Friday, October 28, 2011

Judge Napolitano on The Daily Show: 3 Questions for Jon Stewart

Judge Andrew Napolitano has been one of the most articulate, intelligent, and passionate defenders of liberty in our movement today. His experience as a federal judge uniquely qualifies the scholarship in his books and the reason with which he speaks every day on Freedom Watch, the prime time program on Fox Business News that is the most libertarian program to ever be on television. Many speculate if Ron Paul wins the 2012 Republican nomination, Judge Napolitano will be his running mate. The two would make an incredible tandem, I would pay big money to see The Judge go up against Joe Biden in a debate.

The Judge is out with a new book, "It Is Dangerous to Be Right When the Government Is Wrong: The Case for Personal Freedom." Here is his extended interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.

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I am a big fan of Judge Napolitano and I am a big fan of Jon Stewart (my ideology is more closely aligned with Napolitano), but I was disappointed with the interview. Every time Jon Stewart interviews a libertarian personality, (Napolitano, Ron Paul, Rand Paul) Stewart makes the exact same argument: You want to take an axe to government, you want to destroy it. I want to reform it, I want it to work better and be more efficient. I want efficient government, not no government. You argue government is inherently evil, but... we need roads, don't we? I mean, do you want to go back to the 1890's, to the era of the robber barons?

It drives me to rage, and not because of Jon Stewart's line of reasoning. He offers a very solid, coherent argument; much more advanced than the mindless name-calling that liberals typically employ after being exposed to libertarian thought: "You guys are racist/sexist/homophobic/anti-poor/fascist/evil!" Stewart is actually one of the most intelligent, well-informed, and sincerest voices on the Left. He is dead on when he attacks the media for its ridiculous, sensational news coverage and mocks the silliness of today's political theater. He is really one of the few figures in Left media or politics that I trust and admire. As a comedian on Comedy Central, he is the court jester who is the only one allowed in the Kingdom to tell the truth about the King.

It drives me to rage because the libertarian guest on his show does such a poor job of understanding Stewart's argument, and then does an even poorer job of making liberty look like an attractive position. Napolitano was probably the worst in this regard, he positively earned the ire of the audience by throwing out lines like "Selfishness is a virtue." and "If corporations took over education, the quality would be better and the kids would be smarter for it. If corporations took over healthcare, healthcare would be cheap and would be on every block like Starbucks."

What are you doing, man? Do you have any idea who your audience is? Do you know they were raised all their lives by their leftist parents to where when they hear the words "selfishness" or "corporation", like a bad mental tick, they stop listening to you and shut down their brain because they've already decided you are an idiot or a bigot. I would estimate, and this might be generous, Napolitano's appearance will approximately attract 0 people to the liberty movement from the left. I don't take offense with what he said, libertarians familiar with Objectivism and the transformational powers of free markets will agree with his points, but these are not advanced libertarians he is talking to in the studio or television audience. These are young leftists, and his tactics to reach out to them were atrocious. Put shortly, it was a squandered opportunity.

Now, I understand the Judge's dilemma. He has 15 minutes with Jon Stewart, which is scarcely enough time to try educating or informing someone who has never scratched the surface of libertarian theory. I imagine Stewart and the majority of the audience know as much about libertarianism as they do about the Swahili language or famous 1950's submarine commanders. The audience and the interviewer are hostile to his ideas. The interviewer often cuts you off in the middle of your points so neither he or the audience gets a chance to fully understand you. But if he did his research on how Stewart typically approaches interviews with other libertarian guests like Ron Paul, he could have prepared better. Ok, so The Judge has a full-time job with Fox News and he is not a big enough geek to spend the time to do that. But I do.

If I went on to the Daily Show, after telling Jon how he was one of my heroes when I was growing up, I would turn the tables and interview him. Here are the three questions I would have for Jon Stewart:

  1. "I want efficient government, not no government." That's a very handy phrase you've crafted there, it makes you look like a moderate. You want accountable and efficient government, not a government that bungles everything or no government at all. A good hybrid balance, a golden virtue lying between two vices.

    However, your argument presumes that given any model of government, competent, intelligent, and morally astute leaders can give a country an efficient government. So how would President Obama and Vice President Jon Stewart be able to manage the government of North Korea? Could you make that system, its government, and its economy "efficient" without addressing any foundational, structural issues of how government is organized? Why did the Soviet Union fail? Did it fail because of incompetent, immoral, "inefficient" leadership? Or did it fail because of systemic problems, that the government was doing things that were inherently unsustainable and unmanageable? Was Ludwig von Mises' observation correct, that all central planning is doomed to fail because of the calculation problem?

    So then why is it out of bounds to suggest we take a systemic look at our government in America? Why is it silly to say that maybe our problem is not that the system is being managed poorly, but the system is inherently unmanageable, and thus the only recourse is to cut out the unmanageable functions that the government wrongly assumed it could manage? For instance, will better leadership or tinkering around the edges at the Department of Education improve the quality of education? Or is it more likely a positive change will come from a major, systemic reform, such as abolishing the Department of Education and letting states, communities, markets, parents, and students decide how best to educate children? Are we forbidden to ask these questions?

  2. "We need roads, don't we?" Don't make a cute face and pretend that the only thing the government is involved in is roads. This is the biggest government in all of human history. The U.S. federal government intervenes hundreds of times in your daily life to tell you what kind of things you can put in your body, what kind of things you can buy, what the people who make your food are and aren't allowed to do, under what terms you can be employed for, how you can invest money, what kind of money you are allowed to use in the U.S., how your kids should be educated, how much of your income are you allowed to keep, etc. The military has 900 bases around the globe in 150 different countries. We currently have the biggest welfare state this country has ever seen. There are 115 regulatory bodies for the financial sector alone. Washington intervenes regularly into the market to bail-out its friends on Wall Street who took extraordinary risks. No libertarians or conservatives are out in Washington campaigning on eliminating all roads. You are setting up a strawman argument to beat around.

    But I'll defend your strawman anyways. Jon has the fatal liberal misconception that if the government isn't providing a good or service, no one will at all. He misconstrues the argument. It's not that libertarians are irrational and hate roads. We like roads. It's that we think roads would be higher quality, more abundant, and less expensive to construct and maintain if left to the devices of the free market as opposed to government. Roads are often considered a public good that only the government can provide and the market cannot provide or would provide inefficiently. Is it really that hard to imagine there being privately owned and operated roads? Economist Murray Rothbard came up with a clever analogy. He wrote in For A New Liberty that:

    If everyone had always gotten their shoes from the government, the proponent of shoe privatization would be greeted as a kind of lunatic. "How could you?" defenders of the status quo would squeal. "You are opposed to the public, and to poor people, wearing shoes! And who would supply shoes … if the government got out of the business? Tell us that! Be constructive! It's easy to be negative and smart-alecky about government; but tell us who would supply shoes? Which people? How many shoe stores would be available in each city and town? … What material would they use? … Suppose a poor person didn't have the money to buy a pair?"

    Not only are private roads conceivable, but they already exist and have been proved to be much more efficient in many regards. John Stossel has a pretty fascinating documentary on how well private roads work. Like the private company in that video, could you imagine the government giving out refunds to anyone who suffers from congested roads? If government monopoly was abolished and competition was legal, who knows what other great advancements the market could make in the infrastructure industry.

  3. "Do you want to go back to the 1890's, to the era of the robber barons?"
    The Judge fired back with a good answer on that point. He agrees with Stewart, yes we have progressed economically and socially, but the market helped us progress despite the growth of government, not because of it. Anyone who thinks the correlation suggests causation should ask themselves why North Korea isn't vastly more economically powerful than South Korea, or why East German cars were such poor quality compared to West German cars, or why China suffered under Mao Zedong and flourished under the market economy of Deng Xiaoping. The evidence suggests that open markets produce wealth and that overly burdensome governments often hinder wealth production.

    Tom Woods does a fantastic job on defending the robber barons. Yes, there were some industrialists who did some crummy things. But overall humanity greatly benefited from their amazing contributions. "Andrew Carnegie almost single-handedly managed to reduce the price of steel rails from $160 per ton in the mid-1870s to $17 per ton in the late 1890s. Given the importance of steel to a modern economy, that massive price reduction yielded greater wealth and a higher standard of living for everyone. Likewise, John D. Rockefeller was able to reduce the price of kerosene from one dollar per gallon to ten cents per gallon. People could finally afford to illuminate their homes. Cornelius Vanderbilt was also outperforming two subsidized steamship lines that brought passengers and mail to California. They charged $600 per passenger per trip. The unsubsidized Vanderbilt charged $150 per passenger, and nothing to deliver the mail. Forgive me, but I am supposed to fear and despise these benefactors of mankind why, exactly?"

    Question for Jon: Why should supporters of limited government and the free market be on the defense? On what basis should we put trust in government and distrust in free markets? Does McDonald's wiretap your phone? Did Walmart lie to the whole country to justify a bloody invasion and occupation of a distant nation in the Middle East? Does Starbucks hold people indefinitely without probable cause and subject them to torture? Does Nike go door-to-door, take everyone's money by force, then redistributes it willy-nilly to friends on Wall Street, military contractors, labor unions or other special interest groups? Does Coca-Cola assassinate executives of competing soft drink firms on the other side of the world? Does Pepsi break down your door, kill your family pet, and throw you in jail if it suspects you might be smoking a joint?

    To close, I found an interesting observation from a comment on Napolitano's Facebook page from a supporter. It demonstrates the benign, nanny-state image that The Left has of the government:

    Stewart says we elect representatives to "look after" our interests. Here is the fundamental difference between Liberals and everyone else. The rest of us elect representatives to "express" our interest, not to "look after" it.

    UPDATE: I wasn't the only one unimpressed with the performances of both Stewart and Napolitano. Here is a Reddit 19-point list that summarizes the common misconceptions that Stewart displayed. Anarcho-capitalist Stefan Molyneux examines and tears apart that 19-point list here.


DZ75 said...

Great blog there! Whole heartily agree. I like Jon Stewart also, and LOVE the Judge, but I think he lost a big opportunity here, especially as a Ron Paul supporter like myself.

The biggest disappointment like you mentioned is the audience. They hear things like corporations and selfishness and get turned off. They end up ignoring such a credible and intelligent man because they do not educate THEMSEVLES. I use to just call myself conservative, but then Ron Paul came across and I have studied the Constitution, political philosophy, Ron Paul, Austrian Economics and so much more all on my own. In all honesty intelligent blogger's like yourself would not only be better political news commentaries and contributors, but would help fix this crisis we are in and the bigger one we are headed for.

Let me know if your on Facebook or anything! Look forward to hearing from! I still got some questions!

All the Best

Dane Z - Chicago

Ron Paul 2012!

Michael said...

Thanks a lot for the comment, Dane! I'm glad Ron Paul brought you into the liberty movement, it's remarkable how many people have been introduced to libertarianism thanks to him.

You are right... liberals claim they are so "open-minded" but ideologically and politically they limit themselves to only considering leftist positions. From my experience, they are not that way because of some deep philosophical conviction or a careful analysis of the issues, it's because that is what their parents taught them to believe and they want to fit in with all their other leftist friends. So I don't like to get angry at them, but I sympathize with them because they are victims of their parents and popular culture, they are just misinformed and apathetic, not evil.

If you have more questions, feel free to post them here and I can respond. Or you can email me at j motis2 [at] gmail . com (no spaces and there is @, I don't want spambots to troll my email). Thanks!

Anonymous said...

This is why I think we should get Tom Woods on the show, and just have him go through the economic history of the US. And then have him convince Jon Stewart to get Bob Murphy on as well.

Ron Paul made me interested in politics. He made me a minarchist. The libertarian movement made me a voluntarist.