Gross Factual Errors of
Peter Marshall and Ulrike Heider

by Bryan Caplan

My edition of Demanding the Impossible was published in 1992 by HarperCollins Publishers. On p.561, Marshall writes that:

David Friedman sees such agencies as both brokers of mini- social contracts and producers of 'laws' which conform to the market demand for rules to regulate commerce. Each person would be free to subscribe to a protective association of his choice, since 'Protection from coercion is an economic good.' Apart from adumbrating The Machinery of Freedom (1973), Friedman has popularized Hayek's defense of capitalism as the best antidote to the serfdom of collectivism in books with such self-explanatory titles as Capitalism and Freedom (1962) and Free to Choose (1979).

The true author of Capitalism and Freedom and Free to Choose is of course Milton Friedman, David Friedman's non-anarchist father. Milton Friedman is not mentioned in the two preceding pages of the chapter; and in any case "Friedman" clearly is meant to refer to David Friedman. (Nor is Milton Friedman in the index or bibliography of the book, although at least Milton Friedman's books are omitted from the bibliography rather than attributed to David Friedman's authorship a second time.)

This error is so egregious that the reader can only conclude that Peter Marshall presumes to write about books that he has never even seen the cover of, much less read. Whether Marshall corrected it in a subsequent edition, or whether the error was simply corrected by the transcriber of the widely available Internet exerpt , I do not know. But even if the correction was Marshall's, for this kind of error to have made it into a published book speaks volumes.

On the same page, Marshall writes that:

The writings of Ayn Rand, a refugee from the Soviet Union, best represent the intellectual background to the new right-wing libertarianism in the United States. In her The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism (1964), she attempted a philosophical defence of egoism while in her novels she portrayed a superior individual fighting the forces of collectivism, particularly in the form of the State. Her superior individual, driven by a Nietzschean will to power, appears in the guise of a capitalist entrepreneur who is presented as the source of all wealth and the creator of all progress. Rand claimed that she had a direct knowledge of objective reality, and her 'Objectivist' movement had a considerable vogue in the sixties. Like most anarcho-capitalists, she is convinced of the truth of her own views, which to others appear mere dogma.

And in my edition, the paragraph immediately ends. The next paragraph begins, "Amongst anarcho-capitalist apologists, the economist Murray Rothbard is probably the most aware of the anarchist tradition."

Again, this outrageous error has been corrected in the Internet excerpt of Demanding the Impossible. But it provides additional proof that Peter Marshall presumes to write about books and authors that he has never read. Ayn Rand's attack on anarcho-capitalism (in "The Nature of Government," one essay in her The Virtue of Selfishness) is so clear that Marshall could only make this error by failing to have even read the author whose views he is describing.

These are only two of Marshall's numerous factual errors which demonstrate a shocking lack of basic standards of scholarship. After all, a book is not a Usenet posting; one is supposed to spend months or years in study, fact-checking, re-writing, and so on.

Some similar errors appear in Ulrike Heider's Anarchism: Left, Right and Green. Once again, there are errors so gross that the only possible explanation is that Heider presumes to write about books she has never read.

A few examples of her poor scholarship:

  1. "Menger is considered the founder of the Austrian School of Economics, which continued to refine its theory of monetary value until the middle of the 20th century. The most prominent descendent of this school of thought is is monetarist Milton Friedman, the economic authority for such politicians as Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and others." Anarchism: Left, Right, and Green, p.100.
    Milton Friedman is not and never has had any affiliation with the Austrian School. In fact, he is the most famous member of the rival Chicago School, which even a minimal study of the differences between free-market economists would have revealed.

  2. "If it weren't for their obsession with work and their misanthropic outlook, one might mistake Rand's heroes for left-wing bohemians. They are always Anglo-Saxon Americans." ibid, p.105
    Francisco d'Anconia, one of the four major heroic characters in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged is of South American nationality.

  3. "Roark's rival, the mediocre architect Peter Keaton..."ibid
    The character's name is in fact Peter Keating. While the error is trivial, it does indicate that Heider sees no need to get the basic facts straight when she discusses a book. The Fountainhead is divided into four sections, each named for one major character; "Peter Keating" is the title of the first section. It would be very hard to miss, unless you never read the book (or wrote from memory years afterwards).

  4. Reversing her previous confusion about the Austrian vs. the Chicago schools of economics, Heider appears to attribute monetarist policy prescriptions to Rothbard: "The monetarist road out of such misery must lead through a depression, the 'painful but necessary process by which the free market rids itself of the excesses and errors of the boom.' [quotation Rothbard's] Rothbard recommends that the government do the exact opposite of what the Keynesians suggest: it should simply abandon its policy of inflation by giving the free market reign and by reinstating the gold standard." ibid, p.131.
    Again, Rothbard spent the better part of his academic career attacking monetarism and the Chicago school of economics with which monetarism is associated.

    I have been informed by admirers of Murray Bookchin that Heider's work contains similar gross errors about eco-anarchism. Since this is not my field of expertise, I do not presume to point them out, but it would not surprise me.

    It is one thing to violently disagree with an author, and to express one's disagreement in a book. It is another matter entirely to get basic facts wrong; so wrong, in fact, that it casts doubt on whether the author read the books he or she presumes to write about.