Exclusive Interviews
Sheldon Richman on Searching for the Balance Between Liberty and Power at the Historical Freeman Magazine
By Anthony Wile - October 16, 2011

Introduction: Sheldon Richman is editor of The Freeman, published by The Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York, and serves as senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families, Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax and FFF's newest book Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. A former newspaper reporter and former senior editor at the Cato Institute, Mr. Richman is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia.

Daily Bell: Give us some background. When did you become involved with libertarianism and free-market thinking and why?

Sheldon Richman: From a young age I was thrilled about stories of the American Revolution as a struggle for personal liberty. I first started thinking about politics in 1964 during the Johnson-Goldwater campaign. This excited my interest in liberty, free markets and the myriad ways that government interferes.

Daily Bell: You're the editor of The Freeman. Shouldn't the magazine be named The FreePerson in this day and age?

Sheldon Richman: It's an old name with brand-name value. The contents make it clear that it stands for individual liberty for all.

Daily Bell: We were just joking. Seriously, give us an update on this most important publication. Is it doing well? Where can people find it? Has the Internet helped its circulation?

Sheldon Richman: It is posted in full online a few days before the new month at www.TheFreemanOnline.org. I am biased, of course, but I think the magazine is better than ever. We have dedicated readers who would miss it badly if it weren't there. Judging by the comments section after each article, the Internet has been great for the magazine. A donation gets you a year's worth of the paper magazine.

Daily Bell: Give us the history of The Freeman. Give us a sense of its impact over time.

Sheldon Richman: There has been more than one magazine called The Freeman. The great libertarian Georgist Albert Jay Nock published one in the 1920s. Around 1950 another magazine by that name was started, run by people who hated that America was becoming bureaucratized. In the mid-1950s Leonard Read, who established the Foundation for Economic Freedom in 1946, bought The Freeman (he had been a board member) and published it independently for one year under the editorship of Frank Chodorov, an important libertarian writer.

Chodorov's Freeman engaged on the issues of the day, including foreign policy; he opposed the militarism and deficit spending of US Cold War policy. A year later Read made the magazine an official Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) publication, edited for many years by Paul Poirot. At that point it became more of a publication to introduce people to the principles of sound pro-market economics. It has had a major impact in helping to shape the modern libertarian movement. Most of the today's older libertarians, myself included, got started reading The Freeman.

Daily Bell: You are a Senior Fellow at the Future of Freedom Foundation, a Research Fellow at The Independent Institute, a member of the Advisory Panel for the Center for a Stateless Society. Tell us about these groups and how you became involved.

Sheldon Richman: I became involved in all these groups through personal relationship with the people who direct them. I guess they appreciated my work and wished to be associated with me. I write regularly for FFF and have occasionally written for Independent. My role with C4SS is advisory, and I occasionally post at its website, c4ss.org.

Daily Bell: You were with the Cato Institute. Why did you leave?

Sheldon Richman: I moved too far from its office to continue working there.

Daily Bell: You were at George Mason University. What is your opinion of that august institution?

Sheldon Richman: I worked for the Institute for Humane Studies, which was and is affiliated with GMU. I loved being on the campus and having access to its library. Most of my contact was with the economics department, which was great then and is great now. I met or got to know so many fantastic people during my time there: The late Don Lavoie, James Buchanan, Gordon Tullock, Richard Wagner, Walter Williams, Peter Boettke, Steven Horwitz, Donald Boudreaux, Tyler Cowen, Daniel Klein and many more.

Daily Bell: You are the author of a long-ago three-part essay entitled "Beware Income Tax Casuistry," which critiques various tax protester arguments about the constitutionality of the US federal income tax. Tell us about that. Why did you write it? Have you changed your mind?

Sheldon Richman: I have not changed my mind. No court has ever said that taxing wages and salaries is unconstitutional. The Sixteenth Amendment was passed not to make such a tax constitutional but only to make an unapportioned tax on incomes from real and personal property (rent, interest and dividends) constitutional. That's all that the Supreme Court actually struck down in 1895. Unfortunately, not everything bad is unconstitutional. That's one problem with the Constitution.

Daily Bell: Should the income tax be abolished?

Sheldon Richman: Yes, along with all other taxes.

Daily Bell: Is government capable of spending taxes wisely and well?

Sheldon Richman: No. Nothing government does faces the market tests of profit-and-loss and competition. That's because it is founded on aggressive force.

Daily Bell: You've written a lot on government schools. Tell us about some of your publishing efforts in this regard.


Sheldon Richman: I've written many articles on this subject, and the culmination is my book Separating School and State: How to Liberate America's Families, published by the Future of Freedom Foundation. I also have a chapter opposing "school choice" reforms in the newly published book Freedom and School Choice in American Education.

Daily Bell: Why are government schools so bad for kids?

Sheldon Richman: Because they are virtual monopolies financed through the coercive tax system. They don't face the full force of competition.

Daily Bell: Did President George W. Bush help things with "No Child Left Behind"?

Sheldon Richman: No. It further centralized education policy in Washington. Barack Obama continues on that path.

Daily Bell: Who founded the current educational system? Some say it was Otto von Bismarck. He wanted better and more loyal soldiers, so he invented a system whereby each individual would be schooled with others of his age.

Sheldon Richman: In America the driving force was Horace Mann, who got started in Massachusetts in the late 1830s, before Bismarck began building the first modern welfare state later in that century. Prussia, however, did have an early start in the building of State education and was influential on American thinkers. The system was revamped after the defeat to Napoleon, and raising future soldiers was surely part of the mission.

Daily Bell: What is your opinion of "the father of American education," John Dewey?

Sheldon Richman: Not very high. He saw State education as a tool for molding children into his model of the good citizen. Some of his ideas about child-centeredness are fine, but not in the government's hands. I prefer Maria Montessori.

Daily Bell: Are people being dumbed down on purpose?

Sheldon Richman: I wouldn't say that. It is inherent in a government system, which is intrinsically incompetent. I do think that government education has an interest in not raising rebels, however.

Daily Bell: You've written about healthcare in America. What's happening to healthcare? Is a national system inevitable?

Sheldon Richman: For many years it has been one of the most thoroughly interfered-with parts of American life. Government and big, nominally private institutions manage every aspect. Privilege (such as licensing) is rife. It is nothing like a free market. Obama's so-called reform is just more of the same. If we stay on this road, we will end up with a single-payer system, which is what some people intend and hope for.

Daily Bell: How should health care and medicine be offered in a free society? What would be the benefits?

Sheldon Richman: We should have a free market based on competition, contract, consent and compassion, as we should have in everything else. The benefits would be individual freedom, innovation and lower costs.

Daily Bell: You've written about the Old Right, along with Justin Raimondo. Has the Old Right made a resurgence? What is it and who is leading it?

Sheldon Richman: What we mean by "Old Right" is a group of writers and politicians (notably Sen. Robert Taft and Rep. Howard Buffett, Warren Buffett's father) in the 1940s and 1950s who opposed the loss of freedom as a result of the bureaucratization of the economy through the New Deal and the militarization of society through the spreading American Empire.

It's probably too much to say that it's making a resurgence, but Rep. Ron Paul is very much in that tradition, combining nonintervention in the economy and in foreign affairs. (I disagree with Ron Paul on some things, for example, his opposition to open borders and free migration.)

Daily Bell: Do you consider yourself an anarcho capitalist?

Sheldon Richman: I don't like the word "capitalism" because it suggests a privileging of capital, which I oppose. I do think that we could get along just fine without government.

Daily Bell: Is there any role for government? Anything government can do right – or can do better than the private sector?

Sheldon Richman: I don't believe so.

Daily Bell: Is America involved in too many wars? What has caused so much military action of late?

Sheldon Richman: One war would be too many. For years American foreign policy has been in the hands of people who think the world would be unacceptably disorderly if America were not the de facto global government. This policy also happens to make some people very rich.

Daily Bell: Is there a cabal of families that run central banks and want to take over the world?

Sheldon Richman: I doubt it.

Daily Bell: Who is responsible for 9/11 and why? Is 9/11 a central issue of the Modern Day?

Sheldon Richman: There is overwhelming evidence that the attacks, which were atrocities, were what the CIA calls "blowback." For many years US policy in the Arab and Muslim world has been responsible for untold death, misery and oppression, from its support for Israel vis-à-vis the Palestinians, to its backing of corrupt dictators and monarchs, to its starvation of Iraqi children during the ten-year embargo after the Gulf War. That sort of thing tends to make people vengeful. The US government has made the "war on terror" central to our lives, but the policymakers are only doing what they wanted to do anyway. Without 9/11 they would have found some other excuse. We should stop making enemies.

Daily Bell: Is there going to be a larger war between the West and Islam? Is it being manufactured? Why?

Sheldon Richman: There need be no such war. It is being manufactured because the dominant policymakers believe, as I said before, that the world needs a de facto government and the US State is "destined" to be it. As I also noted, there is much money to made in a military establishment with global reach. The military-industrial complex is pervasive.

Daily Bell: Is the West headed into another Great Depression? Is it being managed on purpose?

Sheldon Richman: Probably not, but it is likely headed into a long period of close-to-zero and even negative growth and high unemployment. I don't think that's the policymakers' intention. Rather they are locked into Keynes-think because it rationalized their power.

Daily Bell: Is the dollar-reserve system finished?

Sheldon Richman: Unfortunately, I think it will muddle through.

Daily Bell: Will the euro survive? How about the EU?

Sheldon Richman: I really don't know.

Daily Bell: What about China? Is China running a healthy economy?

Sheldon Richman: No, because the government is heavily involved.

Daily Bell: Should people be buying gold and silver or US Treasuries?

Sheldon Richman: I never give financial advice, not even to myself.

Daily Bell: We cover a lot of fear-based themes we think are generated by a global elite that wants to consolidate power. We think the Internet is undermining these themes and globalism generally. Your take?

Sheldon Richman: The Internet is a great source of independent information and action. So it has to help loosen the grip of the ruling elites.

Daily Bell: Is the Internet going to be controlled in a short while? Is it all over for this form of communication? Is it finished as a subversive, truth-telling device?

Sheldon Richman: Not by a long shot. It is too decentralized. It will survive and thrive.

Daily Bell: It's exposed a lot of falsehoods, however, and rebutted a lot of fearfulness. What's your take on global warming, for instance?

Sheldon Richman: I'm not a climate scientist, and I do not choose whom to believe in science on the basis of politics or economics. I consider myself a skeptical agnostic on the question of whether catastrophic warming is taking place. No matter what is happening, I don't trust the ruling elite to get anything right.

Daily Bell: Is the world running out of food and water?

Sheldon Richman: I see no reason to think that.

Daily Bell: What about over-population?

Sheldon Richman: We're underpopulated. There are not enough innovators, and innovation comes from the intermingling of ideas. More people mean more ideas and more potential for such intermingling. I agree with Julian Simon that human intelligence is the ultimate resource.

Daily Bell: Do you have any new focuses at FEE? Any new projects?

Sheldon Richman: I'm just trying to put out the best magazine I can, while writing articles that provoke debate in the contest between liberty and power.

Daily Bell: How about The Freeman? Anything we should know about going forward?

Sheldon Richman: We're going to keep on keepin' on.

Daily Bell: What's next for you? Any more books? What other projects are you involved with?

Sheldon Richman: I have no books or big new projects in the works.

Daily Bell: Any other points you want to make?

Sheldon Richman: I'm excited about the convergence beginning to take shape between people over the issue of corporatism and empire. The recent joint appearances of Ralph Nader and Ron Paul are encouraging. Libertarianism is the true progressivism, but libertarians have to recognize that our chief adversary is the corporate state/empire, not proletarian socialism.

Daily Bell: Any other material you want to point to?

Sheldon Richman: Watch for a forthcoming book, Markets Not Capitalism, edited by Gary Chartier and Charles Johnson, which contains several of my articles.

Daily Bell: Thanks for your time!

Sheldon Richman: Thank you.

After Thoughts

We want to thank Sheldon Richman for continuing the great work of The Freeman, which is as close to an institution as libertarianism has. What is both frustrating and notable is that The Freeman has been a reasonable case for free markets for over half a century – and things seem worse than ever.

Almost every point made by writers for this prophetic magazine has in one way or another likely been vindicated and yet a publication such as, say … Time continues to "get it wrong" on every count and still manages a far greater presence (though diminishing influence).

Mr. Richman may not wish to admit it, but it seems evident and obvious to us that there are larger forces at work conspiring to retard the message of the publication he runs so wisely and well. These same forces evidently and obviously uplift publications that specialize in narratives of the divide and conquer sort.

We have often noted the peculiar persistence of establishment publications despite their failures. BusinessWeek, Newsweek, AOL and many more can (and do) pile up huge losses and yet somehow stay in business. They bounce back over and over – like Superballs. Their recoveries are almost magical, as if some great force is lifting them back up.

We often hear that capitalism is a merciless mistress that winnows failure on a regular basis. But we long ago stopped believing that the great Anglosphere institutions – banking, publishing or any other field – were subject to the same rules as smaller industrial efforts.

Thus, we have decided on a new yardstick to indicate when Western societies finally become freer. We will know this is the case when Mr. Richman's magazine begins to claim a circulation in the hundreds of thousands while Time declines with irreparable finality and the Daily Beast/Newsweek combo fades into the irrelevancy it so richly deserves. May that day come soon.

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