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He Was a Middle-School Loan Shark – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

He Was a Middle-School Loan Shark – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker
******************************

It came out in passing last night, in discussions with a smart 17-year old, that he got in deep trouble in middle school. He was accused of loan sharking, and forced to do detention.

See if you think there is anything wrong with what he did.

The middle-school cafeteria had candy machines. Every candy cost a dollar. My friend carried extra ones with him. He would buy candy, and immediately people would ask if he could loan them money. He did. More and more people asked. He continued to loan people money, and only some would pay him back. His charity was losing him money.

So he had an idea. He would loan anyone a dollar. However, the next day they had to pay him two dollars. This was great because it weeded out people who were not serious about their candy needs, and got rid of those who had no intention of paying him back. His idea helped to ration his scarce resources. It had the additional advantage of making him some money, which incentivized him to make funds available.

Everyone was happy. He made money. They got their candy. Most everyone paid him back. If he began the week with $5, he ended the week with $10. This was nice. No one was hurt.

If a person was late in paying, he added an additional dollar for each day. Otherwise, why would people pay sooner rather than later? So if you borrowed one dollar on Monday, and didn’t pay until Friday, you would owe $5.

Of course he did have to start keeping books on who borrowed from him. He would sometimes have to hunt them down the next day. Sometimes people need gentle reminders, of course. Mostly people paid.

He was also rather merciful. Once a person got behind by three full weeks. She technically owed $15 on a $1 loan. He came to her and said, “let’s settle this debt today. I’ll take $10 and we can call it even.” She was relieved and happily paid.

My friend was making lots of money. And why? Because many students wanted candy and failed to make the proper financial preparations to purchase it. He was there to facilitate an exchange. They would get candy now, which is what they wanted, and he would be rewarded for anticipating their desires.

So far, I see nothing wrong with this at all.

However, you could express this in more severe terms. People often criticized payday loans for charging an annual percentage rate of 100-700%. Scandalous, right?

Well, think about the rate my friend was charging. It turns out to be 26,000%, based on $1 per weekday.

Keep in mind that we are talking about a 13-year old kid here. This is not exactly a member of the Medici banking family here. He was just trying to help people with a two-party win.

But as his financial holdings grew, and his practices became more formalized, his business became ever more lucrative. That’s when news of his empire began to leak to teachers and parents.

Predictably, there was mass outrage. He was hauled in and accused of “loan sharking.” There was a trial. He was declared guilty. He was put on detention and humiliated publicly.

Once he was out of the picture, kids no longer had any means of getting financing for their candy fixes. They just stood in front of the machines staring blankly. It’s hard to see how the overall middle-school economy was improved by this crackdown.

The response of the parents and teachers was a typical example of mob behavior against intelligent capitalist practices. It’s been going on for hundreds of years, particularly hurting people who make money with their minds through financial savvy.

This was the basis of anti-Semitism from the Middles Ages through the Nazi period, since, as Milton Friedman has explained, Jews have traditionally specialized in the enterprise of money-lending.

And it goes on today, with all the frenzy against usury, payday loans, pawn shops, and so on. Even the Occupy movement sampled some of this populist outrage against money-making.

Damnant quod non intellegunt. They condemn what they do not understand.

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education. He is also Chief Liberty Officer and founder of Liberty.me, Distinguished Honorary Member of Mises Brazil, research fellow at the Acton Institute, policy adviser of the Heartland Institute, founder of the CryptoCurrency Conference, member of the editorial board of the Molinari Review, an advisor to the blockchain application builder Factom, and author of five books. He has written 150 introductions to books and many thousands of articles appearing in the scholarly and popular press.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

Kicking Out the Coders Is Not a Good Way to Reform Immigration – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Kicking Out the Coders Is Not a Good Way to Reform Immigration – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker
******************************

Coding is a job you just can’t fake. Your stuff either works or it doesn’t. You can either do the job or you can’t. So ranking people according to skill is much easier. It’s a profession that is intensely competitive, and clearly not for everyone.

I can remember so well sitting around the lunch table with some employees at Google’s headquarters. Forty-five minutes in, everyone started getting antsy to get back to work. In the blink of an eye, they disappeared to get back to their desks. They are profoundly aware that performance is everything, and other great performers are ready to displace them at anytime.

Because the US is the world center of digital tech development, the demand for high-level coders has never been higher. Companies who employ workers don’t give a flying fig about your nationality. They want your talent now, from wherever you hail.

The Way In

US immigration policy has long accommodated this demand through a program called the H1-B, which pertains to skilled workers. The program permits 65,000 people with a college degree, and 20,000 with higher-level training, to work in the US for three years, during which time they can apply for green-card status. It is a harrowing life for those chosen, but it is better than being on the rejection list.

Each year more than a quarter of a million people from abroad file applications, some as thick as six inches. The chances of getting picked are good enough to keep hopes high but bad enough so that no one banks on getting in. And guess who picks the winners? It’s a lottery. A computer.

The whole system is ridiculously irrational, cruel, and self defeating, even if you believe in an America First immigration policy. Denying talented people jobs, infringing on the rights of businesses to hire whom they want, is an innovation killer. It causes the US to lose its competitive advantage, lowers economic growth, and denies all of us access to cool innovations that would otherwise make our lives better.

Even for the many critics of immigration, this program should pass muster. These people are not security risks. They aren’t going on welfare. They have the strongest possible incentive to acculturate, obey the law, and contribute mightily to American enterprise. What’s not to like?

The Way Out

So, yes, the program needs dramatic reform: it should be expanded many times over. However, the worst way to reform it is to restrict the program. In fact that seems unthinkable. And yet, we are learning with the Trump administration that nothing is unthinkable. Restricting the number of coders who have access to the H1-B program is exactly what the government is doing right now.

In recent days, immigration authorities announced a seemingly small change in what applications will be considered valid. No longer will coding be considered a “specialty occupation.” Further, the Justice Department announced that it will be conducting close investigations of tech companies that rely on the H1-B program for its coders. They are looking to make sure that companies are not denying Americans jobs in the search for quality candidates.

On the first point, this is a completely arbitrary administrative change, enacted without any Congressional vote or public comment. It’s the very embodiment of an independent bureaucracy run amok and acquiescing to political pressure from the regime in power. As for the investigations, here is a clear example of a hard truth: restrictions on immigration ultimately give more power to the state to oppress its own citizens.

What’s especially bizarre here is that this program has absolutely nothing to do with the nightmare scenarios of teeming masses of pillaging, raping terrorists pouring in across leaky borders that formed the basis of Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric during the election. He did criticize the H1-B program in passing but most observers figured that he was once again out on his usual limb, speaking on issues about which he knew nothing.

What’s more, there is not even a job displacement issue here. If Google wants to hire a programmer from abroad, it can do so with the H1-B program or simply by contracting abroad (which is not currently restricted, thank the Lord). As an American citizen coder, with whom do you want to compete? A foreign resident making $200K or a foreign worker paid $100 an hour? The former represents a much higher cost to American business, so the arrangement gives the greatest possible advantage to existing citizens. (Special thank you to FEE president Lawrence Reed for making that point to me.)

In the first months of the Trump presidency, we’ve yet to see any action on health care or taxes, two issues that drove millions to the polls to vote for him. But on immigration, there’s been plenty of action. The bureaucracy is on overdrive, denying visas, keeping out qualified workers, instituting new forms of country exit controls, and even mandating forms of extreme vetting that could compromise your own communications with your friends in Europe and the UK.

On this topic, there seems to be absolute focus. But to what end? Success will only lead American business to be less competitive, less innovative, less able to forge a brilliant future for all of us. What is the goal here? Just to keep people out? How can anyone truly believe that this objective alone is a path toward greatness?

Even for critics of immigration policy, the H1-B program represents the right kind of immigration. It is about skills, invitation, and the right of business to employ the most talented people. Something has gone very wrong with an administration that seeks to dismantle something that should obviously be dramatically expanded.

Here’s a final issue that irks me. Government is demanding the most extreme forms of vetting, investigation, and compliance on the part of business, even as no one is more affected by labor choices than business itself. But as for itself, the government is completely satisfied with the most random system of all for selecting who gets in and who is kept out. Government has outsourced its job to a pair of dice.

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education. He is also Chief Liberty Officer and founder of Liberty.me, Distinguished Honorary Member of Mises Brazil, research fellow at the Acton Institute, policy adviser of the Heartland Institute, founder of the CryptoCurrency Conference, member of the editorial board of the Molinari Review, an advisor to the blockchain application builder Factom, and author of five books. He has written 150 introductions to books and many thousands of articles appearing in the scholarly and popular press.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

Welcome Aboard, But First US Marshals Will Scan Your Retina – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Welcome Aboard, But First US Marshals Will Scan Your Retina – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker
******************************
For some 15 years, airport security has become steadily more invasive. There are ever more checkpoints, ever more requests for documents as you make your way from the airport entrance to the airplane. Passengers adapt to the new changes as they come. But my latest flight to Mexico, originating in Atlanta, presented all passengers with something I had never seen before.

We had already been through boarding pass checks, passport checks, scanners, and pat downs. At the gate, each passenger had already had their tickets scanned and we were all walking on the jet bridge to board. It’s at this point that most people assume that it is all done: finally we can enjoy some sense of normalcy.

This time was different. Halfway down the jetbridge, there was a new layer of security. Two US Marshals, heavily armed and dressed in dystopian-style black regalia, stood next to an upright machine with a glowing green eye. Every passenger, one by one, was told to step on a mat and look into the green scanner. It was scanning our eyes and matching that scan with the passport, which was also scanned (yet again).

Like everyone else, I complied. What was my choice? I guess I could have turned back at the point, decline to take the flight I had paid for, but it would be unclear what would then happen. After standing there for perhaps 8 seconds, the machine gave the go signal and I boarded.

I talked to a few passengers about this and others were just as shaken by the experience. They were reticent even to talk about it, as people tend to be when confronted with something like this.

I couldn’t find anyone who had ever seen something like this before. I wrote friends who travel internationally and none said they had ever seen anything like this.

I will tell you how it made me feel: like a prisoner in my own country. It’s one thing to control who comes into a country. But surveilling and permissioning American citizens as they leave their own country, even as they are about to board, is something else.

Where is the toggle switch that would have told the machine not to let me board, and who controls it? How prone is it to bureaucratic error? What happens to my scan now and who has access to it?

The scene reminded me of movies I’ve seen, like The Hunger Games or 1984. It’s chilling and strange, even deeply alarming to anyone who has ever dreamed of what freedom might be like. It doesn’t look like this.

Why Now?

I’ve searched the web for some evidence that this new practice has been going on for a while and I just didn’t notice. I find nothing about it. I’ve looked to find some new order, maybe leftover from the Obama administration, that is just now being implemented. But I find nothing.

Update: a reader has pointed me to this page at Homeland Security:

As part of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) border security mission, the agency is deploying new technologies to verify travelers’ identities – both when they arrive and when they leave the United States – by matching a traveler to the document they are presenting. CBP’s goal is to enhance national security and protect a traveler’s identity against theft through the use of biometrics.

Biometric information (such as finger, face, or iris) measures a person’s unique physical characteristics. CBP incorporated fingerprints for biometric identification and verification in 2004, and is now testing facial and iris imaging capabilities to help improve travelers’ identity protection, the integrity of our immigration system, and our national security.

I happened to be on the “one daily flight” that gets exit scanned.

Another change has to do with new rules for Homeland Security just imposed by the Trump administration. They make deportation vastly easier for the government. I have no idea if these rules are the culprit for intensified emigration checks.

What people don’t often consider is that every rule that pertains to immigration ultimately applies to emigration as well. Every rule that government has to treat immigrants a certain way also necessarily applies to citizens as well.

Chandran Kukathas is right when he says that “controlling immigration means controlling everyone.”

Regulating immigration is not just about how people arrive, but about what they do once they have entered a country. It is about controlling how long people stay, where they travel, and what they do. Most of all, it means controlling whether or not and for whom they work (paid or unpaid), what they accept in financial remuneration, and what they must do to remain in employment, for as long as that is permitted. Yet this is not possible without controlling citizens and existing residents, who must be regulated, monitored and policed to make sure that they comply with immigration laws.

To be sure, there might have been some tip off that security officials received that triggered these special measures for this flight only. Maybe they were looking for something, someone, in particular. Maybe this was a one-time thing and will not become routine.

The point is that it happened without any change in the laws or regulations. Whatever the reason, it was some decision made by security. It can happen on any flight for any reason. And who is in charge of making that decision?

On the plane, finally, my mind raced through the deeper history here. Passports as we know them are only a little over a century old. In the late 19th century, the apotheosis of the liberal age, there were no passports. You could travel anywhere in the world through whatever means you could find. Nationalism unleashed by World War I ended that.

And here we are today, with ever more controls, seeming to follow Orwell’s blueprint for how to end whatever practical freedoms we have left. And we are going this way despite the absence of any real crisis, any imminent threat? The driving force seems to be this: our own federal government’s desire to control every aspect of our lives.

Think of it: there might be no getting out of the country without subjecting yourself to this process. It’s a digital Berlin Wall. This is what it means to put “security” ahead of freedom: you get neither.

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education. He is also Chief Liberty Officer and founder of Liberty.me, Distinguished Honorary Member of Mises Brazil, research fellow at the Acton Institute, policy adviser of the Heartland Institute, founder of the CryptoCurrency Conference, member of the editorial board of the Molinari Review, an advisor to the blockchain application builder Factom, and author of five books. He has written 150 introductions to books and many thousands of articles appearing in the scholarly and popular press.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

Ayn Rand’s Heroic Life – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Ayn Rand’s Heroic Life – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker
******************************

I first encountered Ayn Rand through her nonfiction. This was when I was a junior in high school, and I’m pretty sure it was my first big encounter with big ideas. It changed me. Like millions of others who read her, I developed a consciousness that what I thought – the ideas I held in my mind – mattered for what kind of life I would live. And it mattered for everyone else too; the kind of world we live in is an extension of what we believe about what life can mean.

People today argue over her legacy and influence – taking apart the finer points of her ethics, metaphysics, epistemology. This is all fine but it can be a distraction from her larger message about the moral integrity and creative capacity of the individual human mind. In so many ways, it was this vision that gave the postwar freedom movement what it needed most: a driving moral passion to win. This, more than any technical achievements in economic theory or didactic rightness over public-policy solutions, is what gave the movement the will to overcome the odds.

Often I hear people offer a caveat about Rand. Her works are good. Her life, not so good. Probably this impression comes from public curiosity about various personal foibles and issues that became the subject of gossip, as well as the extreme factionalism that afflicted the movement she inspired.

This is far too narrow a view. In fact, she lived a remarkably heroic life. Had she acquiesced to the life fate seemed to have chosen for her, she would have died young, poor, and forgotten. Instead, she had the determination to live free. She left Russia, immigrated to the United States, made her way to Hollywood, and worked and worked until she built a real career. This one woman – with no advantages and plenty of disadvantages – on her own became one of the most influential minds of this twentieth century.

So, yes, her life deserves to be known and celebrated. Few of us today face anything like the barriers she faced. She overcame them and achieved greatness. Let her inspire you too.

Kudos to the Atlas Society for this video:

A Plan to Make Me Great Again – Article by Jeffrey Tucker

A Plan to Make Me Great Again – Article by Jeffrey Tucker

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey Tucker
******************************

I was out shopping for a sweater this weekend and I ran into Donald Trump, who told me that I should stop outsourcing my job.

“You should be knitting your own sweaters.”

I explained that I’m not very good at knitting. I have other things to do, in any case. This whole idea strikes me as a huge waste of time. I just can’t see myself sitting at home doing knitting. It’s true that this would give me a job, but it is not a job I want, especially since someone else wants to do it for me.

But he strongly disagreed, explaining that the problem with this country is that we keep taking away our own jobs and keep giving them to other people, who then get the money. This is a bad thing. This is why we are all suffering so much.

I persisted with objections, so he proposed a deal. If I continue to outsource my job, I will have to pay him a 35% tax, which means that if I spend $50 on a sweater, I will need to send him $17.50. That’s a bummer, we both agreed.

Instead, he said, if I take up sweater knitting, he will reduce my income tax rate to a flat 15%, plus exempt my sweater-making from all existing regulations. I would be free to make any sweater I want. The catch is that I have to knit sweaters, because doing that will make me great.

“Just think of it,” he said, “Jeffrey Tucker is open for business!”

In some ways, this sounds pretty sweet. A bit goofy but OK. It’s awkward but I’ll take up knitting on nights and weekends, producing at least one sweater per month. I will continue to do this in order to earn the promised benefit.

Also, I’ll stop buying sweaters at the store and thus end my addiction to outsourcing my production. It’s true that I have given up a huge amount of my freedom over how I spend my time and use my resources (I have to buy all those yarns and needles), but, on the plus side, I avoid a punishing penalty, pay lower taxes, and obey fewer regulations.

The deal doesn’t strike me as very efficient, but, as Trump said, this focus on efficiency over greatness is precisely what has gone wrong in this country.

Sometimes I wonder why his version of greatness should prevail over mine, but, hey, he is the President.

One Month Later

I finally finished my first sweater, and I’m a bit behind on other things. I gave up my job driving Uber. I stopped selling stuff on eBay. I was doing volunteer work for a local charity and I had to give that up too. But at least now I have a sweater. Maybe I can make money at this after all.

I tried to sell it but I couldn’t find any buyers. It turns out that everyone else who needed sweaters had made a similar deal. They too had been persuaded to become great by knitting their own sweaters. We had all become sweater-self-sufficient.

I hope they aren’t feeling as poor as I feel now.

I gradually came to realize something. If you cooperate with others, share the work, find out what you do best, trade with others, and make your own decisions about what you want to insource versus outsource, you can eventually find the best strategy for using your time and resources well.

As Adam Smith proved so long ago, a key to prosperity is the expansion of the division of labor, that is, finding ways to benefit from the talents of others wherever they happen to be. I can only do this if I am truly free to buy and sell based on my own evaluation of what benefits me the most. And under this system, what benefits me also happens to benefit everyone.

This system, which we can call free trade, has the added benefit of creating a kind of community feeling. Peace. Prosperity. There is something great about that after all.

Jeffrey Tucker


Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education and CLO of the startup Liberty.me. Author of five books, and many thousands of articles, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. Email.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

If the Word “Liberal” Is Up for Grabs, Can We Have It Back? – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

If the Word “Liberal” Is Up for Grabs, Can We Have It Back? – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance Hat
Jeffrey Tucker
******************************

A spectacular column in The New York Times by novelist Lionel Shriver makes the point. The new literary and academic establishment in the humanities has become so illiberal, particularly in its preposterous condemnation of “cultural appropriation,” that even the word liberal itself is falling out of fashion.

It’s so bad that Shriver was denounced and condemned for arguing that it is just fine for novelists to write characters into their work that are not of the same cultural, racial, and demographic background of the writer. Not very controversial, right?

Explosion followed. Yes, that’s how bad it’s gotten out there. The literary habit that built civilization, the musical tactic that brought us the Nutcracker and Carmen, the technological tendency that build modernity from the Middle Ages to the present, the political rhetoric that ended slavery and emancipated women, the artistic strategy that has brought the world together in mutual understanding and in unprecedented ways, now stands condemned as the micro-aggression of cultural appropriation.

She writes:

How did the left in the West come to embrace restriction, censorship and the imposition of an orthodoxy at least as tyrannical as the anti-Communist, pro-Christian conformism I grew up with? Liberals have ominously relabeled themselves “progressives,” forsaking a noun that had its roots in “liber,” meaning free. To progress is merely to go forward, and you can go forward into a pit.

Protecting freedom of speech involves protecting the voices of people with whom you may violently disagree. In my youth, liberals would defend the right of neo-Nazis to march down Main Street. I cannot imagine anyone on the left making that case today.

It’s right. The people who stole the word liberal  – gradually circa 1900-1933 – seem to be in the process of tossing out the last modicum of respect for liberty they had even as recently as ten years ago. If you are considered a thief for showing appreciation for other cultures, learning from people unlike yourself, using art and literature to draw attention to certain human universals, there is really nothing left of liberty.

If these are your views, you really should relinquish the word liberal. And the truly great thing is that this is happening right now thus leaving it, perhaps, to be reappropriated by actual lovers of liberty.

Do Not Talk about Beyoncé’s Lemonade!

I experienced the intolerance for disruptive ideas earlier this year in the strangest way. Beyoncé’s Lemonade – a feature-length pop operetta about betrayal and forgiveness –  had just come out. I devoured it, was challenged by it, learned from it, and found themes within it that I was ready to write about: particularly the Hayekian themes I found in the work.

However, just as I started putting together my thoughts, the Internet filled up with dire warnings: if you are a white man, do not write about Beyoncé’s Lemonade!

I can’t write about Beyoncé’s Lemonade? Really? Why not? Because it is a story about the experience of black women in America, and it would be disrespectful to appropriate this experience and this art to serve your own private desire to interpret the work.

Others took a more moderate position: do not yet write about Beyoncé’s Lemonade. Give it a few days, a few weeks, a few months, so as to allow women of color to at least have the first chance to comment and write.

Now, I can’t say I was entirely intimidated to silence by this demand. However, I did hesitate, maybe briefly perceiving some plausibility to the claim. It makes some sense that the intended audience would become the dominant voice of interpretation. I’m ok with that, but would my adding my voice somehow prohibit this? I doubt it, seriously.

Still, I was thinking. So I let it go. The next day, I actually asked a “woman of color” who is a friend, and she said, “that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. I want to know what you as a white man have to say about this!” That was cool, but I felt the moment passing.

Did I really relish hurling myself into the meat grinder of leftist fanaticism, being condemned as a racist cultural appropriator because I dared to say something about Beyoncé’s Lemonade? Not much. It is always easier not to speak than to speak.

As I look back, this was a mistake on my part, but it does illustrate how illiberalism and dogmatic demands to keep your thoughts to yourself can have a chilling effect on public culture.

Who Is Against Freedom of Speech Today?

In the postwar period, the mantle of principle on the matter of free speech moved from left to right. Recall that William F. Buckley’s God and Man at Yale (1953) was essentially an argument against academic freedom. It said that leftists were invoking this principle to advocate for ideas (atheism and Keynesianism) that contradict the values of the donating alumni to Yale itself. It was due to this erudite but essentially illiberal treatise that the postwar right gained the impression of being “anti-intellectual.”

What a difference sixty years make. Today the organizations most passionately for academic freedom and freedom of speech are the Young Americans for Liberty, the Students for Liberty, and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education – three organizations that, rightly or wrongly, are considered to be on the right side of the political debate. At this very time, the other side has developed a kind of allergy to the demand for free speech. Everyone is triggered by everyone else.

Around the same time, Leonard Read and his circle deeply regretted the loss of the term liberal. With some reservations and lingering doubts, they revived the term libertarian as a substitute. It was supposed to be a synonym. But IMHO, it’s not nearly as good because it lacks the history, the broadness of mind, the high aspiration for society as a whole.

The True Meaning of Liberal

There really is only one way forward. That is the way offered by the liberal tradition – a tradition variously and pragmatically sampled by the left and the right but not really believed in full by either. After all, if your ambition is to control society, you can’t really claim the mantle.

It’s a beautiful thing that the word itself seems to have been abandoned by all modern political players, who prefer other terms. Fine. Liberalism has the most brilliant heritage in every language. It means individual rights, freedom of expression and enterprise and association, suspicion of government, and a confidence that society can organize itself better on its own without any institution making and enforcing a central plan.

Liberalism built civilization. It makes sense that the word would be abandoned when the dominant players in politics today have every interest in tearing it down by circumscribing freedom. But therein lies an opportunity.

In 2015 I made a commitment to stop using the term liberal in a derogatory way. I think I’ll complete this year by committing to using it in a completely positive way. Will you join me? We might be the only self-described liberals in the United States, and, perhaps then, we can make a contribution to regaining the term’s true meaning.

Or we might just say, reappropriate it.

Jeffrey TuckerJeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education and CLO of the startup Liberty.me. Author of five books, and many thousands of articles, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. Email

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Canadians Confused by the Correct Use of the Term “Liberal” – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Canadians Confused by the Correct Use of the Term “Liberal” – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance Hat
Jeffrey Tucker
******************************

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has been following the political upheavals in the US with some curiosity. In light of this piece, they called me to discuss where the Republican ticket is representing capitalism well. In the course of the interview, I described myself as a fan of commercial society, free enterprise, deregulation, and therefore a classical liberal. I said later that I’m a radical liberal.

Much to the amazement of the producers, it was this section of the interview (which was heard by more than a million people) that caused the biggest response. They were flooded with comments of confusion. Why does this guy call himself a liberal?

The producers were intrigued enough to do an entire segment on the topic, the results of which were interesting and substantial. Of course the topic is complex because the meaning of the word has changed so much in the last 100 years. The corruption of the term became so intense following World War II that the leftover liberals had to change their name to libertarians.

And today matters are in flux. In Eastern Europe and large parts of Latin America, the term is used correctly. In Europe, it is a mix. In the UK, the word liberal is coming back as a description of people who celebrate commercial society, favor peace, support civil liberties, and reject big government. In the US, the term has been left on the table, but is still mostly associated with the opposite of its traditional meaning.

The result of the CBC’s investigative efforts are as follows.

On last week’s episode of The 180, we spoke with Jeffrey Tucker, a self-described ‘classical liberal.’ He argued Donald Trump is giving capitalism a bad name, by presenting himself as a titan of industry, when he’s really more of an entertainer.

After that interview, we received notes from people questioning Tucker’s bona-fides as a ‘liberal,’ since he spoke highly of individual liberties, free markets, and limited government. Some said Tucker was clearly a ‘neo-liberal,’ some said he was a ‘large R conservative,’ presumably meaning Republican, while others thought the term ‘classical liberal’ had plenty of negative connotations all on its own.

So what is a classical liberal?

First off, you should totally click the play button on this page to hear the audio explainer. It’s got all kinds of fun music and clips of people using the word ‘liberal’ in weird and hilarious ways. Like when Rush Limbaugh said the Soviet Union and Cuba and China were run by ‘liberals.’ Weird.

Part of the problem with the word ‘liberal’ is it’s used differently across time, and across countries. In Canada, the word mostly means a supporter of the Liberal Party, or someone in the political middle. In the United States, it means a strong social progressive, and in some circles can mean a socialist or a communist. In Europe it’s associated with internationalism and free migration. In Australia, in the words of Australian Liberal Party leader Malcolm Turnbull, it means the primacy of “freedom, the individual, and the market.” 

That last one, the Australian definition, is probably closest to what political scientists consider a classical liberal view.

John Locke

If you want to get what classical liberalism is, and where liberalism as an ideology comes from, you gotta know about this guy, John Locke. 

Locke was an English philosopher who lived in the 17th century, and one of the most important people in the development of liberalism, both classical and modern, according to Barbara Arneil, Professor of Political Science at the University of British Columbia.

“In essence what he introduced to the political lexicon was the idea of individual rights. He said individuals have rights by nature, and if the government does not serve those rights, then the people could get together and reject the government. So in essence, this idea of individuals and their rights begins the notion that the government is answerable to individual people.”

This was still a time of kings and emperors and lords and barons, so Locke’s ideas were rather significant. And these liberal ideas influenced a good deal of western society, including the founding documents of the United States of America.

“Thomas Jefferson drew a lot of his philosophy from John Locke. He saw him as the greatest political thinker. So there’s a lot of Locke in the American Declaration of Independence. On the economic side, Locke was also somebody who developed the idea of the right to private property. So we have both the political and economic repercussions and we see them right around the world. All the bills of rights, really originate with Locke’s original idea.” 

So if someone says they’re a classical liberal as opposed to modern liberal, they’re probably more in line with Locke’s original sentiments.

Times change, so do words, and so do ideas

At some point, liberalism shifted from its emphasis on individual liberties, to include regulating business, and using the government to support individuals, rather than simply leaving them alone. According to Lee Ward, Associate Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of Regina, the shift is part of the industrial revolution throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.

“The term liberalism takes on a new kind of meaning, politically. Sometimes called ‘welfare liberalism. At that point, liberalism is accommodating the new demands produced by industrialization. So classical liberals in the 17th century were talking about an economy that was very rudimentary compared to what we have today. A bank in the 17th century doesn’t mean the same thing as a bank in the 20th century. So by the time you get to the 20th century, liberalism has changed.”

To Barbara Arneil at UBC, it’s not simply that the definition of liberalism changed, it’s that over time, some people changed their conception of ‘freedom’. Whereas classical liberals think of liberty as being free from interference, modern liberalism considers whether the government can support people in society to freely pursue their goals.

“I think the thread that remains throughout all liberal thought is the idea of the individual and their freedom. So initially, freedom is understood as being free of restraints. But now we have a different definition of freedom, and it’s about  having the necessary supports to have freedom that has any meaning.”

The concepts of liberalism, both classical and modern, are political philosophies and ideologies not specific political affiliations, and these concepts, among others, influence parties across the Canadian spectrum.

Labels and insults

In the United States, ‘liberal’ is often used as an epithet. To some degree, the terms ‘neo-liberal’ or ‘social conservative’ or ‘socialist’ are also used as negative descriptors in Canada. 

To Ward, it’s not particularly helpful to use philosophical terminology as a pejorative, or to try and sum up a person’s character or values with a snippy line about liberals, conservatives, socialists, or anarchists.

“I worry that sometimes we throw out terminology as weapons, as rhetorical jabs. Understand that behind all of the different perspectives and ideologies, there’s some claim to justice there. And even if I disagree in large measure with much of what’s being said, there’s is some truth that is being expressed. There’s something good in it. As good as it is to be engaged in politics and to really care about what’s happening, it’s also good to step back sometimes and to understand that when we use terms like conservative, liberal, progressive, socialist, they’re all reflecting a certain claim to justice, and there’s probably something in each of those that we can agree with.”

According to Ward, if we could understand that behind all the terms we throw around to describe people, there is a rich intellectual history, we could have more respectful and constructive political debate.

Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education and CLO of the startup Liberty.me. Author of five books, and many thousands of articles, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. Email

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Why Was Coffee Drinking Once Scandalous? – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Why Was Coffee Drinking Once Scandalous? – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance Hat
Jeffrey Tucker
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In 18th-century Europe, many products and services reached a newly emergent middle class for the first time in human history. The capitalist age was maturing, and that meant that average people had money for the first time and lots of choices on how to spend it. One of the new products they could buy was coffee. With that came a great deal of social suspicion and even dread.

None other than Johann Sebastian Bach satirized the puritanical fear of coffee in his delightful and witty “Coffee Cantata.” It was one of the few times he ever tried his hand at pure pop entertainment. Of course he succeeded brilliantly; he was Bach after all!

The “Coffee Cantata” tells the story of a daughter who scandalized her father due to her devotion to coffee. She couldn’t stop singing about how wonderful it is, while her father corrected her constantly.

“You naughty child, you wild girl, ah!” the father yells at his daughter. “When will I achieve my goal: get rid of the coffee for my sake!”

“Father sir, but do not be so harsh!” she responds. “If I couldn’t, three times a day, be allowed to drink my little cup of coffee, in my anguish I will turn into a shriveled-up roast goat.”

She happily agrees to do everything he says in every area of life except one: she will not give up coffee.

And then follows a beautiful tribute to coffee: “How sweet coffee tastes, more delicious than a thousand kisses, milder than muscatel wine. Coffee, I have to have coffee, and, if someone wants to pamper me, ah, then bring me coffee as a gift!”

The father threatens her: “If you don’t give up coffee for me, you won’t go to any wedding parties, or even go out for walks.”

She still refuses.

Then the daughter plays a little game. She has a husband in mind and extracts from him a promise that if she marries him, he must allow her to drink coffee. He agrees. Then she goes to her father, who opposes the marriage, and makes a deal: if she is permitted to marry him, she will give up coffee. The father is delighted, and agrees.

Thus does the daughter gain a new husband, and, much more importantly, a permanent right to drink coffee whenever she wants!

What was this fear of coffee? Why was this such a big deal? It does have some narcotic properties to it, as we all know so well. It can give you a delightful lift.

But that alone does not account for the early opprobrium with which coffee-drinking, particularly for young girls, was greeted. For a fuller account, we need to understand something larger and more socially transformative: the advent of the coffee house itself.

The coffee house was one of the earliest public institutions, operating on a purely commercial basis, that brought a wide variety of social classes, not to mention a mixture between men and women, in a market-based social setting. In the 18th century, coffee houses spread all over Europe and the UK, attracting young people who would sit and drink together and discuss politics, religion, and business, and exchange any manner of ideas.

What the father in the Cantata is actually objecting to is not coffee as such but unapproved, unchaperoned social wanderings.

The Loss of Control

This was a huge departure from the tradition that entitled parents and other social authorities, including governments, to determine what kind of associations their children would have. Coffee houses introduced a kind of anarchy to the social structure, and introduced new risks of randomized contact with ideas and people that parents could no longer control. Coffee represented freedom itself – the freedom to mix, mingle, and consume what one wanted.

Indeed, coffee houses became a great source of public controversy. In England, in the 17th Century, Charles II tried to ban them all on grounds that they were “places where the disaffected met, and spread scandalous reports concerning the conduct of His Majesty and his Ministers.” Even a century later, women were banned from attending them, and this was true in France as well. Germany had more liberal laws concerning women and coffee but public suspicion was still high, as the “Coffee Cantata” suggests.

houghton_ec65a100674w_-_womens_petition_against_coffee

Women who were banned from coffee houses developed a very clever response. In the famous “Women’s Petition Against Coffee” of 1674, women said that coffee was responsible for the “enfeeblement” of men. Historians say the campaign contributed to the gender integration of coffee houses.

We see, then, that the commercial availability of coffee actually contributed to the advance of women’s rights!

Looking back at the astonishing success of Starbucks in our own time, it doesn’t seem surprising. They too serve as gathering spots, social mixers, places of business, and centers of conversation and ideas. We are more accustomed to it now than centuries ago, and yet even today, how much political controversy is engendered by access to products and services of which social authorities disapprove?

War on pot anyone?

As the “Coffee Cantata” concludes:

Cats do not give up mousing,
girls remain coffee-sisters.
The mother adores her coffee-habit,
and grandma also drank it,
so who can blame the daughters!

 

Jeffrey Tucker


Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education and CLO of the startup Liberty.me. Author of five books, and many thousands of articles, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. Email

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

How the Education System Destroys Social Networks – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

How the Education System Destroys Social Networks – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker
******************************

I was at a restaurant for lunch and had time to visit with the waitress, who turns out to be a college graduate from a good institution. She has a degree in European languages. Here she is waiting tables with nondegreed people, some five years her junior, some 10 years her elder.

She is making good money, but so are her co-workers. You have to wonder: given her position, what was the professional advantage to her of those four hard years in school and the $100K spent on them? What were the opportunity costs?

This is not another article to disparage the value of a college degree. I would like to raise a more fundamental question. It concerns the strange way in which our education system has overly segmented our lives into a series of episodic upheavals, each of which has little to do with the other, the value of one accomplishment being oddly disconnected from the next stage, and none of them directly connecting to our professional goals except in the unusual case.

From the earliest age until adulthood, we’ve been hurled from institution to institution in a way that eventually sets young people back from developing continuity of plans and a social support system to realize their goals. At the end of it all, people find themselves back where they started: figuring out their market worth and trying to find a buyer for their services.

Instead of drawing down on accumulated capital, they end up starting fresh at age 22. Even after years of building social capital, they are drawing down on a nearly empty account.

There is something seriously wrong with this system. Shouldn’t our investments in our friendship networks extend across and beyond the stages of our development to make more of a difference in our lives?

The post-graduation diaspora

In a couple of months, for example, many millions of high school students will graduate. Celebration! Sort of. It’s great to finish school. But what’s next?

Many students find themselves devastated to lose the only social group and friendship network they’ve ever known. They worked for years to cultivate it, and in an instant, it is blown apart. They are left with a piece of paper, a yearbook of memories, a transcript, and, perhaps a few recommendation letters from teachers — recommendations that do them little good in the marketplace.

“Don’t ever change,” they write in each other’s yearbooks. The sentiment expresses a normal longing to hold on to the investment the students make in each other’s lives, even as everything about the system tries to take that investment from them.

Is this the way it should be?

Then, the same group, or at least many among them, look forward to college, where they are mostly, again, starting from scratch in a social sense. It can be very scary. College students begin their new experience isolated. They work for another four years to develop a network — a robust social group — to find their footing and to establish both a reputation and sense of self. This is the only world they’ve known for years, and they have invested their hearts and souls into the experience.

The social fabric ends up rich and wonderful, with intense friendships based on shared lives.

Finally, after four years, the graduation march plays, the tassel is moved from one side of the cap to the other, and the whole social apparatus goes up in smoke — again. Then, another diaspora.

Once again, students find themselves nearly alone, with few hooks into the world of commerce and employment. They have a degree but few opportunities to monetize it. Their social network is of limited use to them. All they have, yet again, is a piece of paper. Plus they have recommendation letters from professors that still do them little good in the marketplace.

This not always the case. There are workarounds, and digital networking is helping. People join fraternities and social clubs, and those can be useful going forward. But it might take years for these connections to yield results. The more immediate question is this: What do I do now? Lacking a broad sense of the way the world works, and missing any influential hooks into prevailing networks, a college grad can often find herself feeling isolated once again, starting over for the third time.

The failure of the central plan

This is the system that the civic culture has created for us. For the years from the ages of 14 through 22, students’ primary focus of personal investment and social capital building is centered on their peers. But their peers are just the same as they are: hoping for a good future but having few means to get from here to there.

Why does this keep happening? Looking at the big picture, you can start to see a serious problem with the educational system politicians have built for us. It is keeping people “on track” — but is it a track that prepares people for the future?

A core principle of the education system, as owned and controlled by government, is Stay in school and stay with your class. This is the emphasis from the earliest grades all the way through the end of college. The accidents of birth determine your peer group, your primary social influences, and the gang you rely on for social support.

To be “held back” is considered disgraceful, and to be pushed forward a grade is considered dangerous for personal development. Your class rank is your world, the definition of who you are — and it stays with you for decades. Everyone is on a track as defined by a ruling class: here is what you should and must know when. All your peers are with you.

Many factors entrench this reality. The public school system is organized on the assumption of homogeneity, a central plan imposed from the top down. It didn’t happen all at once. It came about slowly over the course of 100-plus years, from the universalization of compulsory schooling, to the prohibition of youth work, to the gradual nationalization of curricula.

In the end, we find the lives of young people strictly segmented by stages that are strangely discontinuous. Where are the professional contacts that result? Where are the friends who can smooth your way into the world of professional work? They aren’t among your former classmates. Your peers are all in the same position you are in.

Laws that lock people out

The workplace might help to mitigate this problem, but it’s incredibly difficult for young people to get a regular job thanks to “child labor” laws that exclude teens from the workforce. For this reason, only one in four high school kids has any real experience outside their peer group. They miss all the opportunities to learn and grow that come from the workplace — learning from examples of personal initiative, responsibility, independence, and accountability.

There are extremely narrow conditions under which a 14-year-old can find legal employment, but few businesses want to bother with the necessary documentation and restrictions. A 16-year-old has a few more opportunities, but, even here, these young people can’t work in kitchens or serve alcohol. The full freedom to engage a larger community outside the segmented class structure doesn’t come until after you graduate high school.

By the time the opportunity comes around to do authentic remunerative work, a student’s life is filled with other interests, mostly social, but also extracurricular. Instead of working a job, people are doing a thousand other things, and there seems to be no time left. It’s not uncommon for people to graduate with no professional experiences whatsoever to draw on. Their peers are their only asset, their only really valuable relationships, but these relationships have little commercial value.

How natural is any of this?

If you look at the social structure of homeschooling co-ops, for example, younger kids and older kids mix it up in integrated social environments, and they learn from each other. Parents of all ages are well integrated too, and it creates a complex social environment. The parents know all the kids and, together, they form a diverse microsociety of mutual interests. This is one reason that homeschooled kids can seem remarkably precocious and poised around people of all ages. They are not being artificially pegged into slots and held there against their will.

A better way

When you read about the experiences of successful people in the late 19th century, they talk of their exciting and broad experiences in life, working in odd jobs, meeting strange people of all ages and classes, performing tasks outside their comfort zone, encountering adult situations in business that taught them important lessons. They didn’t learn these things from sitting in a desk, listening to a teacher, repeating facts on tests, and staying with their class. They discovered the world through mixing it up, having fabulous and sometimes weird experiences, being with people who are not in their age cohort. They drew on these experiences for years following.

The system to which we have become accustomed is not of our choosing, and it certainly isn’t organic to the social order. It has been inflicted on us, one piece of legislation at a time. It is the result of an imposed, rather than evolved, order. Why wait until age 22 to get serious about your life?  Why stick with only one career choice in the course of your appointed 40 years in professional life? Why retire at the young age of 65, just because the federal government wants you to do so?

Think about this the next time you attend a graduation. Are the students shedding only tears of joy? Or, in the sudden mixture of emotions, is there also the dawning realization that they are witnessing the destruction of a social order they worked so hard to cultivate? Are they also overwhelmed with the knowledge that, in short order, they will have to recreate something entirely new again? Where is the continuity? Where is the evidence of an evolved and developing order of improved opportunities?

The most important question is this: What are the alternatives?

Bring back apprenticeships. Bring back remunerative work for the young. Look beyond the central plan, and don’t get trapped. Rethink the claim that staying in school is an unmitigated good. Find other ways to prevent your heavy investments in others from dissipating; ensure instead that they will pay more immediate returns. Our friends should remain in our lives — and yield a lifetime of returns.

Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education and CLO of the startup Liberty.me. Author of five books, and many thousands of articles, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. Email

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Where Does the Term “Libertarian” Come From Anyway? – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Where Does the Term “Libertarian” Come From Anyway? – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker
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The word “libertarian” has gained new prominence due to the strange politics of our time. According to Google Trends, its use as a search term in the US is at a 10-year high.

It’s long. It’s awkward. It always needs explaining. In America, it’s a word for both a party and an ideology. And the wars over what it actually means never end.

What I haven’t seen is a serious investigation into the modern origins of the use of the term that might allow us to have a better understanding of what it means.

Thanks to FEE’s archiving project, we now have a better idea. As it turns out, libertarianism is not a strange new ideology with arcane rules and strictures, much less a canon of narrowly prescribed belief. It predates the Libertarian Party’s founding in 1972. The term came into use twenty years earlier to signal a broad embrace of an idea with ancient origins.

To be sure, if we go back a century, you will find a 1913 book Liberty and the Great Libertarians by Charles Sprading (reviewed here). It includes biographies of many classical liberals but also some radicals in general who didn’t seem to have much affection for modern commercial society. It’s a good book but, so far as I can tell, the use of the term in this book is an outlier.

Apart from a few isolated cases – H.L. Mencken had described himself as a libertarian in 1923 –  the term laid dormant on the American scene for the following 50 years.

The Liberty Diaspora

Toward the end of World War II, a small group of believers in liberty set out to fight and reverse the prevailing ideological trends in media, academia, and government. During the war, the government controlled prices, wages, speech, and industrial production. It was comprehensive planning – a system not unlike that practiced in countries the US was fighting.

A flurry of books appeared that urged a dramatic change. In 1943, there was Rose Wilder Lane’s Discovery of Freedom, Isabel Paterson’s The God of the Machine, and Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead. In 1944, there was F.A. Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, Ludwig von Mises’s Omnipotent Government, and John T. Flynn’s As We Go Marching.

These powerful works signaled that it was time to counter the prevailing trend toward the “planned society,” which is why Leonard Read established the Foundation for Economic Education in 1946. It was the first institute wholly dedicated to the cause of human freedom.

As of yet, no word was used to describe the ideological outlook of this group of thinkers. To understand why, you have to put yourself back in the confusing period in question. The war had entrenched the New Deal and dealt a serious blow to those who wanted the US to stay out of foreign entanglements. The political resistance to the New Deal was completely fractured. The attack on Pearl Harbor had driven the anti-war movement into hiding. The trauma of war had changed everything. The pro-liberty perspective had been so far driven from public life that it had no name.

Resisting Labels

Most of these dissident thinkers would have easily described themselves as liberals two decades earlier. But by the mid-1930s, that word had been completely hijacked to mean its opposite. And keep in mind that the word “conservative” – which had meaning in the UK (referring to the Tories, who were largely opposed to classical liberalism) but not in the US – had yet to emerge: Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind wasn’t published until 1953.

In addition, Leonard Read resisted labeling the pro-freedom ideology, and for good reason. An ideological system with a name seems also to indicate a plan for how society ought to be managed and what a nation ought to strive for in detail. What he and others favored was exactly the opposite: the freedom for each individual to discover the right way through an emergent process of social evolution that never stops. There was no end state. There was only a process. They rightly believed labels distract from that crucial point.

We Need a Word

And yet, people will necessarily call you something. The problem of what that would be vexed this first generation after the war, and the struggle was on to find the right term. Some people liked the term “individualist,” but that has the problem of de-emphasizing the thriving sense of community, and the vast and intricate social cooperation, that result from a free society.

Kirk’s book on “conservatism” appeared in 1953, but this term frustrated many people who believed strongly in free markets. Kirk had hardly mentioned economics at all, and the traditionalism he highlighted in the book seemed to exclude the classical liberal tradition of Hume, Smith, Jefferson, and Paine. The book also neglected the contributions of 20th century advocates of freedom, who had a new consciousness concerning the grave threats to liberty from both the right and left.

In 1953, Max Eastman wrote a beautiful piece in The Freeman that discussed the reversal of the terms left and right over the course of the century, and deeply regretted the loss of the term liberalism. Among other suggestions, Eastman proposed “New Liberalism” to distinguish them from the New Deal liberals. But in addition to being awkward in general, the phrase had a built-in obsolescence. He further toyed with other phrases such as “conservative liberal,” but that had its own problems.

We are Liberals but the Word Is Gone

They were all struggling with the same problem. These people were rightly called liberals. But the term liberalism was taken from them, and they were now homeless. They knew what they believed but had no memorable term or elevator pitch.

A solution was proposed by Dean Russell, a historian of thought and a colleague of Read’s who had translated many works of Frédéric Bastiat. In May 1955, he wrote the seminal piece that proposed that the term libertarian be revived:

Many of us call ourselves “liberals.” And it is true that the word “liberal” once described persons who respected the individual and feared the use of mass compulsions. But the leftists have now corrupted that once-proud term to identify themselves and their program of more government ownership of property and more controls over persons. As a result, those of us who believe in freedom must explain that when we call ourselves liberals, we mean liberals in the uncorrupted classical sense. At best, this is awkward and subject to misunderstanding.

Here is a suggestion: Let those of us who love liberty trade-mark and reserve for our own use the good and honorable word “libertarian.””

So there we have it: libertarian is a synonym for what was once called liberal. It meant no more and it meant no less. It is not a new system of thought, a new ideology, a new revelation of some highly rarified political outlook with detailed answers to all of life’s problems. It was proposed as nothing more than a term to describe a tradition of thought dating back hundreds of years in the West and with even ancient origins.

Liberalism = Libertarianism

Liberalism is a term that describes the general conviction that freedom is the best solution to the whole problem of social interaction. Put another way, liberalism celebrates the primacy of freedom and rejects power and central authority as both ineffective and morally corrupting.

Russell then goes into specifics. Libertarianism is “the opposite of an authoritarian. Strictly speaking, a libertarian is one who rejects the idea of using violence or the threat of violence—legal or illegal—to impose his will or viewpoint upon any peaceful person.”

A libertarian believes government should “leave people alone to work out their own problems and aspirations.”

A libertarian, continued Russell, “respects the right of every person to use and enjoy his honestly acquired property—to trade it, to sell it, or even to give it away—for he knows that human liberty cannot long endure when that fundamental right is rejected or even seriously impaired.” A libertarian “believes that the daily needs of the people can best be satisfied through the voluntary processes of a free and competitive market” and “has much faith in himself and other free persons to find maximum happiness and prosperity in a society wherein no person has the authority to force any other peaceful person to conform to his viewpoints or desires in any manner. In summary: “The libertarian’s goal is friendship and peace with his neighbors at home and abroad.”

Chodorov Weights In

He must have made a persuasive case. Frank Chodorov came on board, making exactly the same point in an essay in National Review, printed on June 20, 1956:

“The bottle is now labeled libertarianism. But its content is nothing new; it is what in the nineteenth century, and up to the time of Franklin Roosevelt, was called liberalism — the advocacy of limited government and a free economy. (If you think of it, you will see that there is a redundancy in this formula, for a government of limited powers would have little chance of interfering with the economy.) The liberals were robbed of their time-honored name by the unprincipled socialists and near socialists, whose avidity for prestige words knows no bounds. So, forced to look for another and distinctive label for their philosophy, they came up with libertarianism — good enough but somewhat difficult for the tongue.”

Read Comes Around

Even Leonard Read himself came around to using the term. He used it freely in his famous 1956 essay “Neither Left Nor Right.” Then in 1962, Read wrote The Elements of Libertarian Leadership. He again made the point that a libertarian is no more or less than a substitute for the term liberal:

“The term libertarian is used because nothing better has been found to replace liberal, a term that has been most successfully appropriated by contemporary authoritarians. As long as liberal meant liberation from the authoritarian state, it was a handy and useful generalization. It has come to mean little more than state liberality with other people’s money.”

A Big Tent

There you have it. The content is nothing new. It is a broad umbrella of people who put the principle of freedom first. In its inception, libertarianism included: constitutionalists, believers in limited government, objectivists, anarchists, localists, agorists, pacifists, brutalists, humanitarians, and maybe monarchists too. It included deontologists, consequentialists, and empiricists.

The term was designed to apply to everyone who was not a partisan of central planning. It did not refer to a narrow doctrine but to a general tendency, exactly the same as liberalism itself. And that liberal principle was that individuals matter and society needs no overarching managerial authority to work well.

Nor does it need to refer only to people who have a consistent and comprehensive worldview. Let’s say you want lower taxes, legal pot, and peace, and these are the issues that concern you. It strikes me that you can rightly call yourself a libertarian, regardless of what you might think on other issues once pressed.

For this reason, the endless fights over who is and who isn’t a libertarian are beside the point. There are better and worse renderings, better and worse arguments, better and worse implications, and it is up to all of us to do the hard work of discovering what those are. Whatever the results, no one can lay exclusive claim to the term. There are as many types of libertarians as there are believers in liberty itself.

To be sure, there are still plenty of problems with the term. It is still too long, and it is still too awkward. It will do for now, but notice something: the left-wing partisans of central planning don’t seem to embrace the word “liberalism” as they once did. They prefer the term “progressive” – a misnomer if there ever was one!

Does that leave the word liberal on the table for the taking? Maybe. That would be some beautiful poetry. I say again, let’s take back the word “liberal”.

Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education and CLO of the startup Liberty.me. Author of five books, and many thousands of articles, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. Email