Back in the 1980s, I had an opportunity to convert Ted Cruz to libertarianism. It’s a sad confession to make but, yes, I failed to do so.
My opportunity to convert Cruz arose back in the 1980s when he was a high-school student in Houston. At that time I was a lawyer practicing law in Dallas. By this time, I had become passionately interested in libertarianism, and after making some inquiries, I learned that the head of the economics department at the University of Dallas, Sam Bostaph, was an Austrian economist. So, I approached Sam and retained him to give me a one-on-one tutorial in Austrian economics. Sam thought it best to begin with Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations and so we did a chapter-by-chapter analysis of that book. We then proceeded on to John Stuart Mill, David Ricardo, and the 19th-century classical economists.
After working our way through the Austrian economist Carl Menger’s Principles of Economics, Sam said to me, “I love taking your money but I have just hired a professor that is the most knowledgeable person of your age group on Austrian economics. His name is Richard Ebeling and so I’m turning you over to him to continue your tutorial on Austrian economics.”
Richard and I went to lunch and we struck a mutually satisfactory arrangement. Each week, we did a chapter by chapter study and analysis of Ludwig von Mises’ magnum opus Human Action, followed by lunch at a nearby Mexican restaurant, where I would do the treating. Today Richard points out that he had the best of all deals — talking about Austrian economics and getting a free lunch to boot.
As a hobby, I organized two free-market programs in Dallas: One was a monthly discussion group that I named the Mont Dallas Society, after the free-market Mont Pelerin Society. There were several Austrian and free-market academic types in the Dallas area who participated in our monthly meetings — people like Gerald O’Driscoll, Peter Lewin, Sam Bostaph, Gary Short, Genie Short, William Hutt, Richard Ebeling, and me. On Sam’s invitation, I myself began teaching a course in law and economics at the University of Dallas. Each month the members of the Mont Dallas Society would get together and discuss a presentation made by one of the members.
I also organized a free-market speaker’s series that featured out-of-town speakers who would give free-market talks in both Dallas and Houston. I had a good friend in Houston, Paige Moore, who organized and coordinated the Houston part of the program. I had met Paige some years before when she attended a FEE seminar that I put together in my hometown of Laredo, Texas, where I was living and practicing law at the time.
As part of her free-market activity in Houston, Paige became actively involved with an organization called the Free Enterprise Education Center, which was founded and run by a man named Rolland Storey.
Rolland was one of the nicest and friendliest people you could ever meet. By this time, he had retired as an executive from an oil company and was devoting his life to teaching young people and schoolteachers about the principles of free enterprise. As such, he would find young people who were interesting in learning about free-market economics and then nurture them and point them in the direction of books, seminars, and other resources.
Rolland’s prized student was Ted Cruz, who Rolland said was a brilliant student and a star high school debater. Rolland had high hopes that Cruz would one day become an ardent proponent of free-market economics.
As a result of my working with Paige on our Dallas-Houston program, I came to know Rolland and we became good friends. He invited both Richard and me to speak at his summer conferences for schoolteachers. I can’t say for certain that Cruz was there at those conferences when Richard and I were speaking but he certainly might have been there serving as one of Rolland’s student interns helping run the conference.
Like many free-market proponents, Rolland was a combination conservative-libertarian. As such, the speakers he invited to speak at his summer teachers’ conferences consisted of both conservative free-market types and libertarian free-market types.
Richard and I were among the libertarian speakers. Needless to say, the two of us presented the pure, unabashed case for the free market, which necessarily consisted of the repeal and dismantling of the entire welfare state, including income taxation, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Federal Reserve, immigration controls, trade restrictions, drug laws, farm subsidies, and even public schooling (which, surprisingly, didn’t seem to shock the audience, which mostly consisted of public schoolteachers, many of whom had already attended previous conferences put on by Rolland).
The conservative speakers, needless to say, inevitably called for reform, not abolition, of the welfare state. Like conservatives of today, they accepted the premises of the welfare state and advocated free-market “reforms” that they said would fix the system.
Based how Cruz has turned out, it’s clear that if he was in the room when Ebeling and I gave our talks, we had absolutely no impact on him. While he periodically mentions Mises and Hayek on the campaign trail, like other conservatives he is an unabashed supporter of Social Security, Medicare, public schooling, the drug war, immigration controls, and the rest of the welfare state. Oh sure, he no doubt favors the standard conservative reforms — such as school vouchers, Medical IRAs, Social Security “privatization,” income-tax reform, and the like — but he, like other conservatives, is firmly committed to preserving and reforming the welfare-state way of life.
In fact, I find it amusing that Cruz is reaching out to Christians for political support given his firm belief in the welfare state, which necessarily entails a grave violation of God’s gift of free by forcing everyone to share his money with others through the coercive apparatus of the IRS and the welfare state.
Where we clearly did not have any effect on him was with the drug war and immigration. Like other conservatives, Cruz is ardently committed to continue waging these two decades-long federal wars, notwithstanding their manifest failure and the death, destruction, violence, suffering, and decimation of freedom they have wrought.
Back in the 1980s, Richard and I focused on economic principles rather than foreign policy. That’s too bad because maybe, just maybe, if Cruz had been exposed as a student to libertarian principles on foreign policy, he wouldn’t be the war-mongering, bomb-them-all imperialist and interventionist crusader that he is today.
Richard went on to Hillsdale College, where he became the Ludwig von Mises Professor of Economics. I went on The Foundation for Economic Education, where I served as program director from 1987-1989. I then left FEE to found The Future of Freedom Foundation, where Richard served as vice-president of academic affairs for some 15 years. Richard later became president of FEE and today serves as the BB& Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Free Enterprise Leadership. Today, he and I also co-host FFF’s Internet show The Libertarian Angle.
Ted Cruz went on to become a U.S. Senator from Texas, which I’m sure Rolland Storey would be pleased with.
I’m really sorry for doing such a sorry job converting Ted Cruz to libertarianism. But hey, as any Texan will tell you, you can lead a horse to water, but you sure can’t make him drink.