Report Editor Hits the Air Waves
by Ari Armstrong, July 1999
"...three, two, one..." My adrenaline surged as the "on air" light glowed red and State Representative Penn Pfiffner started his introductions.
Pfiffner had invited Craig Stinson of the Colorado Libertarian Party to find a representative to share libertarian philosophy on the airwaves of KNUS 710 AM May 17. I volunteered. Pfiffner also invited Clyde Harkins of the American Constitution Party; the point of the show was to discuss the similarities and differences among two political outsiders.
Pfiffner was once active in the Libertarian Party, but noted his views are "moderate" relative to those of most libertarians. Pfiffner also worked with Harkins and Doug Bruce on TABOR. ("Libertarian Party" refers to a political organization; "libertarian" refers to a broad philosophy based on freedom. I consider Pfiffner a member of the broad libertarian movement, though he is a Republican by party.) On the show, Pfiffner said he thought we three participants were kindred spirits politically, and I agree to an extent.
I had a tremendous time doing the radio show. I only really blundered my point once (which I'll later detail), and my biggest error was to talk too fast, a point of criticism I've heard a couple times. Overall, I though I was reasonably effective. I hope I have more opportunities to speak on radio shows in the future, as a way to hone my skills and spread the freedom philosophy.
The first hour of the 10-12 morning show we were to cover economic issues, the second, social issues. I was somewhat reserved that first hour, in part because of nerves and in part because the three of us agreed on most of the issues.
In the 1999 legislative session, the state legislature attempted to enable the state to incorporate new local spending programs without meeting the TABOR requirements.
Harkins and I agreed that any attempt to raise taxes or bypass TABOR is a bad thing. I added that, if anything, libertarians would criticize TABOR for enshrining perpetual tax increases. Better would be an absolute freeze on the tax level. Harkins noted that, with current increases of state spending, the size of government doubles roughly every six years.
Pfiffner raised the matter of temporary tax cuts. I wish I'd said that temporary cuts are better than no tax cuts, but worse than permanent ones. I did mention, "Tax cuts shouldn't really be the emphasis, it should be a decrease in government spending. A tax cut without a decrease in spending doesn't mean a whole lot. If we can first cut the spending at the state and federal levels, then tax cuts are easy to achieve after that." Pfiffner admitted that most Republicans support limited increases in government spending.
Harkins chimed in, "The real problem is that government spending has been out of control for so long. I use the Biblical base for looking at the size of government, and if it's more than 5% overall government spending, you approach an area where tyranny starts. And we're so far beyond that now -- it's pretty pathetic when [taxes] are up around 50%."
A caller wondered how difficult it might be for third parties to gain momentum. Pfiffner noted that a recent law enables third parties to gain easier access to the ballot.
I followed up by laying out the rationale for voting for a third party:
As far as the money goes... I think we can win without a lot of money. As far as having influence, we would have incredible influence if we could only regularly get 5% of the vote... If we vote Libertarian, then we will have the Republicans adopting more and more libertarian positions. In fact, I would credit the success of people like you [Pfiffner] and Senator John Andrews to the Libertarian party, because the Republicans have to run a more free-market-oriented ticket, in order to keep some of those votes in. The most successful party in the history of the United States is the Socialist Party, even though they didn't elect anyone to serious office... We want to win the office, too, but even if we don't, it's still driving the politics in the right direction.
Pfiffner gave his view on the matter:
When we watch the voting go by, there's a clear difference to me between the Democrats and the Republicans... I've been able to get things done down at the legislature, and I have a lot more hope for the future in terms of how society is starting to define itself. I think that's where you guys [third parties] come in, is you help us define the debate, you help to define the edges of the envelope... I'm comfortable with the Republican Party... I'd just like to see us with a lot more freedom-minded folks [in politics].
Pfiffner expressed his wish that freedom-oriented people would work for change from within the Republican party.
Harkins and I agreed that Bill Owens is a better governor than would have been the Democrat, but that he won't move society toward greater freedom.
Regulation of Business
Pfiffner noted that all sorts of business persons, including dietitians and beauticians, must acquire government licenses before they can operate. I said that licensing doesn't do much to increase public safety, but that it decreases opportunity. I cited the example of a family I know in Palisade, the father of which must attend and pay for government-mandated classes and acquire a government license just to fertilize yards and operate a lawn care business.
What Harkins said is more powerful:
Under a fascist state, which I think is what we're heading for in America, under a police-state, the principle mechanism to control private property and individuals is the licensing procedure. If people don't understand that, they need to check the history of licensure. There was no licensure for virtually anything in the United States until physicians were licensed in about 1870... That is the means through which government can... collect revenue for the quote "privilege," not the right, to make a living as a physician... and then also control the total direction of that individual and that profession...
A caller expressed his discontent with the state of government education today and with the property tax that subsidizes it. Harkins replied that he's signed the Separation of School and State Proclamation, which I also have signed. "We have national control of the education system -- I would simply get rid of government education altogether. It all should be privatized."
The big misunderstanding that I'd like to cover is that people refer to government schools as "public" schools. Well, there's nothing particularly "public" about government schools, and in fact most private or market schools are more "public" than government schools because they accept a wider range of students... It's Orwellian double-speak to call government schools, "public schools," because there's nothing "public" about them more so than most market schools.
Pfiffner, while applauding such measures as charter schools and such, also noted,
When I'm elected to office, I hold up my hand and I swear to uphold the [State] Constitution. The Constitution requires me to give a "free and uniform education" to every student who hasn't graduated from high school and is under 18 years of age. I'm very much limited to the system we have right now.
I since checked up on the precise wording of the state constitution on this matter. Article IX, Section 2 states:
Establishment and maintenance of public schools. The general assembly shall, as soon as practicable, provide for the establishment and maintenance of a thorough and uniform system of free public schools throughout the state, wherein all residents of the state, between the ages of six and twenty–one years, may be educated gratuitously. One or more public schools shall be maintained in each school district within the state, at least three months in each year; any school district failing to have such school shall not be entitled to receive any portion of the school fund for that year.
The State Constitution doesn't limit Pfiffner as much as he might think. "Free and uniform" does not imply, "costing over $4,000 per year per student." The state legislature could radically scale back the scope of government schools and still meet the constitutional requirement. I'd love to see a three-month calendar adopted for government schools, as the Constitution permits. The legislature could also drastically reduce the requirements for a government diploma.
To make a more fundamental criticism, I would note that the state legislature already fails to provide a "free and uniform" education to Colorado students. If you don't believe it, go wander around Cherry Creek High School or a school in Boulder for a while, and then walk through a Denver Public School. I've done so, and I've also worked with students from the various districts. "Uniform" the education is not.
In addition, TANSTAAFL: "there ain't no such thing as a free lunch," or a free education. Literally, a "free education" would have no funding. As it is, the taxpayers pay for the government schools. How's this for a "free and uniform" education: cut all funding to government schools and "educate" the students about individual responsibility and the efficacy of the market, which would provide fine alternatives to the government schools.
But fundamentally I am looking for social change to precede legislative change. As more and more families place their children in market and home schools, political support for government-controlled education will wane. Hopefully at some point the Constitution can be amended or narrowly construed in order to separate schools from the state.
A caller asked whether there should be a learners' permit and license for carrying guns, at least for concealed carry.
Why don't we have a learners' permit to exercise our right of free speech? The reason is because it is a fundamental right, and I don't want the government to regulate our fundamental rights. In fact one of the reasons that we have guns is to protect ourselves from government abuses. That is a main reason why the Founding Fathers wrote it into the Constitution. So I don't want government telling me how to exercise my right that protects me from the possible tyranny of government.
I added, "an armed society is a safe society," though I didn't have time to discuss the importance of guns in deterring criminals. Harkins agreed that a Vermont-style concealed carry law would be ideal.
Harkins and I got into more heated discussions as talk turned to social issues. In reference to pornography, Harkins said that one purpose of government is to "protect the culture."
I'm not an advocate of pornography... in most cases it is unhealthy. However, just because something is unhealthy, does not mean it should be outlawed. What concerns me about Clyde's position is that if you take the statement, "We need to control X in order to protect culture," you can put anything into that X. "We need to control guns." "We need to control free speech." "We need to control private property." I think that in this case, there is a slippery slope argument to be made, that once the government starts "protecting culture," it's unbarred at that point.
Harkins replied that gun rights are fundamental and as such cannot be regulated in the same way as pornography. Later in the program, I affirmed, "When the government starts to 'protect' culture, it will inevitably destroy the cultural foundations of a free society."
Harkins gave the predictable answer on the issue of same-sex marriages, coming out against it. I rather liked my answer to the question:
The presumption here is that the government should be involved with licensing marriages between heterosexuals, and that to my mind is ridiculous. I am in fact getting married in three weeks, and that union is between me and the woman I'm marrying. It's not between me and Bill Owens or the state or any other politician or bureaucrat and the woman, it's just between me and the woman. So, if the government shouldn't be regulating any marriages, then the issue of whether it should regulate homosexual marriages is moot. I don't think it should be part of the government in any respect.
A caller asked if either Harkins or I recognize a "national right" to stop immigration.
When we talk about sovereign rights, I would merely point out that states do not have rights, only individuals have rights, and individuals have the right to invite other people over to their property. So yes, we're for open borders. We don't think the government should in any way subsidize immigrants or give them welfare, but we think that people should be allowed to hire people from other countries. We support private property rights, and what's the difference if I hire somebody from down the street as opposed to across the Mexican border?
Harkins claimed that the nation indeed has the right to limit immigration. He lamented that we've had a "great influx" of illegal Mexican immigrants, to which I replied, "And I thank God that we do, because they make products cheaper for us as customers, and they fill valuable needs in our communities."
My comment earned replies from both Harkins and the caller. Harkins likened immigration to the importation of goods from Communist China. However, the cases are in no way analogous (a point I didn't have time to make on the air). There is a case to be made for limiting trade which benefits totalitarian, threatening regimes. But this has nothing to do with immigration; if anything, free immigration hurts tyrannical governments by helping intelligent, hard-working people escape to America.
The caller made a grave economic error in saying, "this current economic boom isn't going to last forever... As our population increases, the chances of the next economic downswing, where jobs are going to get tight again... could get very ugly." This is a simple error of assuming a "fixed pie" over which people are doomed to fight. There is only so much wealth possible to society, there are only so many jobs to go around, goes this line of thinking. The reality of capitalism is quite different, fortunately. Wealth, created by new capital and technology, is limitless. Full employment is possible regardless of how many people come into an area. Granted, society often suffers unemployment, but this is invariably because of government interference in the economy through labor laws, minimum wage laws, licensing laws, and monetary regulation. To blame unemployment on population or immigration is simply to manifest one's ignorance (and/or xenophobia).
The Drug War
I noted that, while libertarians generally do not support recreational drug use, we oppose the drug war. First, the drug war creates violent crime such as existed during the prohibition of alcohol. Second (though I had a hard time articulating this point on the air), the drug war leads to more highly concentrated and more dangerous drugs. On the black market, potent drugs are easier to transport and few safety measures exist. Similarly, alcohol became more potent and dangerous during alcohol prohibition. Third, the drug war creates a militaristic state, in which most Federal prisoners are non-violent drug offenders and the police have arbitrary powers such as the ability to confiscate property without due process.
Rather than rely on the government to solve the drug problem, a task beyond its abilities, I called for greater individual responsibility and better education.
Harkins agreed that the drug war has lead to arbitrary police powers, but he said the laws need only to be reformed, not repealed. Harkins also said that drug use is not a victimless crime, because it destroys families. On this point, Harkins's argument is dangerous, though I didn't have time to explain why on the air.
If we were to take Harkins's definition of a "crime with a victim" to include any damage to others whatsoever, then the government would have free reign to regulate almost anything. Over-eating damages parents and thus indirectly children. Should the government impose dietary laws? Gun-control advocates work to make people disarmed victims of criminals -- should the government thus outlaw the advocacy of such laws? Even wasting time reading trash like The National Inquirer makes people less productive and less effective as parents. I'd like to see that rag disappear, but not by government dictate.
True, drugs contribute to some people ruining their own lives and damaging the lives of loved ones. However, though this is a travesty and immoral, it is not properly considered a "crime" in the legal sense. In addition, many who use even "hard" drugs like cocaine do so without imposing any hardships whatsoever on other people. To conflate drug use with violent crime is to utterly confuse the issue and to open the door to tyranny.
One caller asked me if libertarians believe that "nothing is wrong," if anything goes morally.
Certainly I would agree that their are lots of cultural problems. Drug abuse is rampant. There are nihilistic tendencies in our culture, perpetuated in many of our schools, which are unhealthy for the culture. However, just because something is unhealthy, doesn't mean the government can solve it. And in fact I would argue that many of the reasons that we have a decline in our culture is because people have chosen to turn their responsibility over to the government... So the answer is not to call for more government controls, but to return responsibility to the individual.
Concerning compromise, I said,
[Libertarians] believe that we ought to uphold individual liberties. [Many] Republicans and Democrats think that they can sell out individual liberties for political expediency... In fact, the Libertarian Party was founded in 1971, because Richard Nixon, a Republican, was setting price controls, ending gold-backed money, and [passing] all these Statist regulations of the economy... The epitome of the Republican position is something that Bob Dole said in his last campaign. "Well, under us, government will grow less quickly than it would under Bill Clinton." That's not good enough for libertarians -- we want to restore individual liberties, not stop their decline.
I also noted that the U.S. Constitution is not the source of our rights, but only an imperfect description of them. Harkins agreed, though obviously he and I disagree significantly over the substance of rights.
In general, I was quite happy with the discussion. I consider Harkins and Pfiffner allies in the struggle for liberty. However, Harkins tends to put far too much faith in government to solve social problems. The State has proven time and again that it is capable only of exacerbating those cultural ills it seeks to remedy.