Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Drawing Closer


It has finally been released.  Bob Murphy and Jordan Peterson.  If I recall, it was scheduled to be released about a month ago.  My understanding is that Peterson has suffered some health setbacks (if I am wrong about this, I apologize), and, therefore, he has released his videos in a more drawn-out manner than originally planned.

The conversation was focused on Austrian Economics.  Peterson asked some probing questions – after things that are easy to take for granted if one is bent in a free-market direction.  But necessary questions if one is after opening a conversation with those not so inclined.

A couple of things struck me about the conversation.  First, as was seen by many who are familiar both with Austrian Economics and Peterson: although he has had no previous formal exposure to this school of economics, his fields of study and focus made it easy (natural) for him to grasp the points Murphy was making.

But it was more than this: he was able to anticipate the points, with Murphy, often, replying with a statement of clarification or example.  In other words, Murphy often didn’t have to make the points – just offer some depth as a teacher would do for an inquisitive and promising student.

Second, Murphy.  How to keep up with Peterson in a thoughtful manner, and on topics that are potential landmines.  Murphy really excelled at this.  Certainly, he is extremely knowledgeable on the subject.  But Peterson is one of the most intelligent and thoughtful (and quick) thinkers in the West – whether or not you agree with him on everything (or anything), this cannot be denied.

Unfortunately, there was no real conversation about natural law – but this wasn’t the point of the conversation.  Murphy had one opportunity to mention it, noting that Mises’s approach was utilitarian, but that other Austrians held a natural law foundation (or something like this).  Peterson didn’t pursue this, and it certainly wasn’t Murphy’s place to push the subject – it was a tangent to Peterson’s purpose.

Enough about the video.  The comments to the video were quite interesting:

BobWidlefish: “Choice” by Dr. Robert Murphy is very easy to read: no math, no obscure language, etc.  It’s written very clearly in simple language anyone can understand without any prior knowledge of or interest in economics.  I highly recommend it!

Robert Griffis: This is epic. Bob Murphy is the poster child for "low key" epic. Mild mannered dude, with super human knowledge of economics.

Gustavrsh: I've always seen some Mises on Peterson's arguments. Libertarianism has a lot to do with personal responsibility. A lot of people think libertarianism is about free market, but free market is a consequence, not a basis.

I am always careful to not intermingle Austrian Economics and libertarianism, but I understand both the sentiment and the reason why many do so.

Ross Lambert: Bob Murphy influencing Peterson is what the world needs.

Ancap Adam (who represents himself with a picture of Hans Hoppe): We're slowly watching Dr. Peterson become a Rothbardian. I love it!

Steve B: Bob Murphy is great. One of the most fun people you can talk to about economics and not want your eyes gauged out.


These comments, it seems to me, offer a glimpse into the reality of the overlap of Peterson’s work, Austrian Economics, and a healthy liberty. 

Now let’s figure out how to get Peterson to host a conversation with someone on natural law.  It really is the necessary step for Peterson; I just don’t know if he knows that.


  1. I was really impressed with Peterson's prior understanding of Austrian economics. I was equally impressed with Murphy expanding on and giving examples that were simple yet helpful.

    1. It wasn't surprising - but totally undeserved...several comments on Murphy's performance: "He should have said this, he didn't say that."

      It is difficult enough to make one's points in a written essay or in a lecture. On the fly, with one of the most intelligent people on the public stage? Murphy handled it quite well.

    2. Peterson mentions that he had no prior exposure to the school, but that others had mentioned it to him, and he read the bulk of Murphy's "Choice." So, as you'd expect he is a good student and probably retained a lot of what he read, and like Bionic mentioned, he only needed some clarification from Murphy who's been swimming in these ideas for 20, maybe 30 years?

    3. I agree that Bob did a great job. He had an opportunity to delve into Mises Regression Theorem when the subject of Bitcoin came up and his surprise at its success, but that is a bit inside baseball I suppose. But really he hit all the main tenets of the Austrian School: value theory, interest theory, money, business cycle, and the socialist calculation critique.

  2. If Peterson made the connection between Natural Law and his criticism of the vandalism against Western culture... that would make him far more red-pilled than he is right now, an extremely dangerous person to the current keepers of the secular orthodoxy. I wonder if his public image would survive that. Heck, the way things have been going, I wonder if he himself would survive that.

  3. I've been checking YoutTube a lot waiting for this episode to drop. It didn't disappoint. Great job Bob. Good Lord the ads though! There's an ad about every 5 minutes it seems.

    One thing I do want to talk about though is the specialization of labor. They touch on this briefly. Obviously it is a good thing that humans do this and this, over almost any other one thing, apart from perhaps the ownership of property itself, is probably most responsible for our vast increases in living standards in the past 1000 or so years. But... there is something of a drawback as it relates to the individual. If we as individuals specialize too much we become fragile to change and hardship. There is truth to the great Robert Heinlein quote:

    "A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."

    I suppose the solution to the apparent paradox is to do what you're most productive at, but don't just rely on this. Hone and develop other skills too. Become well rounded. Learn how to use weapons, fix cars, wire in an electrical outlet, and the basics of outdoor survival. Learn how to build the best of Western Civilization from the ground up on your own if possible and if need be.

    Imagine if you were transported back to the Middle Ages. Would you have anything to offer them from your own skill set that could make their lives any better?

    1. I've always wondered how the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's court gained so much knowledge and was able to recall it when he needed to.

  4. Peterson said a few things on the subject of Specialization in the podcast that I transcribed that I think are worth exploring:

    "It’s very important separate out the general trends from the aberrations. This is why I want to emphasize this issue of power because we’re talking about first principles here. It’s really important to get your first principles about the nature of your society correct."

    Yes! This sounds very Hoppean. Actually it reminds me of a specific passage in Democracy wherein Hans defines the term conservative:

    "What it means, and possibly only can mean, is this: Conservative refers to someone who believes in the existence of a natural order, a natural state of affairs which corresponds to the nature of things: of nature and man. This natural order is and can be disturbed by accidents and anomalies: by earthquakes and hurricanes, diseases, pests, monsters and beasts, by two-headed horses or four legged humans, cripples and idiots, and by war, conquest and tyranny… The natural order is ancient and forever the same (only anomalies and accidents undergo change), hence, it can be recognized by us everywhere and at all times… Conservative refers to someone who recognizes the old and natural through the "noise" of anomalies and accidents and who defends, supports, and helps to preserve it against the temporary and anomalous."

    Peterson continues:

    "One theory is that value is produced by labor, and the exploiters skim off the excess labor, and another theory is that we band together as free individuals, we sacrifice ourselves to become specialists but the net consequence of that is everyone’s gain, including our own, and we do that as free agents. And this is not a fundamentally exploitative system."

    For the most part yes. But there is some degree of exploitation imposed on us little free agents in our modern societies at what perhaps be considered a fundamental level.

    "The fundamental exploitation is our subjugation to the demands of our biological vulnerability, not the tyranny of the social institutions that actually ameliorate that."

    I'm not sure how the existence of the natural world and our biological requirements to exist within it are exploitative, but it does constitute a fundamental hardship to human existence. I guess you could say that "nature" wants us dead, decomposing, and incorporated into other living things, because if we did nothing to stop it, that's exactly what would happen and quick. So in the war against nature and death, we come together and cooperate to satisfy the essentials of survival.

    "And then we can say well yes, but there are aberrations and sometimes social institutions degenerate in the direction of arbitrary power, and sometimes they’re not merely a consequence of cooperative action, but that’s not the main trend or the central tendency."

    Well it is certainly the central tendency of a particular human institution I can think of at the center of all modern societies. I think it is important here that Peterson juxtaposes arbitrary power with cooperative action. These surely are the poles of right and wrong, productive and predatory, within the context of social organization.

    Now, if only there was some theory with a long standing tradition in the West that could help him understand where and to what degree these different modes of organization reside in the social and political structure we currently live under.

    He brings up another great question though: is freedom and cooperative social action the central tendency of modern social organization? I'm not so convinced.

    1. "Now, if only there was some theory with a long standing tradition in the West..."

      I can name that tune in five notes....

  5. I've not heard Jordan Peterson talk about natural law but he does talk about natural rights in his Maps Of Meaning podcasts.

    1. Yes. But it is the natural law ethic that he is seeking.

      Man has a purpose; do something that gives your life meaning. So says Peterson. Natural law says that the purpose is beatitudo, other-regarding action; love. This is what gives man meaning. That is also Peterson - do what is good for you, for your family, for today, for tomorrow.

      He made waves dealing with nonsensical pronouns. The solution for this is also in natural law.

      Natural law speaks to how we should act. This is Peterson. Natural rights give us the room in which to act. But Peterson is all about the "how we should act."