Murray Rothbard speech on libertarianism in 1978 USA

Rothbard’s speech at the 1st International Libertarian Conference in Hong Kong, September 7, 1978. Recorded by Ron Manners.

I’m going to keep it under ten minutes. It’s going to be difficult, because the prospects for libertarianism keep getting better and better every year. And so, I keep adding more and more stuff in my speech on it.

It seems evident to everybody in the United States, I think, that there’s been enormous change in public opinion and intellectual climate in academia and the general public and the media about libertarianism. In other words, that the ideas have caught on in such ways that we could never have hoped for ten years ago or even five years ago.

So within the last five years, there’s been a tremendous acceleration of interest and favourable interest in these circles, in academia and the general public, among intellectuals generally too, of interest in libertarianism. So that the same people who would say 20 years ago that you’re crazy and/or a fascist, now say, well gee, I agree with a lot of that but it really won’t work. Which is, of course, a fantastic change for the better.

The big thing of course this year that happened in the United States was the glorious tax revolt with the victory of Proposition 13 in California, which has sparked tremendous wave of interest and enthusiasm throughout the country. The thing about Proposition 13, which was a call for a 60% Property Tax cut, and it also said in there that the state legislature or local governments cannot increase taxes to compensate unless, on a local level, two-thirds of the qualified voters approve of it. In other words, two-thirds of the registered voters, since usually only half the voters show up, would be very unlikely to do that. And the state legislature, two-thirds of the state legislature, have to agree to any state increase in state taxes, so this is a fantastically rigorous amendment.

Several years ago in California they tried a milk and water, a milk toast tax limitation amendment, which only called for limiting the increase of taxes in the future or increase in spending in the future. And that was beaten by the organised forces of the ruling class in the United States and California, namely the bureaucrats and their allies.

And whereas this time, the interesting thing is, three weeks before the election, the polls had a nip and tuck, just about even. Then the organised ruling class, the establishment, put on a fantastic scare campaign as they usually do. This means all the media, all the newspapers, magazines, TV and radio, etcetera, plus big business, which contributed heavily against this tax cut. And the forces in favour of the tax cut had no money and almost no organisation. And so, day after day, hour after hour, they kept pounding away, the establishment kept pounding away: if you cut taxes like this, the police will disappear, the courts will disappear, the fire department will disappear, your public library books will go up in smoke, the schools will disappear, chaos, we will have no local government, everything will be chaos. And as they did it, the fantastic, phenomenal and wondrous thing is that as they did this, public opinion swung fantastically in favour of it. As if to say, nuts to you, we’ve heard this junk before.

And we wound up three weeks later with a 2 to 1, 4 million to 2 million vote, a 2 to 1 vote in favour of Proposition 13 which scared the bejesus out of the politicians. Not only in California, but also all throughout the country.

They got the message very, very quickly. My friend libertarian Roy Childs debated before the election in Northern California with the head of Common Cause in that area. Common Cause is a very establishment, extremely beloved by the media, organisation, run by the Rockefeller interests, and he was attacking Proposition 13. He first attacked Roy for being a tool of big business. At which point Roy said, how dare you say that when you’re financed by the Rockefellers. That shut him up on that. Then, at the end, desperate and clinging to the ropes, the Common Cause person said, this guy over here, he’s not just in favour of Proposition 13, he’s against all government. At which point the entire audience broke out in a great cheer.

That’s the climate of opinion that’s surging onward in the United States, it’s magnificent. So as soon as Proposition 13 was passed, the groups throughout the country, in every State, began a rally to the banner. In New York City, which has never been the home of tax rebellion to say the least, one of the leading newspapers in New York City had a poll saying check off the following thing, which are you in favour of, are you in favour of drastic income tax cuts, drastic sales tax cuts, drastic property tax cuts, all three, or just keep the tax level about where it is? Clip it and send it into the paper. They only ran it for three or four days, because we had one of the innumerable newspaper strikes in New York and that cut that off. But the point is during those three or four days, several hundred thousand people took the trouble of sending the coupons in. Every one of whom said drastic cuts across the board and also included angry letters attacking taxes. They didn’t have to do it was just a spontaneous outpouring of opinion.

So we have the tax rebellion I think going national and in every state and the prospects are fantastic on that.

Now the thing is, see if you just cut taxes, you don’t have to start arguing about should we cut the mental health programs and all that. Let them worry about what they’ll cut. We’ll cut their water off.

Okay, so, in addition to that, which is the major tax rebellion in the United States, there’s also the Kemp Roth Bill, a national bill, which has gotten a great deal of support for 30% across the board income tax cut, which is very substantial and growing support for that.

The Steiger Bill which calls for a cut of the capital gains tax in half, which has already gotten about two-thirds of the Senators to endorse the Bill, which is phenomenal.

And the idea of tax credits for private school tuition, meaning taking a tuition right off the top, not a tax deduction, a tax credit. That passed the House of Representatives, even though it’s been stopped by the Senate.

So the point is this sort of thing, which could never have been even conceived of even two, three years ago, is now germinating.

What happened, by the way, when the tax revolt occurred, when the Proposition 13 passed, that evening, to show how politicians react, that evening Governor Brown, who had done his best to stop it with almost hysterical attacks on it, went on television immediately and said, Proposition 13 I originated it. Not only is it following my idea, but I originated the whole concept. So the politicians are scrambling to get on the tax cut bandwagon.

Okay in addition to that is a great mover for deregulation which I think we talked about already here.

CAB is going to effectively almost deregulate it, similar to an arts board, with the economist who’s the head of it has publicly announced in magazine interviews that his great objective is the day he leaves office to also announce the liquidation of the CAB.

And the Van Dielen Committee of the House of Representatives has issued a report calling almost for deregulation of the Federal Communications Commission, providing property rights in the TV channels and radio frequency. I’m not saying it’s going to go through, but the fact that a very prestigious committee headed by a liberal democrat has proposed this is extremely important.

Okay, in addition to that, almost ten minutes, the public is also fed up with it, not only fed up with inflation, which they have been a long time, but they now identify inflation as somehow connected, one, with the federal deficits, and,, two with the money supply. It’s very difficult now for the Federal Reserve to lower interest rates by pumping more money in. Because as soon as they do it, the market raises interest rates and they anticipate more inflation. They’re watching the money supply figures. So inflation’s becoming counter-productive for the government itself even.

The stagflation phenomenon, the idea of inflationary recession, with heavy unemployment along with inflation, has totally clobbered the Keynesians. The Keynesians are now dead from the neck up. They can’t understand it, they can’t explain it. They cling to their university posts, of course, and their government posts. But the point is, they’ve lost their nerve for power. They’ve lost their will to power, in a sense. They’ve lost their nerve, which is one of the great anticipations of victory, getting rid of them.

The public school system, going over a completely different area, formerly beloved, unbelievably beloved in the United States, is now disliked by almost everybody. It’s now recognised the public school system creates class conflict, social conflict. Because whichever you decide, on any controversial area, whether to have progressive or traditional education, sex education or not, integration or segregation or whatever, whichever you decide, some group of parents and children will be hurt. And so, this is becoming more and more evident too.

Compulsory morality laws have broken down to the extent that they’re virtually not enforced. Pornography laws, sex laws, censorship, marijuana prohibition, etcetera. They’ve virtually broken down because people realise you can’t enforce them.

And finally Watergate, a very important phenomenon, not just because of the superficial problem with President Nixon. A very important phenomenon because a result of Watergate was to totally de-sanctify the Presidency, the institution of the Presidency, which had been becoming very dangerous, because the public began to think of the President as sovereign. Bill Buckley from The National Review, when the Watergate first began, wrote a column saying, we shouldn’t go into this too far because the President in our Constitution is sovereign. Unbelievable statement, I mean, that was the general opinion.

Now nobody considers the President sovereign. Every president, every politician is regarded with total hostility and suspicion. It’s generally assumed by every American that every politician is a crook until proven otherwise. And so it’s a very healthy climate, because they can’t get away with much.

For a while I thought that Jimmy Carter would be able to rectify this. As a matter of fact, when Jimmy Carter, the great argument for Carter was, that he would restore, “the faith of people in their government.” And he tried and he did a pretty good job for a few months with his cardigan sweaters and his born again rhetoric and his phony smile, but that lasted only a few months and his popularity is now almost the lowest in history after only a fairly short time in power.

So, those are the objective conditions for the reason that I am optimistic.

As far as the libertarian movement goes, to take advantage of these fantastically optimistic conditions, the movement is growing by leaps and bounds all the time.

There’s so many newsletters and magazines that I can’t keep up with them, which is a great event. There are institutions, foundations, lobbying groups, Austrian economic scholars and libertarian philosophers popping up all over the place.

In addition to that, the political arm of the movement, the Libertarian Party, has been growing phenomenally. Roger McBride here got 180,000 votes in the last election in 1976, which was by far greater than any other so-called minor parties. As a matter of fact, we’re now listed in Congressional Quarterly as the third major party in the United States. So it’s been growing fantastically and the media is extremely interested and so they’re giving us a lot of publicity.

And The Barron Report, which is very highly prestigious political newsletter, run not by a libertarian but by a former McGovern administrative assistant, said recently that the trend in the United States throughout the country is toward libertarianism, on all questions, economic and social. So, this election this November we’re running Ed Clark for governor of California. He got 160,000 signatures on his petition, which is phenomenal. It’s almost unprecedented in California. And in Alaska we’re expecting to get, hoping to get, two, to elect two state representatives. So, I think we’re going fantastically well. I think the prospects are excellent.

AI just want to say one thing more. We’ve heard a lot of doom and gloom here this week, and I think the doom and gloom comes from the fact that many conservatives are always pessimistic. The conservatives identify the main enemy as the masses, the general public. Short of repealing universal suffrage, then actually we’re doomed. As libertarians, however, I think we should identify the main enemy as the state, not the public.

The state is ripping the public off, these American idiots. The state is exploiting the public. The public therefore should be libertarian and I think is increasingly becoming such. Thank you very much.

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