounds just as interesting.

David R. Henderson writes:

@John S,
Hmm, I must say I found Friedman's answer to McElroy's question to be quite uninteresting; the only way the question is interesting is if the feminists in question actually believed what they said.
But that's what was great about David Friedman's answer: he covered both bases.

Ted Levy writes:

The thing that's most frustrating to me is that this debate, now 32 years old, discusses some of the same issues as Matt Zwolinski in his recent post on problems with the nonaggression principle. It's as if no progress has been made in three decades.

Eli writes:

It reminded me a lot of Bryan Caplan’s debate with Robin Hanson over efficiency vs. liberty


George writes:

That was really interesting from a historical point of view. I'm wondering about George Smith's natural rights prediction. I was under the impression that the natural rights movement of the larger libertarian movement wasn't doing so well compared to the consequentialist portion. Would this validate David Friedman's position?

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