Washington, DC -- (ReleaseWire) -- 06/27/2015 --DAWN BENNETT: Dr. Charles Murray is a social scientist, political scientist, author and libertarian. He's been a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute since 1990, after first coming to national attention in 1984 with the publication of Losing Ground, which has been credited as the intellectual foundation for the Welfare Reform Act of 1996. His most recent book, By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission, is a very well written book that states a goal of restoring freedom and limiting the government. Murray has a few controversial ideas on how to get to that goal, which is where I want to start today. Charles, welcome to Financial Myth Busting.
CHARLES MURRAY: Dawn, my pleasure to be here.
BENNETT: Charles, in your book you have what I would call a bombshell: you propose a form of systemic civil disobedience, which would be underwritten by privately funded legal resistance to the regulatory state. Do you honestly think that could happen?
MURRAY: Oh, not only could it happen, my bet is it's going to happen, because just in the few weeks the book has been out, the amount of mail I've been getting—e-mail and so forth—from people who want to contribute money, want to contribute their time if they're attorneys, is kind of astounding. Oddly enough, of all the proposals for improving public policy, most of which don't have a prayer of getting through congress, this one doesn't require having the right congress, doesn't require having the right president. That's why the subtitle of the book is 'Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission'. All it requires is for us, who are tired of the regulatory state messing up our lives, to take systematic action to choose those regulations that we can safely ignore, we can appropriately ignore. I want to emphasize, Dawn, I'm not saying that we should get rid of pollution regulations that keep smoke stacks from billowing noxious smoke into the air; I'm not talking about those. I'm talking about regulations where they make you redo your whole workplace at the cost of $20,000 because your railings are two inches lower than the OSHA says they ought to be. That's the kind of thing I'm upset about.
BENNETT: Unreasonable things. But is it possible to engage in civil disobedience without fear of being tossed into jail? A lot of civil rights protestors have avoided jail, but a lot of the civil rights leaders were less lucky. How do you think jail can be avoided?
MURRAY: Well, it depends on the regulation that you are ignoring. And if you are saying there are some where you can get jail time, you're right. And as part of the strategy, I wouldn't go after those as my first ones, because it's one thing to ask people to resist the regulatory state if it means allowing a free legal defense to be amounted on their behalf, but it's another thing to ask them to risk going to jail. So that would be way down the road. However, let me be candid; we have to assume that with this kind of resistance, which basically consists of pushing back, so that we don't give in as soon as the government does something. Sooner or later, we're going to realize that they will fight back, they will try to scare people off by trying to go for jail time. The good news here is, on a strategic level, those people will become highly publicized for violating regulations that an overwhelming majority of the American people agree are stupid and pointless, or that they did nothing wrong. And the threat of being put in jail is going to bounce back against the government big time.
BENNETT: Is our constitution so damaged, so fractured that it can't even be fixed by, let's say, the Supreme Court?
MURRAY: No, it cannot. And this is one of the things, Dawn, that in writing the book came home to me. I'd always thought that if you got nine Antonin Scalias or nine Clarence Thomases in the court, you could really make a lot of progress. That would be nice, in terms of getting better decisions, but from 1937 to 1943 the Supreme Court very explicitly reinterpreted key phrases of the constitution, in such a way that you can't reverse those decisions without saying that 90% of what the federal government does is unconstitutional. No court can do that.
BENNETT: This book is about limited government, so you've been writing about government overreach, I think, for almost 30 years. I wonder, what's your take about the government overreach, in the Baltimore riots. What do you think was the main cause for these riots? Was it the overreach?
MURRAY: Well, we are now seeing a problem with the militarization of the police that's a real problem. I'm a law and order guy, don't get me wrong, but some of the things that have gone on, first with the militarization of the police, where they now use SWAT tactics against minor offenders, for heaven's sake, but also the laws that permit the police to confiscate property under very loose restrictions, so that, in effect, they can take people's property. Even though the people have not been involved in the crime, did not know the crime was being committed, they can still lose their property. And the evidence is coming out, a lot of times the police are just using wish lists of, 'Oh, here's some things we'd like to have; let's go out and find somebody that we can plausibly seize them from.' Yeah, I'm afraid that's part of the problem.
BENNETT: From a social sciences perspective, is Baltimore just a repeat of the Watts riots of 50 years ago, or even Ferguson unrest last year?
MURRAY: I'm more inclined to see it as a one-off thing. I would be kind of surprised if we saw a series of them, the way that we did back in 1965-66 going through to the end of the 1960s. It doesn't have the feel that it had then. I'm old enough to remember those years. However, I say that impressionistically. I'm not saying that I'm someone who's analyzed this in detail.
BENNETT: Your book points out how liberty is becoming attractive again to both sides of the political spectrum, which I thought was interesting, and you cite things like the treatment of Uber, which even a left wing democrat can acknowledge makes no sense. But for every example like that, aren't there just as many examples of progressives trying to force their beliefs on others?
MURRAY: Yes, there are. The thing that makes me optimistic—guardedly optimistic, but optimistic—is that 20 years ago, the only people who talked about sending decisions down to the lowest possible level were people on the right. And it was treated, 'Oh, this is code for racist segregation. You want to bring back the bad old days.' Well, guess what? These days, Portland, Oregon has quite a distinctive culture; so does Ann Arbor, Michigan; so does Boulder, Colorado; so does Austin, Texas, or parts of Austin, Texas. And in all of these cases, there has been a distinctive culture, mostly on the left, that has developed in localities. They don't want to be messed with. They don't want people to get in the way of that. And there is, I think a growing self-interest in being left alone, that formerly was only the right, that is now also felt on the left. Mind you, that's not going to be enough by itself to bring about major change. But it's a different potential that's out there than existed 20 years ago.
BENNETT: You've also argued that to make progress, the left needs to give up on, for example, public sector unions.
MURRAY: Yeah, this is one of the last chapters of the book, because I'm like a lot of people. We have a variety of states of affairs in this country that are ridiculous. I don't mean they're ridiculous to conservatives; I mean they're ridiculous. Here's the obvious example, Dawn, the IRS tax code. It's four times as long as the King James Bible. Everybody knows that it's riddled with tax breaks. That's literally true, by the way.
BENNETT: And nobody reads the King James Bible, so I get your point.
MURRAY: It's riddled with tax breaks, special tax breaks that are completely unjustifiable. Nobody on either the left or the right thinks that this tax system doesn't need a major overhaul. Okay, if that's the case, there ought to be ways that we could simplify the tax system without stepping on the toes of the major interests of either side of the political spectrum. We'd only be stepping on the toes of special interests that have sneaked regulations and laws through congress. So that's the kind of thing that ought to be possible, and I am looking for things where each side says, 'We'll give up something.' So in this case of the unions, I say, okay, if you're on the left and you want to be gung-ho on behalf of unions in the private sector, that's fine. We'll continue to argue about that; we won't agree. But can we both agree that public sector unions are idiotic, because you don't have management pushing back against the union, which is absolutely essential for a negotiating process? We have cities going broke because of these sweetheart deals that the unions can negotiate from the mayors that they elected. I would like to think that moderate democrats could be brought around to say, 'You know that? Franklin Roosevelt and George Meany thought that public service unions were crazy. Maybe there's progress.' By the way, the people on the right are going to have to give up some of their cherished positions too, if we're going to start to develop this across the divide cooperation.
BENNETT: Like eliminating transfer payments.
MURRAY: Yeah, and I personally am in favor of substituting the welfare state with a basic guaranteed income. But I think what the right has to do is say, 'Look, transfer payments are not going to go away. No matter what, they aren't going to go away. Let's quit trying to fight battles pretending that somehow we're going to get rid of the welfare system, if we aren't, and let's concede that a country as rich as ours, it is in fact true that no one should be without the means to lead a decent existence.' I think we have to give up more radical aspirations for reform, in that regard.
BENNETT: To finish this thought, do you envision both sides having to agree to some sort of way forward, or will both sides realize on their own the ways they are obstructing greater liberty?
MURRAY: You know, I'm not quite sure how it's going to play out. What I would like to see—let me put it this way—from my point of view, you have the far left, the progressives who think the idea of experts running everybody's lives is just great, at one extreme, and also you have the social conservatives at another extreme, social conservatives who want to legislate nationwide their points of view on some of these controversial social issues. I see both of those groups as pulling both political parties into the kind of polarization that's paralyzing us. And so I think that we're only going to make progress when the mainstream of the democratic party says, 'No, we're not going to make our candidates pass a litmus test on Elizabeth Warren's politics,' and people on the right say, 'We aren't going to make our candidates pass a litmus test on abortion and gay rights.' And until that happens, I think that both parties are going to be controlled by their most extreme leanings.
DAWN: Despite the ominous warnings your book contains, you actually sound rather optimistic to me. Can Americans find the courage to change and promote self-government and governance again?
MURRAY: The optimism comes from the analogy with The Wizard of Oz that I use throughout the book. Those of us who are old enough to have seen The Wizard of Oz know that his booming voice is really scary when it's directed against any of us as individuals. But you know what? At the end of the movie, that curtain is pulled aside, and it's this frail little old man, with a big microphone. Increasingly, I look at the federal government and it's really scary in some ways, and inside it doesn't have nearly the ability to enforce these thousands of laws that it needs. They are vulnerable to being exposed as impotent.
BENNETT: You can get Dr. Charles Murray's book By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission, at Amazon. Thank you Dr. Murray.
MURRAY: Thank you.
All data sourced through Bloomberg
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About Dawn Bennett
Dawn Bennett is CEO and Founder of Bennett Group Financial Services. She hosts a national radio program called Financial Myth Busting http://www.financialmythbusting.com
She discusses educational topics and events in the financial news, along with her thoughts on the economy, financial markets, investments, and more with her live guests, who have included rock legend Ted Nugent, as well as Steve Forbes and Grover Norquist. Listeners can call 855-884-DAWN a as well as take podcasts on the road and forums for interaction.
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