I have reached the conclusion that Americans have enjoyed so much freedom and prosperity for so many years that they have come to take it for granted, and not only fail to see such circumstances as unique in the history of mankind, but as commonplace. And because they assume such has always been the norm, they fail to realize that such prosperity and freedom must be nurtured, cultivated, and defended.
How else can you explain the re-election of Barack Obama, who added more debt in his first three years than the first forty-one presidents combined, and more debt in four years than George W. Bush (not exactly a fiscal conservative) accumulated in eight years? How else to explain the seeming indifference to stratospheric debt levels that keep rising by more than $4 billion per day? We seem to think that America, because it has been the richest and most powerful nation in our lifetimes, will always be such.
Likewise, while the world around us seems in constant turmoil, until the attacks of 9/11 (2001, not the Benghazi attacks that we still have no answers for), Americans felt safe and secure on our homeland, buffered from the violence in Europe, Asia, and the rest of the world that fills our nightly news. But on that day we had our nose bloodied, and we felt vulnerable. Yet for the next eight years under Bush, we had no more attacks on American soil, and we once again slipped back in complacency.
Now, violent attacks are the steady diet of our news media. The Boston Marathon bombing. The ricin letters. Sandy Hook. Aurora. Virginia Tech. Columbine. The Underwear Bomber. The Shoe Bomber. The Times Square Bomber. The Giffords shooting. Suddenly we seem vulnerable again, and in that vulnerability we seek safety and security.
In the midst of the debates about banning firearms with certain features, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s failed attempt to ban New Yorkers from drinking soft drinks he felt were too large, and the debate over whether or not same sex couples should have the ability to enter into a legal contract to have the same legal rights and responsibilities as married heterosexual couples, a thought occurred to me: “Gee there are a lot of people out there who just want to ban things!”
Why is this impulse so prevalent in our society? It seems that nearly everyone wants to be free to live their lives as they see fit. I haven’t met too many people who favor any notion of limiting their freedom because elected officials passed a law or majority of fellow citizens took a vote. When it comes to one’s own personal liberties, everyone is a libertarian! Consider that the Gadsen flag underneath the coiled rattlesnake reads: “Don’t Tread on Me.”
But far too many of these same people who jealously defend their own liberties are more than eager to limit someone else’s when that someone else engages in an activity that, for whatever reason, offends them. No, when it comes to other people, these people who don’t want their liberties tread on are not libertarian but majoritarian (i.e. political might makes right).
I was intrigued by the question posed by Jim Geraghty at National Review Online yesterday, “Do We on the Right Still Trust the People?” My first instinct was to respond “yes, of course we do,” because after all the idea that we as individuals can take care of ourselves better than the government can is one of the reasons we believe in limited government. The problem is, the American people have not been voting as though they really believe that themselves. So really, this question is two questions:
- Do we trust the American people to take care of themselves?; and
- Do we trust the American people to vote in ways that allow them to take care of themselves?
The answer to the first is obvious, as I’ve already mentioned. We do believe that the people are better at taking care of themselves than the government is. When left alone by government, individuals will be more empowered to make a living for themselves and pursue happiness as they wish. Society as a whole would be happier and more prosperous under a limited government than it currently is under big government.
The second question is much more difficult, because the American people have not voted for liberty. Instead, they have voted for the much easier relative security of the cradle-to-grave welfare/entitlement state and the nurturing of big government statism. Clearly the American electorate has not given us reason to have faith in them to vote against the largesse, as the welfare state has continued to grow. The question is: Why? And as a secondary question, how do we reach out to voters to get them to understand that they will be better off under smaller government than they are under big government?
Yesterday, United Liberty Editor Jason Pye did a write-up on Reince Priebus and his recent attempts to reach out to the Ron Paul Republicans/Liberty wing of the GOP. This action has naturally been met with much skepticism from the Freedom forces of the GOP. As a member of that group, I just wanted to expound on a few things:
First off, with all due respect, for those thinking that Priebus did this solely because he was concerned about keeping his position, that just isn’t the case. No one, and I really mean no one (including potential challenger Mark Willis), had any real hope that Priebus would be unseated. Of the 168 members of the RNC, there might have been upwards of two dozen or so that could be counted on to vote against Priebus. However, Mark Willis, the Liberty GOPer from Maine, wasn’t able to get the majority vote of the 3 different state RNC memberships to even be placed on the ballot.
Secondly, Priebus has been reaching out to the Ron Paul/Liberty people before, during, and after this most recent RNC meeting. The writing is on the wall - the Liberty forces have the momentum. And even though they’ve been the ones most involved in the degradation of the GOP for the last decade, the establishment GOP is now exhibiting what might be the strongest and most intense of human instincts - self-preservation. It’s also just common sense, as evidenced by this recent quote from long-serving, social conservative RNC Iowa Committeeman, Steve Scheffler:
“If you don’t start including new people, you’re going to die on the vine…the old guard needs to be inclusive.”
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak at the Cato Institute’s New Media Lunch on some of the issues facing the Republican Party after the 2012 election. The forum, focused exclusively on social issues, was appropriately headlined as “The Republican Problem.”
While Walter Olson went over gay marriage, Rob Kampia on marijuana policy, and Alex Nowrasteh on immigration, I tried to focus on how conservative activists and the conservative blogosphere are adjusting post-2012. With that, I wanted to mention some of what I briefly talked about yesterday in a post this morning.
In the days since the election, I’ve spent a lot of time on Twitter and Facebook reading comments from conservative activists and bloggers. They realize that they have a lot of work ahead of them and they can no longer afford to live in a bubble. They see that social issues — such as gay marriage, the war on drugs, and immigration — present a problem moving forward.
Activist organizations are looking for ways to build outreach to younger voters and minorities, though the immigration issue remains a tough challenge for conservatives, and many are realizing that the war on drugs has failed. Right on Crime, a conservative-backed initiative, has become somewhat popular as cash-strapped states look for ways to take some pressure off of their prision systems. While we as libertarians see this as a personal liberty issue, it’s an easier sell as an economic issue to our conservative friends.
As I’ve made clear before I was a fan of neither major party Presidential candidate. Both stood for big government, continued spending, interventionist foreign policy, and little respect for civil liberties. So as Election Day approached, I was excited to cast my vote for Gary Johnson. As far as actual policies go, he was the only candidate running who offered anything different than the status quo.
That being said, I won’t deny that, while I did not vote for him, I was pulling for Romney to win, simply because I don’t think Obama has the slightest clue how to handle the economy. This fact alone was enough to make me at least flirt with the idea of voting for Mitt as I stood in line to cast my vote. While I ended up voting Johnson, on Election Night I was quietly hoping that somehow Romney could pull it out.
But once it became clear that he would not, my focus shifted to various other races and ballot initiatives. And for the most part, these turned out just like I had hoped. Gay marriage was legalized in Maryland and Maine, and marijuana initiatives did very well. Not everything turned out great, but it was exciting to see evidence that attitudes are changing on both of these topics.
Furthermore, hard-core social conservatism had a very bad day, which is good for anyone who hopes that segment of the GOP can be reduced in influence. Michele Bachmann almost lost her election, and both Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock were defeated soundly after expressing extreme and offensive views on rape and abortion. It looks as if Allen West was defeated as well. All of these are good news if you want the GOP to jettison some of its more extreme members.
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.
After the GOP convention in Tampa in August, Ron Paul’s presidential campaign and political career will officially come to an end. Despite the protestations of some hardcore supporters, Ron Paul will not be the Republican nominee and in fact, he will likely not even be nominated at the convention in Tampa.
Many supporters are gravitating towards campaign of Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson, however to be perfectly blunt, my three month old puppy has a better shot at being elected President than he does. In addition, there will be same number of Libertarian Party members of the House and Senate, none. This is not what I hope will happen, this is simply stating reality. If the liberty movement is to continue after the end of Ron Paul’s career, we need to lay a solid foundation for political success. I believe the best way to lay a foundation for the liberty movement is take a page from professional baseball and build a “farm team” of future leaders to run for political office and activists to work the races.
In professional baseball all Major League Baseball teams have a developmental system of minor league teams. The minor league teams are rated from AAA all the way down to A. In addition, there are special developmental leagues for rookie players drafted right out of college. Other sports leagues are trying to replicate the system to develop the next generation of professional athletes. We in the liberty movement, regardless of what we call ourselves, need to take the same approach to politics and political office.
It’s that time of year again: BBQ’s galore; fireworks cracking; American flags waving in the breeze. It’s also the time of year when someone writes somewhere about… “The Downside of Liberty”. Yes fellow citizens, having too much liberty is bad for you because we’re all like self-indulgent children— who when left unattended, will just eat the entire cookie jar by themselves and not share. Nevermind that research has actually shown that many children are not self-indulgent at all. But who care about facts.
I digress. Let’s get back to “The Downside of Liberty”. The main thesis is this: rugged American individualism creates selfish bastards, who love capitalism above all else, and care for no one other than themselves. An example:
When I was growing up in Omaha, rich people who could afford to build palatial houses did not and wouldn’t dream of paying themselves 200 or 400 times what they paid their employees. Greed as well as homosexuality was a love that dared not speak its name.
But then came the late 1960s, and over the next two decades American individualism was fully unleashed. A kind of tacit grand bargain was forged between the counterculture and the establishment, between the forever-young and the moneyed.
Going forward, the youthful masses of every age would be permitted as never before to indulge their self-expressive and hedonistic impulses. But capitalists in return would be unshackled as well, free to indulge their own animal spirits with fewer and fewer fetters in the forms of regulation, taxes or social opprobrium.
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.