Last week I went on a speaking tour in Phoenix and had an absolutely great time sharing ideas on liberty with diverse audiences. The first talk was to the Young Americans for Liberty chapter at Arizona State University. My topic was “The Evil of the National Security State.” I gave the audience a history of how the national-security state — i.e., the Pentagon, CIA, and NSA — became a part of the federal government — and the most powerful part at that. I then showed why the conversion of the federal government to a national security state was the worst mistake in the history of our country. I showed that people who want a genuinely free society must make a choice — between freedom and a national-security state. It’s either one or the other because a national security state is contrary to the principles of a free society. It’s no surprise that China, North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba are all national-security states. What is surprising is that the United States is a national-security state too.
My second talk was to a private libertarian discussion group called the Anderson Read Group, named after a man named Chet Anderson and Leonard Read, the founder of The Foundation for Economic Education, who was a big influence on many members of the group (and on me as well). Chet, who I met back when I was program director at FEE in the late 1980s, was a longtime libertarian who had run a discussion club in Milwaukee, where he had previously lived and worked. He was a good friend of a man named Bill Law, who owned and ran a company in Milwaukee called Cudahy Tanning Company.
In the late 1970s, I attended a summer seminar at FEE in which Bill gave a talk on free trade, which impressed me so much that I invited him to participate in a FEE seminar that I organized in my hometown of Laredo, Texas. Bill and I became good friends and remained so until he passed away several years ago. To give you an idea of what type of libertarian he was, when competition from Japanese companies was causing enormous financial losses for Cudahy Tanning Company, Bill nonetheless stood steadfastly and publicly against any economic protectionism against the Japanese competition.
Bill and Chet, who is also now deceased, ran the Milwaukee libertarian discussion club. After Chet retired, he moved to Phoenix, where he organized a new discussion group. Meeting month after month, the club ended up with what might well be the most knowledgeable and deep thinking libertarian group in the country. Consisting of about 30-40 members, it’s still going strong. It’s obviously not easy to give a talk to a group of people who have a deep understanding about libertarianism and Austrian economics. What I did was challenge them with anti-gradualism, showing how libertarian support of things like school vouchers, Social Security privatization, healthcare IRAs, and reform of the national-security state will never get us the free society for which we libertarians yearn and, in fact, actually impede that effort. Standing for immediate repeal of all welfare-warfare programs, I told them, is the only way to achieve a free society because it causes people to challenge the legitimacy of the welfare-warfare state way of life at a fundamental level. The talk was well received, which was not surprising given that these are hard-core libertarians who have studied and discussed libertarianism for a very long time. During the discussion session, the moderator called on each person in the audience to ask a question or make comment. It was one high-level discussion period!
My third and fourth talks were to two economics classes at Arizona State University that consisted of about 225 sophomores in each class who were non-economics majors. I set forth a proposition in each class, which I compared to the concept of freedom of religion. I said: Let’s separate economy and the state and charity and the state, like we have with church and state. I then set forth 4 applications of this proposition and explained each one: The repeal of Social Security, Medicare, and all other welfare programs; the end of the drug war; the repeal of minimum wage laws; and the abolition of border controls.
I spoke for about 30 minutes and then I opened it up for 45 minutes of discussion. I was pleasantly amazed and impressed at the high level of questions and comments in both classes. It was clear that most of them had never been exposed to libertarianism before and it was equally clear that they were carefully listening and processing what I had to say. Most important, they were thinking. Whenever I speak to an audience like this — that is, an audience where I am not “preaching to the choir” — my objective is not to persuade or seek agreement but rather just to get students to think. I figure if I can get them to think, they’ll figure it all out on their own. The discussion period was filled with interesting and challenging questions and comments. Several students came up to me afterward and said, “I don’t agree with everything but I just want to thank you for what you said and for making us think about things we’ve never thought about before.” That was a real high!
Thanks to longtime libertarians David Dorn, Roy Miller, and ASU Professor Nancy Roberts for putting all these talks together. I had a great time over there talking about ideas on liberty! Until we meet again….