I'm hanging out here at the appointed time to discuss any of my recent books or articles, history, foreign travels, liberty and character, Real Heroes, think tank management or anything else on your mind.
1. What's the biggest fish you ever caught? Do you have pictures?
2. I've heard you're a movie buff. What's your favorite movie and why?
A small tarpon off the channels around Naples, Florida was the biggest. I’ll attach a picture. They get far bigger than the one I caught but it fought like crazy and took me 15 minutes to bring in. Threw him back to catch later when he’s much bigger, which really is my custom anyway, almost 100% of the time. Wish I had a dollar for every bass, trout, snook, catfish, carp, redfish, pompano, tripletail, ladyfish, bluegill, etc that I’ve ever caught. By the way, years ago it occurred to me that fishing, which I love, and socialism, which I detest, have a few things in common: First you offer something for nothing to the gullible and unsuspecting. Then you hook ‘em. Then you reel ‘em in. Then you eat ‘em.” --- Sorry, I just tried to load an image of the tarpon here but it won't "take."
For 50 years, I said it was “The Sound of Music” because of the huge effect it had on me as a 13-year-old (https://fee.org/articles/the-sound-of-freedom/). But I have to say that since the 2012 version of “Les Miserables” came out (Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Eddie Redmayne, etc), that’s now my favorite. Aside from the fantastic music, I love the message of both the novel and the film—integrity, honesty, forgiveness, redemption, love, compassion, even resistance to a corrupt State. It’s all there, in one movie.
Since you sent it to me separately, I'll attach it here:
You've recently experienced both ends of the spectrum concerning college activism: you've been booed by hostile audiences and given standing ovations by sympathetic crowds. Having seen both sides, what do you think the future holds for college campuses? How can students protect the most vulnerable populations of their student bodies from hate speech without infringing on free speech?
I think the current spasm of crazy, politically-correct stuff and snowflakism will pass and may even be peaking out now, but maybe I’m overly optimistic. I just can’t believe that this reprehensible behavior isn’t a big turnoff to large numbers of college alumni, donors, and students who just want a good education with a job at the end of it. And I’m excited about the innovative alternatives to traditional bricks-and-mortar college that are springing up, such as Praxis. Meantime, everybody needs to back off, practice a tolerant, “live and let live” approach and know when to simply turn the other cheek.
I've noticed that your writing is always easy and enjoyable to read, no matter what the subject may be. Do you have any tips on how to write about complex subjects and ideas effectively, yet not intimidate readers?
Thanks! When I write, the last thing I have in mind is a desire to impress anybody with my writing. So I don’t go out of my way to make it high-brow, esoteric or loaded with words most readers have never heard of. What’s on my mind is simply, “How can I communicate this thought to a broad audience?” That makes it flow naturally and easily, as if I’m in a conversation with someone. And when I’ve finished a draft, I go back over it and try to read it as if I’m in the shoes of the audience. That’s when I find myself breaking up long sentences, condensing excessive verbiage, breaking up paragraphs and making sure they begin with a thesis sentence, etc. I also read a lot, especially history and biography. As I do that, I try to be alert to what makes for good writing and make a mental note of it. Having edited a lot of studies and commentaries during my years at the Mackinac Center (and then editing student essays as a professor before that), my own writing benefited greatly as a result. Finally, there are some good books on the market that offer many useful tips; if you type “good writing” into Amazon.com, for instance, you will find many. The very first one that comes up is a bestseller by William Zinsser, and I strongly recommend it.
thank you for your time and devotion
1. Do your beliefs about God/religion inform your politcal philosophy? Or is it the reverse? Or do you consider them completely distinct and discrete?
2. Many libertarian organizations (FEE included) denounce the typical college route and call for, or endorse, alternative education and career paths - yet, these same organizations seem to favor students and graduates of traditional universities when it comes to funding, scholarships. hiring, resources, etc. Can you explain this?
3. Are there any major and particular changes you hope to see within the liberty movement? Corrections you hope will be made?
4. Can we expect another volumn of Real Heroes to be published in the next few years? Further, can we expect you to publish your own memoirs and story?
In one sense, yes, my views of God and Christianity do inform my political philosophy: Those beliefs prompt me to prioritize my values in the world around us, including politics and government. Specifically, they prompt me to elevate truth to the highest pedestal. Other values my Christian beliefs inform my political thinking include peace and non-aggression; doing unto others what I’d want others to do unto me; supporting political/social/economic arrangements that maximize wealth creation and minimize theft, envy and redistribution. My essay, “Was Jesus a Socialist?” might be useful in further addressing this question: https://fee.org/resources/rendering-unto-caesar-was-jesus-a-socialist/.
Regarding your second question: I can’t speak for other organizations but I don’t believe we at FEE practice such bias. We have had many employees and interns who were or are still involved in alternative education paths, such as homeschooling, Praxis (http://discoverpraxis.com/), etc. Nonetheless, I will undertake an internal discussion with colleagues at FEE to look into ways we might even be more inviting to those involved in such alternatives. We support the idea of alternatives immensely. In an effort to explain why perhaps there is still some resistance elsewhere to these alternatives, let me say there’s always some inertia that must be overcome when new things come along. Some people are more ready to embrace change than others who take a “wait-and-see” attitude.
I would love to see more emphasis within the movement to the importance of culture, and more to the point, to the personal character that forms the very basis of culture. This is critical to us at FEE, and always has been. It’s what our founder Leonard Read was referring to when he talked about the importance of “self-improvement.”
I would love to do another Real Heroes volume. It’s one of half a dozen ideas for “the next book” that I’ve been mulling over. My biggest problem is time, with my job requiring me to be on the road so much for speaking and fundraising. As to my own “memoirs,” a number of people have suggested that to me over the years but honestly, I cringe a bit at the thought. I would much rather talk and write about the great things other people have done than to engage in such self-focused stuff.
Having studied the Great Depression, would you venture an opinion on this claim that we have depression-proofed our economy? And what is your general instinct concerning the claims that an inflationary crash could be our fate?
The claim that our economy could ever be "depression-proofed" is, I think, totally spurious. First of all, nobody knows the future and depressions have a way of coming upon us from time to time without more than a handful of people even suspecting one. Secondly, the primary cause, at least of "cyclical" depressions, is still very much with us--namely, government manipulation and mismanagement of money and credit. I see no reason from the standpoint of economic science or historical experience to make the claim that governments--notorious for their harmful interventions--have somehow discovered how to prevent depressions in the future. And as to whether an inflationary crash is in our future: I just don't know. I certainly understand the case for expecting there to be a lot more price inflation, stemming of course from government expansion of money and credit, but I also would not underestimate the ability of government to screw things up in the other direction too, producing a deflationary collapse as it did in the 1930s.
What do you think is the most surprising thing about millenial culture?
To me, the most surprising POSITIVE thing about millennial culture is its embrace of technology and the sharing economy. That's been more robust than I expected. It speaks well of the future of personal independence and entrepreneurial attitudes, I hope. The most surprising NEGATIVE thing I've observed is still, I think, characteristic of a minority of millennials but it's the embrace of political correctness and hyper-sensitivity.
What have you found to be the most effective one-sentence explanation of your philosophical beliefs?
Wow, a one-sentence description! Well, here goes. My philosophical beliefs can be summarized this way: I believe that each and every individual is extraordinarily unique; that to be fully human, each person must be free to be himself, which means he therefore must be given the broadest latitude to live his life as he sees fit, without limiting in any way the same right of others to live their lives as they see fit, and without sacrificing the elements of personal character essential to the good life.
Who is your favorite business entrepreneur?
My personal favorite business entrepreneur of all time would be John D. Rockefeller. He was a massive wealth creator and America's first billionaire. He built a vast, worldwide enterprise from scratch. And I believe that almost all of the attacks on his person and reputation were unfounded and rooted in all the wrong motives, from envy to stupidity.
Of all your writings (books, essays, articles), which one...
1) was the most enjoyable to write at the time? Why?
2) do you think helped spread the message of liberty the most?
The most enjoyable of all the books I've written was my most recent ones, Real Heroes. That's because I had to read some great biographies of some truly inspiring people as part of the research process. If I had to pick an article that I most enjoyed writing, I suppose it would be "Great Myths of the Great Depression" because I love to poke holes in harmful misconceptions. The idea that capitalism caused the Depression and the notion that Roosevelt saved us from it are notoriously error-filled as well as popular. I think my essay has helped to correct the record.
Which of my writings has helped to spread the message of liberty the most? I think the Great Depression essay probably ranks first, in part because it's been published in various editions (each one longer the previous one) for 35 years now. Maybe a close second would be the various versions I've written of an essay on lessons from ancient Rome. Both have been widely translated into other languages. I suppose close behind might be my "Seven Principles of Sound Policy," which over the past 20 years has appeared in at least 15 languages around the world.
If you were a wild animal what would you be and why?
IF I were a wild animal?? What makes you think I'm not?! Ha! That's a fascinating question. Maybe if you ask me again in an hour I'll have a different answer but what comes to mind at the moment is a giraffe. It would be nice to be tall for a change, and I like the idea of being able to see what's coming from a long ways away. Plus I think giraffes have great, peaceful dispositions. I have actually fed them in Kenya and felt like I could have spent all day with them. A close second would be an orangutan. I had breakfast with one of them in Singapore. They're hilarious. I couldn't quit laughing at it.
Do you think that the fact that the tax burden is being shifted more and more to the rich and that the government is being expected to furnish more and more services is a consequence of the fact that there are far more less-rich voters than rich voters? If so, would the voter bias toward wealth transfer be alleviated by making the value of Social Security dependent on national economic growth?
I think you have a good point there. About half of the American people now don't pay income tax. Now don't get me wrong, I'm no friend of the income tax and would abolish it in an instant if I could. But I also believe that if you don't have a personal stake in whatever the tax system is, you're thereby incentivized to support higher taxes on others and more goodies for yourself (at the expense of others). As to your question about Social Security, I think the tweak your question suggests might have some merit but I am far more interested in removing government altogether from the retirement business. It's such a raw deal for younger people, especially. Keep the promises it's made to people over, say, 50 years of age but free up younger people to save for themselves in far better investment vehicles. The last bunch of people I would want to put in charge of your (or my) retirement are politicians.
Given the stance of Brexit vis via Europe , and the stance from North Korea , what do you think is the future of world economic intergration in this age of nationalism?
I think globalization (in terms of economics) is largely here to stay and it's a good thing. When governments allow peaceful people to move, invest, start businesses, buy and sell wherever and with whomever they choose, the result is invariably more growth, wealth and opportunity. Globalization has already, provably, lifted a couple billion people out of poverty. It's threatened, however, by such things as protectionism and breast-beating nationalism. I am a firm believer in American exceptionalism historically but we've been exceptional precisely because we usually have avoided the things that have made most countries in history so mundane and UNexceptional--things like walling themselves off or crippling the freedoms of their own people. So while I have no desire for ceding political authority to any other world body, I love the notion of freer trade and the economic integration that flows from trade. Even though progress in that direction may be three steps forward, two steps backward, I welcome the freedom to engage in economic commerce with just about anybody and everybody.
Many of my peers seem to believe that free trade and imports from China in particular are "unfair" and harmful to the United States economy. You have already written several wonderful articles defending free trade and economic liberty - thank you for that! And yet, as a justification for keeping tariffs on China, they say they have not found one online article or resource that specifically advocates for eliminating all US tariffs on just China. Would you mind writing or directing my attention to an article specifically recommending the unilateral abolition of tariffs on China? Such an article would be SO helpful in defending free trade and our liberty. Thank you so much sir!
I'll put that on my list! If I don't write it myself, I may be able to find a link to one. In fact, I'll bet somewhere in our vast FEE.org archives, we may have already published such an article. If you email me at [email protected]
FYI, I just took a moment to use the search engine at FEE.org. I typed in the words, unilateral free trade, and it produced quite a few pieces. Give that a try!
You fly all over the world for work. Where would you suggest first-time world travelers start their own travels?
That's a tough one! I've been to 83 countries, some a half dozen times or more. There's not a one that I wouldn't want to go back to. If you're interested in history, I would recommend Britain, starting in London. I've taken groups of students or friends over there many times and conducted my own history tours there. I never get tired of that in Britain, where the history of liberty is so extensive and interesting. If you're interested in adventure sports and natural beauty, I would recommend New Zealand, especially the south island. If you want to experience culture shock (in a very positive way), I recommend Mongolia because it's so different and fascinating in endless ways. I also absolutely love Poland and the Czech Republic, the former for its history and people and the latter for its rich music and concerts on practically every block (in Prague).
Jefferson said "The Natural Progression of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground". It's difficult today to imagine a scenario where this pattern actually reverses. In your opinion, what has to happen to indicate perhaps we are headed for a time where liberty actually gains ground and govenrment yields?
Even though the historical instances of a reversal are few in number, even if a reversal had NEVER happened before, it wouldn't make me a pessimist. There are such examples in history and in any event, there's nothing inherent in the notion that says it can't occur in the future. It all depends, I think, on how successful and effective those who believe in liberty can be in making its case. No question, we have the force of logic, reason, evidence and experience on our side (the liberty side). We just have to get ever better at using the best tools available (including technology) and the right persuasive strategies to reach more people with the message. We have to live what we preach too, so we can each be the best possible examples for what it is we're trying to get others to embrace.
Let me add, too, that big turning points in history have almost always occurred through the confluence of ideas, events and personalities that align unexpectedly. And they have almost always been unpredictable but in hindsight, it's apparent that they were really not accidents. The fall of communism in Europe, for example, was the result of much underground or behind-the-scenes work on the part of good people, plus the very public constellation of events and personalities in the 1980s.
If you could remove one person from history (either altogether or at a specific point in their life), who would it be and why? What do you think the consequences would be?
Best president/worst president?
I chuckled when I saw your use of the word "remove." Never thought of myself as a historical hit man! Ha! The first name that comes to mind is Lenin. He was unadulterated evil and because he was so critical, if not indispensable, to the advent of the Bolshevik regime in Russia, he set into motion some of the most dreadful and far-reaching tragedies of the 20th Century. Without him, perhaps there wouldn't have been a USSR, which enslaved hundreds of millions of people.
Best president? I've always had a tough time settling on just one. I can give you a short list of the best ones, but keep in mind that even in my own thinking they sort of bounce around within my list of the very best. So here they are in no particular order: Grover Cleveland (https://fee.org/resources/grover-cleveland-one-of-americas-greatest-presidents/); John Tyler; Calvin Coolidge; James Madison; Ronald Reagan.
Worst president? I'm comfortable saying that Woodrow Wilson was the worst. But among the next-worst I would include Franklin Roosevelt and Barack Obama.
Thanks for your time and your answers so far!
A question on think tanks in the developing world:
You know much about different think tanks and the challenges of growing them, fundraising, etc. You also know much about other cultures, and perhaps something about the very different challenges faced by liberty-promoting organizations outisde of America, e.g. countries like Venezuella in South America, or countries in southern Africa.
Do you know of any reliable books or other resources that specifically address such challenges in those foreign contexts?
Great to meet you in Grand Rapids yesterday, Antoine! Thanks for this question. No particular book comes to mind, which is not to say one hasn't been written. I will refer you to the Atlas Network, which you can access here: www.atlasnetwork.org. Their site includes a directory of free market think tanks all over the world. I would shoot them a note with your question; if it falls through the cracks, let me know and I'll connect you with someone specific. If such a book exists, they would certainly know. I would guess that visiting the web sites of some of the organizations in their online directory might also turn up some pieces on this subject. From my own experience with many of these groups around the world, I can say that some of the problems they have to deal with are: cultures that are less philanthropic that we have in the U.S., so the idea of giving to a think tank requires a lot more persuasion; the usual obstacles that big government puts in their way in terms of access to media and the freedom to critique what government is doing; the task of think tank management. I mention the last item because many think tanks are started by well-meaning and even brilliant academics but they're not experts in everything and what often suffers from the start is good business management, strategic planning and effective marketing. Lots of people like me at FEE, or Tom Palmer at Atlas, are attempting to assist in this regard.
I just found this on line, though I haven't read or analyzed anything on the site, nor am I familiar with the organization. I share it here because it just might be helpful: https://onthinktanks.org/articles/mobilising-domestic-funding-for-think-tanks-in-developing-countries-a-way-forward/
You are a terrific role model for young people. Thanks for all you do .
Very kind of you, Martin. Many thanks!