In 1995, a reviewer called Murray Sabrin a “libertarian hero” due to the perspicacity of Murray’s first book, Tax-Free 2000: The Rebirth of American Liberty. Two years later, Murray became the first third-party candidate in New Jersey history to raise enough funds to be able to debate the two “major party” candidates for governor.
How did Murray, born Moshe (Moses) Schabrinski in West Germany in December 1946 of two Polish Holocaust survivors, achieve American libertarian stardom in just 50 years? In frank and funny prose, Murray’s recently published memoir, From Immigrant to Public Intellectual: An American Story, suggests that hard work in a receptive American soil, fertilized with periodic doses of luck, were central to his relative success.
Even Murray’s emigration to America with his parents and older brother in August 1949 was fortuitous as Argentina, Australia, and Israel also beckoned. America won out because, although the family spoke Yiddish far better than English, a relative was already living in New York City, which by the postwar period possessed a rich Jewish culture. Moreover, receiving aid from the nonprofit Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society proved a greater allure for the young family than facing extermination (again) in the new and still tenuous Jewish homeland in the Middle East.
Like many other immigrant Jewish families, the Schabrinskis were poor but not yet heavily taxed, so they had sufficient discretionary income to summer in a Jewish bungalow colony in the Catskills. (Though presumably not one as upscale as the holiday resort featured on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.) Like other Jewish parents, Murray’s stressed the importance of education at a time when even big city government schools, like the one Murray attended (P.S. 91), focused on the fundamentals of reading, writing, and arithmetic with “none of the touchy, feely, bullshit youngsters are subject to today in K-12” (p. 24). Despite going without corrective lenses for many years, Murray excelled in school and gained acceptance to Bronx Science, where he decided he wanted to become a social science teacher.
When Murray became a naturalized citizen in 1959, he swore an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution, an oath he earnestly strove to live up to everyday ever since. Murray was also deeply affected by the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Kennedy assassination, which he believes was abetted by the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower had warned Americans about in his Farewell Address in early 1961.
Murray took his undergraduate degree in history from Hunter College in June 1968, married the love of his life a few months later, and took a job teaching social studies at I.S. 148 in the Bronx that Fall. He decided not to join the ongoing strike but was pressured into doing so by an administrator. That experience, along with reading Milton Friedman’s Newsweek column and Ayn Rand’s Capitalism and Atlas Shrugged, turned him on to the Republican Party. “Being a young Jewish Republican in the Bronx,” he recalls, “made me lonelier than the Maytag repairman” (p. 74). He quit the party in disgust, however, because of Nixonomics and the growing belief that the federal government was run by just one political party bent on aggrandizing itself at the expense of common folk.
Murray earned a Masters in social-studies education in 1971 and began the Ph.D. program in geography at Rutgers the following year. He soon discovered the writings of Murray Rothbard and asked him to serve on his dissertation committee. Rothbard agreed after Murray explained that the main insight behind his dissertation, “The Spatial Incidence of Inflation in the United States, 1967-1971,” stemmed from Rothbard’s discussion of money diffusion in Man, Economy and State (1962).
Murray reveals that during his rise he stood on the shoulders of other libertarian giants too, including Frederic Bastiat, Ron Paul, and Henry Hazlitt. Murray also mentions or thanks the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER), which employed him as a researcher for a few years early in his career, the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), and the Future of Freedom Foundation (FFF), citing its founder, Jacob Hornberger, by name (p. 174).
Like many of the contributors at AIER, FEE, and FFF, and most of all Bastiat, Murray developed a knack for communicating complex ideas in understandable ways without coming across as condescending. He believed that the best libertarians were “problem solvers” (p. 125) laser focused on the promotion of “liberty and prosperity” (p. 129), not ideologues. To that end, he developed simple but persuasive quips, including one about education being “too important to be left to the state” (p. 140).
Murray’s communication skills waxed stronger over the years thanks to his professorship in finance at Ramapo College in Mahwah, New Jersey, and his political activities. In addition to penning numerous influential op-eds, Murray hosted his own radio show, “On the Money,” and produced many videos. He learned how to work reporters and talk-show hosts, though some proved themselves too filled with partisan rage, ignorance, or greed to give him or his message a fair shake. Some of the most compelling parts of Murray’s memoir describe distortions within the mainstream media as early as the 1990s. The fact, for example, that by many accounts he won the debates against his “major party” rivals during the 1997 gubernatorial campaign was significantly underreported.
Needless to say, Murray’s 114,172 votes (almost 5 percent of all cast) were insufficient to win his gubernatorial bid but that was never his goal. Instead, Murray wanted to educate voters about alternative policies that could achieve more with less and to influence policymakers. In that, he certainly succeeded as policymakers soon implemented several of his key ideas, including raising the speed limit on the N.J. Turnpike to 65 mph, deregulating the state’s overregulated automobile insurance industry, and, belatedly, legalizing marijuana. New Jerseyans, however, still await sovereign immunity’s one-way trip to hell.
Murray later tried to snag the GOP nomination for the U.S Senate and there too had to settle for winning battles while losing his war to prevent the two parties from acting as one. When someone asked how his positions differed from those of other Republicans, Murray immediately shot back, “I mean it!!!!” (p. 150).
Since retiring from his professorship and political career, Murray has continued to publish op-eds and has several new and forthcoming books to his credit, including Why the Federal Reserve Sucks (2019) and The Finance of Healthcare (2022). From Immigrant to Public Intellectual ends with the governor’s race, so Murray may favor readers with another memoir at some point. I hope he does, and I hope that other libertarian heroes join him. There is much others in the liberty movement can learn from their long struggles against statism.
This article was originally featured at the Future of Freedom Foundation and is republished with permission.