I just returned from Charleston, South Carolina, which has got to be one of the nicest and most unique cities in the world. If you are ever close to Charleston, don’t pass it up. You’ll feel like you just got transported back to both revolutionary times and the Civil War era.
I was in Charleston to deliver a speech (read it here) on Monday evening to a private discussion club named The Charleston Meeting, which is organized and hosted by a man named Mallory Factor, a businessman and political activist and author of a New York Times bestselling book entitled Shadowbosses: Government Unions Control America and Rob Taxpayers Blind. The monthly meeting draws around 240 people, most of whom are conservatives. At this particular meeting there was a waiting list of another 260 people.
We began the evening with a pre-event discussion session that was organized by an FFF supporter. It consisted of around 15 people. The topic was libertarianism and I led the discussion. It was an awesome session, with discussion, debate, and arguments breaking out almost immediately! In fact, there were so many interesting points that were raised during this session that I thought I would address some of them during this week’s blog posts because I think they reflect the types of concerns that the citizenry at large have libertarianism.
After that session, which lasted about 45 minutes, the general meeting began. The structure of the program is interesting. Admission is by invitation only and it’s free. Each speaker has 7 minutes to deliver his remarks, which is strictly enforced. Each speaker then fields 2 or 3 questions from the audience. The other speakers were U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C), Congressman Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), Congressman-elect Mark Sanford, Jim Capretta (American Enterprise Institute), Alex Nowrasteh (Cato Institute), Ken Abramowitz (New York financial planner), and Mark Mix (Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation).
After the general session, a group consisting of secondary sponsors (people who have donated a certain amount of money to the club) has a social hour with the speakers. Then, a group consisting of primary sponsors (bigger donations to the club) adjourns to a room for a very nice dinner and discussion. Everyone is seated around a large rectangular table and people make comments on different subjects while everyone is having dinner. The two big subjects were health care and immigration, but there was also some discussion of foreign policy.
It was an awesome evening. Intellectual stimulation and enjoyment do not get much better than that.
With respect to the pre-event discussion session, let me first make clear that most of the people who participated were conservatives, not libertarians. Some of them, in fact, exhibited some antipathy toward libertarianism in their questions and comments. I loved it because that provides for more spontaneity and gets everyone revved up during the discussion.
After the session was over, a guy slipped a napkin in my hand and said for me to read it later. I slipped it into my pocket and read it later that night when I returned to my hotel room. It made a very profound point. What he said on that napkin was this: “Every question posed to you was based on fear. The libertarian movement will only truly move forward when we undo the ravages of the current system’s fear and indoctrination. That’s why those college kids are libertarian. No kid is afraid.”
I pondered that point on the way home. I think he hits the nail on the head. I think older Americans, by and large, live their lives filled with fear, especially fear of freedom and free markets.
I thought of the widely used phrase that is used to justify the welfare state: that it serves as a “safety net.” That’s an interesting and revealing phrase. I tried to figure out what people have in mind when they use it. I immediately thought of a high-wire act or a trapeze act, where the actors are walking or flying many feet above the ground. If they fall, they’ll die or be severely injured. So, most of them use a “safety net” just in case they do fall.
But then I remembered that there is another phrase that welfare-state advocates use with “safety net”—to prevent people from “falling through the cracks.” So, I tried to figure out what they are imagining when they say that. I imagined a rope bridge with separated slats that spanned a deep gorge. If someone misses a slat, he falls through the opening to his death hundreds of feet below.
So, that’s how many older people view freedom and free markets— as extremely dangerous things that can bring death and injury to people but for a welfare and regulatory “safety net” provided by government.
Consider, for example, one of the specific subjects that we discussed—healthcare. I told the group that the only solution to the never-ending healthcare crises was to repeal, not reform, Medicare and Medicaid. That idea clearly shocks people who have never before considered it. They have come to believe that Medicare and Medicaid are now a permanent part of American life. Everyone is supposed to devote his life to coming up with reforms in a desperate attempt to finally make this 50-year-old failed, socialist program work.
Because people are so accustomed to Medicare and Medicaid, they simply cannot imagine life without them. They fear that without these two socialist programs, seniors and poor people would die in the streets. They’re honestly convinced that there has to be a government “safety net” to ensure that people won’t “fall through the cracks” and die.
I pointed out that I grew up in Laredo, Texas, which the Census Bureau declared was the poorest city in the United States. Before Medicare and Medicaid, doctors’ offices were filled with poor people, and none of the doctors ever turned any of them away, even though many people couldn’t afford to pay for their services. The doctors were still among the wealthiest people in town, second only to the oilmen in Laredo. The doctors made lots of money from the middle class in the community and felt it was their moral duty to provide free medical care to the poor.
What the welfare state has done is inculcate in the older generation a mindset of governmental dependency—a mindset that is certain that if government doesn’t provide socialist programs, a free-market system will inevitably bring death to people. The idea is that people cannot be trusted to do the right thing. And neither can the free market, which consists of people peacefully interacting with each other.
Thus, one of the big challenges we face as libertarians is how to get older people to overcome their fear of freedom—to believe in themselves and others—to see that freedom and the free market not only would bring into existence the greatest healthcare system ever but also one that would most benefit the poor, the elderly, and everyone else. Most important, it would be a critically important step toward restoring a free society to our land.
As the guy who wrote on that napkin pointed out, one of the keys to achieving a free society lies with those college students who are increasingly self-identifying as libertarians. They’re not scared of anything. And they have the potential of helping their parents and grandparents overcome their fears, reject socialism, and embrace economic liberty, free markets, and a free society.