Introduction: On September 1, 2008, Lawrence W. (Larry) Reed assumed the presidency of the Foundation for Economic Education, which recently moved its headquarters from Irvington, New York to Atlanta, Georgia. After serving in Michigan as President of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy for its first two decades, Reed became president emeritus of the Center upon assuming his duties as president of FEE.
Reed holds a B.A. degree in Economics from Grove City College (1975) and an M.A. degree in History from Slippery Rock State University (1978), both in Pennsylvania. He taught economics at Michigan's Northwood University from 1977 to 1984 and chaired the Department of Economics from 1982 to 1984. He holds honorary doctorates in Laws from Northwood University and Public Administration from Central Michigan University.
In the past 25 years, he has authored over 1,500 newspaper columns and articles, dozens of articles in magazines and journals in the U.S. and abroad, as well as six books. His articles have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, Baltimore Sun, Detroit News and Detroit Free Press, among many others. Reed's most recent books are Are We Good Enough for Liberty? and A Republic—If We Can Keep It, both available at FEE.org. Since 1978, he has delivered more than 2,000 speeches in 39 states and dozens of foreign countries, including one at People's University in Beijing, China. He has visited 81 countries on six continents since 1985.
Daily Bell: Update us about FEE. What's going on? How are FEE's finances?
Lawrence Reed: Thanks for asking! It's a remarkable turnaround story I'm very pleased and proud to share. Six years ago, when I became FEE president at the very start of the national financial crisis, the organization was itself in a crisis. It needed new blood, a strategic plan, a financial boost and considerable restructuring. We've accomplished all of that and much more and are growing dramatically by every measure – especially those metrics related to audiences reached and activated on behalf of liberty. It's been a team effort of a fantastic staff and board.
As part of a comprehensive, long-term strategic plan, we've narrowed our targeted audience to relative newcomers in the 16- to 24-year-old demographic. That's our niche. Think of us as the first stop in a pipeline for liberty. High school and college students who are new to ideas of liberty – that's who we aim to inspire, educate and connect. Through all of our programs and publications from summer seminars to online education to our magazine, The Freeman, we attract young people and bring them to that "Aha!" moment. Then we shepherd them on to become active proponents for liberty no matter what professions they may choose – business, academia, government, or whatever. We're populating the world with growing numbers of influential people who can say, "I got my start with FEE because that's where I first became turned on by liberty."
Since 2008, we've tripled the number of FEE summer seminars and doubled the number of student attendees. Page views on FEE.org are three to four times greater than they were just four years ago. Last year, FEE staff and associated scholars personally interacted with about 14,000 students. Add in the number who made use of our materials on the Web or saw FEE videos and publications in the classroom and you're talking about 1.5 million or more. Though the vast bulk of what we do is focused on North America, we also are involved in various ways in many other countries as well, often leveraged in partnership with other like-minded organizations. We don't think of ourselves as a place the world has to come to, but a place that takes its message to the world –proudly and aggressively. FEE programs, from single lectures to full-blown seminars to online events, are taking place somewhere in the U.S. or abroad almost every week. Fresh, stimulating content is added to our robust web site every weekday.
Financially, we're doing great. Contributors (old ones as well as many new ones) have responded very well to our focus on young people and the innovative methods we're using to reach them. Income last year was nearly three times what it was in 2008. We've rebuilt our reserves and put the organization on a sound financial footing. At the conclusion of the current fiscal year, we will have finished four in a row with substantial surpluses for investing in future growth.
Daily Bell: How's the magazine doing? Are you introducing it to a younger audience, too?
Lawrence Reed: Our new editor, Max Borders, has been with us for less than two years and has done a remarkable job in making the magazine, The Freeman, ever more exciting and relevant. Readership had been stagnant or declining for a long time but has more than doubled in the past two years. The magazine is livelier. It features younger voices and more current topics. It has a relentlessly positive message. We don't just dump on government; we inspire readers with a vision of what innovative people are doing and how much more they could accomplish if given the chance to try. Our principles are utterly unchanged from those which animated Leonard Read to found FEE in 1946, but we are increasingly more effective and are reaching more people by the way we communicate with them. We've become really a Web-driven organization (www.fee.org) and have far more readers and viewers there than we do in the magazine's hard copy format, which is now basically a "best of the Web" instrument. Six years ago, FEE was invisible on social media. Today, social media from Facebook to Twitter to Pinterest and many others are driving much of our traffic to the magazine and other FEE activities. So I certainly want to invite your readers to check us out there. I hope, for example, that they will "like" the FEE Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/feeonline as well as my personal one, too, which I use almost exclusively to promote liberty concepts.
The magazine will continue to evolve as we experiment with different authors and subjects, including debates. It's not a product we think will ever be in "final" form because we want to be responsive to changing technology, student interests and innovative formats. But yes, the audience is getting younger by the month and that's exactly where we want to be. We tell our donors that when they invest in 16 to 24 year-olds through FEE, they are making an investment that in each individual case will likely produce payback over the next 40, 50 or 60 years.
Daily Bell: You're moving to Atlanta, Georgia. Can you tell us why?
Lawrence Reed: When we complete our move to Atlanta this fall, we will really miss the old Irvington, New York property in which we've been domiciled since our founding almost 70 years ago. But the economics of it made the case for relocation indisputable. Almost no individual is still living seven decades later in the same house in which he was born – and that's because at some point, moving on meant opening new doors of opportunity. That's certainly true in our case. We can accomplish so much more from a lower-cost and friendlier climate than we could if we stayed in expensive Westchester County, New York. I know that some people have taken it hard that we've sold our old mansion but we're not a museum. We are an educational organization devoted to advancing the legal, ethical and economic foundations of a free society. We can do that better and cut our costs of doing so by moving to Atlanta, which has a great airport, a lower cost of living, and many inviting opportunities for a young staff. We'll preserve and display the best of our past at the same time we put the savings to work not in prolonging old bricks and mortar but in enlivening young minds. Leonard Read would have regarded anything else as poor stewardship of donor dollars.
Daily Bell: You are emphasizing character as much as economics these days. Can you explain?
Lawrence Reed: A new and integral part of the rebranding of FEE involves an emphasis on the indispensable connection between liberty and personal character. We stress that the two things are inseparable, that they're two sides of the same coin. You can't have liberty without character, and no society in history that lost its character kept its liberties. At the same time, liberty is necessary for one to exercise and improve his or her character. Free markets, for instance, are an incredible and natural mechanism for encouraging and rewarding solid character. If you work hard, exercise good judgment, serve customers and take responsibility, you tend to be rewarded and that's the way it ought to be. We explain to students that a free society requires (and rewards) things like honesty, patience, responsibility, intellectual humility, courage, self-discipline, optimism and wholesome life choices. No other free market think tank stresses this like we do and the message is resonating powerfully.
I think the character angle shows great promise for attracting people of all political leanings to the libertarian message. We can't just make the case for capitalism based on the fact, as indisputable as it is, that capitalism produces more stuff. Even if you convince someone of that, they are vulnerable to the first charlatan who comes along and says it's not fair, that if we only empower politicians and bureaucracies we can improve things. The case for liberty must ultimately rest upon a deep and abiding moral dimension. It's right because it's what humans were made for. We're not a fleet of homogenous robots that function best when somebody programs us. We're at our best when we're free to be ourselves, to be responsible for our decisions and actions without the power to impose our mistakes at gunpoint on our fellow citizens. The liberty/character combination is a strikingly appealing and powerful message that has been underutilized for too long.
Think of it this way: Almost all the economic problems that capture our attention these days – from skyrocketing debt to welfare-state spending to dysfunctional schools and corrupt politics – are the manifestations of the erosion of character. They won't be solved until we fix the character problem, and that has to be done one person at a time. It will not be done by an act of Congress.
Daily Bell: What are the "lofty standards of liberty"?
Lawrence Reed: I'll list some of the big ones here but this is by no means a complete roster: Respect for the lives, property, choices and contracts of your fellow citizens. A healthy recognition that as much as you think you know, there's a world of knowledge out there that you don't know. Self-improvement should be a life-long commitment. If you want to reform the world, you must reform yourself first and then be a good example that others will seek to emulate. Refrain from the initiation of force, which is something that should be used only in defense of individual rights. Central planning requires an arrogant, condescending, know-it-all attitude that a person of solid character should shun. Take responsibility for yourself and your loved ones; no one owes you a living just because you breathe. When you see someone who needs and deserves help, remember that the Good Samaritan wasn't good because he told the man in the gutter to call his congressman; he pitched in and got the job done himself at probably half the cost and twice the effectiveness that any politician could. Don't assume that liberty is automatic or guaranteed just because you or your grandparents had it; if good people who believe in it don't work for it, teach it, insist on it and support it, it can be easily lost. Have patience, be courageous, stand on principle, sacrifice if necessary for what you know to be right. Live for the future, not merely for the here-and-now. Be optimistic because pessimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy; you can change yourself if necessary and you can change the world but not if you think either cause is lost before you even get started. Keep your character up because freedom requires it, and you'll never regret it.
Daily Bell: Your point is that it is more difficult to live up to liberty than down to socialism?
Lawrence Reed: That's exactly right. Socialism requires little more than obedience to authority: pay your crushing taxes, keep quiet and let somebody else run your life for you, even when they order you to give it up for a stupid cause like dictating how another country should live. Living to socialism's standards means living down to some pretty ugly things: dependency and disrespect for the rights and property of others being chief among them. Liberty is a lofty objective. It requires us to live up to very high standards. It's tempting to take what's not yours or hire a politician to do that for you, but doing so is incompatible with liberty and puts a permanent stain on your personal character. We should each be asking ourselves every day, "Am I good enough for liberty?" If the honest answer is NO, then the next logical step is to muster the courage and integrity to clean up your act.
Daily Bell: Remind our readers about your story and how you came to head FEE.
Lawrence Reed: I "came alive" for liberty in the 1960s as a teenager when I realized that freedom is a precious commodity that most of the world doesn't have, and that Americans were losing it even as they took it for granted. At the age of 14, I joined in a demonstration in Pittsburgh to protest the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and became in that very year a reader of FEE's magazine, The Freeman. Along with classics like Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson and Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, FEE publications were largely responsible for me committing myself almost 24/7 to promoting these ideas as a career. I went to Grove City College because of economist Hans Sennholz, a great Austrian School economist and champion of liberty. I published my first of hundreds of articles in The Freeman in 1977 and began speaking at FEE events the following year. I came to know Leonard Read in the last years of his life, as well as Henry Hazlitt, too, and they were great influences on me. I served on the FEE board for eight years, from 1993 to 2001, and chaired it for three. FEE's ideas and approaches were useful to me as a professor at Northwood University and then as president of the Mackinac Center for two decades. So when I became FEE president in 2008, it wasn't some huge leap into the dark; it was the culmination of an almost seamless and natural progression.
Daily Bell: Having traveled to some 81 countries on six continents, what have you concluded about people and nations? Are people naturally lazy and inclined to socialism? Are authoritarian governments appealing to human nature somehow? Or are people naturally inclined to be entrepreneurial and make their own way?
Lawrence Reed: Those travels and the many lasting friendships resulting from them have taught me a great deal. The more you travel, the less you stereotype. You think of people as individuals instead of collections or groups. Most of them want to be left alone but are often victims of other people's lust for power and control. Lord Acton was right on target when he said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, but I've also come to the conclusion that power attracts the already-corrupted.
I don't think people are naturally lazy (or at least the vast majority of them are not), but certain circumstances and policies can make them so. If you punish them for working or for being successful or innovative, or if you subsidize them for being lazy, then large numbers of them will in fact become lazy. If you leave people free to their own devices so they are largely responsible for themselves and able to reap the rewards of good decisions and the consequences of bad ones, then the great majority of them will work and improve themselves. So the system, in effect, shapes people as much as people shape the systems they erect. A little freedom goes a long way. I've seen remarkable things happen when people are granted even a little freedom and I've seen terrible things occur when even a little of it is taken away.
Power is the most toxic of all the bad motivations. The desire to lord it over others and the willingness to deploy force to do it, has wrought more destruction than any other. Envy is close behind. We all have some of these desires within us and it's a challenge to refrain from them. Each person must decide for himself what's going to win out—the baser motives of power and envy or the loftier motives of self-discipline and mutual respect. I don't know which is stronger because that ultimately is a personal issue only each person can answer. But I can certainly offer advice as to what kind of system promotes the worst in us and what kind allows for the flowering of the best. The bottom line is that if you live by the sword (force, power, arrogance), you'll probably die by it. And that ain't pretty. Nations that are founded on a respect for the individual and his rights are more likely to be at peace at home and abroad so long as they stick to those principles; if they are founded on the opposite, they will endure unspeakable violence at home and be promoters of violence and war abroad.
Daily Bell: Give us an update on Austrian economics. It's been under sustained attack by the mutual and social creditors of the world – and others who maintain it's part of a globalist dialectic. Your take?
Lawrence Reed: Austrian economics has a long ways to go before it can be considered the predominant school of thought within economics but it is making great strides. More Austrians are teaching at universities than ever before. Young people are especially drawn to it when they are exposed to it. With its central focus on the dynamic, decision-making individual, it's so much livelier than conventional economics with its lifeless equations and dead-end, static assumptions. I think with the continued and cumulative failure of other schools of thought to explain reality – from business cycles to monetary disturbances – Austrian economics has a bright future. I think its revival is a key element in reconstructing a society that is entrepreneurial, productive and respectful of the individual. At the same time, I think it's important that we not make it some sort of cult. Other schools of thought have made important and valid contributions, too. We should embrace those worthy things.
Daily Bell: We think Austrian economics is stronger than ever – an unstoppable force in its many incarnations. We're not purists. We simply think that the animating force of Austrian economics is destroying the socialist mindset around the world. Is this overly optimistic?
Lawrence Reed: No, not at all. Austrian economics since Carl Menger in the 1870s has given us many eternal and powerful truths. Ludwig von Mises helped us understand that economic calculation under socialism is impossible, that central planning because of its very nature must produce planned chaos. Hayek gifted us with incredible observations about the diffusion of knowledge and the pretense of the powerful. Israel Kirzner has taught us much about the dynamism of the entrepreneurial function. So many Austrians including Peter Boettke, Lawrence White, Peter Leeson, Joe Salerno, Chris Coyne and others too numerous to mention here are inspiring new and younger Austrians that it makes me very optimistic about where Austrian economics is headed. I agree that the Austrian school is stronger than ever. No one can predict the future but I look forward to the day when the failure to understand and appreciate, if not embrace, the contributions of the Austrian school means you're simply a lousy economist.
Daily Bell: Of course, the world is in lousy shape these days. The drive toward global consolidation by elites continues. Are they winning? They seem to be becoming more brutal.
Lawrence Reed: What is becoming increasingly known as "crony capitalism" is very strong but it's also under both intellectual and popular attack like never before in our lifetimes. I think the term, "crony capitalism," is unfortunate because I believe if it's cronyism (that is, dependent on the dispensing of political favors), it's not capitalism. It really ought to be called "crony socialism" but that's actually redundant. Socialism, or even the half-way house of interventionism, always reduces to cronyism. The politically well-connected always favor their friends and the corrupt will always seek to use political power. For the moment, at least by the measure of government activities and growth, it would appear they are winning. But I think the growing numbers of those who believe in liberty and free markets are eating away at the foundations of the welfare-warfare state the cronies have erected. I remain optimistic as to the long term, even if short-term trends aren't all in the right direction.
Daily Bell: The whole globalist charade seems to be collapsing. There's no intellectual integrity to it. We tend to believe that once a sociopolitical paradigm has lost credibility it's very hard to build it back up. Do you think the internationalist movement is waning? Do you think they've lost the intelligentsia?
Lawrence Reed: I guess that my previous answer would pretty much apply to this question. Moreover, I'm not sure what you mean by the "internationalist movement." In the sense that I personally am in favor of things like free trade and freedom of movement for both people and capital, I'm an internationalist. If you mean big government on an international scale, then I'm an unabashed opponent. There is certainly a strong bias in the major media in the internationalist big government direction but it's losing its consensus in the face of the endless failures and violence it has birthed. The American people in particular are tired of far-flung, dubious obligations like "nation-building" and being the policeman of the world. Just as each of us should mind our own business, Americans are coming to realize that's good advice for nations as well. I'm a big fan of William Ewart Gladstone, four-time British Prime Minister, who once said, "Here is my first principle of foreign policy: good government at home."
Daily Bell: What is so hard to understand about markets or the advantages of competition versus laws and regulation? Can politics ever take the place of market discipline?
Lawrence Reed: Laws and regulation provide the appearance of a quick fix. Pass a law! Impose a rule! Problem solved, or at least we can retire with the satisfaction that we've done something. Talk about competition and other market forces and to many people it all sounds nebulous, as if no one in particular is "in charge." Our government schools have done a pretty good job of convincing people that good intentions plus a little "democratic" force imposed by people we elect will get the task done. It's our job as economists to explain that laws and regulations pose their own costs and dilemmas: The lawmakers and the bureaucrats have motives of their own and seldom consider all the side effects of whatever they do, laws and regulations often prevent better solutions and stymie innovation and rules can often be circumvented while they lull people into complacency and a false sense of security. We also have to explain how the seemingly nebulous forces of the market are, if the market is in fact free, more powerful and productive than we usually assume. So those of us who believe in free markets often have a tougher sell than the socialist con artist has. All he has to do is make promises that sound good in and of themselves; we're left to explain the wreckage as well as the alternative.
I've often said that coming to understand things like market forces, individual rights, entrepreneurship, personal responsibility, etc., is part of the growing-up process. Some people just don't grow up. Babies are all socialists in the sense that they can think only of the short term. They want whatever they want and they want it now. They don't much care where it comes from or who pays for it. They make a lot of noise and mess if they don't get it and even if they do, they still shit their pants. Becoming an adult means learning patience. It means doing things for yourself, taking responsibility for your life, avoiding the superficial, quick fixes. It means getting what you want through persuasion, not force or tantrums. Socialists, in effect, are babies with guns.
Daily Bell: Isn't every law and regulation basically a price fix? Aren't price fixes always economically distortive?
Lawrence Reed: Every price fix by force of law is distortive. That's why they require force. I think in a very broad sense, yes, every law and regulation acts as a fix on prices. Now, in some cases, we can be grateful for that. A law against murder that includes prescribed punishment is intended to raise the price one pays for committing murder to a level that will deter the behavior. But conventional "price-fixing" by government, particularly on goods and services or on labor (as in the case of the minimum wage), produces effects that all too few people consider. If you fix wages above where they would otherwise be, you simply price some people out of the labor market. If you fix prices of goods or services below where they would otherwise be, you simply discourage supply and encourage demand, which leads to shortages.
The mistake some people make is assuming that prices in free markets are just sort of "there" and they can be manipulated by political decree with only beneficial effects. If I believed that, I guess I would have to throw out just about everything the science of economics has taught us since Adam Smith. Price-fixing is fanciful, magic-wand thinking. He who advocates it is denying economic science and is essentially a quack when it comes to economics, if not life and human nature in general.
Daily Bell: Remind us of the "Seven Principles of Sound Public Policy" that you invented and why they are important.
Lawrence Reed: Your readers can view my speech on that subject here: http://tinyurl.com/kgawsze. I've given it hundreds of times in many states and countries. When I gave it in 2004 to an audience of 200 students and a handful of faculty at People's University in Beijing, it was the faculty who tried to give me a hard time and the students who defended it and attacked the faculty!
I didn't originate any of the seven. I simply "collected" them, maybe worded them differently, and added own stories to illustrate. But in both speech and print form, they seem to have really struck a chord everywhere. I think the speech (or corresponding essay) have been translated now into more than 15 languages.
I'll tantalize your readers with just some of the seven and invite them all to listen to the talk and find out what the others are. One is, "Free people are not equal and equal people are not free." This concerns economic equality, and I argue that in a free society you must expect that people with different talents, with different penchants for work and different degrees of saving and willingness to take risks, economic inequality is both inevitable and desirable. As Milton Friedman put it so eloquently: "The society that puts [economic] equality before freedom will end up with neither. The society that puts freedom before equality will end up with a great measure of both."
Another of the seven principles is: "What's yours you tend to take care of. What belongs to everybody or nobody falls into disrepair." In other words, private property makes a huge difference. And the private property you tend to take the greatest care with is your own, not even somebody else's. After all, when was the last time you washed a rental car? So any political or economic system, no matter how well-intentioned, will inevitably produce disaster if it makes war on private property.
A third principle is from Henry Hazlitt and Frederic Bastiat: "Sound policy requires that we look at the long run and all people, not just the short run and a few people." I've written about this in many places, most recently here: http://tinyurl.com/mn4rbab.
Daily Bell: How much government would you suggest or recommend? Are you fully an anarcho-capitalist?
Lawrence Reed: I'm a minimal government guy, a little more so than America's Founders, with strong sympathies that align with my many pro-private property, pro-individual rights anarcho-capitalist friends. I like to say that when we get to where we have no more government than I want, I'd be delighted to entertain proposals to go all the way. But in the present world, I think realistically and practically, restoring just what the Founders envisioned is about as tall an order as we can likely fill. Though that means I have my disagreements with anarcho-capitalists, I don't regard them as enemies in any way. Our enemies are bad ideas that would increase the initiation of force in our lives. Anything that moves us in the direction of minimizing force, or confining it to a retaliatory and defensive use, is a good thing. Intellectually, the anarcho-capitalists stand on infinitely stronger ground than the collectivist state-worshippers among us.
Daily Bell: What are the building blocks of freedom according to your book, Striking the Root?
Lawrence Reed: That was a few books ago but it was a collection of my articles and essays that aimed at getting at the fundamentals. What is the source of our political and economic troubles today? In that little book, I tried to show that it's an erosion of character and an insensitivity to the negative aspects of force. If at all possible, I want people to do the right thing because they want to, not because they have to. You don't make a person religious by taking him to church at gunpoint. Striking the Root refers to the fundamental truth that if you want to get something good done right, you don't adopt an end-justifies-the-means mentality.
Daily Bell: The market keeps going up, even with certain hiccups. How long can that last? Will we see a big downturn in October or November?
Lawrence Reed: I'm not a stock market prognosticator, especially when it comes to short-term movements. I will say that I suspect that after all these years of Fed pump-priming, we've got another bubble on our hands that will burst sooner or later, and probably sooner than later.
Daily Bell: Are we near a tipping point now in the US? Are we headed into a depression?
Lawrence Reed: No one knows, but some people like to make headlines by predicting one. Sooner or later they get it right, I suppose. We certainly have been pursuing policies that historically (and according to my understanding of economics) tend to produce downturns. Busts follow booms like night follows day because inflation of money and credit fosters distortions that eventually must come to a reckoning. How deep that reckoning will be depends on things not yet in place. What will the politicians do? A deep and long depression, even after years of distortive inflation, is not inevitable if government responds properly – by reducing its costly impositions on a sick economy, reducing taxes and spending, refraining from trade protectionism and bailouts, etc. I can only hope that as Americans learn their economics (from places like FEE!), they will understand that government is the problem and not the solution.
Daily Bell: We asked you this before, but we'd be interested to see if your thoughts have evolved. How would you fix the American financial system?
Lawrence Reed: In a phrase, get the politicians out of it. They can't manage their own finances, let alone those of a nation the size of ours. This means recognizing the century of failure and monetary destruction caused by the Federal Reserve and sticking a fork in it. Put the marketplace in charge of money, not politicians and their cronies. It means reaffirming the rule of law, private property rights, free banking and sound money. No bailouts for the big guys and none for the little guys, either. I'm a Hayekian in the sense that though I am very friendly to the historic role of gold and silver as opposed to irredeemable paper, I think there should be competition between monies. That's a lot for some to swallow if they are hearing it for the first time, but I would advise readers not to sell the market short; it serves us so well in every other aspect of life. A huge and growing body of scholarship exists on the subject.
This is not an unqualified defense of anybody and everybody in the private financial markets; many of them make mistakes and some are notorious for their cronyism with the political process. And there are always a few crooks, just like there are in government. But I would take free markets in the financial system, with appropriate legal safeguards against fraud and theft, over the ridiculous machinations of politicians and their bureaucrat friends any day of the week. How many times must we be disappointed in their corrupt flops before we get the message?
Daily Bell: What's going on overseas? Is Europe recovering? Or is it stagnating?
Lawrence Reed: Europe is muddling along, forestalling many of the bills of their unsustainable welfare states by issuing more debt, decrees and debauched money. Its course is still toward decline, punctuated by occasional rallies. In many ways, it looks better today than it did at the peak of the Greece crisis a couple or three years ago, but in reality they've just papered over their major problems. Little in the way of fundamental change has been enacted so little in the way of deviation from the course of decline should be expected. In the long run, however, I can still hope that the stirrings of a revival in ideas of liberty will continue to grow. I am encouraged when I speak to conferences of young people in Europe. They seem to sense that the welfare state is not making their societies richer, happier or sustainable. I am greatly encouraged by, for example, the growth of the organization, European Students for Liberty. Check them out on Facebook.
Daily Bell: What's your take on gold and silver? Farther to travel? Will we see new highs?
Lawrence Reed: With massive budget deficits as far into the future as the eye can see, as well as unsustainable entitlement commitments and global obligations as extensive as ours, it's hard to imagine a future of stable paper or stable gold and silver prices. I think the metals will indeed see new highs, though I don't know when. We should avoid the temptation to forecast imminent runaway inflation and soaring metals because the politicians always miscalculate. Sometimes they miscalculate in directions that seemed unlikely.
Daily Bell: How about Abenomics? We just wrote that it seems to be failing.
Lawrence Reed: What is called "Abenomics" in Japan and elsewhere is unmitigated nonsense doomed to flop. It's rooted, of course, in the fallacious notions that government knows what the money supply ought to be and that more of it is somehow synonymous with prosperity or sustainable recovery; that government spending actually "stimulates" when all it does is redistribute a shrinking pie; that token "structural reforms" can somehow make a big difference. It's already weakened the yen and increased price inflation. I'm reminded of that great observation of Frederic Bastiat nearly two centuries ago: "And now that the legislators and do-gooders have so futilely inflicted so many systems upon society, may they finally end where they should have begun: May they reject all systems, and try liberty."
Daily Bell: Back to the US. Is the rule of law breaking down in the US?
Lawrence Reed: Yes, and though it didn't start with the Obama administration, it has certainly accelerated in the last six years. The lawlessness of this president – with his arbitrary rewriting of laws and his appointment of power-mad bureaucrats who care not a whit about the Constitution – is absolutely staggering. Sometimes it's unadulterated incompetence; other times it's state-worshipping disregard for the rule of law. In either case, it's wrong and it's evil. Congressmen swear to uphold the Constitution but Congress is full of people for whom citing the Constitution is like holding a cross before a vampire. Ultimately, it comes down to the responsibility of people back home for electing constitutional morons in the first place, so let's not put all the blame on Washington.
Daily Bell: We'll bring up marijuana as a last point. How do you see marijuana legalization evolving?
Lawrence Reed: The old consensus about the drug war is breaking down. After decades of violence and billions of dollars and nothing to show for it but erosion of our liberties and far more dead bodies that drugs themselves could ever cause, people are slowly coming around to the fact that this Prohibition makes no more sense than the last one did, in the 1920s. I think more and more states will move in the direction of legalization and that the federal government, being the biggest dummy on the block, will be the last to see the error of its ways.
Daily Bell: We think there's a good chance all drugs are going to be legalized around the world and sex work, too. Your take?
Lawrence Reed: Well, I think that's where we're headed and while I applaud the removal of prohibitionist laws that require great violence to implement and can never actually succeed, I would be the first to also argue that we need a restoration of personal character, too.
Daily Bell: Any books or websites you want to point out?
Lawrence Reed: I certainly want to encourage your readers to visit our site regularly, www.fee.org. As FEE continues to grow and expand, you'll see some remarkable things there. It's already a huge treasure trove of six decades of great commentary and research. Our ongoing Friday series called "Clichés of Progressivism" can be very useful to your readers as they engage in discussion and debate with those of a collectivist persuasion.
Young people in high school and college should take a look at both Young Americans for Liberty and Students for Liberty. They are different groups with slightly different emphases but often work together. Both are committed to advancing a free society. Every student on a college campus who believes in liberty ought to be a member of one or both and form a local chapter if there isn't one on their campus already.
As to books, I encourage lovers of liberty to think broadly. Don't just read economics, important as it is. Read good books on character, self-improvement and the art of communications. Dale Carnegie's classic How to Win Friends and Influence People is always on my list. Read history, too. Learn from the great men and women of the past, who were exemplars of character and lovers of liberty. I could recommend many but let me just cite one at the moment because I'm on a crusade to get people to learn more about the Roman Republic and what brought it down. Anthony Everitt's Cicero is terrific. There's also a great selection of articles on the subject on our site here: www.fee.org/rome.
Daily Bell: Thanks for your time.
Our thanks to Mr. Reed. From a libertarian standpoint, there's nothing especially groundbreaking in his remarks, and yet the totality of what he's presenting in this interview is both cohesive and credible.
This often escapes people when they discuss libertarianism or classical liberal thinking. The knee-jerk reaction of those disinclined to value human action, especially in the current day, is to brand those who believe in private solutions as doctrinaire and unrealistic.
But there is nothing simplistic about Reed's formulations, nor of many who believe substantively in similar approaches. These are adult perceptions based on a sophisticated worldview, married to credible economics and a knowledge of the broad sweep of history.
These days, as Mr. Reed knows, the population of individuals holding these views, or portions of them, is growing. This is remarkable considering how complex and well-funded the opposition is. Literally trillions are thrown each year at muddying reality and establishing "leveling" perspectives that do not correspond to how the world really works.
Of course, one of the reasons that people are more reality-oriented today has to do with the work of people like Mr. Reed and FEE. In this Internet era, when it comes to freedom-oriented perceptions regarding central banking, corporate privilege or even the deregulation of drug laws and decriminalization of marijuana, the proverbial tide seems to be turning.
Look back on the socioeconomic and economic conversation of 20 years ago, even in the mainstream media, and it's clear to see that something has changed. Keep up the good work, Mr. Reed!