were having dinner at Postrio's. Nature placed us at 36 degrees,
5 minutes north latitude, 115 degrees 10 minutes west longitude
– in the middle of a North American desert. There were only
30 residents at that location in 1902 — every one of them probably
wishing he was somewhere else. But that was before the mafia, gambling,
air conditioning, and the Colorado River transformed Las Vegas into
the "Entertainment Capital of the World."
in the very same spot you can enjoy cuisine moderne, sitting “outside”
in a replica of St. Mark's Square, Venice. Not only that, you can
arrive by gondola!
place is better than the real thing," said a friend. "No
pigeons, the water in the canal is clean, it's air-conditioned,
it never rains, and there are no pesky foreigners."
never rains in St. Marks Square in the Venetian. The sky is always
perfect — with wispy clouds punctuating a clear blue ciel.
a nearby table, a 50-something man entertained three young women.
The women looked like they might have been Italian prostitutes or
models for a Latin American motorcycle magazine.
it nice," said someone at our table, "he brought his daughters
to Las Vegas…"
goes in Las Vegas. No hallucination is too bizarre. No perversion
too revolting. No idea too absurd. My friend could not have picked
a better place for the first annual convention of the Foundation
for Economic Education.
love this place," said Harry Browne, twice Libertarian Party
candidate for president. "People are so relaxed. And so friendly.
It also illustrates what the free market…and man's imagination…can
editor was not sure. He was either impressed. Or appalled.
he was not there to pass judgment. He was there to give a speech…and
found himself with hecklers even before he opened his mouth.
if you're going to say something anti-American," said a man
as the audience collected, "we don't want to hear it."
Mark had asked me to speak. The other speakers — one after another
— celebrated the virtues of liberty and the remarkable country it
had produced. How could I resist?
stand before you a heretic," I told the audience. "I have
nothing against liberty…or against America itself. But, both are
like Las Vegas hookers — overbought…and under-appreciated. Their
virtues have been corrupted for the sake of convenience." Excerpts
from my speech, reconstructed from memory and improved, follow:
is certainly a worthy ideal. Like honesty and integrity, it is something
we should strive for. But it is not everything. It doesn't explain
why people do what they do. Nor is it even what people really want.
needs to be nourished from time to time with the blood of patriots,
they say. But perhaps some other body fluids might help from time
to time — gall, bile, sweat and tears. And whatever goo greases
the synapses of the brain.
point I am reaching for is that u2018liberty' can be a slippery concept.
It can have a very simple meaning and simple application…or it
can get stretched into a grotesque shape and used to justify things
that make people less free. It is typical of bull market tops that
people do not think critically. They accept whatever they are told…whatever
they want to hear…whatever makes them believe that the good times
will continue for ever.
has been a bull market in American power and wealth for the last
226 years…with a major rally since the end of the Carter Administration.
People seem to have lost the capacity of skeptical reflection. They
will get it back, I predict, but not before a lot of body fluids
have been expended. Because a kind of madness often takes over when
you come near a major top. It has to run its course…it has to
itself…before it finally comes to an end.
the twin towers of the World Trade Center went down, the flags went
up all across the land. u2018Proud to be an American' banners unfurled
everywhere. But what were Americans so proud of? Is what we see
better? Is what we eat better? Are we better people?"
we're the richest people on Earth," my heckler had said to
me as if that settled the matter…
course, it all depends on how you measure it, I told him. But even
if it were true, what does it prove? Is wealth all that matters?
Mencken summed up the simple spirit of liberty in America when he
translated the Declaration of Independence into the unadorned American
language. I will read a passage for you:
you and me is as good as anybody else, and maybe a damn sight better;
second, nobody ain't got no right to take away none of our rights;
third, every man has got a right to live, to come and go as he pleases,
and to have a good time however he likes, so long as he don't interfere
with nobody else. That any government that don't give a man these
rights ain’t worth a damn; also, people ought to choose the kind
of government they want themselves, and nobody else ought to have
no say in the matter…
things get so bad that a man ain't hardly got no rights at all no
more, you might almost call him a slave, then everybody ought to
get together and throw the grafters out, and put in new ones who
won't carry on so high and steal so much, and then watch them…’
liberty may have been the idea foremost in the minds of the patriots
who set up the republic. America never was a nation — for we are
a diverse people, with different customs, languages, religion, history.
Genetically, individual Americans are closer to their European,
Asian or African relatives than they are to other Americans. The
only thing that unified the country was the idea of liberty — that
anyone could come and make a new start, so long as he was willing
while the simple liberty may have been the idea behind the country…it
was not necessarily the idea in front of it. A lot can happen in
226 years. And a lot has. Flying from Baltimore yesterday, I stood
in line for an hour…and then was ordered to partially undress.
I was checked out so thoroughly I thought I should cancel my annual
medical examination. My shoes were removed and run through a special
shoe scanner! (Of course, I can't tell you how many people have
wanted to hijack a commercial airliner with a pair of loafers. I
know I have.) But all this was done in the name of protecting our
Hitler probably reached a episodical bull market top of his power
when he invaded Russia on June 22nd, 1941. He didn't
say he was trying to enslave the Russians and kill the Jews. Instead,
he said he was promoting the cause of liberty! Stalin fought back
with the same rhetoric — claiming that he was fighting to protect
the liberty of Mother Russia. It was hard to tell which was the
bigger lie. In neither country were citizens free to do what they
wanted. In Russia, particularly, they were almost completely enslaved
the habit of using u2018liberty' to describe acts of terror, barbarism
and war was already well established in the world. At Gettysburg,
Abraham Lincoln described his war against the southern states as
a war to ensure that a ‘nation conceived in liberty…shall not
perish.’ Nobody laughed. Americans had already lost their sense
of humor…and their liberty.
I read in the International Herald Tribune that geopolitical thinkers
are becoming comfortable with describing America as an u2018empire.'
America is more powerful compared to the rest of the world than
even ancient Rome was. We have bases all over the world and routinely
meddle in almost everyone's business. Why not just own up to the
fact that we've become an empire?
with agents all over the planet, supposedly looking out for u2018America's
interests,' there's bound to be trouble. And little by little, the
freedom of individual Americans gives way to the security needs
of the empire. And so we all stand in line, like sheep, getting
our penny-loafers examined…and not saying a word in protest. ‘Inappropriate
comments are illegal’ says a sign in the airport. But, in the name
of liberty, what isn't?”
Tocqueville thought American liberty improved the morals of its
people. A Frenchman, he was surprised — and perhaps disappointed
— to find American women reluctant to cheat on their husbands. He
ascribed the virtue to exhaustion. Americans worked so hard they
had no energy left for fooling around, he thought. But times change…
the Venetian, I ran a gauntlet of leafleteers. Taking the handouts
just to be sociable, your editor discovered they were pornographic.
He examined them carefully — with an eye to plumbing the depths
of depravity in Las Vegas. A pair of twins promised to "Double
Your Fun" by visiting your hotel room — “within 20 minutes.”
A pregnant “bored housewife” pledged to shed whatever rag of decency
she had left — again, in the privacy of your hotel room. And, for
those who weren't quite sure what they wanted, a “trans-gender”
person claimed to be “fully equipped” to satisfy whatever disgustingly
perverse ambition you may closet.