When I first heard that Glenn Beck was going to relaunch his “The Blaze” as a libertarian-focused network, I was skeptical as I’m sure a lot of libertarians were. While Beck has called himself a libertarian for some time, he has spent the last few years peddling in conspiracy theories and general looniness that has served to be quite an embarassment. I used to listen to his radio show and watched his Fox News program for about a year before I became tired of his antics. So when his show was canceled and he moved to a pay-per-view format, I was glad to see him go.
But Beck has proven he knows what he is doing. He has been able to create a successful business outside the cable world. He is reaching a sizable audience, largely of the young folks that need to be won to the libertarian cause. These folks might already be leaning that way and would benefit greatly from hearing more libertarian viewpoints and analysis. And there are many more who simply never hear this perspective who might be getting it for the first time, or the first time by actual libertarians instead of cartoonish versions given by the regular media.
Dr. Robert Lawson is the Jerome M. Fullinwider Chair in Economic Freedom in the O’Neil Center for Global Markets and Freedom at the Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business. Also, Lawson is co-author of the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World annual report, which provides a widely-cited economic freedom index for over 140 countries. The CATO Institute has been partners in its publication since 1996.
As my former academic advisor, Dr. Lawson is a mentor and friend who introduced me to libertarian philosophy. A happy warrior with a dry sense of humor, his love of economics and freedom is inspiring.
Lawson is a member of the prestigious Mont Pelerin Society. He also writes at the popular economics blog, Division of Labour, which you should subscribe to.
Matt Naugle: How did you become a libertarian?
Robert Lawson: I actually wrote about this in a little book that Walter Block edited titled, I Chose Liberty: Autobiographies of Contemporary Libertarians. As with most people, I can trace this to a couple of influential teachers. First, Mr. Eaton at Princeton High School (Cincinnati) who gave me my first copy of The Freeman. Second, Richard Vedder at Ohio University.
Many of my conversations with Republicans regarding the Presidential race and the fact that I intend to vote for Gary Johnson usually end up in one of two categories. First, there are the people who tell me that by voting for Johnson, I’m voting for President Obama. As I’ve noted before, this an absurd argument largely because it assumes that Mitt Romney is entitled to my vote as a libertarian, an argument which I don’t accept. The other argument I frequently hear is one that basically says that my vote is wasted because Gary Johnson isn’t going to have any impact on the race. I’ve always thought that the two arguments are mutually contradictory. After all, if my vote for Johnson is going to hurt Romney then it obviously will have some impact on the race, and if it isn’t going to have any impact on the race then it isn’t going to hurt Mitt Romney. You really can’t make both arguments at the same time.
I’ve always thought, though, that the best way to judge what people really think is to look at how they act, and based on their actions, Republicans really seem to be concerned about Gary Johnson’s potential impact on the Presidential race:
When he was running for the Republican presidential nomination last year, Gary Johnson, the former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico, drew ridicule from mainstream party members as he advocated legalized marijuana and a 43 percent cut in military spending.
When firefighters are putting out a home blaze, do they carefully cover up all the furniture and belongings so they aren’t harmed by water damage? After a horrific car crash, do the EMT’s carefully disrobe a critically injured patient so as to protect their clothing? No. There is a crisis, a risk to life and property. After the crisis is dealt with - the fire’s put out, a pulse is restored - there is an opportunity to assess the damage and rebuild in a thoughtful, methodical way.
Our country faces crises in the financial and civil liberties sectors. I don’t need to outline the scope here, especially for libertarians. Though we are antsy to achieve the government and society that will ensure and promote civil liberties and free market economic policies, first, in 2012, we need to restore the pulse of the economy before rebuilding the society that’s been systematically taken apart since the New Deal days.
Obama’s plan for the economy involves over-regulation, effectively banning new domestic gas or oil production, and tax increases of unparalleled scope beginning January 1, 2013. Beyond that, there’s not much of a plan - Harry Reid has failed to get a budget passed in well over 1,000 days.
The Romney/Ryan plan leaves much to be desired both in its scope and timing, but it is a beginning. Negotiations can go from there. Even if passed in its current form, it puts water on the fire.
The Tea Party movement has been much maligned by its opponents as nothing but the conservative movement under a different name. Admittedly, this is a charge that even I’ve made as I’ve been concerned about ancillary social issues that have seeped into Tea Party. That was made even worse when polls showed Tea Party voters backing Rick Santorum, who is no fiscal conservative and even worse on social issues.
But a new study from the Cato Institute, written by David Kirby and Emily Ekins, shows that the Tea Party movement does indeed have very strong libertarian roots, which is often overlooked by political strategists and the news media.
The study isn’t necessarily the first of its kind. The Cato Institute has previous put out two separate studies on the libertarian vote. In 2006, an analysis by David Boaz and the aforementioned David Kirby showed that the libertarian vote, which was drifting toward Democrats at the time, made up “some 13 percent of the electorate.” A follow up study in 2008, showed that the number of voters that could be identified as libertarian made up 14 percent of the electorate. Moreover, they were much more supportive of John McCain than Barack Obama.
This latest analysis shows that the Tea Party movement has a strong libertarian influence on economic issues, which, as Kirby and Ekins note, is the uniting factor holding it together. However, they also note that the Tea Party movement is evenly split on social issues.
Today, I launched a new politics/sports politics called The Sport of Politics. Episode 1 talks a great deal about a battle in the Arizona desert between the Phoenix Coyotes and the libertarian think tank Goldwater Institute. Joining me to talk about this fight, as well as the future of hockey in non-traditional hockey towns and the prospects for the Nashville Predators in the post-Ryan Suter era is UL contributor George Scoville!
Michelle Fields was born in Los Angeles and received her degree in Political Science from Pepperdine University in 2011. She contributed video work for Reason TV and joined the Daily Caller in mid 2011. The Daily Caller, a 24-hour conservative news and commentary website funded by Foster Friess, was founded by Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel.
In between breaking stories at the Daily Caller and kicking liberal butt on Fox News, she tweets @MichelleFields.
Matt Naugle: How did you become a libertarian?
Michelle Fields: My older brother, Michael, is a libertarian and introduced me to Ayn Rand and Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State & Utopia.”
MN: You became a viral internet celebrity clashing with Matt Damon over tenured teachers. Did his harsh reaction surprise you?
MF: It did surprise me. I thought that I had asked a fair question. I understand where he was coming from, there are a lot of teachers out there who joined the profession out of a love for teaching. However, I don’t think that all teachers are impervious to economic incentives
MN: You have also recorded educational videos for the Center for Freedom and Prosperity. In your experience, do most people have a firm grasp of economics?
A lot of people have asked me about Rand Paul’s endorsement of Mitt Romney. Does it mean I now support Mitt Romney? Does it mean that Rand has abandoned the libertarians? Are the Pauls fighting? Is it part of some two-pronged Paul-Paul strategy to get some respect from the mainstream GOP for Rand’s presidential run in 2016 or 2020?
While I wasn’t exactly thrilled to see Rand endorse Mitt Romney, there are some reasons that this endorsement makes sense. Plus, in four (or eight) years when Rand runs for president, those who criticize him for the endorsement now won’t care about it then. On the other side of that coin, those delighted by the Romney endorsement won’t have the “not a team player” card to play at that time.
It’s also important to remember that endorsements these days mean almost nothing. Like a free toothbrush at the dentist’s office, anybody who really wants an endorsement can get one. If Rand Paul wants to endorse Romney as a candidate, that’s fine with me. Plus, Paul is an elected Republican with real presidential possibility. In what universe would endorsing someone other than the GOP nominee make any sense for him?
Rand’s endorsement of Romney the candidate means nothing to me. But if Rand endorses Romney’s philosophy, we’ve got issues. Playing nice within the Party is one thing; jumping on the big government bandwagon is something else entirely.
You can imagine my delight when I saw this article from Rand Paul. He is very direct in his criticism of the Obama administration, especially since Obama campaigned on a platform of ending wars and since his election, he has done the exact opposite. Obama deserves this criticism.
I believe in free markets, lower taxes, a strong national defense, generally oppose abortion, free trade, strongly support the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, Federalism, and a much smaller government than what we have. According to the left-right political spectrum, I am probably what you call a conservative. However, that would not be an accurate description of my political beliefs, and here’s why.
I have nothing but the greatest respect and admiration for my conservative friends. My political background is almost exclusively in the Republican Party and I still, generally, vote for Republican candidates in most races. I grew up listening to Rush Limbaugh and discussing politics with my staunchly conservative Republican family. My political roots are solidly in the conservative movement, but I’m not a conservative anymore. The reason why is that even though I did learn the language of liberty as a conservative, advancing it has become my main political goal.
American conservatism is something of a contradiction. To simplify, it seeks to preserve the liberties handed down by our Founding Fathers and to preserve traditional Judeo-Christian values and norms. It does not take a rocket scientist to see how this is contradictory. With two seemingly opposite goals, one of the two has to be sacrificed. For example, in order to promote traditional families, many social conservatives support special tax incentives for children. However, this creates a distortion in the tax code that unfairly penalizes childless couples and it can be a perverse incentive to reward illegitimacy. The concept of equality under the law is sacrificed in an attempt of social engineering that will likely backfire, like all social engineering does.
It’s the one question I’m asked more than anything else: “Why do you stay with the Republican Party? You seem like more of a Libertarian to me.”
It’s a fair question, I suppose. There are a lot of issues where I don’t agree with many of my Republican friends: I think we should end the war on drugs; I think we should cut way back on the military aggression we show the world; I think government revenue should exceed government expenses; I think the federal government should be strictly limited to the powers expressly given to it in the Constitution.
There’s some common ground to be found with my fellow Republicans, for sure. And it’s those days that being a Republican is easy. When we’re on the same side of the talking points, it’s all good. But when we disagree, the name calling starts, the rumors start working their way through the rumor mill, and idiocy abounds. It’s those days I have to remind myself why I choose to remain in the Republican Party.
I have good friends in the Libertarian Party who offer constant reminders that they welcome my views of limited government and increased individual responsibility. When you look at the Libertarian platform, you’ll see that somebody like me lines up really well with the vast majority of a Libertarian’s beliefs about the role of government.
But even though I know I’d be welcomed enthusiastically into the Libertarian Party, and even though certain people who I used to think were friends have resorted to juvenile behavior when they disagree with me, I choose to remain in the company of these people. Here are a few reasons I have decided to stay with the GOP: