My AEA Speech for Ed Clark, 1980
By David Henderson
Here is the speech I referred to in my previous post.
I would like to thank Leonard Silk for his fundamental decency and sense of fair play in letting me appear here today. I come before you to speak on behalf of Ed Clark, the Libertarian Party’s candidate for President. Since my time here is short, I can but give you a brief sketch of the Libertarian Party and of their economic positions.
The Libertarian Party, which had its first national convention here in 1972, on the same weekend as the Watergate break-in, has grown rapidly. In 1972 it was on the ballot in only 3 states. This year, it will be on the ballot in all 50 states. Ed Clark received 400,000 votes when he ran for governor of California in 1978.
The fundamental principle of libertarianism is that each person, each of you, has the right to do anything that’s peaceful–it includes the right to earn your income in any peaceful pursuit and the right to spend it on anything you want. Government’s only function should be to protect people’s rights, not to go beyond that.
On economic policy, this means the principle that “all capitalist acts between consenting adults should be permitted,” to use libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick’s words.
To give a few examples, this means no interference with wages or prices, neither general wage and price controls, nor usury ceilings, nor minimum wages, nor rent controls, nor price-fixing by various agencies of the government such as the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Civil Aeronautics Board. Setting a price above the market must cause a surplus, as we have seen with agricultural products and the employment of unskilled young. Setting a price below the market causes shortages, as we have seen with gasoline.
The libertarian principle means that there should be no tariffs and no import quotas. Their effect is to increase the cost of living to consumers. For instance, it means no restrictions on imports of foreign cars, restrictions such as the “American content” requirement advocated by Jimmy Carter and by Ronald Reagan through his spokesman Martin Anderson. The high level of auto workers’ wages compared to the average American’s wage means that the restrictions on foreign imports and, incidentally, the Chrysler bailout, transfer wealth from the poor to the rich.
This principle means that government should not be able to decide who can enter which occupation or which business, as it now does with 800 occupations ranging from tree surgery and barbering to lawyers and doctors, and countless businesses such as trucking, airlines, the postal business, banking, electricity, and telephone service. One of the most harmful effects of government restrictions has been to freeze out minorities from climbing the economic ladder. For instance, no firm engaged in coast-to-coast trucking is owned by a black person even though one man in St. Louis has been trying for years to get a permit.
On taxation, libertarians call for a drastic cut in taxes. And Ed Clark, unlike the other three candidates, has stated in a white paper how he would cut both taxes and spending in order to balance the budget at about $425 billion. He would cut not just the fat but also the lean: he would end all subsidies to business, abolish the Departments of Energy and Education, and reduce military spending by $50 billion.
This last requires some elaboration. Libertarians favor a non-interventionist foreign policy. A majority of our military spending is used to protect countries other than the United States–including rich Western European countries and Japan. There is no reason why we should pay for their defense. While America spends over 5% of its GNP on the military, Japan spends only 1.5%. [I mistakenly said “1%” in the speech.] They can afford their own.
Also, in the area of foreign policy, Clark would completely withdraw the military from the Middle East. Unlike Clark, the other three candidates are willing to risk our lives to protect what President Carter mistakenly but revealingly referred to as “our oil.” It is not our oil. And we would not be nearly as dependent on OPEC oil if we had a free market in energy and got rid of oil price controls and “windfall profits taxes” that are restricting domestic alternatives.
To those who fear the Soviet government as an omnipotent monster, I say that it is a semi-developed monster. That fact is that Russia is surrounded by apathetic or openly or covertly hostile Communist states. On the longest border of the world, it has as an enemy the most heavily populated nation in the world. Four of the five countries with nuclear missiles have them trained on Russian cities. Russia has suffered reversal after reversal in the last few years–in Egypt, Somalia, and Afghanistan. It is extremely unlikely that they could take over the Persian Gulf oil fields. Even if they could, it is extremely unlikely that they would refuse to trade with the United States–our government, not theirs, has always been the first to impose embargoes. They have too much to lose by not trading.
My statement has been rather sketchy and I have not had the time to make the detailed arguments I would like to make. In case you believe that no one but wild-eyed radicals supports our tax and spending cut, let me point out that 38 economists, including Harold Demsetz of UCLA, Vernon Smith of the University of Arizona, Sam Peltzman of the University of Chicago, and Robert Clower, our new editor of our Association’s journal, have endorsed it.
I would like to close with a quote from George Washington that sums up the issue: “Government is not reason; it is not eloquence; it is force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” [I have been unable to find persuasive evidence that GW actually said this, but I believed it at the time.]