May 15, 1981

The Foundation for Libertarianism: Ethics or Economics?

George H. Smith was formerly Senior Research Fellow for the Institute for Humane Studies, a lecturer on American History for Cato Summer Seminars, and Executive Editor of Knowledge Products. Smith’s fourth book, The System of Liberty, was recently published by Cambridge University Press.

David D. Friedman is an economist, political philosopher, and the author of many books including The Machinery of Freedom: Guide to a Radical Capitalism, wherein he lays the groundwork for a society based exclusively on voluntary transactions.

In this video from a 1981 Libertarian Party of Texas event, Smith and Friedman have a debate over whether economics or ethics—whether natural rights or rule utilitarianism—forms a better basis for libertarian ideas.

They each take turns presenting their case, counter each others’ arguments, and take questions from the audience.