Be an Effective Salesman of Liberty

by Harry Browne

From the radio show, January 26, 2003      

Here are some thoughts to keep in mind when attempting to sell the ideas of liberty to friends and associates. They are designed to convert people, not to win arguments against them.

Principles of Government

There are seven principles that must be recognized regarding any government program no matter what the program, no matter how laudable the objective of the program, no matter what terrible things the program is supposed to do away with. If you understand these principles, you can speak effectively regarding an existing or proposed government program or law, even if you don't know all the details of the program.

    1. Government is force. Every government program is backed by the coercive power to compel people to alter their lives. For government to provide what you want, it must take it by force from someone else. The force isn’t apply only against criminals or other bad people. The force must first be applied against the innocent the people who must be forced to pay for the program, the people who must be forced to open their homes, their businesses, their bank accounts to the government.

    2. Government is politics. Whenever you turn anything over to the government, you transform it from a financial, medical, scientific, military, or social matter into a political issue to be decided by whoever has the most political influence. And that will never be you nor I.

    3. You don’t control the government. No government program will operate as you imagine it should. The politicians and bureaucrats will transform your wonderful idea to suit themselves into something quite different from what you envision. So all the talk about the wonderful things this program or law is supposed to do is just talk. It's just a game of "pretend," and has no relevance to how politicians and bureaucrats will use the force of government to get what they really want.

    4. Power always grows. No government program stands still. Whatever the original budget amount, whatever the original area to be covered, whatever the original objectives, the program or law will grow much larger, be applied to areas never discussed when the original law was enacted, and serve as a precedent to apply the same kind of pseudo-solution to other issues. When Medicare was set up in 1965, the politicians estimated that its in 1992 cost would be $3 billion  which is equivalent to $12 billion when adjusted for inflation to 1992 dollars. The actual cost in 1992 was $110 billion  nine times as much. The civil rights acts of the 1960s supposedly designed to outlaw state-sponsored racial segregation in the south have been used to justify quotas and hate-crime laws, as well as laws forcing landlords and employers to do business with gays, people with children, people with disabilities, drug addicts, or others who might be commercially unprofitable or even morally offensive to them.

    5. Power is sure to be misused eventually. When you give a good politician the power to do good, you give many future bad politicians the power to do bad. As Michael Cloud has pointed out, "The problem is not the abuse of power, it is the power to abuse." The problem doesn’t arise when a bad politician starts doing bad things; it arose earlier when politicians in general were given the power to do what you might have thought were good things. The bombing of Iraq, Serbia, Afghanistan, and the Sudan by Bill Clinton and George Bush are pretty much non-controversial because everyone’s favorite conservative, Ronald Reagan, set the precedent by bombing Libya and invading Grenada to great applause in the 1980s.

    6. Government doesn’t work. Because government is force, because it is political, because your intentions won’t matter, because power will always be misused, government simply won’t deliver what you want. I don’t know of any government program that has achieved what it promised.

    7. Government must be subject to absolute limits. Because politicians have every incentive to expand government, and with it their power, and because there will always be people who can profit from that expansion and thereby provide "public support" for the expansion, there must be absolute limits on government. The Constitution provides the obvious limits we must reimpose upon the federal government. Until the Constitution is enforced, we have no hope of containing the federal government.

    You don’t have to use all these principles. In fact, you should focus on using and expanding upon the three or four you’re most comfortable with.

    I believe the heart of the matter is #6. Why bother turning something over to the government when the government never delivers on its promises?


    Those principles lead to seven questions to ask someone who’s proposing or defending a government program, regulation, or law:

    1. Do you really want to make this a matter of fines and prison terms?

    2. Do you really want to transform this matter into a political issue, to be decided by whoever has the most political influence people like Bill Clinton, Trent Lott, Teddy Kennedy, or George Bush?

    3. Do you really expect this program to retain its original size and scope, without spreading into other areas of your life?

    4. Do you really think the program will operate in the way you imagine knowing that you have no way to control it?

    5. Do you really want to hand the government power that can be misused in the future by a politician you may despise?

    6. Do you really believe this program or law will achieve its goal knowing that no existing government program has matched the promises made for it?

    7. Are you willing to breach the Constitution to have your way opening the door ever wider to whatever tomorrow’s politicians want?

    How Do You Approach People?

    What topic gets someone’s interest?

    His own life: His family, his job, his savings, his retirement, his desires, his freedom. These are things that are important enough for him to pay attention to you..

    Phrase the issue in terms of the self-interest of the individual — the way a law or program will affect him personally.

    Let’s look at some examples:

    • Social Security: If it continues as a government program, you may get nothing and lose every dollar you’ve put into it.

    • Free trade: You should be free to buy anything you want from anyone anywhere who wants to sell to you.

    • Immigration controls: An immigration crackdown means you'll have to carry an ID card, your employer may have to lower your wages to accommodate the costs of increased government inspections and forms to fill out, the police will begin asking to see your papers. And still the immigrants will come streaming across the borders.

    • Environment: Giving the government control over the environment means higher electric bills, possible rationing of air conditioning eventually, more pollution on government property, dirty rivers. To clean up the environment without intruding on your life, we must force the government to quit owning all the property that's being polluted.

    • Drug War: We want an end to the metal detectors and locker searches at your children’s schools, unsafe streets, and asset forfeiture that could ruin you.

    • Medicare: Your parents are being forced into a program where they and their doctor have less and less control over their own lives and they’re paying too much for health care. Your parents or their doctor could go to jail for unintentionally disobeying a Medicare regulation.

    • Foreign policy: Your children could be called to fight and die in a foreign war, and it won’t solve anything. Next year, other children will be sent off to die somewhere else.

    These are just a few examples.

    Some times people raise an issue just because they think they’re supposed to. You might ask a few questions to ascertain whether the person really cares about the issue.

    Paint a Picture

    Try to bring the conversation around to the better life the individual could enjoy in a libertarian America. Paint a picture of a better America, showing the prospect how much his life could be improved. Here are some examples:

    • If you're like the average American family, when we repeal the income and Social Security taxes, you'll have $10,000 or more to spend every year. What would you do with the money? Will you put your child in a private school? Will you take a better vacation every year? Support your church or favorite cause or charity in a way you've never been able to do before? What will you do with that money?

    • Stopping government from regulating business means better jobs available with higher pay as well as more products available and lower cost — with no increase in your vulnerability. Employers will be able to satisfy their best employees, instead of the bureaucrats, and companies will be able to satisfy their customers, instead of the government.

    • Getting government out of health care will give you lower costs, easier access to medical care, better insurance that's less expensive. A hospital stay might cost you a day's pay instead of two week's pay. And doctors would be able to make house calls again.

    • An end to the Social Security tax means you could put a small portion of your earnings in a bank savings account and come out way ahead of what Social Security is promising now. You could be a millionaire when you retire.

    • An end to the insane War on Drugs means safer schools, no drug dealers on the street, no more excuses for Treasury agents to snoop in your bank account. And the prisons would be emptied of non-violent people, so that there's room for the real thugs to be put away where they no longer can threaten you.

    • A non-interventionist foreign policy means a peaceful and secure America, much lower taxes, no one wanting to commit terrorist attacks to influence our government. It would be safe again for you to travel throughout the world, because Americans would no longer be thought of as bullies.