Pj Orourke Essays For Scholarships

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A study of legal interference with individual preferences and will canvass the interdisciplinary literature in economics, psychology, philosophy, and law.

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Russ Roberts: I'm going to ask an awkward question, which is: Somebody once said that--I think it's their Twitter description--that they have strong opinions, weakly held. And I like sometimes to think of myself that way. I feel very passionately about what I believe in, but I wonder, 'Maybe I'm wrong.' It's possible; it's not pleasant to think that. But maybe I have an incorrect perception of the world. But I've devoted a good chunk of my life, as have the other people on this panel, to making the case for a certain philosophical view of how the world works and what would make it better. And, you have to ask yourself: Why haven't we convinced more people? Right? We're pretty--I think most of us up here, we're pretty confident. We think we're probably right. Yet we must confront the fact that in the marketplace of ideas, we have a bigger share than we had 40 years ago. That's to be commended, saluted. You can argue that the trend is positive; that we're going to do better. But, it's interesting that our successes are limited. Now, Hayek had a very attractive idea, explanation for that. I'll leave that aside for the moment. But, I'm curious what you gentlemen think is the reason for--our failure, to some extent.

George Will: Anyone[?] want to go first?

Russ Roberts: George? No one wants to go first.

George Will: What we're arguing is that in the long term, the view we have of how the world works and how the institutions of society therefore should be structured. In the long run it is in our good. But, our argument is that capitalism doesn't just make us better off: it makes us better. And it makes us better by enforcing thrift, industriousness, deferral of gratification--all of which are unpleasant at some point or other. So, it's a choice between short term gratification or long term; and the short term is going to win every time. And we're not preaching short term. And there's no way to change that.

Russ Roberts: P.J.?

P. J. O'Rourke: I--you know, I mean, there's every reason for nobody listen to me, but I don't think anybody listens to anybody any more. I think we have created a world where everyone is on broadcast and no one is on receive. In my explanation.

David Boaz: There is what Hayek called the atavism of social justice--the idea that our brains evolve through many, many millennia, in a world of small groups and extended family--a clan. And in that small group, in your family, you generally practice something along the lines of 'From each according to his ability; to each according to his needs.' And that seems to have gotten deeply ingrained within us. And, it's hard to understand--

Russ Roberts: And it's a good thing, by the way.

David Boaz: Yes, that's right. Within the family; even within a small group of people who love or intimately depend on each other, it makes sense. Trying to get beyond that, see the larger world, what Hayek called the Great Society, has to operate by different rules. I think that's a real challenge. And that's been a problem for us. Then, it's also a problem that we don't seem to teach civics and the basic values of America, as well. And economics is counter-intuitive. To tell people that a minimum wage law will not help people who are currently making $7/hour--that is a tough thing to explain.

Russ Roberts: Yeah. I think--the thought that I was thinking of--the Hayekian thought--I think I have that right is that he said that intellectuals--because that's the other part of this argument: Why is it that most smart people are not on our side? It's one of the things to say the average person. But the smartest people tend to be more interventionist, more socialist. And his view was, 'Well, they benefit from it.' I think that's true. I fear that's part of my profession's attraction to interventionism and the constant observing of market failure, and so on--is it does increase the demand for our services. So, I always--my view, is that, taking economists' advice should be, you should do it carefully because we have a conflict of interest, most of the time. My other thought--this relates to what you just said, David, is that--it comes back to what I said earlier--I think we've failed. Dismally. Bad choice of word. But I think we've failed dismally in making the cultural case for liberty, and for economic freedom. I think back to a powerful piece that James Buchanan wrote in the Wall Street Journal--I think it's called "The Soul of Liberalism"--do I have that right? But it's an incredible piece, where he basically says, 'We've lost the moral high ground.' We don't make the case that freedom is the right thing. We might make the case that it works. We make the case often, to me, as a left-brain activity, for analytical people who like equations and charts and facts and grafts. But we don't speak to the soul. And we don't speak to the heart. And I think if we don't do that, we are in a great deal of trouble. So, I'll let you gentlemen react to that argument about culture. And then I'll--we'll probably don't.

David Boaz: Well, I certainly agree with that. And for me, the moral case for freedom is what fundamentally matters. I sometimes say in speeches, after going through arguments for liberty: As for me, I hold this truth to be self-evident. It is wrong to initiate force against innocent people. That's the fundamental value, I think. At a think tank, a public policy research institute, we inevitably spend most of our time talking about costs and benefits of particular policies. But, we do want to make a moral case: Don't you want to be free? Doesn't everyone want to be free? Isn't that what it means to be human instead of some other species?

Russ Roberts: P.J.?

P. J. O'Rourke: Yeah. That's--you know--as one raising kids, I try to get them back to those fundamental principals, you know, which is: Keep your hands to yourself. Along with, 'Pull your pants up, turn your hat around, and get a job.' That's also an important--

Russ Roberts: That's a longer bumper sticker.

P. J. O'Rourke: That's a longer bumper sticker, yeah. But it is that, and again I come back to that triad--you know, is that you want to be, if you want to be treated with individual dignity, you have to treat others with individual dignity. If you want individual liberty of your own, you have to allow it to other people, in them[?]. And, if you want other people--to, say, I'll ask them, works the opposite way--if you want other people to take responsibility, you've got to take responsibility. And so, I think it is possible to, to, to reach the, the, the heart with libertarianism. But it's always going to be, as I said last night: It's always going to be a tough political sell. Because the really good, the honest libertarian politician would stand up on the stump and say, 'I can do less for you.' 'I can do less for you? I'm the guy.' 'The less we can.' There's no bumper sticker.

George Will: It actually was the bumper sticker of the Libertarian candidate in Montgomery County in Maryland a few years ago. It's not enough to tell people that's [?[ that what you want to do to want to be free, because you have to have the argument, well, what freedom is. On our college campuses today there is a powerful movement--it's a winning--that it insists on freedom from speech--that freedom from the inconvenience of people annoying you with ideas that you find unconcongenial. That, we still have to make the argument--we'll never not have to make the argument--we'll never not have to make the argument--against positive freedom. That is, you were freer when you have good health care. That you were freer--not just healthier, not just happier, but freer when you have, um, regulation of the trucking industry. That argument never ends.

Guest: No. Absolutely. I think the very hardest thing, for me at least, to have tried to have gotten, tried to get across to my own kids, is the difference negative rights and positive rights: how to explain to them that negative is good; positive is, lousy. It's all about--the rights you want are the rights to be left alone. Not the, the--you know, obligation for other people to give you things. Because, you know--Goldwater--government that is big enough to give you everything is big enough to take it all away. But, I think it may be that sometimes our rhetoric about 'Don't tread on me,' and the right to be left alone sends a signal to people that we don't care about other people: that we don't want to be part of a family or a community. Students for Liberty has tried to deal with this by producing bumper stickers that say, 'Don't Tread on Others.' Or, 'Don't Tread on Anyone.' Because, it's not just about me. It is about principle: that shouldn't tread on others. And I'm absolutely in favor of the fundamental right of a free person is the right to be left alone. But I think there are a lot of people who hear the right to be left alone meaning, the right to be left alone. And nobody wants that.

Russ Roberts: And rightfully so. I think the biggest--tragedy of the liberty movement is the embracing of selfishness rather than self-interest. Self-interest is a human trait. Selfishness is not a virtue. And, Ayn Rand wrote a book called The Virtue of Selfishness, which I read at, I think 19 and thought it was fantastic. As a 62-year old, I think it's not the right way to be a fully connected human being to other people. And I do think we have a marketing problem there. George, you want to say one other thing?

George Will: No.

Russ Roberts: Well, we're done. I want to thank our guests....

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