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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
- 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
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
Do you really want to make this a matter of fines and prison terms?
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?
Do you really expect this program to retain its original size and
scope, without spreading into other areas of your life?
Do you really think the program will operate in the way you imagine
— knowing that you have no way to
Do you really want to hand the government power that can be misused in
the future by a politician you may despise?
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?
- 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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.