October 26, 2016

Tom Mullen on WBFO 88.7 FM Buffalo, NY – Libertarian Party, Johnson/Weld

libertarian_conventionI sat down with Jay Moran of WBFO 88.7 FM here in Buffalo, NY to discuss the Libertarian Party and the Johnson/Weld ticket. The short version that aired is at the top of the page; the full conversation can be found at the bottom. Listen here.

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Tom Mullen, Jeff Deist, Jason Rink and Mary Ruwart on the Tom Woods Show

Tom Woods hosted a roundtable discussion on the Libertarian Party in 2016 and the pros/cons of Johnson/Weld. Listen here!

TOm woods




Is Libertarian Kevin McCormick a More Likable Alternative to Trump or Clinton?

kevin mccormickWith unfavorability ratings at record highs for the candidates of both major parties, polls show Americans are more likely than ever to consider voting for a third party. That’s inspired more excitement than usual at the Libertarian Party National Convention in Orlando, where delegates from all 50 states have gathered to choose the party’s candidates for President and Vice President of the United States.

I had a chance to sit down with Kevin McCormick, one of the candidates seeking the party’s nomination (video below). More information on McCormick’s campaign can be found at www.kevinmccormick2016.com.

Watch the video interview at The Huffington Post…

Tom Mullen Speaking/Book Signing Event Feb. 17, 2016 Buffalo, NY

Click on image to enlargeBook signing flyer 20160217 Daily Planet

Tom Mullen on the Mike Church Show Jan. 7, 2016

Crusade_Mike_Church_Show_LIVE_Audio-1024x576It was again my pleasure to talk to the King Dude on the Mike Church Show on Thursday January  7, 2016. You can hear a preview of our conversation here. Subscribe to his show on the Crusade Channel, part of the Veritas Radio Network.

The Veritas Network Facebook page is located here: https://www.facebook.com/veritasradionetwork
The Twitter feed is here: https://twitter.com/VeritasRadioNet
Mike Church’s Twitter Feed (23k followers) is here: https://twitter.com/TheKingDude

Free Excerpt: Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness?



Chapter One: Something is Wrong with the World

Chapter Two: Where Do Conservatives Come From?

Chapter Three: Where Do Liberals Come From?

Chapter Four: Where Did the Founding Fathers Come From?

Chapter Five: Defending the Creed The Conservative Tide


Chapter One:

Something is Wrong with the World

Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me.”

 – Morpheus to Neo in the motion picture “The Matrix” (1999)[1]


Back in 2010, I was invited to speak at a conference sponsored by Campaign for Liberty, a libertarian-leaning organization founded by former Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul. Arriving at the hotel the night before, I discovered the political conference wasn’t the only convention there. The same hotel was also hosting a huge Star Wars convention.

Everywhere I looked, characters from the hit movie franchise adorned the lobby. I got a picture with Darth Vader. As it was the end of a long day, I headed to the bar for a beer. A man dressed as young Obi-Wan Kenobi sat down next to me.

“How’s the convention going for you?” he asked.

“I just got here,” I replied, “but I’m not here for the same convention you are. I’m here for the Campaign for Liberty event.”

“What’s Campaign for Liberty?” he inquired.

I looked around for a moment and replied, “Well, it’s an organization everyone at your convention should want to join.”

“Why is that?’ he asked.

“Because they want to end the American Empire and restore the Old Republic,” I replied.

The young Obi-Wan looked at me for a moment with an expression that read, “Do I really want to get into this?” Then, as if acquiescing to his own curiosity, he said “Tell me some more.”

I explained the organization as briefly as I could. Occasionally, he would interject, “I actually agree with that.” He seemed to agree with more than he disagreed with. Then, it was his turn.

“I’m a dyed-in-the-wool liberal,” he told me.

When I asked him what that meant to him, this was his reply:

“I believe if you can afford a $400,000.00 house, then more power to you. Enjoy it. But what’s wrong with this country is the idea that people feel entitled to houses they can’t afford, vacations they borrow money to take and two or three cars. People need to start living within their means.”

This is what a “dyed-in-the-wool liberal” thinks?

Believe it or not, I hear statements like this from people who self-identify as liberals all the time. Yet, less than a year before my new friend made this statement, President Obama had called for and then signed into law an $800 billion “stimulus package” designed to subsidize people who couldn’t afford to pay their own mortgages. Obi-Wan didn’t seem to notice the irony.

Liberals aren’t the only ones who sometimes fail to see the difference between what they and their representatives believe.

That same year, I attended the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) for the first time. CPAC is an annual rally held in Washington, D.C. where “anybody who’s anybody” in conservative politics gathers to speak, promote books, launch political campaigns, etc.

In addition to an all-star cast of conservative speakers, the event also features an exhibit hall where mostly grassroots conservative organizations set up booths and ply their wares. I was as interested in what these “regular folks” had to say as in the featured speakers. I asked each of them why they identified as conservative.

Their answers weren’t surprising. I heard a lot of affirmations of the free market, small government, individual liberty and religious freedom. These are the principles nearly every one associates with “conservatism.”

What was surprising was how little these positions resembled those taken by the conference’s speakers. On the big stage, attendees were warned that President Obama’s “socialist” healthcare program, which subsidizes private insurers, threatens Medicare, a healthcare program run completely by the government.

They heard passionate cries that Obama was “gutting the military” by not increasing military spending as fast as they deemed necessary. They heard that Obama was “soft on radical Islam,” and even implications he was a Muslim himself.

They heard little or nothing about rolling back regulations on business or reducing government spending. They heard no criticism of the federal government spying on their phone calls or e-mails. They heard nothing about reducing the size and reach of government at all.

Then, there is what liberal and conservative politicians actually do.

In 2008, Barack Obama was elected to do one thing: to not be George W. Bush. The electorate voted against Bush’s wars of choice, civil liberties abuses, executive power grabs and government secrecy, all in the name of national security.

Rightly or wrongly, they also blamed Bush for a bad economy. He certainly hadn’t done anything to help.

During his campaign, former constitutional law professor Barack Obama promised to end the wars, restore constitutional protections of civil liberties, and run a “transparent” administration. He promised to review every one of Bush’s executive orders and overturn any that “trampled on liberty.” He promised to close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay.

For the liberals, he promised to fight against the cozy relationship between multinational corporations and Washington, D.C.

Obama did wind down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he started several new ones, with results even more disastrous.

Siding with rebels in Libya to overthrow former U.S. adversary-turned-partner Muammar Gadhafi, the Obama administration allowed the country to be taken over by much more radical Islamists. Ditto for Egypt.

Siding with rebels in Syria to overthrow the Bashar al-Assad regime, the administration has inadvertently armed and trained thousands of jihadists who subsequently joined the Islamic State (IS), if there was ever a distinction between the two groups to begin with.

On one occasion alone, over a thousand rebels, carrying U.S.-supplied arms and equipment, defected from the rebellion in Syria and joined IS in Iraq.[2]

Where Bush was accused of misleading Congress to gain its support for the Iraq War, Obama hasn’t asked Congress for authorization at all. So much for the constitutional law professor.

Every dollar borrowed to fund these wars is a dollar that can’t be lent to a business to expand and create new jobs. It’s not just a dollar that is paid to a soldier instead. There’s a lot more waste when the government spends money than when private employers spend it. Since 1996, there has been $8.5 trillion in funds sent to the Pentagon that they can’t account for at all.[3]

At home, Obama hasn’t fared much better at not being Bush. Thanks to Edward Snowden, the American public now knows that government spying goes well beyond what they understood was occurring under Bush. Instead of rolling it back, Obama has expanded it.

He built a massive NSA data center in Utah to store phone, e-mail and other data belonging to American citizens, all obtained without probable cause or warrants. The center inspired so much public outrage that a Utah legislator actually introduced a bill to cut off its water supply.[4]

I couldn’t make this stuff up.

The prison camp at Guantanamo remains open. Despite his frequent condemnations of the use of torture, his administration continues to employ it.[5]

As for transparency, Erica Werner at the Huffington Post notes the irony that Obama accepted an award for transparency “behind closed doors with no media coverage or public access allowed.”[6]

On corporatism, Obama has consistently poured gasoline on the fire. The Dodd-Frank legislation he signed into law allows too-big-to-fail banks to become even bigger and more of a threat if they fail. His forays into “investing into green energy” have been nothing more than typical crony capitalism, ending in disasters like Solyndra.

Then, there’s the Affordable Care Act.

Hardcore liberals wanted a government-run, single payer healthcare system. They wanted “Medicare for everyone.” What they got was another crony capitalist scheme that showered hundreds of billions on corporate health insurers, made healthcare more expensive for everyone, and may not have decreased the net number of uninsured at all.

“Obamacare” was originally the Republican answer to Hillarycare in the 1990s. Republican governor Mitt Romney implemented a version of it in Massachusetts. Whether they’re right or wrong about what they want, Obamacare is nothing like what the hard left elected Obama to give them.

Everyone else likes it even less. 2014 Gallup polls show Americans disapprove of Obamacare by a clear majority.[7]

Heading into the 2014 midterm elections, a majority of Americans, including 59% of those not affiliated with either of the two major parties, disapproved of the job President Obama was doing.[8] Like Bush in 2006, the president was a liability on the campaign trail for his own party, which lost control of the Senate in that election.

Thank goodness the conservatives are different, right? Wrong.

In 2000, George W. Bush campaigned on the usual Republican platitudes of free markets, smaller government and individual liberty. He even harkened back to Old Right values, including “a humble foreign policy.” He said that it was not America’s job to be the policeman of the world.

How did that work out?

On promoting the free market, Bush and the Republican Congress couldn’t have been worse. They only enacted two significant economic policies: the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the TARP Bailout.

One was a massive increase in regulation and the other an equally massive government subsidy to Wall Street.

On both occasions, Bush evoked one of the most anti-free market presidents in U.S. history. He called Sarbanes-Oxley ”the most far-reaching reforms of American business practices since the time of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.’[9]

On TARP, Bush claimed he “abandoned free market principles to save the free market,” something liberals routinely credit FDR with in making their case for even more regulation.

Bush consistently endorsed the misconception that economic crises are the result of free markets, rather than the government interventions that really caused them. His explanation for the housing crisis was “Wall Street got drunk.”

Before the first vote on TARP Americans of all political persuasions bombarded their representatives with angry phone calls, e-mails and demonstrations. Congressmen were visibly scared. They voted it down the first time.

But they eventually passed it, with Bush, Obama, and Republican nominee John McCain all in support. Bush helped cool grassroots opposition with a passionate speech designed to scare the daylights out of us. Enough people believed him to allow Congress to ram it through.

As for “small government,” Bush and the Republicans increased federal spending 50% over Clinton’s last year in office in just six years. It was $2.7 trillion by 2007. It would top $3 trillion before Bush left office.[10] “Big spending liberal” Bill Clinton only increased it by 25% over all eight years of his presidency.

One might offer 9/11 as an explanation for Bush’s failures either to curb spending or to execute a humble foreign policy. After all, a military response to 9/11 was necessary and wars cost money.

That makes a nice story, but it just doesn’t jibe with the facts. Of that $2.7 trillion spent in 2007, only $70 billion was spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.[11] That leaves $800 billion in increases to account for.

Moreover, the majority of that $70 billion was spent in Iraq, a war virtually everyone acknowledges was unnecessary, unrelated to 9/11 and a mistake. The Iraq war and the very un-humble foreign policy it represented was the single biggest reason Republicans lost Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008.

Then, there is individual liberty. Bush broke new ground in trashing the Bill of Rights with his warrantless wiretaps, surveillance of financial data and expansions of executive power. Between the Patriot Act and Military Commissions Act of 2006, the Fourth and Fifth Amendments went out the window.

You don’t have to be a constitutional scholar to know there’s something very wrong with the government eavesdropping on your phone calls without a warrant and being able to arrest and hold you indefinitely without charges or any appeal to a judge.

Didn’t we used to make fun of the Soviets for this?

The policies enacted by Bush and the Republicans couldn’t contrast more with their rhetoric or the reasons conservative voters say they elect them. It’s insane.

We’ve tried every possible configuration within the two party system. We’ve given the Republicans control of the White House and Congress. Then, we gave Congress back to the Democrats. After that, we gave the Democrats the White House and Congress. Now, we’ve given Congress back to the Republicans.

We’ve tried it all and Washington, D.C. is as broken as ever.

The economy continues to falter. The government tells us unemployment is decreasing, while at the same time acknowledging they don’t count people who’ve given up looking for work.

Does anyone really believe unemployment is really down?

They tell us what they call “inflation” is under control, while at the same time acknowledging they play tricks with those numbers, too.

Does anyone really believe prices haven’t gone up?

There are some things Washington doesn’t even try to deny. The wars go on. The federal debt continues to increase. The unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare continue to explode, unaddressed. Young people know they won’t be getting the benefits. Why should they continue to pay?

Regardless of our politics or what Washington tells us, we all have a sinking feeling that won’t seem to go away. Something is wrong with the world. We just don’t know what it is.

Often, we’re told the representatives we elect aren’t “real liberals” or “real conservatives.” Grassroots conservatives have even come up with a clever acronym for this phenomenon: “RINO.” It stands for “Republican in Name Only.” It’s meant to describe a Republican who campaigns on conservative rhetoric but acts more like a liberal Democrat when in office.

Both liberals and conservatives believe their representatives don’t truly believe in liberal or conservative principles, respectively. If only they could elect genuine liberals or genuine conservatives, the government would get back to representing the people, the economy would revive, and Washington, D.C. would “work.”

This book is going to challenge those assertions.

What if the conservatives in Washington are the real conservatives? What if they actually do what they say they will, if you listen closely enough? What if conservatism isn’t really what most Americans think it is? What if the “RINOs” are the real Republicans?

What if all of the above is true for liberalism as well? What if Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are the real liberals?

There are a few basic principles that virtually all Americans still claim to believe in. They are summarized in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

There are few, if any, Americans who would disavow that short passage. It is so universally accepted that we’ll call it the American Creed.

Jefferson had a gift for conveying enormous ideas in very few words. This was one of his finest moments. In those one hundred thirty-four words, he captured all of the elements of the political treatises of his time. It’s worthwhile to take a moment and break it down.

First, the Creed talks about what philosophers back then called “the state of nature.” The state of nature is the condition man would find himself in if there were no government. Critics sometimes mistake this to mean some ancient time when we all wore fig leaves and ate only what we could find on the ground or club over the head. They misunderstand the term “state of nature” to mean a time before government ever existed anywhere on earth. That’s not correct.

The state of nature can occur anywhere and anytime, wherever and whenever there is no effective government to enforce law and order. Think “Lord of the Flies.” But it doesn’t have to be on a desert island, either. Thomas Hobbes and John Locke observed that all princes existed in a state of nature relative to each other, because there was no government over them.

The Creed says that in the state of nature we are all equal and have certain rights. These rights come from our Creator and are inherent. They aren’t granted to us by any government. These rights are also “unalienable,” meaning they cannot be taken away. Neither can we surrender them ourselves. Unalienable rights are as much a part of us as our own skins.

The Creed then tells us the purpose of government: to secure these unalienable rights. That’s a very limited purpose that necessarily precludes other things some people believe governments are supposed to do. But the Creed is unambiguous. Government’s purpose is to secure these rights, period.

The Creed concludes by reminding us that whenever the government becomes “destructive of these ends,” meaning it fails to protect or itself violates our unalienable rights, we have the right to alter or abolish the government and construct a new one.

Both liberals and conservatives claim their philosophies are the true basis for the American Creed. In the chapters ahead, we’re going to examine the foundational conservative and liberal philosophers to try to confirm or deny those claims.

Along the way, we’re going to meet some interesting people, like Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and others. But don’t worry. We’re not going to spend hours analyzing the categorical imperative or rubbing our chins and asking “Why am I here?”

We are going to revisit what these writers and thinkers said about the nature of man, the purpose of government, and the extent of the government’s power and compare their ideas to the American Creed.

In other words, we’re not just going to rehash what conservative and liberal politicians have said and done. We’re going to try to figure out why they said and did those things. We’re going to try to figure out how they think.

The results are going to surprise you.


Chapter Two:

Where Do Conservatives Come From?

This country is planted thick with laws from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s, and if you cut them down – and you’re just the man to do it – do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!””

–          Attributed to Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt[xii]


Conservatives get their name from their desire to “conserve” the socio-political structure as it is. If change must occur, it should be gradual and as undisruptive as possible. Rather than “liberal,” the true opposite of conservative is really “radical,” as in “radical change.” That more than any specific policy is what the conservative fears most.

American conservatives are divided into two groups, as were their British forebears. They generally agree on most things. They share the same vision of the nature of man, the purpose of government, and the extent of the power invested in government. They disagree on the form of government or how that power should be distributed.

We’ll call the first group “centralizers,” because they seek to centralize government power, both in a national government and in the executive branch. That’s something liberals accused George Bush of trying to do with executive orders, signing statements, and other “unilateral” executive policies.

We’ll call the second group “constitutionalists,” because they seek to divide power between national, state and local governments and between separate branches within those governments. These would be more like “Old Right” conservatives Robert Taft or Barry Goldwater. A resurgence of Old Right conservatism is emerging today out of the Tea Party movement, with its emphasis on constitutional checks and balances.

While these two groups of conservatives have fought some epic internal battles over the course of American history, they have also worked together just as often. As they agree on most things, they tend to close ranks to resist perceived threats to their shared principles.

The literary traditions of British and American conservatism are rich. One could name hundreds of works as important in understanding conservatism. However, there are two men who are very much foundational: Thomas Hobbes and Edmund Burke.

Hobbes plays the larger role in developing the philosophy of conservatism. Living a century before Burke, he develops the tenets of conservatism from “the ground up,” articulating conservative ideas that Burke would echo later. Their chief differences are on the form of government. Hobbes was a centralizer and Burke a constitutionalist.

Conservatives on the nature of man

All conservatives agree on man’s nature. In a word, we’re bad. Very bad. So bad that life without government is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”[xiii]

Hobbes lays out this view in his massive work, Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil, generally referred to simply as Leviathan.

First, he discusses man’s condition in the state of nature:

“Nature hath made men so equal in the faculties of body and mind as that, though there be found one man sometimes manifestly stronger in body or of quicker mind than another, yet when all is reckoned together the difference between man and man is not so considerable as that one man can thereupon claim to himself any benefit to which another may not pretend as well as he.”[xiv]

That sentence was written over three hundred years ago. We’re going to be looking at passages like this from time to time to demonstrate just how long some of these ideas have been around. Don’t let the “haths” and “thereupons” throw you. We’ll provide translations in 21st century English wherever necessary.

In this passage, Hobbes is just saying “all men are created equal,” just like in the American Creed. But then he says this:

“From this equality of ability ariseth equality of hope in the attaining of our ends. And therefore, if any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies, and in the way to their end, which is principally their own conservation, and sometimes their delectation only, endeavor to destroy or subdue one another.”[xv]

Where the American Creed says that man’s natural equality is the source of our rights, Hobbes says it is the source of all human conflict. Talk about a glass half empty kind of guy! It gets worse:

“Hereby it is manifest that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war, and such a war as is of every man against every man.”[xvi]

Hobbes actually believes that man’s natural state – meaning his condition in the absence of any government (whether twenty thousand years ago or tomorrow) – is a state of war. That’s pretty grim, but it is the basis for all conservative thinking. Not only does man need a government, but one powerful enough to “keep him in awe.” Otherwise, he is in a de facto state of war with every other man.

This isn’t just a 17th century idea. If you’ve seen the movie Apocalypse Now, it conveys the same message. It was based on a book called Heart of Darkness by lifelong conservative Joseph Conrad. Conrad’s novel was set in colonial Africa, while Francis Ford Coppola resets the story in the Viet Nam War, but the message of both is identical. As the main character, Marlowe, travels farther up the river and into the unsettled interior, he gets farther from the confines of society and government. The farther from these confines he gets, the more savage and insane the people become. The journey ends with Kurtz, who embodies man’s true nature when unrestrained by government. Man literally has a “heart of darkness.”

Whether you agree or not, both the movie and the book convey the idea brilliantly. Coppola also weaves in the insanity of war as a theme, without losing Conrad’s original message.

Burke and the constitutionalists are in lockstep with Hobbes on the nature of man. Russell Kirk, the 20th century intellectual leader of Burkean conservatism, says this in his own introduction to Leviathan:

“What must strike the reader with especial force, in this cold and relentless book, is the almost diabolical truth in Hobbes’ interpretation of human nature.”[xvii]

He also presents Burke’s view of man’s nature as indistinguishable from Hobbes’:

“Burke knew that just under the skin of modern man stirs the savage, the brute, the demon. Millennia of bitter experience have taught man how to hold his wilder nature in a precarious restraint; that dread knowledge is expressed in myth, ritual, usage, instinct, prejudice.”[xviii]

Now that you’re really feeling good about yourself, let’s go a bit further. We’ve established that man is bad and that it’s unfortunate that we are all created equal, because it brings out even more badness in us. What about those “inalienable rights?” Are we endowed by our Creator with rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Not quite.

“And because the condition of man (as hath been declared in the precedent chapter) is a condition of war of everyone against everyone (in which case everyone is governed by his own reason and there is nothing he can make use of that may not be a help unto him in preserving his life against his enemies), it followeth that in such a condition every man has a right to everything, even to one another’s body.”[xix]

Hobbes takes a completely different approach to the concept of rights than does the American Creed. Where the Creed describes rights as moral principles, Hobbes is more mechanistic. Forget “what ought to be,” Hobbes is only concerned with what goes down when the rubber hits the road. And what really goes down is killing, looting, pillaging, cars turned over and burning…You get the picture.

Again, Burke agrees here with Hobbes. He quotes Hobbes directly in Reflections on the Revolution in France,

“Government is not made in virtue of natural rights, which may and do exist in total independence of it; and exist in much greater clearness, and in a much greater degree of abstract perfection: but their abstract perfection is their practical defect. By having a right to everything they want everything. Government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants. Men have a right that these wants should be provided for by this wisdom. Among these wants is to be reckoned the want, out of civil society, of a sufficient restraint upon their passions. Society requires not only that the passions of individuals should be subjected, but that even in the mass and body as well as in the individuals, the inclinations of men should frequently be thwarted, their will controlled, and their passions brought into subjection.”[xx]

The idea that man has “a right to everything” in the state of nature completely contradicts the American Creed. The Creed assumes rights are negative. They describe what other people should not do to you.

For example, the right to life is not the positive right to live under any circumstances. When someone is killed in an earthquake, we feel bad about it, but we do not say his right to life was violated. The right to life is specifically the right not to be killed by another human being.

Similarly, the right to liberty is the right not to have someone forcibly interfere with your peaceful actions. You might want to fly. That you can’t does not violate your right to liberty. Only violent interference by other people constitutes a violation of your right to liberty.

Implicit in the American Creed is the existence of these rights in the state of nature. They are not endowed by government, but by our Creator. That governments are created “to secure these rights” confirms that they must exist before government.

But conservatives don’t believe that. They believe that man has a right to everything in the state of nature, even to one another’s bodies, meaning there can be no rights to life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness in this state. Since these rights do not exist without government, then the purpose of government must be something other than what the Creed says it is.

Hobbes goes on to say that none of the benefits of civil society are possible in this state, because man’s entire life is dominated by the constant fear of violent death. Without a government “to keep them in awe,” men cannot acquire property or benefit from the division of labor, because other men will immediately attack them and steal whatever they produce.

He goes so far as to say that death of natural causes is rare in the state of nature. Yikes!

So, as far as the state of nature goes, both Hobbes and Burke reject the tenets of the American Creed, as do the schools of thought they founded within conservatism. Russell Kirk sums up the conservative position on the Creed when discussing John Randolph:

“John Randolph of Roanoke wholly repudiated the common interpretation of the Declaration of Independence, denounced Jefferson as a Pied Piper, and turned his back upon political abstractions to seek security in prescription and in an unbroken vigilance over personal and local rights.”[xxi]

Conservatives on the purpose of government

Burke summed up well what conservatives see as the purpose of government. Government exists to “thwart” man’s natural inclinations and to take him out of the state of war and into a state of relative peace.

Burke gets this idea from Hobbes as well, who said that men form government for the purpose of “getting themselves out from that miserable condition of war, which is necessarily consequent (as hath been shown [ch.xiii]) to the natural passion of men, when there is no visible power to keep them in awe, and tie them by fear of punishment to the performance of their covenants and observation of those laws of nature set down in the fourteenth and fifteenth chapters.”[xxii]

This idea that only the awesome power of government can keep our dark nature at bay explains quite a bit about the way conservatives react to the world today. While non-conservatives have a natural instinct to resist what they think is a bad law, even to practice civil disobedience, this scares the living daylights out of conservatives. They believe it’s better to follow a bad law until it is changed than to undermine the authority of the government in any way. Once the idea of resisting a law is introduced, we’re on our way back to the state of nature, which is a state of war.

It also explains why conservatives generally support law enforcement officers no matter what the circumstances. Rarely will you see conservatives side with an alleged victim of police brutality. Their first instinct is always to side with the police officer. That’s because they see the “thin blue line” as more than just functionaries who enforce the law. To conservatives, they are literally all that stands between civilization and the inherent state of war that exists wherever there is an absence of government force.

End of Excerpt

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Chapter One Something is Wrong with the World

[1] The Matrix (1999) Warner Bros. Pictures

[3] Paltrow, Scott J. “Unaccountable: The high cost of the Pentagon’s bad bookkeeping” Reuters November 18, 2013 http://www.reuters.com/investigates/pentagon/#article/part2

[6] Werner, Erica Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/31/obama-accepts-transparenc_n_843195.html

[9] “CORPORATE CONDUCT: THE PRESIDENT; Bush Signs Bill Aimed at Fraud In Corporations” by Elizabeth Bumiller New York Times July 31, 2002 http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/31/business/corporate-conduct-the-president-bush-signs-bill-aimed-at-fraud-in-corporations.html.

[10] http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxfacts/displayafact.cfm?Docid=200 Note: The U.S. government fiscal year runs October 1 – Sept. 30, meaning that outgoing presidents actually propose the budget their successors will operate under during their first nine months in office.

[xii] Bolt, Robert A Man for All Seasons

[xiii] Hobbes, Thomas Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil Hackett Publishing Company Indianapolis, IN 1994 pg. 76

[xiv] Hobbes Leviathan pg. 74

[xv] Hobbes Leviathan pg. 75

[xvi] Hobbes Leviathan pg. 76

[xvii] Kirk, Leviathan, I, pg. 5

[xviii] Kirk, Russell The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot Regnery Publishing; Seventh Edition (November 30, 1953) Kindle Edition Location 707 of 6718

[xix] Hobbes Leviathan pg. 80

[xx] Burke, Edmund Reflections on the Revolution in France Second Edition London Printed for J. Dodsley, in Pall-Mall 1790 pgs.88-89

[xxi] Kirk, Conservative Mind, Location 2144-2148

[xxii] Hobbes Leviathan pg. 106

Tom Mullen on Free Talk Live December 6, 2015

ftl logoYou can listen to a podcast of my December 6, 2015 appearance on Free Talk Live here. You Tube video here.

As always, Mark Edge and Ian Freeman add keen insights to the subject material we discuss from my book.

We also got some great questions from callers.

Check out this episode and better yet, become a regular listener. They provide more listening options than you can shake a stick at (and you can shake a stick at an awful lot).


Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Tom Mullen on Politics After Dark with Rachel Mills and Jeffery Tucker December 3, 2015

politics after darkHere is the raw video from my December 3, 2015 appearance on Politics After Dark with Rachel Mills and Jeffrey Tucker.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get my audio working for the first 28 minutes. I finally get it working at about 28:20.

But watch the whole thing – as always, Rachel is a great host with succinct insights into the guests’ comments and Tucker is just a fountain of knowledge and insight. I was drinking Guiness. Fun!

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Press Release: Tom Mullen destroys conventional wisdom on American politics with new title

Where_Do_Conservativ_Cover_for_KindleContact: Tom Mullen (tom@tommullen.net)

Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness Part One available November 27, 2015

Buffalo N.Y. – Author and columnist Tom Mullen reveals the truth about the American conservative and liberal movements and their incompatibility with the American Creed – the principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence.

Contrary to conventional wisdom that Republican politicians who expand government are “RINOS” or that totalitarian Democrats aren’t “true liberals,” Mullen proves conservatism is an inherently big government philosophy, liberalism is antithetical to inalienable rights and neither inspired the founding fathers.

With in-depth analysis of seminal political thinkers, including Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Burke and Marx, Mullen exposes the true nature of conservatism and liberalism, proving both in their purest forms are poison to American liberty.


About the author

Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. His work has appeared in The Washington Times, The Huffington Post, Rare and numerous other publications. Tom holds a B.A. in English from Canisius College and an M.A. in English from Buffalo State College. Tom is also a singer/songwriter with several CD releases, both as a solo musician and with his band, The Skeptics. He resides with his family in Western New York. More information can be found on his website at www.tommullen.net.

Chapter Three: Who Will Build the Roads? (from Anti-libertarian Nonsense: The Ridiculous Arguments for Government Control of Everything)



Chapter Three

Who Will Build the Roads?

“I suppose I won’t see you driving on any of those government roads, then, will I?”

Eventually, every libertarian runs into this supposed conversation ender. Anti-libertarians believe that not only does this “zinger” refute libertarian arguments for private roads, but libertarian arguments about anything. “Oh, you want to get the government out of health care? I guess I won’t see you driving on any government roads.” It gets that ridiculous.

This sophism is pregnant with anti-libertarian nonsense. Most superficially, it is a cheap shot at the character of libertarians. It implies they are hypocritical moochers who not only fail to live by their beliefs, but seek to be “free riders” on the government’s road system without paying into it. It also contains the more serious argument that a workable road system wouldn’t exist if the government didn’t build it.

Both arguments are so wrong that one feels slightly embarrassed for the people who make them. Not only are supporters of government roads the “free riders,” but opposing government road and infrastructure building was once a policy position that won election after election. Anti-libertarians are sadly ignorant of their own history.

First, let’s examine the hypocritical moocher argument. It rests upon the assumption that libertarians want to use the roads but not pay for them. That is not even close to what libertarians say. Libertarians not only wish to, but believe they are obligated to pay for any good or service they choose to buy. Like all libertarian arguments, the underlying principle is non-aggression. Exchanges of property should only occur with the mutual, voluntary consent of all parties to the exchange.

Nothing built by the government is paid for voluntarily. Taxes are compelled by a threat of force.

Libertarians don’t argue roads shouldn’t be paid for. They merely argue individuals should have a choice about whether they buy roads and from whom. The choices to buy or not, from whom and at what price are the cornerstone of free markets. They are the only reason the market performs better than government. In a free market, consumers can say “no.”

Libertarians believe they should be responsible to pay 100% of the cost of anything they buy under those conditions. It is actually anti-libertarians who at least partially want to be “free riders.” Yes, they agree to pay taxes, but why is it necessary to have government in the middle of the transaction? Why can’t anti-libertarians simply pay the road builders directly?

The answer is the same for roads as it is for all government programs. The government is not merely an organizer or planner. The market does far better at both. But the government can do something the market can’t. It can force people to buy things whether they want to or not.

That’s really what anti-libertarians are arguing for, although most probably don’t realize it. The government monopoly isn’t necessary to ensure you pay for products you bought yourself. For those, the seller simply sends you a bill. The government is necessary to compel you to pay for things other people want but are unable or unwilling to pay for themselves.

In a free market, those who want a road must pay for it. When the government builds the roads, both those who want the road and those who don’t are forced to pay. The latter group isn’t necessarily against roads. They might want a road built somewhere else, or by someone else, or not at all. They may benefit from the road, but not enough to justify the cost, in their own judgment. Thus, they may choose not to buy a particular road that others want. The government takes that choice away.

Anti-libertarians maintain that if some people want a road built, then they should have the power to make others who do not pay for it anyway. Who are the real moochers?

The charge of hypocrisy is equally spurious. It is not hypocritical to try to get some use out of a product one was forced to buy. Despite their objection to being forced to buy the government’s road and being prohibited from building their own, libertarians nevertheless pay for the roads like everyone else. Attempting to get some value out of them does not contradict their argument.

An analogy might be helpful. Suppose someone wants a BMW, but BMWs are illegal and everyone is forced to buy Toyotas. We wouldn’t accuse opponents of this policy of hypocrisy if they drove the Toyotas they were forced to buy. They would be perfectly justified in driving the Toyotas while at the same time objecting to the law.

The government monopoly on roads not only forces us to buy Toyotas, but at BMW prices.

The analogy is actually an insult to Toyota, which makes a good, affordable product that foregoes luxury to meet demand at a certain price point.

In contrast, the government road system is an unmitigated disaster. Not only are government roads among the most dangerous places on earth; they are grossly deficient in quality. They are under constant repair, which takes years, sometimes decades, for any given stretch of road. One cannot drive ten miles in any direction in America without encountering a sea of orange pylons and barrels. Those few government roads not partially closed for repairs are typically inadequate to the volume of traffic. Americans literally spend years of their lives sitting in their cars in bumper to bumper traffic.

Monkeys could be trained to manage the road system better than the government.

This isn’t to imply the people who work on the roads or even the bureaucrats who plan them are lazy or incompetent. It’s the system they work in that’s broken, not the people. The incentives are all wrong.

Political decisions are made for political reasons. While the civil engineer managing the road construction project may want to finish the road on time and under budget, there are contrary political forces seeking to prolong the project to keep people employed and exceed the budget for political motives. A sea of regulations and licensing requirements slow the work even further. Corruption abounds, with contracts given to the politically connected rather than the most qualified. Funding is a political football.

This is how a four-mile stretch of Route 275 in Tampa, FL can remain under construction for ten years, with no end in sight.

Does anyone really believe road construction would take as long if a private owner were losing money every day the road was not operating at full capacity?

This often brings up another variant of anti-libertarian nonsense, that private owners would exploit us all and charge exorbitant prices for access to the roads. A related argument says we would necessarily pay more for the roads if they were privately owned because, in addition to the costs already paid by the government, we would have to pay a premium for the profits private owners would seek to make.

If that’s true, then why not have the government provide everything? Surely, if private owners should be prohibited from profiting from roads, which are somewhat necessary, then they should be prohibited from profiting from selling food, shelter or clothing, which are absolutely necessary to human survival. Wouldn’t everything be less expensive if we didn’t have to pay for profits?

That question was already answered in 20th century Russia and China, where tens of millions literally starved to death in an attempt to prevent “exploitation” by capitalists. To a large extent, the arguments against private roads are just another iteration of the arguments against free markets in general. The answers to these arguments rest upon the same principles as any arguments for free markets over socialism.

The profits earned by road capitalists are no different from the wages paid to their employees. They are compensation for capitalists’ labor, both present management of the productive structure and their labor in the past that produced the savings they used as capital to start the business.

Just as employees can demand no more in wages than employers are willing and able to pay for their services, capitalists can demand no more in profits than consumers are willing to pay for capitalists’ services. If a capitalist raises prices in an attempt to make unreasonable profits, his competitor will be happy to provide the product at a lower price. The competitor may make less profit on each unit, but he sells more units for every dollar he decreases his price. That’s just simple supply and demand economics, accepted by virtually everyone, libertarian or not.

Consumers bear the same costs of capital and management when the government builds roads. We just don’t call them “profits” and there is no competition to limit them. We pay a panel of bureaucrats a higher price to do the job the capitalist would do, plus pay for all of the waste and fraud that accompany government projects. Allowing capitalists to make profits is far cheaper.

Just as government workers aren’t inferior people, neither are capitalists superior nor more virtuous people. They simply operate in a system with different incentives. Capitalists in a free market please customers because customers have choices. They can buy from someone else. They can choose not to buy at all. Either choice means less profits, losses or bankruptcy for the capitalist. He can only survive and thrive when customers choose to buy his product.

Somehow, people have placed roads into a special category where these basic economic laws are supposedly suspended. But they’re not. The economics of road building is no different from the economics of food growing or toy making. Roads are just another product of human labor. A free market is the most efficient means for building, maintaining and distributing their benefits, just as it has proved to be for every other product.

Then, there is the convenience argument. Even if the roads would be cheaper if privately owned, wouldn’t it be terribly inconvenient to have to stop and pay a toll every time I left the property of one owner and drove onto the property of another? Wouldn’t there be toll booths every few blocks?

These concerns betray incredibly limited thinking. Even the government has somewhat overcome the inconvenience of stopping traffic at toll booths with wireless toll sensors overhead. This solution assumes the only way to pay for roads is for consumers to pay a separate fee for each use.

Proponents of government roads assume everyone benefits equally from them. While one could argue most people benefit at least indirectly from government roads, it is obvious everyone does not benefit equally.

The consumers who shop on a road where a group of retailers reside benefit from the road, but the retailers benefit much more. The consumers could survive without shopping there, but the retailers could not survive without the road. Thus, the answer to the perennial question, “Without government, who will build the roads?” For this road, the answer is simple: the retailers. Likewise for roads leading to the road they are located on.

Where would the retailers get the additional money needed to build and maintain roads? They’d simply pass along the costs in the prices of their products. This would not be an additional cost for consumers. Offsetting the slightly higher price of the retailers’ products would be the enormous savings in taxes not paid for the inefficient government road system.

Retailers already do this to an extent, as libertarian author Larken Rose humorously notes:

“On the supermarket’s private property are roads and parking lots (really wide roads). Where did they come from? Why didn’t they send me a bill for them? Because it was part of their premeditated loss in the deal to sell me sushi, pepperoni, and candy corns.”[1]

What about residential roads? That’s even easier. Voluntary contracts called “Homeowners’ Associations” already maintain landscaping and other “infrastructure” within residential communities. There is no reason roads could not be added to the list. Would that raise homeowners’ association fees? Yes, but savings in taxes would be greater than the increase in fees.

What about interstate highways and all of the other roads and bridges built by the government? The same principle applies. There are numerous entities who would be willing to build and maintain roads if the government didn’t do so. They include manufacturers who need roads to get their products to market, trucking companies who transport them there, retailers who sell them, and many other interested parties.

All of these benefit infinitely more from roads than the average commuter. Under a government road system, taxpayers are forced to underwrite this capital expense while capitalists keep all of the profits. As previously stated, capitalists aren’t more virtuous people. They respond to incentives like everyone else. The government road system allows them to let other people pay their expenses. It not only gives them an incentive to be moochers, it offers them no alternative.

Anti-libertarians often argue libertarian ideas sound great in theory, but would never work in the real world. Certainly, private roads are a prime example, right?

Wrong. Not only would private roads work better than government roads, they have and still do.

Somewhere down George Orwell’s famous memory hole has fallen almost a century of American history where government roads were vehemently opposed. Before Social Security, healthcare or unemployment were political issues, road building was a central one.

During the Washington administration, Alexander Hamilton championed government roads as part of the Federalist Party domestic policy platform of high, protectionist tariffs, a central bank and “internal improvements,” which meant government funded roads and canals. Taxpayers would foot the bill for roads and connected private corporations would build them and keep the profits.

On the other side of the debate were Jefferson and his Democratic-Republicans. They referred to themselves as “Republicans,” but were not the same as the modern Republican Party. They eventually evolved into the modern Democratic Party, although their platform in 1800 was far different from their platform today. During the 19th century, the Democratic-Republicans were the party of free markets and limited government.

Jefferson’s “Republicans” opposed the central bank, supported tariffs sufficient to fund government but not to protect domestic manufacturers, and opposed government subsidized roads and canals.

The Republicans were at a disadvantage because they did not become a formal party until after the Federalists were firmly established. This gave Hamilton and the Federalists the opportunity to make the same arguments we hear today about why the government has to build the roads. They even got to launch a few projects. They were all disasters.

All of that changed with Jefferson’s electoral victory in 1800. So dramatic was the change in policy Jefferson himself often referred to it as a Second American Revolution. Distraught with Jefferson’s election, the heavily Federalist New England states actually held conventions contemplating secession from the Union. Among their dire predictions was that America would languish without an adequate road system because the Jeffersonians refused to allow the government to fund them.

They couldn’t have been more wrong, as Loyola University economics professor and author Thomas Dilorenzo points out.

“But the fact is, most roads and canals were privately financed in the nineteenth century. Moreover, in virtually every instance in which state, local, or federal government got involved in building roads and canals, the result was a financial debacle in which little or nothing was actually built and huge sums of taxpayer dollars were squandered or simply stolen.”[2]

Dilorenzo goes on to describe the spectacularly successful, privately-funded “turnpike” industry that built virtually all of the roads in early America. He attributes the success to the same incentives libertarians argue would motivate private investment in roads today.

“Local merchants had strong incentives to invest in private turnpikes because they would bring more commerce to their towns. Landowners would see their property values rise, and cities would more generally prosper as improved transportation extended the division of labor and the economic benefits derived from it.”[3]

This is not an arcane legend libertarians invented. It’s been well documented by “mainstream” historians for hundreds of years.

Alexis de Tocqueville noted ubiquitous private roads in Democracy in America (1835-1840):

“In France, contributions in kind take place on very few roads; in America upon almost all the thoroughfares: in the former country, the roads are free to all travellers; in the latter turnpikes abound.”[4]

Seymour Dunbar documented the same phenomenon in his four-volume 1915 treatise A History of Travel in America:

“Out of these new qualities of public thought came a suggestion that the task of turnpike building be turned over to private companies created for the purpose. The idea was adopted through all the country. Under its general operation many thousands of miles of improved roads were constructed, and within a few years it was possible to travel by stage-coach from the Atlantic Coast to the border of Indiana in about two weeks, at a cost of only forty-five or fifty dollars exclusive of board and lodging.”[5]

The success of private roads and the waste, fraud and incompetence inherent in government-funded road projects made resistance to government road building a mainstream political position in 19th century America. Two major political parties met their demise largely for supporting government funded roads and other infrastructure.

So resounding was the Federalists’ defeat in 1800 that they ceased to exist as a party not long afterwards. Government roads then found new champions in a successor party. Led by Henry Clay, the Whig Party repackaged Federalist ideas into what Clay called “The American System.” Its pillars were a central bank, high protectionist tariffs and internal improvements.

Clay and the Whigs promoted their American System for decades, losing election after election. So unpopular was the idea of letting the federal government build roads that as late as 1857, Democratic President James Buchanan felt the need to justify in his inaugural address what little road building he believed the government should undertake. Emphasizing the federal government’s powers should be strictly limited to the powers delegated in the U.S. Constitution, Buchanan went on to say.

“Whilst deeply convinced of these truths, I yet consider it clear that under the war-making power Congress may appropriate money toward the construction of a military road when this is absolutely necessary for the defense of any State or Territory of the Union against foreign invasion. Under the Constitution Congress has power ‘to declare war, to raise and support armies, to provide and maintain a navy, and to call forth the militia to ‘repel invasions.’ Thus endowed, in an ample manner, with the war-making power, the corresponding duty is required that ‘the United States shall protect each of them [the States] against invasion.’ Now, how is it possible to afford this protection to California and our Pacific possessions except by means of a military road through the Territories of the United States, over which men and munitions of war may be speedily transported from the Atlantic States to meet and to repel the invades?”[6]

Obviously, government roads were still very unpopular. Otherwise, Buchanan wouldn’t have felt the need to make such a lengthy argument for the few he advocated.

Like the Federalists before them, the Whigs eventually disintegrated after decades of failing to establish their American System. Private roads were firmly established as an American institution with little reason to believe that would ever change.

So how did government take over road building?

Like the Federalists, the surviving Whigs and their political heirs formed a new party. Calling themselves “Republicans” the new party was an alliance between former Whigs and abolitionists. Capitalizing upon the dominant issue of the day, the new Republican Party won a sweeping victory in 1860.

Most Americans remember the Lincoln presidency for the American Civil War, his Emancipation Proclamation and the eventual abolition of slavery in the United States. These huge issues tend to obscure what has now become a little known fact. Lincoln was a lifelong Whig who had supported its principles for decades. As far back as 1831, Lincoln had quipped during a stump speech,

“My politics are short and sweet, like the old woman’s dance. I am in favor of a national bank. I am in favor of the internal improvement system and a high protective tariff. These are my sentiments and political principles. If elected I shall be thankful; if not, it will be all the same.”[7]

These ideas, rejected by voters since 1800, had little hope of success before Lincoln’s victory. But by 1861, the issues of slavery and the war were so dominant that Lincoln and the Republicans had little trouble in finally establishing the American System. Opposition to government roads was the proverbial baby that went out with the bathwater of slavery.

Lincoln’s domestic policy agenda was not lost on the Confederate States. While their primary and most immediate reason for seceding was fear the Republican policy of prohibiting slavery in new states and territories would eventually threaten the institution in their own, they also opposed the crony capitalism of the American System. Georgia’s Declaration of the Causes of Secession talks at length about it, arguing the abolitionist movement had provided its proponents a new opportunity:

“…but the principle was settled, and free trade, low duties, and economy in public expenditures was the verdict of the American people. The South and the Northwestern States sustained this policy. There was but small hope of its reversal; upon the direct issue, none at all.

All these classes saw this and felt it and cast about for new allies. The anti-slavery sentiment of the North offered the best chance for success.”[8]

Sadly, the Confederacy did not have to change the U.S. Constitution significantly regarding slavery because the Constitution supported the institution at the time. But the new Confederate Constitution did make a significant change to the Commerce Clause:

“To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes; but neither this, nor any other clause contained in the Constitution, shall ever be construed to delegate the power to Congress to appropriate money for any internal improvement intended to facilitate commerce; except for the purpose of furnishing lights, beacons, and buoys, and other aids to navigation upon the coasts, and the improvement of harbors and the removing of obstructions in river navigation; in all which cases such duties shall be laid on the navigation facilitated thereby as may be necessary to pay the costs and expenses thereof.”[9] [emphasis added]

Private roads were not immediately abolished by the government the day after Lee surrendered to Grant. However, the Republican Party’s domination of American politics in the post-war period made a government takeover of the road building industry inevitable. Dunbar recognized the significance of the Civil War on road policy:

“Many of the toll road franchises have only lapsed in recent years, and a few are still effective. Maryland, and perhaps other states, yet possess toll-gates. Not until after the Civil War did the various commonwealths generally adopt a policy under which roadways were considered public works to be created and maintained by the people themselves and used without toll fees.”[10] [emphasis added]

Tragically, their defense of slavery has sullied many of the good, libertarian ideas the southern states espoused, including opposition to government subsidization of roads, canals and railroads. Some actually accuse libertarians of racism or even of condoning slavery because their arguments sound like some of those made by the Confederate states. If you don’t think the government should build roads, you must support slavery.

Yes, it gets that ridiculous, too.

A century and a half later, the seceding states have been vindicated on at least one issue. As wrong as they were on slavery, they were absolutely right about government roads. The government hasn’t improved at building them since those “financial debacles” Dilorenzo described. We’ve just become accustomed to its incompetence.

Long tradition has desensitized us to the farcical prospect of repairs on short stretches of road taking years to complete, road construction projects with no workers present for days or weeks at a time, traffic jams, potholes, and a predatory police force waiting to spring out from cover to mete out disproportionate financial punishment for the slightest infraction.

Even conservatives accuse libertarians of taking free markets to an extreme by suggesting private roads. That’s not surprising, because government roads has traditionally been a conservative position, since the early days of the republic when the Federalist Party were the conservatives and Jefferson’s Republicans were the liberals.

If they’re right about libertarians being free market extremists, then they’d be surprised to find out where this extremism has been implemented with spectacular success: in so-called “Communist China.”

After decades languishing under true communism, China has been making market reforms to its economy since the 1980’s. They still call themselves communist and the Communist Party still has absolute control of the political process, but their economy is in many ways more capitalist than the USA’s.

One way is the extensive highway system they’ve built in a remarkably short period of time. China’s highways are built and maintained mostly by private companies and financed in the private capital markets. It’s not a completely free market. There is still plenty of government meddling and attempts at planning. However, the most important element of free markets is present. The costs for the roads are paid by the people who use them. At least for roads, costs are not “socialized” in the socialist state.

So impressed was legendary investor Jim Rogers by China’s highway system that he devoted a chapter to it in his 2007 book, A Bull in China. Rogers had ridden his motorcycle across China in 1988 and felt lucky to survive the dearth of roads. Less than two decades later, the transformation dazzled him:

“Under socialism, the slogan of China’s forced industrialization was ‘China Reconstructs.’ Today, the operative phrase is more like ‘Highways to Heaven.’ With 28,210 miles of highways at the end of 2006, China boasted the world’s second-longest set of freeways, roughly equal to those of Canada, Germany and France combined. In the last four years, about 3,000 miles of expressways were added each year on average. And there are plans afoot to construct and pave up to triple the current number.”[11]

Rogers goes on to recommend several Chinese expressway companies as investment opportunities.

Adrian Moore, Ph.D., Vice President of Policy at the libertarian think tank Reason Foundation, has also taken notice. In a Reason TV You Tube video, Moore observes,

“Here we have this very capitalist culture and country and we have this incredibly socialist transportation system, where the idea of having the private sector build and run a road is just crazy talk. And over in China, where it’s an avowedly communist system, the idea of having the private sector build and run a road is like ‘Well, yeah, how else are we going to build all the roads?”[12]

The libertarian argument for private roads is used as a bludgeon to stifle debate on reductions in government anywhere. Promoting even a modest reduction in income tax rates is enough for many anti-libertarians to “play the road card,” hoping others will perceive the libertarian as crazy.

It’s classic ad hominem. When you can’t refute the argument, attack the person making it. That’s why this tactic is employed so often.

Guess what? The road card isn’t worth a deuce. Neither history, economics nor common sense support it. If early Americans and 21st century communists can build private roads, we can, too.


[1] Rose, Larken “Roads” http://nogov4me.net/archive/roads1.htm

[2] Dilorenzo, Thomas How Capitalism Saved America Three Rivers Press New York 2004 pg. 80

[3] Dilorenzo, How Capitalism, pg. 85

[4] De Tocqueville, Alexis Democracy in America Volumes I and II (Kindle Edition) pg. 165/location 5661. It should be noted Tocqueville’s characterization of roads being “free” in France is misleading. The roads in France weren’t free, they were paid for in taxes. Tocqueville and his contemporaries would have understood this implicitly. Today, that is not always the case.

[5] Dunbar, Seymour A History of Travel in America The Bobbs-Merrill Company Indianapolis, IN 1915 Volume I pgs. 321-322

[6] United States Presidents Inaugural Speeches A Public Domain Book (Kindle) location 1969-1980

[7]Thomas, Benjamin Platt Lincoln’s New Salem Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Library 2006  Pg. 58

[8]Georgia Declaration of the Causes of Secession The Avalon Project Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy Yale Law School Lillian Goldman Law Library    http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/csa_geosec.asp

[9]Constitution of the Confederate States; March 11, 1861 The Avalon Project Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy Yale Law School Lillian Goldman Law Library http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/csa_csa.asp

[10] Dunbar A History Volume I pg. 322

[11] Rogers, Jim A Bull in China Random House Trade Paperback Edition 2008 pg. 105

[12] Moore, Adrian China and Transportation: What We Can Learn In The United States Reason TV You Tube Channel http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUPRlrVTd2g#t=17


Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.