Out and about instead of being cooped up in my office, I head over to McCosh 50 on the Princeton University campus to take in a lecture by my college classmate John Stossel, who served as business manager of the student newspaper at the same time I was the chairman (as the top editor was called back in those all-male days).
While I left college and plunged into the world of print journalism, Stossel — with a publishing background at the Prince but no journalism experience — took off for television news, carving out a niche for himself as a consumer reporter. Stossel stood up for consumers and won 19 Emmy awards.
Then he began to wonder if the laws meant to protect consumers were in fact making matters worse rather better. A libertarian was born (and the Emmys stopped coming).
I had heard Stossel speak at another Princeton forum during the 2014 Reunions weekend. The topic was “Views of Modern Conservatism and Libertarianism,” and Stossel had to make clear at the outset that he was a libertarian, not a conservative and not a politician, either. This time Stossel had the podium to himself (his talk, “Capitalism and Its Enemies,” was co-sponsored by the Princeton Libertarians group) and his presentation was a perfect warm-up for some of what we can expect to hear from the newly announced presidential candidate, libertarian Rand Paul.
Stossel’s view of the world is that much of the good that surrounds us has occurred despite government, not because of it. OSHA bragged about how workplace accidents decreased after its inception. But research showed that workplace accidents had begun to decrease even before OSHA and its burdensome regulations arrived.
Lots of Stossel’s talk (and Rand’s forthcoming campaign stump speeches, you can imagine) appeal to the practical side in all of us. Stossel says the one good thing about the bursting of the mortgage bubble back in 2008 was that banks started asking for higher down payments. But since then they have slipped back to their old practices, because they know that government will always buy the mortgages. “Canada has none of that stuff and home ownership is higher there.”
When Stossel says we should even abolish the FDA, my initial reaction is to cringe. But he points out that without the FDA private firms would spring up to certify drugs and the marketplace would reward the most effective ones. Stossel describes the introduction of a new beta blocker a few years ago, with the medical authorities bragging that the new drug would save 14,000 lives a year. But no one asked about the 14,000 people who died in the previous years, when the drug was going through the FDA review and was not yet for sale.
It’s all common sense. And it’s easy to imagine that, in a world with market forces working fairly well, everything would iron out.
One of the backdrops Stossel has up on the screen behind him shows the growth in government spending as a percentage of the total economy. It lies almost flat throughout most of our history until we come to the New Deal and World War II. Then it takes off like a runaway, gravity-defying rocket. When will it come crashing down? Stossel paints a bleak picture of the future for the best and the brightest of Princeton’s Class of 2015.
As I said before, Stossel may be the warm up act for Rand Paul. It will be interesting to see how the Kentucky senator twists his libertarian views, particularly his isolationist foreign policy, into a pablum that can be swallowed by the hawks in the Republican Party.
Now that Paul has announced his candidacy some of the libertarian planks in his platform are evident. He is for reducing drug penalties (a position that he hopes will resonate with black voters) and for reining in intelligence agencies and minimizing military intervention (positions that might attract young and independent voters).
But Paul is said to follow the hard right line on abortion and same-sex marriage (as opposed to Stossel, who says that government ought to stay out of people’s private lives as much as possible). And Paul, of course, does not believe in this silly climate change.
Politicians love to have a fear that they can address, and I imagine we will soon hear Rand Paul making the same case that Stossel made last week before the Princeton undergraduates. Pointing again to the graph showing runaway government spending, Stossel offers a grim view of the future: “I don’t know how you young people will pay for us baby boomers.”
Here Stossel and I differ. I say they will help pay for us by taking advantage of amazing new technology and the fast growing global economy (conditions that we could never have imagined in 1969) and creating new wealth that will raise our standard of living.
With that grim runaway government spending graphic looming in the background, Stossel and Paul will argue that government and its onerous regulations will eventually catch up with that new enterprise and drain its energy.
A few days after the Stossel talk I drive up to Lambertville, to drop off a few copies of our new venture, a quarterly review called “Genesis.” Imagine that: All that doom and gloom about print journalism, coupled with the shackles of burdensome government, and we are still able to launch a new publication. Of course it’s easy for us, Stossel would argue, we have the first amendment on our side.
I walk from coffee shop to coffee shop, book store to art gallery to yet more art galleries, introducing the new publication. I soon realize that many of those galleries are in fact owned by the artists whose work is being exhibited. Imagine that: Even in this onerous business climate some quintessential American artists — not MBAs or technology geeks — are finding a way through the alleged thickets of red tape and opening their own shops.
How do we get the word out to the followers of Stossel, Rand, et al? Thinking back to that ominous graphic Stossel displayed at his presentation, I have an idea: Maybe my newfound artist-entrepreneurs could just draw a picture. Make it bright and cheerful.