Our Libertarian Angle program last evening at the University of South Carolina was another great time, especially in terms of audience discussion about libertarian principles.
I began my conversation with Sheldon by pointing out that conservatives and liberals are perpetually involved in a game of reform, one in which they are always trying to come up with ways to fix the myriad problems and crises produced by the welfare-warfare state way of life that they have foisted upon us in the name of “freedom and free enterprise and keeping us safe.”
Libertarians, on the other hand, aren’t interested in fixing or reforming the welfare state or the warfare state. We want to dismantle it since we are interested in achieving a free society.
Sheldon, not surprisingly, agreed with me! He pointed out though that our job as libertarians is a challenging one since most people lack the understanding of how the market process operates and also lack confidence in freedom and a free people.
I pointed out another big problem we face: given that everyone is born and raised in a welfare-warfare state and then is inculcated with the notion that Americans live in a free society, all too many people come to believe that the welfare-warfare state is a necessary part of a free society. Some of them are even thankful for the “freedom” to be taken care of by the welfare state and thankful for being kept “safe” by the warfare state from enemies that the warfare state produces.
After our half-hour conversation, the audience discussion period was as lively and energized as it has been in our other venues this week. Once again, there was a mix of both students and non-students and also a mix of students who were obviously well-versed in libertarian principles and others who were there to see what libertarianism is all about. All this made for a great discussion.
One student, who later told me that she is new to libertarianism, asked two very interesting and important questions. First, given that many of America’s economic problems were owing to deregulation, how could we say that economic liberty would make things better and, second, what do libertarians say is the legitimate role of government in a free society.
Sheldon tackled the first question, and I tackled the second. Sheldon pointed out that it’s the statist system itself that causes the problems, which statists then inevitably blame on too much freedom. He pointed to the housing debacle as an example. The government produced the crisis with its policies to induce people to buy homes, such as artificially low interest rates and risky loans. Then, when the bubble burst, statists blamed the crisis on “free enterprise” or insufficient regulation, when in fact it was interventionism that caused the problem in the first place.
Answering the second question, I said that there was an interesting split within libertarianism that has produced some fascinating arguments and debates. On the one side are those who favor limited government, in which case there are three legitimate functions of government: to protect people from violent people (murderers, rapists, burglars, thieves, etc.), to provide a judiciary by which people can peacefully resolve their disputes through civil litigation, and to protect the country in the event of an invasion (which doesn’t entail an enormous military empire). On the other side are those who favor no government, a way of life that relies on private, competing police forces, courts, and armies.
One student asked about child labor, and that launched a discussion into the Industrial Revolution. I pointed out that the reason that men sent spouses and children into the factories was because that was the only way to save them from starvation, given the horrific poverty that existed at that time. Sheldon pointed out that as standards of living began to rise and the husband was able to earn sufficient money to support his family, that enabled wives and children to stay at home. I also recommended the great book Capitalism and the Historians by Friedrich Hayek, the libertarian economist who won the Nobel Prize in economics.
Another student asked an interesting question about immigration and nationalism, which launched a discussion about open immigration and free trade and what it genuinely means to be free and to live in a free country.
While most of the discussion revolved around economics, Sheldon and I, needless to say, also emphasized how the national-security state—i.e., the NSA, the CIA, and the vast military empire and military industrial complex—is antithetical to a free society and that to achieve a free society, it is necessary to dismantle it along with the welfare state.
I concluded the evening by making the point that freedom in our time is in fact possible, notwithstanding the enormous welfare-warfare state under which we live. I pointed out that ideas on liberty are among the most powerful forces in the universe and that each of the students can make a huge difference in helping us to achieve the free society in the near term. No matter how deeply ingrained the welfare-warfare state way of life is in American life, nothing is inevitable, I said. If statists could foist their statism on our land, we can do the same with libertarianism.
Thanks to the Young Americans for Liberty at USC for putting the event together and promoting it. The auditorium worked great and the audience discussion was awesome!
So, now it’s on to the final stop on our Libertarian Angle tour—North Carolina State in Raleigh, this evening, Friday, November 8, from 7-9 pm, Riddick Hall, Room 301. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll join us and bring some friends for what is likely to be another really enjoyable intellectual discussion of liberty.