Thursday, February 19, 2009

Advocating in non-libertarian forums

I’m on a list-serve that is based on my high school graduating class. From time to time we get into political arguments. One of those who is active is my friend, Mark Smith, from my same graduating class who also happens to be a libertarian. Lately we have been talking about Lincoln and Thomas DiLorenzo’s books on him exposing Lincoln for the tyrant he was. The discussion has degraded to the point where Bill M. implied that DiLorenzo was a racist via a guilt-by-association with “The League of the South.” Finally Phil Pienkos chimed in with the following:

I've been watching this line of conversation with great interest, though the threats to punch Phil Harte in the nose were a little alarming. I kept thinking Bill would forget which Phil he was talking about and I stayed up nights waiting for a knock at the door.

To a certain extent, I understand Phil's frustration with a long history of criticism of the US from some on this page, but I think he missed the point. Clearly, the willingness to criticize vociferously while remaining a US citizen implies either laziness or an inherent appreciation for some underlying national characteristics. The criticism is meant to call to mind aspects that need improvement. In Bill's case, that is fairly clear. He was opposed to the actions of the Bush administration and congressional enablers and is optimistic that the Obama administration is trying to set things right. I tend to share that assessment. But it's not so clear in Mark and Ken's case. Both Ken and Mark work very hard to read about local and national politics and dig deeper into many issues to inform their opinions. I mostly stay out of these discussions because I can't match the depth of my knowledge on most of these topics with the rest of you.

But consistent criticism implies (at least to me) that there is something worth improving. I don't believe that either Mark or Ken are anarchists, and so they believe that a political system of some sort is worth having. I'd like to hear their views on the positive aspects of this country and how their libertarian views could make things better in a real way. I think that Phil was also looking for something like that, but the conversation got sidetracked with threats of fisticuffs and lobotomies.


Here is my response to Phil.


Thanks for checking in. I’ve actually wanted to write something along the lines of your request for a while. Since I don’t have the time it requires at this time, I will attempt to give you a “Reader’s Digest” version.

I grew up in the government school system firmly believing in the ideals of America expressed to us in the classroom. Individual freedom and personal responsibility, entrepreneurial spirit, the American inventors, the special nature of the founding of our nation and what the founding fathers did to bring it about.

I was excited and fascinated about what made Americans “special.” I read books on Patrick Henry, Thomas Paine and the “Swamp Fox of the Revolution,” Francis Marion, on whose life the movie, “The Patriot”, was made. The first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence always fascinated me. I guess I even fantasized about being a revolutionary patriot at the founding of our country. Many people have told me that I was born in the wrong century.

By the time I graduated college from the U of I in economics, I was starting to think that the American ideals I read about came up short in reality. But I really had no idea to what extent that was true until I started my painting business full time. The school of hard-knocks reality hit me pretty hard. The taxation and regulation imposed on Americans–from my perspective, especially on small businessmen, seemed to run contrary to what our founding fathers had pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor. After one season, I hit a winter downturn and had time to read a book recommended to me while standing in line during commencement exercises the previous year, “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand. Reading that book changed my life. She revealed to me what I had believed about freedom as a kid in the primary grades , but was gradually, subsequently “educated” away from my thought processes since. And page after page read as the headlines of the day. It was February of 1976. Rand finished writing the book in 1956 and I was amazed about how much this Russian emigre had foretold.

A jolt of vitality struck me. My thirst for knowledge the next four years was inexorable. One book led to another. In those four years I received for the first time, truly, a real education, not the stuff of so much boredom in the formal schooling I had received.

I discovered that my area of major, in economics, that was fed to me in Champaign, was even more a pack of nonsense than I had realized. I remember going over and over again the Keynesian “multiplier” theorem, based on mathematical calculations and thinking that it just didn’t make any sense. The theorem is the basis for what Obama is doing right now. The idea that you can create wealth just by printing money in order to spur “pent up” demand. Through my reading I discovered “Austrian” economics, true free market economics that had a real formal scholarly basis to it, with its most celebrated advocate, Ludwig von Mises, as the head of the movement, who, if one reads his writings, must conclude was a true genius. And one of Mises’ students, F. A. Hayek, actually received the Nobel Prize in economics.

Austrian economics clearly showed the flaw in the reasoning of Keynes–that you can create wealth out of thin air. The discipline showed that it was savings and investment that created wealth, and consumption was the result of such wealth creation, not the cause. It made perfect sense and all the fancy math that had befuddled me all those years I now knew was just economic alchemy.

So those four years I absorbed this rich field of libertarian education that has a depth not understood by those who haven’t traveled the path Mark and I have. Now, before anyone accuses me of narrowing my educational factors, remember that I had almost a whole lifetime indoctrinated from an opposite viewpoint of the libertarian philosophy, which can be summed up in one phrase. “I do not believe in or advocate the initiation of force or fraud to achieve social or political goals.” There is a lot of controversy around what this statement means. It does mean that one has the right to self defense. It does mean that free adults should be able to do what ever they wish as long as they don’t infringe on that equal right on others. Or as William Allen White once said, “Liberty is the only thing you can not have unless you are willing to give it to others.”

Government, by nature has a monopoly on the use of force. It may be a necessary evil, but since it has this monopoly, it must be restricted as much as possible, so that it’s only legitimate function is to protect the natural rights of freedom of its constituents. That is why Jefferson stated that government is “bound by the chains of the Constitution.”

Well, unfortunately, a long time ago, government has burst those chains, and by the way, Lincoln was the main culprit.

So what is my vision? That of a cooperative society that trades freely, a countless millions of positive-sum-game transactions between people in the free market place. Where the cooperation turns into coercion, government is there with police and a court system to resolve those disputes. What government should never do is create zero sum games that take from one individual or group and give it to another individual or group.

Are there flaws to the libertarian system? Of course, because we are all human. Is it the best system to foster freedom and prosperity for the greatest number? In my mind, absolutely.

I understand that this country has been living under a different paradigm for a long time. It is very difficult to get people to see a different vision if they have been living their own “Truman Shows” all of their lives.

So it takes education and a lot of it to achieve the new paradigm of true freedom. It probably won’t happen in my lifetime, but for the same reason many of our parents sacrificed their own dreams for the benefit of their children, I have devoted most of my life to educate, advocate and activate for a system of life that I think is the only system worth living in–a life of self direction maximizing the potential of every individual in pursuing his or her dreams to its greatest potential, where reason triumphs over force, where initiative triumphs over dependency, where cooperation triumphs over compulsion.

Phil Harte implies that I am merely jousting at windmills. He is entitled to his opinion but I do take heart in the fact that I am able to inspire some people to fight for freedom. Within the last two months I was introduced to two individuals, one about the age of thirty, the other about the age of twenty, both of whom, when they discovered that I was the person involved in the seatbelt fight, considered me a hero. Now, I don’t consider myself a hero, but it sure did make me feel good that I am able to inspire others of a younger age to continue the fight for freedom. It makes it all worth it.