Wednesday, August 13, 2014

On Libertarianism and Republicans

[From the President's Address to the members and guests of the Southern California Republican Women and Men, April 26, 2014, by
Howard Hyde:]

Today our meeting competes with the California State Convention of the Young Americans for Liberty at USC and coincidentally, my talk today is about Libertarianism and Republicans. I did not know about that event before I planned my presentation. I don't pretend to know anything in detail about that organization, but I do know something about Libertarianism from my own perspective, and with just enough serendipity today I hope to make a positive contribution to the discussion.

People sometimes ask me if I am a Liberarian, to which I reply, well, yes, I have some libertarian tendencies, but it's not like I have a meth lab in my Winnebago or anything. To clarify, I say that when I am elected President of the United States, Ron Paul will be my Czar in charge of the decommissioning of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, The Community Reinvestment Act, Dodd-Frank, Sarbanes-Oxley, Section 1706 of the 1986 Tax Equity and Fairness Reform Act or TEFRA, and the Fed. On the other hand, as it pertains to foreign policy and geo-politics, my nominations for Ambassador to the United Nations and Secretaries of Defense and State are, in no particular order, John Bolton, John Bolton and John Bolton. In the unlikely event that Mr. Bolton is unequal to all three commissions simultaneously, my alternates are Allen West and Benjamin Netanyahu (it shouldn't be difficult to procure a credible birth certificate for Ben, considering precedent).

Almost half of the attendees of CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference) were under the age of 26, and a plurality of these are libertarians or members of the liberty caucus. This is an international movement of youth who have opened their eyes and realized that as a generation they have been screwed by the collectivist members of their parent's generation, and are determined to do something about it. In libertarianism they see the solution.

Is this good or bad for Americans in general and Republicans in particular? In my opinion it is on balance very good, with the caveat that like anything else, the thing needs to understood by all at a greater than sophomoric level, or, like anything else again, it could just as easily lead to catastrophe.

So, what exactly is libertarianism? What do we need to understand about it?
The modern libertarian movement has its roots in the Austrian School of economics, which began in the late 19th century with Carl Menger and reached its apogee in the works of Friedrich Hayek (Nobel Laureate) and his mentor Ludwig Von Mises, whose 93-year lifespan overlapped with Menger's from 1881 until 1973, after Nixon had declared that "we're all Keynseyans now." (Come to think of it, that's probably what killed him.)

Like classical liberalism and modern American conservatism, libertarianism holds that the best model for political economy is that characterized by the most limited interference in the decisions of citizens, low taxes and light to no regulation beyond preventing and punishing murder, assault, robbery, theft, fraud, rape, persecution and conspiracy. Conservatives may call this being guided by the Ten Commandments; Libertarians might consider it plain common secular sense.
The Austrian school was the most radically minimalist in its view of the appropriate role of government, and that minimalism was taken to its radical extreme in the work of Mises' disciple Murray Rothbard, who posited that government wasn't even necessary for police and defense, as these services could be bought and sold on the free market just like bread and haircuts.

In 1963 Rothbard wrote a book on the Great Depression that I consider one of two absolutely required reading for anyone wanting to know just how President Franklin Delano Roosevelt did NOT save the country from the Great Depression but rather worsened the crisis, and how Herbert Hoover was no free-market, laissez-faire pro-capitalist president; the other required reading being Jude Wanniski's (of Wall Street Journal fame) How the World Works. In the same book Rothbard also wrote the most clearly articulated presentation of Austrian business cycle theory (or the theory of booms, busts and crashes), a theory to which the financial crisis of 2008 fits like a textbook case.

The two dominant branches of Libertarianism in America today are represented by the Cato Institute on the one hand, based in Washington D.C. and focused on practical, policy-oriented research and lobbying, and the Mises Institute on the other, deliberately based away from the centers of power in Auburn Alabama in order to remain more purely focused on theory and academic freedom. While Murray Rothbard and the Mises Institute's president Lew Rockwell have carried Mises's theoretical torch forward in many ways admirably, in many other cases they have made assertions that Mises never did and probably never would have, and have done so dogmatically and intolerantly.

My infatuation with Rothbard ended abruptly when I read the op-Ed piece that he had written at the conclusion of the Reagan Administration. "Eight years, eight dreary, miserable, mind-numbing years of the Age of Reagan, are at long last coming to an end." he groaned in a piece titled 'Ronald Reagan, an Autopsy' -- fifteen years before the Gipper's actual passing. It was a littany of accusations worse than Thomas Jefferson's indictments of King George III in the Declaration of Independence. Nancy Pelosi could not have penned a more bitter diatribe. The only thing Rothbard gave credit to Reagan for was lifting the 55 mph federal highway speed limit.

Now, Ron Paul is derived from Rothbard, and in many respects in a good way. It was Rothbard who first penned the academic The Case Against the Fed from which Paul's more populist End the Fed is derived. I am mostly in agreement with these positions on domestic economic issues, as is John Allison, current president of the Cato Institute, bank president for 25 years and author of The Financial Crisis and the Free-Market Cure.

So again, while I am wary of extremists of any stripe, my only quarrel with Libertarianism as such is the role and character of America's diplomacy and armed forces in the world; on the latter I stand firmly with Ronald Reagan. Otherwise I look forward to the day when we'll say that "We're all (conservative) libertarians now". That's much better than being all Keynseyans, or progressives, or all socialists. Maybe the young people can help us bring that about.

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