David R. Henderson  

Reminiscences of Rogge

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Earlier today over at Cafe Hayek, Don Boudreaux highlighted a quote from the late Benjamin A. Rogge. That brought back warm memories for me. Rogge, who lived from 1920 to 1980, was a libertarian economics professor at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. Here's a talk he gave that gives you a good feel for his style of argument and his sense of humor.

In late 1968, I joined the Libertarian Club at the University of Winnipeg. Later that academic year, in February 1969, the Libertarian Club had Rogge up to Winnipeg to give two speeches. I, along with some of the more senior members of the club, showed up at Winnipeg's relatively new airport to pick Rogge up. At age 18, I was at the airport for my first time. I had never flown and had never seen anyone off or met anyone coming in at the airport. (The reason I remember the date is that when Rogge got off the flight, he expressed despair that some students at Sir George Williams University in Montreal had rioted.)

Seeing Rogge as my first experience seeing a libertarian speaker was fortunate. He had a gentle, self-deprecating, humorous style. For a great instance of his humor, check here at the 47:40 point. To save you the trouble, here's what he said:

What I find interesting is that gambling is so degrading, so disgusting an activity in this country that only churches and governments are permitted to sponsor it.

Or check here, at about the 52:28 for his great discussion of how, if he colluded with Hans Sennholz and another economist named Robert Anderson, the cartel would break down. I won't give away the humor there because you have to hear his imitation of Sennholz.

Part of Rogge's rhetorical strategy was to quote criticisms of various government policies, not by people like Milton Friedman but by people like Paul Samuelson. For example, in arguing against the minimum wage, Rogge quoted Paul Samuelson.

Two other things I remember from his speeches:

1. Although I had heard of Schumpeter from some of the senior members of the Libertarian Club, Rogge was the first person I heard quoting Schumpeter to make his case against antitrust law. By the way, if you want to see a great segment in which Rogge lays out Schumpeter's insight start here at about the 39:20 point.

2. In making his case against antitrust, Rogge told a story that I have never found written down. It was about how people in the Kennedy administration, after it screwed up with the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, managed to get many of the prisoners back without paying tribute. According to Rogge, some people in the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department shook down various large businesses for in-kind "contributions" to the Cuban government.

I never met Rogge after that first time. But I was in touch with him by mail in the fall of 1980. I had written the Economists' Statement Against the Draft and I sent it to economists around the country for their signatures. Milton Friedman signed it. After being on a panel with Alan Greenspan on the Presidential candidates' economic policies at the American Economic Association annual meetings in Denver (Greenspan represented Ronald Reagan and I represented Ed Clark), I sent Greenspan a copy and he signed it. Rogge sent back his signed copy.

My strategy, after I got a number of signatures, was to send copies to others with a cover letter naming some of the people who had already signed. Rogge's name was on my cover letter. An economist whom I won't name wrote back: "How can you list Ben Rogge when he's dead?" I replied, "I assure you that he was very much alive when he signed."

If you watch the video, watch the last minute and a half when he talks about the baseball card antirust suit.

Addendum: I just noted that this is my 1776th blog post.

For those who, after seeing the video or reading the above post, find Rogge interesting, as I do, here's a link to his written work.

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COMMENTS (4 to date)
Amy writes:

You can read a collection of Rogge's essays and speeches, "Can Capitalism Survive?" on Econlib: http://www.econlib.org/library/LFBooks/Rogge/rggCCS.html

David R. Henderson writes:

Thanks. I had forgotten about this. I’ve updated.

JacobN writes:

I am a newly minted alumnus of Wabash [College, not University] and the heritage of the Rogge lives on as a Lounge in the Economics building and an annual lecture given in his memory.

When I think of all that the Liberty Fund has done steer my development with its blogs, podcasts, and publications I continue to be grateful of the friendship between Pierre Goodrich and Benjamin Rogge.

On my first visit to the college, the most impressive room was the Goodrich Seminar Room, a marble room etched with the names of those who sought to answer the questions: Can I? Ought I? Should I? I didn't know it at the time, but 'amagi' was etched in cuneiform on the opposite corner of the Cross.

David R. Henderson writes:

Thanks. I changed it to “College."

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