Harry Browne's Journal

September 23, 2004

Staying the Course: Tonight in San Francisco I attended a banquet celebrating the 25th birthday of the Pacific Research Institute (an organization I have assumed to be somewhat libertarian) and honoring Milton Friedman on the 50th anniversary of the publication of his Capitalism and Freedom.

The evening began as expected with PRI's President referring to the organization's work in promoting freedom. But then she read a congratulatory message from President Bush, and I knew we were in trouble. In his message, Bush claimed to be a devotee of Milton Friedman, which is sort of like Adolf Hitler claiming to be a fan of Moses and Abraham. (Oops! There I go — mentioning Bush and Hitler in the same paragraph again.)

After the President's message, we got to see a video of Arnold Schwarzenegger praising Friedman and telling us what a great country America is. I'm not sure how Milton Friedman feels about a Governor eliminating his state's budget deficit by borrowing money, but at least the subject didn't come up in the video — and so no one had to be embarrassed by it.

Next came the best part of the evening — a very tasty steak dinner.

After dinner, George Schultz, Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State and Secretary of the Treasury, made a few remarks praising Mr. Friedman for helping the Reagan administration manage the enormous debts it was running up.

And then came the featured speaker — George Will.

Mr. Will is a surprisingly articulate public speaker, something I hadn't known before. But he used his talents to deliver a 45-minute campaign speech for George W. Bush.

The thrust of his speech was that Bush's second term was going to be all milk and honey — that Bush's domestic achievements in his second term would be comparable to his foreign policy achievements in his first term. Four years from now, we'll have a federal voucher program allowing poor and middle-class children to have real "choice" in education, we'll have the freedom to invest privately part of one's compulsory Social Security tax, and we'll have private health accounts.

He finished by telling us how much freer America is today than it was 50 years ago when Friedman's book was published, and how we're finally on the way to an even freer country.

As the audience applauded enthusiastically at least once every minute or so, I sat there feeling like Fidel Castro at the Republican National Convention. I didn't applaud — not even at the end. I would have gladly shown appreciation for George Will's speaking ability, but of course it would have been misinterpreted as an endorsement of Will's ridiculous contentions. You can imagine how I felt being one of only a half-dozen people who didn't stand and applaud among an audience of over 500 people.

In the first place, school vouchers don't promote choice — just the opposite. Once private schools are addicted to receiving federal aid through voucher students, they will have no choice but to go along with every new rule imposed from Washington. Do the Republicans really believe that the people who can't stop imposing their way on government schools are going to refrain from imposing their way on private schools — once private schools are hooked on federal aid? Right now, parents do have the "choice" of looking for private schools that are different from government schools. Once the politicians get done with "school choice," there will no longer be a difference, and thus no longer any choice whatsoever.

In the second place, the Social Security tax proposal is another hook. You'll get to invest only 2% of the 15% Social Security levy in ways of your own "choice." But here again, do you really think they'll let you invest that money in anything you want? There are bound to be very strict rules (as there are with IRAs and other federal programs). You'll be able to invest your 2% only in investments run by the people with the most political influence. As always, turn a financial, medical, military, commercial, or scientific matter over to the government and it is transformed immediately into a political issue — to be decided by whoever has the most political influence. And that will never be you or I.

(For a look at real Social Security reform, see "Free to Plan a Secure Retirement.")

I can't comment on the private health accounts, as I don't really know anything about them. But as for the other two achievements to come, I guess they really will be comparable to Bush's foreign policy achievements in his first term.

When the evening's festivities were over, a man at my table asked me what I thought of Will's speech. I didn't bother raising my objections to vouchers and bogus Social Security reform, but instead replied, "He didn't explain why George Bush didn't do any of those things in his first term."

"I guess he'd say that Bush didn't have the mandate he'll have now" was the answer.

I said, "Republicans never seem to run out of excuses for not doing what they say they're going to do."

He seemed to think about that for a moment, and then said, "I guess everyone here is excusing George Bush."

I was shocked. Here was someone who had been applauding as much as anyone during the speech — and now he was apparently acknowledging that Republicans make excuses for not doing anything to expand freedom.

To me, this was a good example of the point in continuing to push our libertarian views. No one is moved from 0 to 60 with a single one-liner. What we hope for with each thrust is that whoever hears us will be moved from where he is now to somewhere a tad closer. That is, a confirmed socialist will doubt his religion just slightly, a middle-of-the-roader will take liberty a little more seriously, a liberty-talker might become a bit more of a liberty-doer, and so on.

And it's just possible that tonight a libertarian who thought George Bush was the lesser of two evils began to recognize just what it means to support evil.

I don't know who the man was. But he probably was quite well off, as it seemed to be a very affluent audience (I was a guest of some wealthy friends). For all I know, he may be an influential person.

My point is that you never know who is hearing what you say, and you never know what it might mean to move that person a few inches in our direction. It might help a very important person cross the line that transforms him into a highly useful libertarian activist.

September 20, 2004

I'm traveling this week, and so there will be no updates. However, I'll resume on Sunday, September 26, and I'll have a lot to say.

September 16, 2004

Traveling in a Free Country: If you travel much, you'll be happy to know that the Transportation Security Agency is going to make it even more fun. According to a brand new press release, passengers will now be required to remove their jackets and coats before going through metal detectors, people can be pulled out for "secondary screening" (pat-downs and extended searches) even if the metal detectors don't detect anything, and new technologies are being tested in order to discover explosives and other contraband being smuggled through by passengers heading for vacations in Hawaii.

Government schools: My article "Education for All" has triggered a few concerns about my claims.

"You attributed the drop in the literacy rate to the rise of public schools. I think this is somewhat inaccurate."

No, I simply pointed out that literacy was higher before there were government schools — in answer to the claim that poor children wouldn't get an education if we shut down the government schools. Showing that literacy was close to universal among non-slaves before the Civil War seems to rebut the idea that poor children wouldn't get an education.

"Take for example Japan, they have a literacy rate of 99%, and 99% of all children go to public schools ( see http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761566679_3/Japan.html ). Many other nations are the same way."

Japan's school system is highly touted. However, I have never investigated the system myself (and I doubt that those who tout it have done so either). During the 1970s and early 1980s, Japan supposedly was so strong economically that it was going to pretty much take over the world. Its regimented industry and close government-business "partnership" were given the credit for its great success. Then in the late 1980s, something seemed to go wrong, the economy crashed, and we no longer hear about its economic miracle.

I would be surprised if that weren't also true of Japan's educational system.

When I went to government schools in the 1940s (needless to say, I must have graduated from high school at age 5), I learned to read well, write somewhat well, understand history and geography, and do algebra — even though I was an unconscientious student who rarely did homework. This, I think, was a testament to the state of schooling then.

However, what is overlooked is what I learned in addition. I also was taught to be a good citizen, look to government to solve all social problems, believe in the United Nations, and revere Franklin Roosevelt — among other ideas that I had to unlearn later in life. I imagine that Japanese children get similar brain-washing.

"I do not believe that the problem with the literacy rate in and of itself is due to public schools in general, but more so due to a change in the importance placed on learning, and the culture in general in the United States. I believe it can be shown that back in the early to mid 1800's, the reason the literacy rate was so high was because most parents made reading the bible mandatory. As time went on and our culture changed, the importance parents placed on different aspects of religion (such as learning to read the bible) diminished."

Whether or not that's true, the point is unchanged: government schools are not necessary in order to have universal education. Neither should we believe that private schools would be inferior. In fact, everything we know about the performance of the free market and the performance of government programs tells us that an end to government schools would elevate the educational level of American children considerably. In addition, the schools would be much less expensive than government schools and much less given to government brain-washing.

Another reader refers to John Paul Gatto's observations on the decline of literacy in the 20th century:

"The period he analyzes, from the 1930s to the present, also corresponds to the rise of the broadcast media. Prior to the introduction of the radio, the only way to connect to people outside of your immediate community was to read. If you wanted to know what was happening in the world, particularly if you were in a relatively isolated farming community, you had to read. This was a tremendous impetus to students, as he notes in the close of the section entitled "Name Sounds, Not Things":

"With the introduction of widespread radio broadcasting in the 1920s and 30s, you could get your news and entertainment read to you by a broadcaster somewhere else. Suddenly it was no longer necessary to learn to read to get the "delights" that Gatto mentions. Television made things even worse, and actually inhibits the process of learning to read.

"A century ago, the process of learning to read became a form of entertainment in itself. That was the only way that children were going to be able to fulfill the impulse to seek entertainment, and became the means in which they interacted with the stories and narratives that enrich our lives.

"Now, for each consecutive generation of children, learning to read becomes an ever more irritating distraction from the more favored activity of watching television. No level of literacy whatsoever is required to watch a sitcom, as the only meaningful text you'll ever see on the screen during prime-time is in the commercials."

This may be so, but it doesn't change the points I was trying to make:

• An end to government schools would not deprive poor children of education.

• An end to any government program is bound to improve the relevant situation, and government schools are no exception.

September 12, 2004

The cost of war: On Friday, speaking at the National Press Club, Donald Rumsfeld said once again that, while he regretted the lives lost in Iraq, he believes the cost was worth it.

What cost?

How much has the war cost Donald Rumsfeld?

Did he lose his life in Iraq?

Does he have children or grandchildren who died in Iraq?

Just exactly what has it cost him?

If the answer is nothing, as I'm sure it is, he is in no position to weigh the cost because he hasn't paid any cost. Only those who have lost loved ones can answer the question as to whether the cost is worth whatever dubious benefits Rumsfeld thinks the war has brought to us.

In a similar way, Madeline Albright (Clinton's Secretary of State) decided that the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children was a price worth paying in order to maintain the sanctions that prevented food and medicines from reaching Iraq during the 1990s. On May 12, 1996, on 60 Minutes, Lesley Stahl asked her, "We have heard that a half a million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. Is the price worth it?" Albright responded by saying, "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it."

Since human life is so expendable, I guess this means that the people in the Bush administration believe that the 3,000 lives lost on 9/11 were a price worth paying in order to continue the American foreign policy of ruling the world. Otherwise, they would change their foreign policy to the more humble one that George Bush promised in his 2000 presidential campaign.

September 11, 2004

The So-called War on Terror: On this anniversary of 9/11, I invite you to read the article I wrote on that day in 2001, published the following day. At the end of the article, there are links to three succeeding articles in the series.

Goebbels & Miller: My article, "Goebbels Rallies the People,"  provoked some criticisms. Since I believe the critics have touched on points that have wider implications, some of them are reprinted below — together with my responses.

"Comparing Zell Miller to a Nazi is disgusting. . . . I must have missed the part in Zell Miller's speech where he advocated rounding up members of certain ethnic groups and putting them in death camps."

If you heard a speech by Hitler or Goebbels in 1939 or 1940, you would "have missed the part . . . where he advocated rounding up members of certain ethnic groups and putting them in death camps." Do you think Hitler or Goebbels would have said in a speech, "Oh, incidentally, we're planning to exterminate all the Jews, Poles, homosexuals, and cripples"?

The mistake is in comparing Adolf Hitler after 12 years in power with George Bush after 4 years in power. After 4 years as Chancellor, Hitler was still hailed as a great leader — not just by Germans, but by many Americans, British, and others around the world. He was praised for restoring hope and energy to the German people. Even Franklin Roosevelt admired some of his methods. And yet, it was those very methods by which he restored hope and energy to the German people that led to the death camps.

But you're right: it's a mistake to equate Hitler and Bush. Their records are different. After 4 years in power, Hitler hadn't invaded a single country. George Bush has already invaded two.

"Please think twice before posting a lengthy "quote" that links Nazis to Americans, and only stating afterward that it was made up. It does not help our credibility as Libertarians."

It wasn't made up. The words were Zell Miller's. He was praising America's Fόhrer in the same way Goebbels used to praise Germany's Fόhrer.

As to our credibility: this country is in real trouble. We don't help anything by tip-toeing around the problems. If more people had spoken up the day after 9/11, we might have avoided the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. By not calling attention to the direction in which this country is headed, we allow it to happen. I'm sorry you don't see it that way.

I also received this mash note:

"You know what. You're an old fart and you don't know s**t about anything.

"You don't like it here, you think we're arrogant? Get the f**k out. Go live somewhere that loves to listen to American music. OK? We don't need a liberal dirt bag like you here (and by the way we don't need any more liberal radio hosts — LOOSER!!!) You know d**k about the way of the world. . . . 

"Your are a t**d my friend, get out. Get out now.

"You know what old f**t. You back your family members NO MATTER WHAT in times of trouble. PERIOD. Your country IS YOUR EXTENDED FAMILY. IN TIMES OF TROUBLE----------YOU BACK YOUR NATION UP!!!!!!!!!!!!! Simple isn't it? You want to cry about how s***ty our country is IN TIMES OF PEEEEEEEAAAAAAACCCCCEEEE, go right ahead, just like you can argue with you family, IN TIMES OF PEACE. . . . 

"WE ARE AT WAR AND NO DENEGRATION OF OUR LEADERS OUGHT TO BE TOLERATED. You all had your chance before this s**t started, you are doing NO GOOD NOW.

"get out, please, please..............GET THE F**K OUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Is it something I said?

September 7, 2004

Limited government vs. anarchy: It seems to me that a lot of time is wasted by libertarians who argue whether it's possible to have a society without any government at all.

What's the point?

Right now, we're $2.3 trillion away from no government, and about $2.2 trillion away from limited government.

That means that until we trim $2.2 trillion from the federal budget, the issue of limited government vs. anarchy is moot. I can only presume that both sides would be pleased as punch (and then some) to reduce the federal government by $2.2 trillion. So that's what we all should be working toward as the first goal.

If we can get the federal government down to $100 billion, I'll lead a drive to raise the money necessary to rent the New Orleans SuperDome for three months — so we can all get together and argue over how much further the federal government should be reduced.

Those who want no government at all can continue working to reduce the size of government. Those who want limited government can fight to keep the federal government at $100 billion — or work to reduce it slightly more — or even work to increase it slightly.

But none of it is relevant until we reduce the government dramatically from where it is now.

As to the question of whether a society without government is possible, today we try to answer it with limited knowledge. If we can ever make government very small, we will undoubtedly find that plenty of people — people with more creativity and imagination than we have — will find it profitable to devise ways to do things privately and voluntarily that today seem possible only through government. Until those creative people have an incentive to put their minds to the question, we're contemplating the issue without knowing all the possibilities.

But so what? The question is moot.

In the meantime, there are two things we know for sure:

• Government is force, and we want to reduce the use of force to the absolute minimum.

• Government doesn't work, and so we want to remove as many activities as possible from government.

And no matter which side of the limited government vs. anarchy you're on, when someone asks you what size libertarians think the government should be, you can answer:

"Libertarians want to reduce government to the absolute minimum possible, and we can't really know what size that is until we get there.

"In the meantime, don't you agree that government is way too big, way too powerful, way too intrusive, and way too expensive?

"If so, please help us reduce it to the absolute minimum possible."

September 2, 2004

The Republican Convention: Not being a masochist, I haven't been watching the Republican convention that cost the taxpayers $14 million.

But very, very late Tuesday night I happened to surf onto Fox TV News while some convention news was being repeated on a talk show. I saw and heard some remarkable statements.

Rush Limbaugh, in a telephone interview, said "America was minding its own business before 9/11."

What an amazing assertion!

Is Mr. "Excellence in Broadcasting" unaware of the CIA's overthrow of the Iranian government in 1953, installing the brutal Shah? Is he oblivious to American interference in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua, and El Salvador? Did he sleep through the Marines' landing in Lebanon in the early 1980s — the troops stationed in Mecca — the support for Israel — the money given to brutal dictators in Pakistan and other countries — the 140 countries getting money from the U.S. Government — the intervention in Somalia — the bombing of Serbia — the Drug War offensive in Colombia — the kidnapping of the Panamanian President — the aiding of Suharto's slaughter of tens of thousands of Indonesians and Timorese — the support for Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran — the war against the same Hussein in 1991?

Is he unaware that the U.S. government has 702 military bases in over a hundred foreign nations?

How in the world could anyone say "America was minding its own business before 9/11"?

On the show I watched, Rudolf Giuliani was referred to as "everybody's mayor." And Rush Limbaugh calls him "the nation's mayor." Giuliani happened to be the mayor in New York City on 9/11, said he supported the police and firefighters (who wouldn't have done so?) and showed up at funerals. And he's been dining out on it ever since — earning a reported $100,000 a speech since then. Being "everybody's mayor" apparently has its perks.

Laura Bush said she had seen her husband anguishing over his decisions. I guess it never occurred to her or her husband that we'd prefer that he not make so many decisions — but instead let people decide for themselves what they want to do with their lives. (Of course, when George Bush gives his speech Thursday night, he'll tell us how Republicans believe in people keeping their own money and making their own decisions.)

Arnold Schwarzenegger apparently was a big hit with the delegates. Plans are afoot to promote a constitutional amendment to remove the requirement that the President be a native-born American — so that Schwarzenegger can run for President. If anything shows what a bunch of non-principled, empty-headed whores the Republicans have become, that's it. Here's a man who has no discernible political principles but much popularity — a man who "eliminated the California deficit" by borrowing more money. Yes, let's run him for President in 2008, so the Republicans can keep the White House.

And all those scenes of people parading around, holding up placards and repeating slogans that someone thinks might sound good. I try to believe that most Americans aren't stupid. And I still think that. But, unfortunately, there exists a small minority of idiots who have sold their souls to political parties.

This is your brain. This is your brain on politics [sizzle].

Winning the War on Terrorism: After George Bush said last Saturday that he didn't think we could actually win the war on terror, the Democrats jumped on the remark. Bush's handlers evidently prodded him to retract the statement.

So on Tuesday he said:

In this different kind of war, we may never sit down at a peace table. But make no mistake about it, we are winning, and we will win. (Applause.) We will win by staying on the offensive. We will win by spreading liberty.

However, NBC News did a study of terrorist attacks and found that "we" aren't winning the war on terrorism after all. Between September 11, 2001, and the end of 2003 — a period of 26½ months, there were 1,220 terrorist attacks worldwide — an average of 42 per month. But in the first 8 months of this year, there have already been 1,709 such attacks — an average of 213 per month. So the attacks are increasing, not diminishing.

It would be interesting to know by what standard Mr. Bush thinks "we are winning" the War on Terrorism.

Oh, I just figured it out. George Bush is President. George Bush is a Republican. Thus we must be winning the War on Terrorism.

This is your brain . . .

August 2004 Journal                    October 2004 Journal

 

 

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