Free-Lunch Libertarians

Most people who visit this site know of a phenomenon known as big-government libertarianism. These are libertarians who favor a large military budget. They do not favor drastic cut-backs in Federal spending. They favor the idea of creating pseudo free-market projects to “make the government more efficient.” They believe in the beloved “government-business partnership.”

The most notorious example of such a program is school vouchers. Big-government libertarians think that there is a great gain available for efficiency’s sake when the State steals money from one group of taxpayers and then uses it to subsidize another group. The schools must then “meet a market” and compete for voucher money from parents. This is called a free market solution to the bureaucratic problems of education. On the contrary, it is a way for government to get control over private schools. “You have taken our money. Now we will regulate you.” This is the pattern. We have seen it with Hillsdale College and Grove City College, which wisely turned down the money. The precedent has been set.

I first wrote against this proposal in 1976 in my essay in The Freeman, “Vouchers: The Double Tax.” I followed up on this in the same journal in 1993. This drew a response from Milton Friedman, to which I responded. Dr. Friedman began his career in the Federal government by providing technical support for Federal income tax withholding, which led to the greatest percentage increase of Federal income taxation in American history: from $6.4 billion in 1943 to over $20 billion in 1944. He was the most famous supporter of school vouchers. He promoted the negative income tax. He was legendary for his attacks on the gold standard, much preferring a central bank that expands the money supply by a constant 3% to 5% per year. (He never decided which rate.) Except for military conscription, which he opposed, he was arguably the most influential big-government libertarian of the twentieth century. He did not break with the Establishment, as Mises and Rothbard did.

What is less well known is another subset of the libertarian movement, the free-lunch libertarians. They initially adopt as their motto, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” They spend the rest of their lives insisting that everyone around them give them free goodies, especially free information. They do not call on the State to do this. Instead, they imply that individuals owe them a living. And when they are rebuffed, they are outraged. This is not just an affront to them. The person who refuses is a moral deviant, a crook.

I run into this on a regular basis. I provide lots of free information on my website, That material I wrote for free — no royalties. From 1976 to 2001, donors to my now-defunct organization, the Institute for Christian Economics, gave about three million dollars to publish these materials. I never took a salary from the ICE. I donated at least 30 hours a week to it for two decades. (The Web lets me publish a book in 60 seconds for free in PDF. So, I stopped asking for support.)

Similarly, I have written over 600 articles free of charge, which appear on this Website. This is not enough to satisfy free-lunch libertarians. At zero price, they want unlimited access to my information. They want me to make them richer, free of charge. I owe this to them, as they occasionally explain.


I get daily e-mail requests for investment advice. People indicate that they are ready to do what I tell them. But I must tell them for free by email. I owe this to them, you see.

I earn my living with a website. For $14.95 a month, people can ask me questions. I answer. My subscribers also answer. I have some very sharp subscribers.

But this means that someone who wants my investment advice must pay for it. I have many subscribers who do pay. But this is not acceptable to free-lunch libertarians. What others pay for, they want for free. Now.

I politely send back a note: “Please ask investment questions on my site, where all of my subscribers can see my answers and respond.”

I do not think I have gained even one subscriber in two years with this reply. They are unwilling to pay $14.95 for a 30-day trial subscription on a money-back guarantee. No, no, no: my advice for them to re-structure their entire portfolio is not worth this. So, they go away, which is fine with me.

But some are enraged. Here is an example from Bill S. He sent a letter, referring to nothing in particular: “Do you recommend selling my gold stocks too?” “Too?” When did I recommend anything to him? Where? I responded, “Post all questions on my site, so all my subscribers can see my answers.” That was at 4:56 p.m. At 7:53, I received this reply:

You con artist. Your email sounded so altruistic,(you just wanted everyone to have benefit of the answer to my question). You just wanted to sell a $180 subscription. Talk about a bait & switch! You phony. You have the audacity to criticize Penocchio Ben and Adolf Paulson. Your just as bad. Havn’t you learned anything from watching westerns over the years?

His grammar is not good, but you get the idea.

My subscribers pay for my advice. He also wanted my advice. I refused to give it to him. So, he gave it to me. He let me know exactly what kind of a crook I am. “Crook = anyone who expects to get paid for services rendered.” Anyone who will not give to a free-lunch libertarian what he sells to non-free-lunch buyers is a crook. A phony.

This is the mentality of free-lunch libertarians. They have one thing in common. They don’t have much money. People who depend on handouts never have much money. My guess is Bill S. has about $2,000 in gold stocks — at the most, $5,000. That’s probably 50% of his retirement portfolio. He is probably around 50 years old. Just a guess.

I give free advice to ghetto adults who have never had a job, and who want to learn how to get a job. I drive into the “hood” to give my lecture every seven weeks. I do the same with the teenagers I teach in Sunday School, in that same neighborhood. But I don’t give away free information to free-lunch libertarians who have a portfolio of gold stocks, however small.


The libertarian movement has long been burdened by clever, highly educated economists who want to make the State more efficient, and also by beggars who want free lunches from others as a way of life. I find that the Christian Right is similarly afflicted, although it has few economists. But the Christian Right has an excuse. Its members watch Fox News. They just do not know any better. Libertarians have no similar excuse.

February 21, 2008

Gary North [send him mail] is the author of Mises on Money. Visit He is also the author of a free 20-volume series, An Economic Commentary on the Bible.

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