Rick Berman: Mercenary/Hero for Freedom
By David Henderson
“If this country is worth saving, it’s worth saving at a profit.”
This is a quote from one of the best books of the 1970s, The Machinery of Freedom, by David Friedman. It comes at the end of a chapter titled “How to Get There from Here.” By the way, if you have never read this book, but you like most of my blog posts, you will very probably like his book. David has an amazing way with words, way better than that of his father, the late Milton Friedman. He’s terse yet precise–and that’s hard to achieve.
Back to the issue. In the chapter, David grapples with how you get from a society like ours, with large amounts of freedom but also large amounts of government oppression, to the ideal free society. He considers various options and says good things about all of them. He then ends with the option he has chosen and the one I have chosen. His choice is to write and speak in favor of freedom and get paid for it. (A personal note: reading this section of his book, when it first came out in 1973, helped me with that choice.)
He ends his chapter as follows:
When I used to give speeches in favor of abolishing the draft, there was a dirty word that kept cropping up –‘mercenary’. A mercenary, as far as I could figure it out, was someone who did something because he wanted to. A soldier who fought for money. Or glory. Or patriotism. Or fun. The opposite of a mercenary was a draftee. Someone who fought because if he did not, he would be put in jail.
According to that definition, there are only two kinds of people. Mercenaries and slaves. I’m a mercenary.
In the previous chapter, David had laid out that the huge problem with working to end various government programs is the public good problem. When you lobby to end, say, the restrictions on sugar imports, you, if you’re successful, create benefits for all sugar consumers but get only your pro rata share of the benefits. That’s not a strong incentive. Yes, you can feel good and heroic and that will urge you on (see here, here, and here), but you also have to pay the bills. That leads to the chapter I quoted from above: figure out how to lobby for things you believe in and are passionate about and get paid to do so.
Which brings me to Rick Berman. While casually surfing last week, I came across a short video on him that was clearly a hit job. At the 1:00 point, Rachel Maddow asks him a hardball question but the video doesn’t show his answer. I wondered: what is his answer? So I went to the whole Maddow interview–and came away very impressed. Berman is a for-profit policy entrepreneur who shares a lot of my views. (I don’t know if I would agree with all his views. The way I first heard about him, though, years ago, was about his strong opposition to raising the minimum wage.) He has figured out how to make money by pushing his views.
In the first segment, Maddow lays out her story in the first 4 minutes. You need to watch that to know the context. At about 4:30, she brings on–Rick Berman. Starting at about 5:00, she gives him his opening by assuring him that she wants not to get the facts wrong and so he starts into the facts. The conversation about transfats, which goes to about 6:30, is fascinating. Then, at about 6:30, rather than challenging him on facts about transfats, Maddow goes immediately to the question of who is funding him. She says she needs to know the source of his funds in order to assess the credibility of what he says. Really, Rachel? You’re a Rhodes scholar and you need to know who pays someone in order to assess his evidence? Wow!
The second segment starts at 4:35 here. At the 5:30 point, he talks about his interest in preventing the minimum wage from rising. Watch, at the 5:52 point, Maddow proudly parade her ignorance of the literature on the minimum wage. At 6:55, watch his explanation of his strategy: start something because you believe in it and then find people who share your belief and are willing to fund it.
Best line, 7:37: I don’t say things that I don’t believe.
8:00: Something I didn’t know about MADD.
8:36: Berman says that MADD is lobbying the government to require breathalyzers in cars. Thank goodness that he has figured out a way of getting paid to fight that.
9:00: Maddow tries to nail him for inconsistency. It doesn’t work.
9:25: She does a passive-aggressive low blow. I think he had felt fairly treated until that point and didn’t have time to fully process her nasty remark and so said that he was fairly treated.