David Boaz

David Boaz


Good evening everyone. And welcome to the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum. My name’s Bruno Youn and I’m one of the athenaeum fellows this year. We’re seeing a lot of illiberal populism right now, not only here but in Brazil, Hungary, Poland, Turkey, and the Philippines. And that’s just the parties that won election. If you look at France you have Le Pen and in Germany, Alternative for Deutschland. Highly coercive ideologies, that tend to be big government, protectionist, a lot of the words that a lot of us don’t like. Meanwhile, here in the US, socialism is no longer a dirty word in many circles. Not even 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. So that means a lot of people in the center, including, I’d imagine, some of us, feel politically squeezed and unheard. And so libertarianism, an ideology that doesn’t fit so neatly on our left right political spectrum here in the US, seems a bit un-moored right now. You have populists on the right, progressives on the left, the libertarians are being squeezed. At least in the center, at least in the middle of all this I have my dog because he’s a very libertarian animal, unless there’s a lawnmower outside. So, our speaker tonight David Boaz is here to discuss why how libertarianism is being squeezed and how maybe there’s a libertarian center that can fill the gap left by the left and the right which have grown apart from each other faster than me from my high school friends, tragedy. David Boaz is the executive vice president of the Cato Institute. He’s been there since 1981. This man has literally defined libertarianism because he wrote the entry for it in Encyclopedia Britannica. Also figuratively too, of course, while at the Cato Institute. He’s appeared on various talk and TV shows, from NPR to CNN to Fox News and a lot in between. And he’s been published in mainstream outlets like the New York Times and publications from Slate to National Review and a lot in between. Mr. Boaz’s athenaeum talk is cosponsored by the President’s Leadership Fund. Now, CMC is a private institution, the athenaeum is a private institution, so we have a bit more leeway to boss you around than the government does. So I’m gonna do a little bit of that right now by asking you to put away your cell phones and to not record this talk, whether through audio or visually. So finish up sending your bitcoins to your friend abroad. Now, without further ado, please join me in welcoming David Boaz. (audience applauds) Thank you, Thank you Bruno. Bruno, can you hand me my water? I poured some and then I forgot to bring it up. Thank you all for coming. I just wanted to be sure everybody got a chance to see my book, The Libertarian Mind. And I believe there are copies out there for sale. So feel free to buy one. And I’d be happy to sign it, if you think that adds to its’ value. I wanna talk about political ideologies, particularly left, right, and libertarian and mostly in an American context. So I’m gonna start a long way back. America is a liberal country, in a liberal world. What does that mean? What do I mean when I say liberal? What do I mean that we’re a liberal country and we live in a liberal world? Before the advent of liberalism in the world men and women, for 1,000 years, maybe 10,000 years, lived under power, privilege, and oppression. Life really was poor, nasty, brutish, and short, before our modern world and we don’t think about. We live such comfortable lives now, we don’t think about how uncomfortable life was for so long. There’s a certain historical sense that we assume, “Yeah, back in Rome “it was like this and since then “it’s gone up like this.” But that’s not what it was. Arguably, just if you look at, sort of, GDP per capita, or some representation of standard of living, what you basically have is from 1,000 years before Christ, GDP per capita is like this. And around 1750 it does this. It’s an incredible change. It is what the economist and social philosopher Deirdre McCloskey calls The Great Fact. The most important fact about our world and yet, lot’s of people, I think, don’t understand it. So, for 1,000 or 10,000 years we lived lives that were poor, nasty, brutish, and short. And then something happened. And the interesting question, and I’m not gonna answer it, is, “What happened?” Because people disagree a lot on exactly what happened. Was it capital accumulation? Was it some form of globalization? Was it the coming together of different continents, people from different places? Was it technology? Deirdre McCloskey says it was a change in ideas. And particularly, the idea about commerce and entrepreneurship. The rise of an idea that it was a good thing to try to get rich, not by taking from other people, not by exploiting, but by offering something other people wanted. That, that was just as good as being the grandson of a Duke. Or to be in the church hierarchy, those kinds of things. And then, somewhere around the 17th century comes an age, a series of events, that we have come to know as The Enlightenment. Now that might be a fairly self satisfied way of describing it, but I think if we talk about what happened in The Enlightenment, it’s not an unreasonable definition. You’ve read about The Enlightenment. You’re read about the people, Newton, and Voltaire, and Kant, and John Locke. Stephen Pinker has a new book out called Enlightenment Now. He identifies four key elements of The Enlightenment. He doesn’t focus as much on the people. He focuses on the big ideas. And he counts the big ideas as reason. The idea that we don’t have to just be told. That everything we need to know will be told to us by a priest with a sacred book, but that we can use our capacity for thinking to find out how the world works. And just this basic idea, we’re going to start looking at the way institutions work. Very important, along with reason, science, the rise of the scientific method. The idea that you could not only use your reason but you could do experiments, you could do observations, you could come to understand. The way the human body works, the way the planets work. The way all the natural phenomena in the world work. And then, along with these ideas, the idea of humanism. That institutions should be judged on the basis of how well they served men, men and women obviously. When I was a college student, I remember when I first heard the term humanism. And it was explained that it was the idea that human institutions should be judged by how well they served humanity, human beings. I was puzzled. I said, “On what other basis could they be judged?” well, even though I’d grown up in a Christian church, I guess I hadn’t really absorbed the full message that the church was trying to impart. And obviously, what humanism really was arguing against, was the idea that the measure of human institutions is whether they fulfilled God’s will, whether they served God’s plan for the world. Humanism wasn’t necessarily Atheism but it was a focus on what is good for human beings. And then the idea of progress. And this again is something, I think, that we don’t realize, “What, they had “to develop an idea of progress?” Well, yes, because for all those years there was hardly any progress. We expect our children to have better lives than we do. And if we think they’re not going to we’re angry, we think something is very wrong. But for generations and millennia, that, essentially, wasn’t true. If your father was a Duke, you were a Duke. If your father was a serf, you were a serf. And by the way, if your father was a serf and you’re a serf, and your son is a serf, and his son is a serf, you’re pretty well living at the same standard of living generation after generation. So, one of The Enlightenment ideas was simply the idea that things could get better, that we could develop better science, better medicine, a better education, a better understanding of the world, and more comfortable lives. I wrote the subtitle for a book once, “Why we’re living longer, healthier, “more comfortable lives on a cleaner planet.” That is what The Enlightenment decided was the goal. That was something that was possible and we should work at. So, The Enlightenment, around the 17th century obviously it’s a long process. And in that environment, the idea of liberalism arose. Not the word liberalism, immediately, but ideas that could be understood as liberalism are developing then. The idea of individual rights, of markets, of a spontaneous order by which society runs itself, religious freedom, and freedom of speech. And even the idea that all men are created equal. That we are not inherently endowed with a caste system. That this whole idea of monarchy, aristocracy, the priestly caste, the serfs, that is not inherent in man, it’s not actually the way humanity is. So, liberalism is rising in this environment. And two of the great figures in liberalism, John Locke and Adam Smith, I think, are the architects of the modern world. I remember reading, some years ago, that in the Western Civilization class at Stanford they didn’t read Locke and Smith. Well I think that’s insane. Locke and Smith are the architects of the world we live in. Locke with his ideas about individual rights, property rights, government is created to serve the people, to protect their rights, government by consent of the governed, individual rights. And Adam Smith with his theory of spontaneous order and what causes the wealth of nations. It is not piling up gold. It is not having a richer king. It is having more people, having more comfortable lives. That is the wealth of nations. So those, in my view, are the two great architects of liberalism but also of the world that we live in, that Europeans live in, that the Japanese live in, and that, increasingly, people around the world live in. So one of the things that happens, a single achievement in the 17th century is the glorious revolution in England. It was a turbulent period of course. It involved having a non monarchical dictator for a while. And then a king restored, with his powers, they thought, trimmed, to reflect what Parliament thought the King’s powers ought to be. And then a glorious revolution because it didn’t involve any shooting or any killing, that finally affirmed Parliamentary supremacy. Now as we understand it today, Parliamentary supremacy is a long way from democracy. It’s even a long way from constitutional republicanism. But it’s a big step up from absolute monarchy, which was stronger on the continent but the Stuart Kings in England also wanted to be absolute monarchs and that’s what Parliament was rebelling against. So you have the Glorious Revolution there. And then, around the 1770s you start seeing the word liberal being used in a way that foreshadows what it will come to mean, a few years later. And you read in books, you can look this up on Google’s Ngrams. You can find terms like liberal policy, liberal system, liberal views, liberal principles in books and publications, in around the 1770s. And at that point, this idea of liberalism is starting to arise. I like to think that back in the English Revolution the first proto liberals were the people called levelers. Now, interestingly, they did not want to level society, the way some radicals did, they wanted to level political rights. They said, “The greatest he that is in England “is the same as the least person who is in England.” There was another group of people, at the time, who called themselves The True Levelers because they really did want to level society. They wanted, essentially, communism, socialism, land ownership in common, and so on. And most political labels, you know, over the years, are actually given to movements by their opponents. Capitalism, the word comes from Karl Marx. The Whigs, that was a term given to them by the Tories. Anti Federalists, why would you want to be anti federal? But that was the term given by the people who were arguably, the federalists, by the nationalists. The levelers were called the diggers because one of the ways they advanced their ideas was to go out in the middle of the night and dig up the estates of dukes and lords and maybe even the monarch, in the interest of leveling. But the good guys in that period, not the diggers, not the Cromwell, not the king, were the levelers. The people who were creating a proto liberal, even proto libertarian, political system of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, private property, and no caste system. No rule by the monarch and the aristocracy. And then in 1776, in a way, the most glorious year for liberalism or libertarian’s ever you get the Declaration of Independence and the book The Wealth of Nations. And that’s got to be, sort of, the peak of the liberal idea, is when those two documents, The Wealth of Nations, which tells you how countries can get rich, meaning how people can get rich. And the Declaration of Independence, which proclaims, “We hold these truths “to be self evident that all men are created equal. “That they are endowed by their creator “with certain unalienable rights. “That among these are life, liberty, “and the pursuit of happiness. “That to secure these rights, governments “are instituted among men, deriving “their just powers from the consent of the governed.” And then, and I have to paraphrase at this point, and then when governments do not serve that end of securing our rights, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish that government. It’s a very radical thing. Less radical then it was around 1690, when John Locke’s Second Treatise was published, but still a radical idea. You are telling the king that if he is not serving the people and securing their rights it is the right of the people to alter or abolish that government. Left, right, and libertarian. So where do we get those terms? Well, in the French Revolution, starting in 1789, they have a national assembly. And as it happens, the defenders of the monarchy and aristocracy stood on the right and the representatives of the rising middle class and the working class, they sit on the left, so that’s where we get left and right. The right defends the monarchy and the aristocracy, the left is opposed to that. At that time, the left is mostly what we would call today, liberal, or what we would call, in the intervening period, liberal. Not so much socialists, but, market oriented and focused on individual rights. And then, interestingly, I think the first time the term liberal really comes to be used to represent, to define a group of people. We’re seeing liberal used as an adjective. Adam Smith wrote about the liberal system. Other people were writing things like that. In the Spanish Parliament, in the 1820s, two parties arose, the defenders of the rising middle class and the defenders of the monarchy and aristocracy. And in Spanish, they were called the liberales, who wanted more freedom for the people. And the serviles who wanted people to be servile to the monarchy and the aristocracy. The word liberal stuck and it spread. I’m terribly sad to say that the term serviles for the opponents of liberals, did no survive and spread. But I thought it captured things very nicely. Around the 1840s, 1850s we get the creation of the liberal party in the United Kingdom. You probably know that before that there weren’t really parties. There were sort of groupings and factions. There were people associated with one political leader or another. But around the 1840s, 1850s the liberal party becomes a thing and there liberal is being used to mean the party that represents basically the middle class, but also the working class against the party that still stands with the king and the aristocracy. In the great period from 1850, the fall of Napoleon to 1914, the outbreak of World War One, liberalism spread all over Europe. And it was an incredible century. Even Karl Marx noticed. “Who knew what productive powers lay in the breast “of the bourgeoisie. “That they have transformed society, “in scarce two generations.” I’m not sure he originated this, but an economist at Berkeley, Brad Delong, is where I read this interesting point, “What if Cicero visited Thomas Jefferson? ‘Cicero lives around zero AD, “Thomas Jefferson around 1800 AD. “What if Cicero visited Thomas Jefferson? ‘What would it be like, what would he notice?’ Well, what would happen is he could send a letter saying, “I’ll be there sometime in “March or maybe April, depending.” He’ll have to travel by slow boat and then by horse. When he gets there, what will Cicero see? He will see a brilliant man, writing with a quill pen, by candlelight as the day ends, in a beautiful villa built by slaves, who are still doing all the work to sustain the brilliant man inside. Not that much progress in 1800 years. Books would have impressed him. He couldn’t have bought books. The printing press and the ability to bind books, that would have been impressive to him. But most of what he saw would be very similar. Now, imagine, and Delong didn’t say this, but I say, imagine that Cicero and Thomas Jefferson then decide to visit Henry Adams in 1900, what’s the difference? Well, first, they can send a telegram or make a phone call to say, “We’ll be there “Thursday at 5:00 pm.” They can take a train, which is a lot more comfortable than riding a horse to Charlottesville. When they get there, Adams will be up late at night, writing by electric light. Maybe there’s even an automobile. Everything has changed, steam travel, railroads, and the general standard of living, in the United States and Europe, by that point, totally different in 100 years. And that is what liberalism brought to the world. That’s the liberal century, in which the plight of the common man, the standard of living, the comfort level of the average person changed radically. But around 1900 or around the time of Henry Adams, a lot of this changed. The idea of liberalism, a lot of the liberals started saying, “Why are we using these “clumsy systems of limited constitutional government, “in order to aim at the betterment of the working man?” Why don’t we just have the government get right in there and better the plight of the working man? And so you start getting the progressive ideas, ideas of using the government to control the big companies, to control the railroads, to regulate farm prices, to have unemployment compensation, and provisions for the poor and all these things. So the meaning of liberalism kind of changes from the libertarian traditional idea that government is to be small and to secure our rights, into government is to do whatever the people think is in their interests. And eventually, in the middle 20th century, some of the old liberals came up with the term libertarian. They decided they just couldn’t call themselves liberals. Very recently, Milton Friedman, and Friedrich Hayek, two of the great libertarian liberals of the late 20th century, both insisted on calling themselves liberals. They never liked the word libertarian, they insisted that they were liberals. Hayek added that he was an old Whig. But younger people grew up in a world where liberal meant the New Deal, the Great Society, and that wasn’t what they believed in. And they started calling themselves libertarian. Around the world though, in South Africa, Russia, China, Iran, Germany, in the pages of The Economist, you will still see the word liberal used in its’ traditional meaning, human rights and free markets, limited constitutional government. So we live in a liberal world today. There’s still parts of the world that are pretty illiberal. China, not very liberal yet. Neither is Russia. Much of the Arab world is not very liberal. But more and more of the world. Japan, now Taiwan, Hong Kong. India has many liberal aspects, although certainly not thoroughly liberal. Liberalism has spread. The general idea of limiting government and relying on markets to make people prosperous has spread to much more of the world. And within that world, the United States is probably still the most liberal country, that is the freest country, the country where government is most limited and where people’s attitudes toward government are still most liberal in the classical sense. If you ask Americans and Europeans, which is more important, achieving equality or protecting freedom? Americans, a majority will say protecting freedom. In Europe, it’s probably a majority, at least in some countries for equality is more important. You get differences like that on a lot of different polls. So, in a sense, the United States is a liberal country. Except we might have to say libertarian now, since liberal doesn’t exactly mean that to most people. And I read a article in the Los Angeles Times a couple of years ago, saying, really if you look at all the polling data on a variety of things, you could argue that America is a center libertarian country. If you read political scientists and newspapers, you see references to the center right, the center left. In Germany, as you may know, in Bavaria, the center right and the center left just both had bad elections. And the far right and the far left did better. In America, you could argue, that what we really have is a center libertarian consensus on a broad range, of essentially, libertarian ideas. If you’ve read the great historian Bernard Bailyn, about the founding of America, particularly his book, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, he talks about how the radically libertarian ideas of the English liberals are brought to fruition here in America. What does that mean? It means freedom of speech. It means protections for speech. It means trial by jury. It means a constitution that directly limits government. All those kinds of things that were radical ideas in England, now become the founding ideas in America and remain at the core of the American idea, today. And so, in some sense, in America we have liberals, we have conservatives, but we’ve generally not had the kinds of radical right or radical left movements that they do have in much of the world, even Europe, because we’re still sort of arguing within this libertarian consensus. That we do generally agree on property rights, markets, social tolerance, limited government. Throughout American history, most voters and even most reform movements have agreed on the fundamentals of classical liberalism or libertarianism. Free speech, religious freedom, equality before the law, private property, free markets, limited government, all in the service of individual rights. And the broad acceptance of those values means that American liberals and conservatives are fighting within a libertarian consensus. But as I said, with Franklin Roosevelt came this new idea of activist government, theoretically intended to help the poor and the middle class, with taxes transfer programs and regulation, plus civil rights and civil liberties. And then in the 1950s, a response to this New Deal liberalism arose, called conservatism. Originating with William F Buckley Jr, and National Review, and then Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign, and then sort of coming to fruition with the Reagan campaign and the Reagan presidency. That was traditional American conservatism although in a sense, not that traditional. It’s not as traditional as a European conservatism that defends the feudal system or the monarchy. It’s not even as traditional as an American system that might have defended, for instance, established churches or even slavery. So this is traditional American conservatism but it’s post war conservatism in a generally libertarian country. So, conservatives defined their position in opposition to the New Deal and the Great Society, as, “We stand for free markets, traditional values, “and a strong national defense.” Obviously the strong national defense being, particularly about the defense against communism. And those were pretty much, the opposing parties in American political life from the 1960s until 2015. And then Donald Trump showed up, in this picture. And Donald Trump sort of flipped a coin, whether he’d run as a Republican or a Democrat. He’d been a contributor to Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer. He was no committed Republican. But he ran for president as a Republican. And you think about, what is the position of the Republican party? Free markets, traditional values, strong national defense. Well, he doesn’t believe in free markets. His big issue is protectionism. He wants to cut off free trade, also, freedom of immigration, which conservatives were never as committed to as they sort of were to free trade. Traditional moral and religious values, not so much. Not only did he not practice traditional moral and religious values, he didn’t make them an issue in his campaign. He didn’t seem to care. He wasn’t campaigning on gay rights, and abortion, anything like that. And strong national defense, well, he had a very confusing foreign policy. There were some elements of it that libertarians liked. When he said, “We should stop nation building. “We should stop paying for everybody else’s “defense around the world.” And then he would say things like, “We should go in and take their oil.” So, did he favor a strong national defense? I would say not. Not in any traditional sense. So Trump changes this whole picture. What he did campaign on, I think, is a new kind of culture war. When we said culture war, we often meant things like gay rights and abortion, at least from the conservative side. Conservatives had a different view of what liberals were doing, in terms of culture war. Trump’s not campaigning on those things. What he did campaign on, I think, was racial and religious scapegoating. He said, “Mexicans are coming into our country “bringing drugs, and rape, and murder.” He said, “A judge whose parents are Mexican “can’t be a fair judge, in my case.” He said, “We have to ban Muslims “from coming into this country, “until we figure out what is going on.” That was a more explicit kind of racial, religious culture war than we had seen in politics for a long time. And he also campaigned against free trade and freedom of immigration. So a different kind of culture war. A different kind of right. I hesitate to call it conservative but you would call those ideas being on the right. So now it seems to me, instead of the sort of Reagan versus FDR politics, that we had for a while, we’ve got sort of, identity politics in both parties. On the left, in the Democratic party, you’ve got people who are very committed to racial identity politics. Their identity as an African-American, a Hispanic-American, an Asian-American, gay people, transgender people, that all of these things should be your identity and that’s what shapes your politics. Now, I wanna be clear, I’m in favor of most of the expansions of civil rights that have taken place for racial and religious minorities, or sexual minorities, and so on. What I don’t like is the idea that your identity is who you are. It tells you how you should think, who should be your allies and so on. But we get this on the left. And then we get, what I think, coming from Trump, is a sort of response. White identity politics. From the Central Park Five to the Mexican rapists and drug dealers, to the Muslim ban, to the going after Colin Kaepernick, and the NFL players who don’t want to stand for the national anthem. All of this is sort of creating a response to what he perceived and what a lot of his voters perceived, as identity politics on the left. So what I see right now, is Democrats moving to the left in response to Trump. And Republicans moving to the wrong kind of right. They’re not becoming more free market, more committed to the Constitution. They’re becoming excited about some different kind of right. I fear that our politics is turning into Donald Trump versus Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. And that is a less attractive pairing, to me, than the argument between Reagan and FDR and Obama. So the question is, where does that leave libertarians? And by the way, whenever I say libertarian, here, there’s a small l. I’m not talking about the Libertarian Party. The Libertarian Party is mostly composed of libertarians, but plenty of libertarians and libertarian ideas are not the property of the Libertarian Party. So where does that leave libertarians? Well, basically where we’ve always been. We believe in the philosophy of freedom. Libertarianism is the philosophy of freedom. That means economic freedom, personal freedom, human rights, political freedom. The slogan of the Cato Institute is individual rights, free markets, limited government and peace. That’s what libertarians stand for. But politically it seems like there’s less space for that on the right and the left, in politics these days. Libertarians wander around saying to each other, “Remember when Republicans supported free trade “and Democrats supported free speech? “Those were good times.” If liberals and democrats double down on hostility to capitalism and abandon free speech. And Republicans doubled down on white identity politics and protectionism, libertarians are gonna feel really lonely there in the middle. And in fact, there in the middle is an interesting way to look at it. Because I know a lot of times people think libertarian’s are extreme. People on the left call us extreme right. People on the right call us extreme left. Because we’re for open borders or at least, liberal immigration rules. We’re against the police state. We’re against surveillance. We’re also against most of the welfare and regulatory programs. So you can call that extreme. But in this Trump verus Bernie Sanders world, it seems to me, there might be room for a new political grouping, that we could call the Liberal Center or because we can’t say liberal anymore in that sense, the Libertarian Center. The people who don’t want to take other people’s money and don’t wanna tell other people who they can marry or what they can smoke. And there are millions and millions of people, who I think are in, basically, that libertarian center. In his book, The Age of Abundance, Brink Lindsey argued for quote, “An implicit libertarian synthesis, “that today informs the country’s cultural “and political center. “Fiscally conservative and socially liberal, “reflecting an exuberantly commercial “and intensively competitive society, “a fact of which true believers on the left “sternly disapprove, which is simultaneously “and not un-relatedly an exuberantly “secular and intensely hedonistic society, to the deep “chagrin of true believers on the right,” unquote. And maybe that political center is more politically homeless than it has been in recent years. And I would like to hope that libertarians can provide a nucleus for that broad center of peaceful and productive people, in a society of liberty under law. I’ll take just a moment to say, as frustrated as I am with American politics today, it’s worse in a lot of places around the world. Bruno mentioned some of them. Ideas we thought were dead, are back. Socialism and protectionism and ethnic nationalism. Authoritarianism, rising on both the left and the right, around the world. Not just Russia and China, where we sort of expect it. But Turkey, Egypt, Hungary, Venezuela, Mexico, the Philippines, maybe India. Still hopeful that India’s not actually going in an authoritarian direction. Maybe Brazil, Brazil has had a fairly left wing government for a while and now it looks like it may get a pretty unfortunate right wing government. And coming too close for comfort in places like France, and Austria, and Germany. A fascist got 35% of the vote, for president of France. The Bavarian elections this week, both the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats fell. The fairly Socialist Greens and the fairly frightening Alternative for Deutschland, AFD, both got more votes than they had. Germany is particularly, a place, where the establishment does not like the idea of extreme right or extreme left being powerful. So the fact that they’re getting so many votes there is a very frightening thing to a lot of people in Germany. I fear that what we’re seeing, rising in the world is kind of three competing forms of identity politics and authoritarianism. On one side you have identity politics and a left that is increasingly intolerant of civil debate and freedom of speech. On the right, populism and the yearning for strong man rule that invariably accompanies it. And in parts of the world, radical political Islam. Not Islam itself but a radically politicized Islamism. And all of these groups are basically opposed to the general, liberal idea that people can live together peacefully and prosperously, with a few basic rules. People who oppose these ideas, people who are still liberals, need to develop a defense of liberty, equality, and democracy. I hope libertarians are well suited to do that. I’ve tried to do that in my book. There are lot’s more books coming out today. Liberals are pretty good at writing books. They just may not be very good at organizing movements. But I wanna go back to the broad, big picture, which I think is still true. About 15 years ago, Fareed Zakaria, reviewing some books on libertarianism said, “Consider what classical liberalism “stood for in the beginning of the 19th century. “It was against the power of the church “and for the power of the market. “Against the privileges of kings and aristocracies “and for the dignity of the middle class. “Against a state dominated by status and land. “And in favor of one based on markets and merit. “Opposed to religion and custom. “And in favor of science and secularism. “For national self determination and against empires. “For freedom of speech and against censorship. “For free trade and against mercantilism. “Above all, it was for the rights of the individual “and against the power of the church and the state.” I think that’s a good summary of, sort of, the last two centuries of where we were and where we have become. And he went on to say, “If libertarians seem radical today, “it’s because they won every one of those fights. “So now they’re pushing to extend their victory “in each one of those areas.” And most people are thinking, “We did a pretty good job. “We won all those things. “Why are you so concerned about freedom today?” Libertarians have been fighting ignorance, superstition, privilege, and power for many centuries. And I’m afraid it looks like that fight is not over. Thank you very much. (audience applauds) Now is time for questions. And if you’d like to ask a question, I or Matthew over there will come over to you with a microphone. Stand up when you speak and do try to keep the questions brief, in the interest of time. Priority goes to students as always. I see one in the back. Hi, thank you so much for coming. What do libertarians say to the American poor? Especially the bottom 10%, do you just remind them that they’re doing better than they were 100 years ago? Do you talk about welfare programs? And also, do you think that the income and wealth inequality today is a natural product of primacy on property rights? I think it’s important for all of us to remember, that we do live better than people did in the past. And that’s because we have had markets and the system that I don’t really like to call capitalism but most people do. And if we undermine that system, then we will all live worse and that’s and important thing to remember. However, there are plenty of things that we could do, to improve the plight of the poor. And I don’t think that more welfare programs are the answer. We have spent trillions of dollars and the poverty rate in America was doing this, before the Great Society. Since then, it’s sort of leveled off. It does not look to me like the implementation of the Great Society programs continued the reduction in the poverty rate in America. So I don’t think the first challenge is to get rid of welfare programs. First challenge is to make it easier for people to get out of poverty on their own. And I do worry that being able to get a guaranteed income is not, can tend to trap people in that system. And I don’t think that is a good thing. But look, there’s several things that are making it difficult for poor people to accumulate wealth, to get good jobs, and so on. One is the war on drugs, destroying lots of inner city communities and frankly, channeling a lot of entrepreneurial energy in inner city communities into an activity that under the current circumstances is criminal and dangerous. I think we ought to start racheting back the war on drugs. In fact, we ought to legalize drugs and then we would have a drug industry that’s just as dangerous as the alcohol industry. Which is to say, you can wreck yourself with alcohol but you don’t wreck your community by the prohibition that we had in the 1920s and that we have today. Poor people have a chance to find, to decide how to spend their money, on better food, better housing, better clothes. Obviously they have more limitations on that then other people do. But one thing they pretty much can’t do is get better schools. The schools are run by the government and they’re generally pretty bad, especially in low income communities. So I would like to give American families, especially poor families, but everybody, options to get out of government schools, if they’re not working well for them. Poor people ought to be able to have a choice of schools the way rich people do. And frankly, middle class people ought to have more of a choice of schools than they do. Most middle class people can’t afford private schools. They can generally afford to move to a school district with better schools and poor people often can’t. If we had a school scholarship system, tax credit system, something like that, we would see more competition. And competition produces better products. The reason that you can go out and buy practically any car on the market today and get a pretty good car for a reasonable price is because there’s competition. There’s not competition in things like government schools. And therefore they don’t do that. I would also like to see some reform in our criminal justice system. We’ve got to improve. And getting rid of the war on drugs would be a big step in that regard. But there are other things that we can do. The Cato Institute has a program right now to fight the concept of qualified immunity, which basically means if a policeman shoots you or a prosecutor lies in court, there’s nothing you can do about it, legally. We wanna change that. So I think there are a lot of things like that. De-regulation, there are too many regulations that make it difficult for people to open businesses in places that are not instantly profitable. Those kinds of de-regulation would help. One thing that I think is a dangerously misguided notion is the idea that the way to help low income people is to raise the statutory minimum wage. What you will do, if you do that, is guarantee that people who are worth less than $15 an hour or whatever number you use, will not get jobs at all. And I don’t think that is the way to help people. You don’t get a second job unless you get a first job. And so you want everybody who wants to work to be able to get that first job and demonstrate their ability to be a good employee. That’s what makes it easier to get a second job. There’s a particular focus I think we can do on what my colleague called regressive regulations. And that includes a lot of occupational licensing laws, which require various bureaucratic systems, licenses, and so on. In order to get into particular industries. About 25% of jobs in America are governed by occupational licensing, these days. For instance, driving a taxi. A few years ago it cost about a million dollars to get permission to be a taxi driver in New York City. Now in Washington DC, where we don’t have a medallion system, it’s quite easy to become a taxi driver. If you have a car, that’s in good working shape, you can be a taxi driver. Hairdressers, people have to get not just learn how to fix hair, they have to go through government mandated programs. Hundreds of occupations like that. Let’s get rid of those kinds of regressive regulations. Another example is land use regulations, that as you may have heard, have made home values in San Francisco and Silicon Valley and some parts of Los Angeles extremely high. And part of this is because we’re making it very difficult to build new housing. When you don’t build new housing and you have more people, the price goes up for the existing housing. So in all of those ways, these regulations are transferring income upward. They’re transferring income to people who are already incumbents, whether it’s in the landholding business or the taxi driving business. Getting rid of these regressive regulations would be a way to make it easier for people to rise, which is what we want in an open society. To you think the tech entrepreneurial class is the savior of your so called libertarian center? (David laughs) Well I haven’t seen that exactly. I mean in some sense, yes, I think people in the tech industry are obviously involved in creation and innovation. I think they think creatively about a lot of political ideas. I think they’re clearly socially tolerant in the traditional ways we talk about, marijuana, gay people, other sexual minorities, things like that. And they tend to be generally, negative about regulation. Not clear to me that the people we think of, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Zuckerberg, people like that, are necessarily opposed to high taxes. And I think that’s partly because unlike most people in business, a lot of them have the feeling that wealth happened to them so easily that they can’t feel as committed to holding onto what they’ve earned. I think if you take people who built the automobile industry, it took a long time for them to get rich. If you talk about Sam Walton, you know, this is a guy who drove a pickup truck around, trying to figure out how to save a penny here and a dime there, in order to deliver goods at a cheaper price and end up making billions of dollars, himself, as well. I think if you’re 23 and your company just hit a billion dollars, it may not seem like you had to work as hard as other people feel getting wealthy does. And therefore, I think, they’re less concerned about taxes. And by the way, that gets back to a part of the first question that I didn’t mention, inequality. The worst inequality it seems to me, is the inequality of power. If you look at the declared socialist countries, the Soviet Union, China, et cetera, there were rulers and there were the ruled and that was the huge inequality. In the capitalist system, in a market system, there’s going to be inequalities. Some people are going to come up with something that they can sell to other people. Especially if they come up with something that everybody wants. Who got richer? People building Fords and Chevrolet’s or the people building Rolls Royce’s? It was a lot better to be selling 10 million cars than to be selling 100,000 cars. So even though they make cars for the rich, they didn’t get as rich doing it. The people we think of as being rich, today, like Bill Gates, Paul Allen, who just died, Mark Zuckerberg and so on, they got rich by coming up with something that all of us wanted. And therefore, they didn’t have to take very much out of each thing they sold, in order to make a lot of money. So, to me, I think inequality, it happens in every society. I think inequality of power is particularly significant. I think the difference between having a car and having no car is really significant. The difference between having a Rolls Royce and a Ford Focus is way less significant. I mean, we’d all rather have a Rolls Royce, sure. But a Ford Focus will get you to the grocery store, it will get you to your job. Not having a car, that’s the much bigger gap. So I think the question is, are we really concerned about inequality or are we concerned about poverty? Because if you think Zuckerberg’s money is stolen from other people, then that’s a problem. If you think middle class wages are stagnating that’s a problem and we should talk about that. If you think too many people are poor that’s a problem and we should talk about poverty. But I wonder how many people are actually concerned about inequality? I didn’t check today, but I think the stock market went up. At least it went up yesterday. So it went up yesterday, which means that Bill Gates may have become a billion dollars richer yesterday. I myself, if the stock market went up may have become a couple thousand dollars richer. And some people didn’t become any richer at all, if the stock market went up yesterday. But I don’t believe I’m worse off because Bill Gates got a billion dollars richer yesterday. And I don’t believe the people who don’t have any money in the market are any worse off because I got a couple thousand dollars richer. I’d like more people to be able to afford shares of stock and therefore I want these policies that will make more people make more money, so they can do that. But the inequality itself doesn’t bother me. The fact that Zuckerberg is fabulously rich and that Gates is 10 times richer than he is, I just don’t see how that hurts anybody else. Now if they’re able to purchase political power with it then that’s bad. And that’s why libertarians want to strip away as much political power from the government as possible, so that even the rich won’t be able to get and use that kind of political power. David, Donald Trump seems to be very, goes after his enemies with a vengeance. And I’m curious of the Cato Institute with criticizing the president on whatever you might be criticizing him on, if that’s a concern to you and to Cato, as to what repercussions might come from that? Hey, we’ve been criticized by better presidents than him. I guess I would say, no, I don’t consciously think about that. In some sense, we joke. I did a Tweet today. I sure hope the president sees it and attacks me. Because hey, you wanna sell more of my book? If only Donald Trump would attack my book, that would be a great thing. However, the style of politics that involves constant insults and punching down. Because after all, if you’re the president of the united states, pretty much anybody you’re punching at is punching down. I think is very bad for civility and our social discourse, and our political discourse. So I think all of that is bad. And there are people who could be hurt by this kind of attack, more than I think Cato would. Yes, if the president attacked, well, I’m not worried about the president attacking us. Now there are things a president could do. For instance, this president has had a remarkable number of private meetings with the head of the independent US Postal Service. Most presidents go eight years without ever meeting the head of the US Postal Service. Why has Trump had numerous meetings? Because he wants the Postal Service to screw Amazon, because the chief stockholder of Amazon is also separately and independently, the owner of the Washington Post. Amazon doesn’t own the Washington Post. Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post. And Trump has repeatedly said, “I want the post office to hurt Amazon.” So there might be things like that. Some years ago, the chairman of the House rules committee gave a speech, saying organizations that support the legalization of drugs, like the Cato Institute, should have their tax exemptions taken away from them because they’re not serving the social good. Well, at one level I would have loved to have him try that, because the best thing an intellectual organization could get is a powerful Republican congressman trying to deprive us of our first amendment rights. And he would have lost. The point of view of more sober people at Cato was, “You don’t want your donors thinking “that their deductions may not be tax deductible. “Well, especially you don’t want foundations thinking that.” so we don’t want him to pursue this. But just in terms of our reputation it would have been a great thing. If the president decided in some way to use arms of the government, like the IRS, or for that matter, even the Immigration and Customs Service. He’s doing plenty of bad things with that. If he was capable of passing down word to ICE that anyone coming to the United States to attend a Cato conference should be turned away or their visas turned down, that would be a bad thing. I mean, it would be an evil thing but it would also be bad for us. Is would mean that we couldn’t have the world’s greatest scholars coming to our event, so that would be bad. Now I think he ought to cut back on the personal attacks. I’m not particularly afraid of a personal attack but using the various arms of a powerful government against any organization could actually hurt it. And that’s one reason you found a lot of corporations saying, “Oh yes, “we’re doing what the president wants. “We’re opening more jobs here.” Because they all had something to lose from an angry government. We don’t get government contracts or anything so we have less to lose. Thank you, so quick question for you. In full disclosure, gonna ask you to predict the future, so apologies in advance. But you spoke to the degradation of libertarian values and ideals within both the Republican and Democratic parties. Do you believe that, who do you believe, will essentially be the first to reclaim those values? Or do you believe it’ll be an independent third party, the Libertarian Party, or others? If that American consensus truly is in the middle it would seem to follow that it would be an attractive piece of the political pie to capture. Well you’d think it would. I did not think Donald Trump would run for president. I did not think he would make it as far as the New Hampshire primary. I did not think he would win any primaries. And I thought he would go down to a disastrous defeat. So I’ve stopped making predictions. I think one thing Trump does demonstrate, there’s an old saying in Hollywood, “Nobody knows anything.” That’s more true of politics than we realize. So I can make any prediction. And who knows? If it comes true, I’ll track down the tape of this and brag about it. I still think that there are more people who are or were in the Republican Party, who have some kind of ideological connection to these ideas than there are in the Democratic Party. But if we break it down by policy, Democrats are now more pro free trade than Republicans are. Democrats are also better on social tolerance. They’re better on war, although, I mean we had a Democratic president that got elected by campaigning against the war. And here we are, 10 years after that election, we’re in more wars than we were when he got elected. So while the Democratic populace is more anti war, it’s not clear that the Democratic political class actually is. The big problem is, well there’s a couple of big problems. One is the public choice problem, that every government program has a consitutency. And if it didn’t have one before, it was created, then it does. If you work at Harley-Davidson, then you really wanna keep those tariffs that keep foreign motorcycles expensive. If you own a subsidized farm, you know everything there is to know about how your congressman votes on the farm programs. If you’re on Social Security, you are a lot more likely to know whether Social Security benefits are being raised than if you’re not on Social Security. So every program has its’ defenders. And all the rest of us, generally, don’t know about all the programs that aren’t our special programs. So it’s very hard to break the iron triangle in Washington of the special interests, the agencies serving them, and the congressmen who are collecting campaign contributions to protect that agency. So that’s a big challenge. And another challenge of course is the general two party system. In other parties, if we had a political system more like that of Germany or France, we’d probably have five parties in the United States. Maybe we’d have a Conservative Party and a Liberal Party. We’d have a Libertarian Party. We’d probably have a Green Party. And we might have a Trumpist Party, that would be smaller than the Republican Party. There might always have been room for a party that was pro welfare, or at least pro middle class welfare, Social Security and Medicare, but also culturally conservative, whether that meant anti abortion, or anti gay, or white identity politics, or whatever. But because our political system pressures everybody to go into the two major parties, it can be hard for minority voice to get heard in there. So, the bottom line is I really don’t know. I don’t see, there are a lot of groups trying to create third parties, not just the Greens and the Libertarians, but No Labels and the Serve America movement. But there are real institutional reasons why we don’t have third parties in America. And I don’t think any of those groups can overcome that, which is why it’s hard for this broadly pro tolerance, pro free enterprise group to coalesce. Hi, my question’s on minority identity politics. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, my question’s on identity politics that you mentioned a little earlier. I was just wondering how influential do you think identity politics are? And do you think that is a danger that will influence the US in the future? Well, one thing I always tell conservatives when they complain about identity politics, is, You have to remember you know, that the sort of, original identity politics was that straight, white men had all the power. And they were not enthusiastic about women becoming equal, about black people, in particular, equal rights. And then it was kind of less of an issue but gay people not having equal rights. So the reason identity politics originally formed was black people came together to advocate for the rights they were being denied. So for a lot of libertarians even, and conservatives, if you say gay rights, they’ll say, “Why should gay people have rights? “Don’t individuals have rights? “Isn’t that all that matters?” Well yes, but black people were denied rights on the basis of their skin color. So of course they came together on the basis of their skin color to advocate for those rights. Gay people were denied rights on the basis of their sexual orientation so they came together that way, women similarly. The concern I think, is that having achieved much of what these groups wanted in terms of civil rights and civil liberties, the groups have sort of re-affied into an instance that your identity is who you are. Your racial identity, your sexual identity. And I think that can be detrimental because yes, we should be thinking of every person as an individual. You should not be a Republican just because you’re white. You should not be a Democrat just because you’re black. You should not be a leftist just because you’re gay. You should think for yourself. And if that’s where you end up, that’s fine. But I think there is this tendency to insist that identity is everything. There’s sort of a common theme of people standing up in public meetings like this and saying, “As a gay person, I take “offense at your remarks.” Well if your remarks were offensive, everyone should be offended not just the gay people and so on. So I think we’ve also gotten to a point where people want to be sensitive, they don’t want to be insensitive. Most people don’t want to be offensive. And they increasingly feel, and this is the whole political correctness argument. I do believe a lot of people feel you can’t say anything these days without fear of offending somebody. I read, today, that the big gay rights legal organization Lambda Legal is having a big internal fight because they say the HR people have mis-gendered a couple of employees in addressing them. Well I’m sure they didn’t mean to, this was an accident, they didn’t know, whatever. People come to feel that freedom of speech is threatened this way. Now, people who are out there saying that football players should be fired if they don’t stand for the national anthem or that people should lose their citizenship if they burn a flag, have no business presenting themselves as defenders of free speech. But there is a real freedom of speech issue, I think, on many campuses. And people do feel that general debate is not as open as it ought to be. And that’s where I think the danger is. And then, the other danger is that it might spark a backlash and an opposite identity politics. And that’s what we really don’t want is a war of identity politics. Hi there, this is in regards to education, when you were asked earlier, about how you deal with poor people and your ideas about it? And you had mentioned that you would first, you would want them to have access, or have access to an option, just like rich people would have an option. And I guess I had a couple of questions about it. My first question is, why then if they had an option, why would anybody not choose a better option? And how would that option be different than applying for financial aid or applying for scholarships, like we already have in the private school system here? And additionally wouldn’t it just make more sense for the existing schools we have, in the public school system to just be better? To get better? Obviously public schools in other areas have the ability to be better. There are public schools in areas that have more money that have shown that do have depth of education. That they can provide education for students that is just as good as private schools can provide. However in those low income areas, the schools are nothing, comparatively. So why, instead of just making other options for people why not just funnel more money into the school systems? Well, we have quadrupled the amount of money we spend on the public schools in about 40 years and they don’t appear to have gotten better. And we have been saying, for that whole 40 years, “Don’t give people options, just make “the public schools better.” That just doesn’t seem to have worked, to me. And we don’t expect that to work anywhere else. In the Soviet Union, you could go to any grocery store you wanted, but they were all bad because they were all run by a socialist system and that doesn’t do a very good job. In East Germany, the government produced automobiles. They produced the Trabant. In West Germany, so here you took, you took the same people, the same history, the same culture, the same language, drew a line down the middle and on one side they produced the Trabant. And on the other side they produced the Volkswagen, the BMW, the Audi, the Mercedes-Benz. World class automobiles at different price points. What’s the difference? The difference is that socialism doesn’t work and markets do work. And the one place, well that’s not the only place, postal service doesn’t work very well either and it’s also a government monopoly. Public school systems don’t work very well. Now, you’re right, there are schools that are better than others and yet here’s a question. If the good schools are better, and maybe they’ve even come up with innovations in how to do things, why aren’t those innovations being copied? In other businesses the big challenge for a lot of businesses is to keep their innovation secret so people don’t copy them. That’s why we have trade secrets and rules on who can come into factories and things. And yet in the schools, you can see what’s being done in this school or that school. And yet when something’s done well there’s not much copying going on. And I would argue it’s because markets work better than socialized monopolies, which is what the government schools are. The principal doesn’t have a big incentive. He will not get paid better if the kids do a better job. If you run the best pizzeria in town you will make more money than the other pizza makers. And you will open a second and a third pizzeria and then you will make even more money. And that’s a pretty good incentive system. But if you’re a principal of a low performing school or of a high performing school, you don’t make any more money just because your school is better. And in fact, if you had choice within the public system you might just get more people wanting to come to your school, which would be more of a hassle. Because it’s hard to accommodate them in a socialist system. I just don’t see how it’s even right to say to poor parents, “I know there’s “a Catholic school over here that looks better to you. “And there’s a private school here that looks better to you. “But you can’t go to those schools. “We insist that you go to the school “that we provide for you.” I just don’t see why that’s right, to begin with. Second, I don’t think it works. We have been talking about improving the schools, in the inner cities for at least 40 years and it doesn’t seem like it’s happening. Washington DC spends a ton of money, I used to know the statistics. It was definitely comparable to what suburban schools were spending and yet the schools were terrible. They have gotten better because Washington created liberal charter school rules. So we still don’t have very many real private schools but we do have charter schools, run through the government system but run independently. And test scores have gone up because of that. That’s the kind of competition I think would help. And I would just say to any poor family, “Look, if you’re happy with the school “your kid is going to, then under our new choice system “you don’t have to leave it, you can stay there. “but if you would like to go to a different school, “send your kid to a different school, “then you can do that.” And one thing that I think this would mean is that there would be more good schools spread around the city, rather than having them all on the other side of town, which can be hard to get to with transportation and everything. Part of my libertarianism is, when I was doing radio shows about the book, one of the things I would say is, “Libertarianism is the idea “that adult individuals have the right “and the responsibility to make the important decisions “about their own lives. And that can mean what to smoke, what to eat, who to marry. But it ought to include how your children are going to be educated. You just oughta have the right to decide. And the way we can do that is take all this money that we’re collecting and basically put that money in the hands of parents to spend at the school they want to. It can be their local school down the street, the public school. Can be a Catholic school, a afro centric school, a Wal-Mart school. I would love to see people with the talent of Walton and Zuckerberg get into the business of running schools. Who knows what innovations we could have? Every form of information transfer in our society has been totally revolutionized in my lifetime. Maybe not quite in your lifetime. But in less than my lifetime, except for two. The postal service and the schools. And we figured out a way to just go around the postal service. When I was young, boy, it was exciting to get mail. Now, do you even get any mail? College students, even professors, you don’t get any mail, right? You email people your papers and your journals and things like that. That’s the kind of revolutionary transfer I would like to see in the schools. And we’re not gonna see it until we empower families. Unfortunately, that’s all the time we have for questions. Please join me in thanking David Boaz. (audience applauds) Thank you all.

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