Video Interview on The Price of Everything

by Russ Roberts on October 31, 2008

in Books

Here is a brief interview with me about The Price of Everything from

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Speedmaster October 31, 2008 at 4:53 pm

Very nice, I'm halfway through the book now myself. ;-)

Tom November 1, 2008 at 12:51 am

The economics in this book is fine even if it isn't particularly novel, but the quality of the writing is painful. The plot is an incredibly ponderous and stilted. Next time please get someone to help you write this up.

Mesa Econoguy November 1, 2008 at 1:03 am

Dear Tom,

Have you ever read any Paul Krugman novels?


Price of Everything fan

Ted November 1, 2008 at 10:50 am

I'm afraid I have to agree with Tom. I enjoyed the book and think it's a great introduction to these important concepts, but Russ is the first to acknowledge his shortcomings as a novelist.

Finding a co-writer could be a great idea. There must be a good novelist somewhere who understands and appreciates economic principles. (And there must be a three-headed frog somewhere flying out of a unicorn's butt. AYN! WE NEED YOU!!)

BoscoH November 1, 2008 at 2:41 pm

Russ, I'll take your lack of sex scenes over Ayn Rand's beyond awkward sex scenes any day. And a classic slap at the Randians at the end of the interview. Seriously, have you ever met a Randian that was "happy"? Unless they've gone through a complete introspective analysis checking all of their premises and knowing precisely from where they derive their happiness.

Adam November 1, 2008 at 6:07 pm

Professor Roberts,

You know that on top of linking to the page, you can embed the video in a post directly, right? On the bottom right corner of the video is a button with an up arrow on it; mouse over it and click on the third (bottom) option of the three presented to you.

Then just click the embed code to highlight it, copy, and paste the code into your blog post.

David November 1, 2008 at 7:59 pm


I'm a Randian. I'm happy. Professor Roberts has met me (Kind of. I was in Professor Boudreaux's Introductory Micro class and Professor Roberts substituted for one lecture).

I don't understand some of the vitriol on this board and elsewhere for Rand. I mean, from another political position I get it, but why from a libertarian? Anyone care to explain (I'm not being obtuse). I feel like that kind of infighting among libertarians is deleterious. Why take our minds away from explaining our ethos to the uninitiated and intellectually curious, simply to bicker over details? Ultimately, we're on the same side right?

tw November 1, 2008 at 8:39 pm


Enjoyed the interview & will put in a request for more video in the future. For example, what about video from your "Buying Local" debate last week?

LowcountryJoe November 1, 2008 at 9:11 pm

The Price of Everything has been sitting beside my bed for the last three months; I've yet to make it beyond chapter two. I'll have to give this one another shot. For some reason, I am just not getting into it like I did when I immersed myself in the Invisible Heart. Once I picked up the Invisible Heart I could not put the thing down…the subtle humor and ennuendo (and the plot twist in the background story) were brilliant.

tarran November 1, 2008 at 11:34 pm


I can't speak for others, but I will explain my personal dislike for Ayn Rand.

First a little background – I am a anarchist who identifies most closely with Murray Rothbard, who was another student of Ludwig von Mises. I own several of Ayn Rand's books, the Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged and Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal (with the infamous essay by Alan Greenspan).

The thing that struck me about Rand is that she had delusions of grandeur. She thought she had all the answers and brooked no dissent. While she claimed that all of her positions were derivable rationally from a handfull of premises, it is telling that her followers when asked a question where they didn't know the "official" answer, rarely attempted to derive the answer themselves… rather they would excuse themselves and consult the oracle to find out the official answer.

The second problem with Rand was her hatred of spontaneous order. This popped out in her vitriol at libertarianism. You might not know this, she sneeringly referred to libertarians as libertine anarchists. She emphatically claimed not to be libertarian. Far from it. And, since she seriously believed that if you didn't agree with her on everything, you were evil or stupid, she wanted nothing do to with libertarianism.

The third problem with Rand is that she wasn't the genius she thought she was: her understanding of the role of the entrepeneur, for example, was unbelievably simplistic. Her notions of philosophy often struck me as the writings of someone who thinks they understand an entire field after scanning a few cliff notes.

The fourth problem with Rand was the incredibly childish way she organized her personal life, while telling people how to live theirs. My man Murray Rothbard was briefly a member of her circle, and parted company with her in a spectacular tale of enmity and vitriol. The first crack in the relationship ocured when Rand found out that Rothbard had married a practicing Christian and suggested that he ditch her for someone more rational. He refused, The disgraceful way in which she treated her husband. The purges she engineered of followers who dared to express dissatisfaction with her antics all made her look small and petty.

Her behavior destroyed the Objectivism. If you look at the two rival Objectivist movements, you see two camps locked in desperate combat via denunciations and purges, Objectivism is increasingly irrelevant. Rand didn't construct a philosophical movement that was independent of her. Rather, it is a movement that was about her. And, without her around, it will never go anywhere again.

Rand played a big role in rescuing the ideals of freedom before it disappeared down the memory hole that was the 20th century. But as an intellectual, she was really third rate. Her good ideas came from other people, and her original ideas tended to be really bad or wrong.

Sam Grove November 2, 2008 at 1:48 am

Ayn Rand engaged in the delusion that she was entirely objective, in all aspects.

But why make a huge deal out of it?

Martin Brock November 2, 2008 at 10:05 am

I'd like to see an update on this topic about now:

Wealth, Savings and Debt

Needless to say, the "real net household worth" illustrated in the figure is now down $10-15 trillion since February. So how "real" was it?

Martin Brock November 2, 2008 at 10:30 am

This follow up topic on median net worth also begs an update about now:

Half Full or Half Empty?

On a more optimistic note, I paid $2.17/gal for gasoline yesterday. A month ago, I paid nearly twice this price. Why are these prices so volatile? Why don't futures, options and similar derivatives smooth out the price fluctuations? "Governments prevent rational markets from reaching the equilibrium nirvana" is not a compelling explanation.

David November 2, 2008 at 10:43 am


Interesting points and I agree with a lot of what you said to be honest. I think anyone, if they derive their entire belief system from one author, will be intellectually narrow. I guess it is a misnomer to identify myself as a Randian in the sense that you (and I'm sure others) took it. By saying that, I mean simply that I agree with her wholly that my life is my own and my objective is to be happy and enjoy it without infringing on that same right in others.

Your post brought up my two biggest peeves with her actually. The first is her personal life, the affair with her much younger disciple always struck me as really specious and just plain awful, especially after the praise she heaps on her husband in the dedication of The Fountainhead. The second is the legion of mindless followers her philosophy has cultivated. I always thought that type of behavior was the exact thing she railed against.

My respect from her derives from her simple, yet imminently applicable philosophy of natural rights and her utter contempt for compromising one's mind or body.

Thank you for taking the time though, I was unaware of her disdain for libertarianism.

Sam Grove November 2, 2008 at 12:27 pm

On a more optimistic note, I paid $2.17/gal for gasoline yesterday.

That does tend to undermine the theory that gas prices are "controlled" by the oil companies.

Why are these prices so volatile? Why don't futures, options and similar derivatives smooth out the price fluctuations?

The difficulty is in knowing how prices would have varied without futures and derivatives. Perhaps the fluctuations would have been more erratic.

Is it significant that the prices dropped after the mortgage bust?

How much has demand changed?


It sure is frustrating how these blogs entries stop functioning after some amount of commentary is entered.

Anybody have an idea what that's all about?

Martin Brock November 2, 2008 at 1:13 pm

That does tend to undermine the theory that gas prices are "controlled" by the oil companies.

They don't, but gasoline prices do seem higher at the Big Oil stations. Recalling the recent EconTalk with Munger, why can't Big Oil dominate the retail gasoline market by "cutting out the middle man"? I suppose there really is no "middle man" to cut out. Chevron stations must employ attendants, accountants and other factors operating a gasoline retailer, and they also have the Big Oil overhead.

The difficulty is in knowing how prices would have varied without futures and derivatives. Perhaps the fluctuations would have been more erratic.

Good point, but I'm skeptical that derivatives really have the smoothing out affect that proponents advertise.

How much has demand changed?

I suppose the higher prices both increased inventories and suppressed demand, but these changes seem to move the price far away from equilibrium. That's the puzzle.

Anybody have an idea what that's all about?

I don't know. I could probably figure it out faster than Russ and Don though. Economists talk a lot about the division of labor and specialization, but in a free market, based less on entitlement, I suppose extreme specialization would be less valuable than it is in our far-from-free system. In an entitlement system, a "generalist" is someone title General (or President) and entitled to exercise the authority associated with this title. In a freer system, a "generalist" is someone who knows what many different specialists know.

Martin Brock November 2, 2008 at 4:35 pm

… smoothing out effect that proponents advertise …

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