The Future Is Not Hopeless

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The
future of liberty in America can seem pretty dark sometimes.

Our
outlook isn't helped by the many pessimistic statements that are
uttered – many times by libertarians. Here some of them.

"Americans
have chosen security over liberty, and there's nothing we can
do about it."

"People
are too apathetic; they can’t be reached."

"George
Bush has been a terrible President, and yet America has just reelected
him."

"Americans
are sheep, they'll fall for any leader, and they’re too stupid
to understand what’s good for them."

And
on and on and on.

The
Other Side

I
call those statements The Clichs of Libertarianism, because
I don’t believe they’re realistic.

I
love opera and operetta. If you have no interest in such things,
should I say you're apathetic?

Of
course not. People decide for themselves what interests them. And
given the difficulty of making ends meet in a high-tax society,
it's not surprising that some people pay little attention when we
talk about the future of America – and focus instead on the
need to feed their families and send their children to college.
That’s not apathy; it’s self-interest.

The
personal tasks facing them are difficult and all-consuming. Taxes
and big government may be the reasons the tasks are so difficult,
but most people don't make the connection. It's our job to
awaken their interest and help them connect the dots, so they can
see how much better their lives would be without big government.

It’s
also a careless clich that the American people have chosen security
over liberty. If that’s so, I must have slept through that election.
When, in your lifetime, have Americans been given a clear-cut, honest
choice between security and liberty?

Notice,
too, that America didn't reelect George Bush. Only about
30% of the eligible voters chose him in the recent election, and
40% of those eligible didn't vote at all.

I
have seen no evidence that the American people are hopeless addicts
to big government.

Certainly,
there's much work to be done to turn things around. But we should
recognize that every human being wants to make his own choices (even
if he wants only to choose whose advice he'll take). If we can appeal
to that desire for self-choice, we have a chance to make America
a free country again.

The
People Speak

But
you don't have to take my word that there's a tremendous market
for liberty.

Unreported
and unpublicized, the leading polling companies have regularly asked
people what they think of government.

You
might be surprised by the results . . . 

55% favor
smaller government with fewer services, as opposed to a larger
government with many services.


Los Angeles Times poll
, September 2003
(This figure has been pretty much consistent in Times polls
since 1993.)

50% favor
smaller government with fewer services.


ABC News / Washington Post poll
, June 20, 2004
(This response is the lowest in the eight years this poll has been
taken)

64% prefer
smaller government with fewer services and lower taxes.

Rasmussen
poll, February 16, 2004
[the link to the webpage has been broken]

31% have
a great deal of confidence in the Presidency. 29% have a great
deal of confidence in the Supreme Court. 13% have a great deal
of confidence in Congress.


Harris Poll
, February 2004

65% believe
that government is the biggest threat to the country in the future
(compared with 22% who think big business is the biggest threat
and 7% who named big labor).


Gallup Poll
, October 2000

27% trust
the government to do what's right most of the time.


Newsweek poll
, October 9–10, 2003

This
disdain for government isn't even a recent development. Back in
the mid-1990s, I collected these figures . . . 

73% believe
"the federal government is much too large and has too much
power."

Luntz
Research Companies, November 9, 1994

67% believe
"big government is the biggest threat to the country in the
future."

The
Roper Center for Reader's Digest in 1994

63% think
"government regulation of business usually does more harm
than good."

The
Times Mirror Center for the People & the Press, July 27, 1994

Only 22%
"trust the government in Washington to do what is right most
of the time."

CBS
News and The New York Times, November 1, 1994

60% want
a strong third party to provide a true alternative to what they're
getting now.

The
Times Mirror Center for the People & the Press, June 24, 1993

Tempering
the Results

Yes,
I realize that many of the people participating in these polls would
cling desperately to their favorite federal programs. But, most
likely, that's only because they're not offered something better.

Very
few people realize how much they're paying out of their own pockets
for programs they think are bargains. It's our job to show them
what they could have
if we reduced the federal government
to just its constitutional
functions – facilitating the repeal of all federal income taxes,
including the Social Security tax. Talk about offering benefits!

It's
our job to describe a better life, a better way, a better America
for them. Yes, we should point out what's wrong with foreign wars
and domestic boondoggles, but we also should paint a positive picture
of the kind of small-government future that's possible for them,
their children, and their grandchildren.

Can
We Win?

I'm
not a cheerleader. I'm not trying to tell you we'll win – rah
rah – if we just do a few simple things.

The
task ahead is a very difficult one. But it isn't an impossible one.
Every individual wants to be free to make his own decisions. And
we libertarians are the ones who are offering him the opportunity
to do so.

While
victory isn't assured, it is possible.

Out
of Nowhere

How
will we win?

I
don't know.

One
of the many wonders of the marketplace is that you don't have to
know the way that many things are accomplished in order to benefit
from them. You rely for much of what you enjoy on people who have
talents, skills, connections, knowledge, and other resources that
you don't happen to have – and who sometimes operate in ways
that are mysterious to you. All you have to do is to perform services
that you do best to earn the money to have access to their
incomprehensible achievements.

And,
also mysteriously, many unexpected events occur in the marketplace.
Things that can’t possibly happen suddenly happen. In 1975, when
America was in the worst financial shape since 1929, a new bull
market in stocks suddenly arose from the ashes.

It
Can Happen

The
best example of such events occurred in my lifetime.

I
remember the beginning of the Cold War in the late 1940s. The titanic
face-off between the U.S. and Soviet governments continued through
my teen years into adulthood, and on into middle age. And all the
while the world cowered before the possibility that some miscalculation
could set off a nuclear war.

Despite
the danger, both governments benefited so much from the war –
using the danger as an excuse to oppress their subjects in many
ways – that I didn't see how the war would ever end. Like the
perpetual war in George Orwell's 1984,
I expected the Cold War to outlive me.

And
then something occurred – a miracle! – that was completely
inexplicable to me at the time. In August 1989 the Hungarian government
opened its borders, allowing East German tourists to escape into
Austria.

When
word got back to East Germany, the trickle of escapees became a
tidal wave. And three months later the Berlin Wall came down.

A
year later the Soviet Union fell apart. The Cold War was over.

The
impossible had happened.

(It
was only later that I discovered that Mikhail Gorbachev's economy
measures had caused Soviet troops to withdraw from the satellite
countries, with a warning that the Soviets wouldn't help the satellite
governments put down any rebellion. The Hungarian government was
already liberalizing in many ways, living standards there were rising,
and the government no longer saw a reason to prevent people from
moving freely in and out of the country.)

The
Reality

The
fact that something isn't impossible doesn't mean it will happen.
And I can't promise you anything.

But
this I know:

  1. The desire
    to control one's own life is as basic a human instinct as is the
    will to live and the urge to procreate.
  2. Only by
    organizing society along libertarian principles can the desire
    to control one's own life be satisfied widely and securely. Unfortunately,
    most people don't recognize fully how big government limits their
    personal control.
  3. But when
    people are shown the benefits to them personally of smaller
    government, most of them come around to the libertarian position
    over time.
  4. Because
    we have so much more to offer, it would take far less in resources
    to build an avalanche of public opinion that could force politicians
    to reduce government, despite their fondest wishes to increase
    it – far less in resources than it takes to maintain fidelity
    to big government.
  5. There are
    people in this country who could profit greatly from smaller government
    and who have the resources to go a long way toward creating that
    avalanche of public opinion. They simply lack a few pieces of
    the intellectual puzzle, and so haven't yet recognized either
    the need to bring about smaller government or the power they have
    to make it happen.
  6. There already
    are enough libertarians to be able to reach such people and, over
    time, move them far enough in our direction to finally nudge them
    over the line to action.

How
will they be reached? What message will touch them most and move
them to action?

I
can’t say. But I wouldn’t dare interfere with anyone who is trying
to enlist more people in our cause.

Are
You the One?

E.B.
White, the author of children's books, once said (slightly paraphrased):

As long as
there is one honest man, as long as there is one upright woman,
the future is not hopeless, because the contagion may spread.

If
you're that honest man or that upright woman, the future isn't hopeless,
because your example may inspire others.

If
you speak up when you have the chance – calling into radio
shows, writing letters to the editor, participating in Internet
forums, just talking with friends or business associates without
sacrificing your position – the future isn't hopeless, because
you never know who will hear or read your words.

You
may say just the right thing to finally bring around someone who's
close to crossing the line to active libertarianism – someone
with far more resources, far more talent, far more skills, or far
more influence than you have – someone who has the ability
to multiply your efforts a hundred or a thousand times over, just
because of who he is.

No,
you can't change America all by yourself. Neither can you do so
just by wishing for it.

But
you might be the one who inspires one or more people who can
make an enormous difference.

Are
you that honest man, that upright woman?

If
you are, the future is not hopeless.

January
1, 2005

Harry Browne [send
him mail
], the author of Why
Government Doesn’t Work

and many other books, was the Libertarian presidential candidate
in 1996 and 2000. See his website.

Harry
Browne Archives

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