Head of the Ayn Rand Society, Yaron Brook, joined Glenn on his radio program Wednesday for an enlightening conversation about economic freedom.
Among other things, Brook outlined four separations he would like put into the Constitution: Separation of state from ideas; separation of state from economics; separation of state from education; separation of state from science.
Listen to the clip above or read the full transcript below.
GLENN: Yaron Brook, friend of ours and the head of the Ayn Rand Society here in America, welcome to the program.
YARON: Thank you.
GLENN: He’s got a book called Equal Is Unfair. He was here a couple weeks ago, and I said, “My fault. I’m sorry. I didn’t even know you had a book out. Come back and talk about the book.” So we want to talk about it because it’s really an important thing because people — we’re now talking about a universal minimum living wage. Giving everybody, you know, a stipend to live on. And I want to talk about that. I also want to talk — because you just got back from Europe.
GLENN: And there is something happening in Europe. It’s eastern Europe. But they are more free market than probably anybody in the world right now.
YARON: Well, what I’m finding is places in the world that have experienced communism, have experienced some form of fascism, and are so poor and are oppressed, the young people are rising up. They want something different. They want something new. They want — they’re willing to be radical. They’re willing to consider new ideas, whereas you find in western Europe and even in the United States, young people — as long as the new i Phone comes out on time, right? Life is good. Why challenge myself? Why push myself? Radical and upset a lot of people when life is comfortable.
So Brazil — Brazil is fascinating. Thousands of kids out in the streets demonstrating for freedom. For freedom.
GLENN: Like real freedom.
YARON: Like real freedom. I’m not saying all of them get it. But more of them get it than I think — as a percentage than anything we see in the West.
Again, Brazil, they’ve lived under all these different regimes. They were promised that they would be middle class. Remember the Bricks (phonetic) — Bricks were going to take over the world: Brazil, Russia, China, India. It hasn’t happened, which is no surprise, really. But it hasn’t happened. And they’re upset.
GLENN: Because everything is so corrupt.
YARON: Yeah, they’re poor. They want to be middle class. They want to be rich. And they’re saying, “Nothing we’ve been promised is happening.” And they’re willing to look at ideas that I think Americans and others have forgotten, take for granted, ignore, because they want to be mainstream. They want to be cool. They want to be part of — they want to be — they want to be what their professors want them to be.
GLENN: Can I — because you’re probably one of the few in the world that we can actually talk to about this, who has probably thought this through.
You know, we’re looking at a disruption of about 50 percent of all jobs in the next 20 to 30 years. Technology is going to disrupt absolutely everything.
GLENN: So there — so the amount of unemployment is going to be outrageous. And I shouldn’t say that. The amount of displacement is going to be outrageous. Not necessarily unemployment.
YARON: Yep. Yep.
GLENN: And people are thinking now — and I think all governments need to think, what do you do in this period of great change so you don’t have revolution in the street?
Now, one of the solutions is this minimum living wage.
YARON: Yeah. Sure. This is the easiest solution. And this is a government solution. I would say the last people in the world you want thinking about this problem is anybody in government.
YARON: This is not a government problem. I strongly believe in a separation of state from economics. If I had the opportunity to rewrite the Constitution — if I could be that arrogant — I would include a separation of state from economic — they have no business in it. Central planning cannot solve this issue. The market will solve it. How? I don’t know. We have today tens of millions — globally hundreds of millions of jobs that 50 years ago you could not have imagined would exist.
GLENN: So do you think if we had a separation of education and state, we probably would have would be safer than we are now?
YARON: Well, I have four separations that I would put into the Constitution: Separation of state from ideas. I don’t think government should be in the business of ideas. Religion is one set of ideas. I think it should be separate. But I think generally the government is there to protect our rights. Period. Full stop. That’s it.
If you want to be a communist under a free society, that’s okay. Get your friends together, go start a commune, be pathetic and miserable in that commune, to each according to his — from each according to his ability, each according to his means. As long as you’re not opposing it on people, you can do your own thing in a free society. That’s the beauty of freedom.
Separation of state from economics. The government has no economic policy. There shouldn’t be a Treasury Department, in the sense that there is today. Economic advisers. Central planning doesn’t work. It doesn’t work big. It doesn’t work small. It just doesn’t work, and it’s immoral. It’s wrong for the government to impose their values on us as individuals. So it’s morally offensive, and it’s economically stupid.
Separation of state from education. State has no role in education. And the reason our educational system is breaking down is, as corrupt and awful as it is, particularly in the inner cities, particularly for poor people — everybody is always concerned. When they say privatize education, what will happen with the poor kids? Well, it can’t be worse than it is today with these poor kids, right? Think about the educational quality they’re getting from a public educational system. So I’d like to privatize the whole system and get the government out of it. One of my disagreements with Thomas Jefferson is over the University of Virginia and the idea that the state should be involved in education.
And fourth is separation of state from science. Let’s get the state out of science so that we can have scientists unincentivized by government grants and politics and all of that, decide about global warming, about stem cells. Left and right, when government intervenes in science, it corrupts the science.
GLENN: Yeah. Isn’t it — does it amaze you that the scientists don’t realize that the government — which is not controlled by religion this time, is doing the same thing that they were doing to the scientists when it was controlled by religion?
YARON: I think the scientists to some extent recognize that. But what option do they have? If you’re dependent — as our scientific world has evolved to a position to where if you’re not getting grants from the government, how are you going to continue doing the science or some of the science that you want to do?
Now, some people have integrity. But the fact is, most people just go with the flow. And if the government is giving them money to do X, they’re going to do X. And if you do a government study and at the end of the government study, you discover that everything is great. Life’s good. No problems. Nobody is going to renew your grant. Nobody wants to hear that.
But if you say, “The end of the world might be near. I’m not sure. I’m not convinced, but there’s a possibility that we are heading towards a catastrophe. I need to study this further.” Guess what, you’re going to get tons of more money flowing your way, particularly if the end of the world is being caused by something like industry, progress, capitalism, which certain people in the intelligentsia and the government would like to believe are the cause of all our problems.
GLENN: How do you get the youth away from the word progressives and progress, when progressivism is the exact opposite of progress?
YARON: Yeah. Well, the left is being very clever about this. I mean, they have managed to take words, take concepts and adapt them to their use, and pervert them. Liberal — liberal used to mean free market, free thinking.
GLENN: Classic liberalism.
YARON: Classic liberalism. And to some extent, when you go to a place like Georgia or Ukraine and so on and you talk about liberal ideas, they understand them to mean in eastern Europe and in the West, to some extent, as pro-capitalist ideas, pro-freedom ideas. So they’ve done that to the word “liberal.” They’ve done it to the word “progressive.” These are anti-progress ideas. And, you know, part of it is — you know, and the same is true on the other side, right?
Are we really — does anybody really want to be a conservative? What are we conserving? Aren’t we really — those of us who believe in free markets and freedom, we’re the real progressives and liberals. We’re not trying to conserve. We’re trying to push forward. We’re trying to grow and develop.
GLENN: Well, you know the person who named us conservatives. Do you know where that came from?
YARON: No, no, I’m not sure.
GLENN: FDR. FDR was the one who said, “This group of people, they are conservatives. And they’re trying to conserve these ideas, and it won’t work.” And we just embraced it. We just allowed him to label us.
YARON: Well, partially it came from way back from really the French Revolution, where the French Revolution was deemed to be the progressives.
GLENN: Yeah, yeah.
YARON: You know, where the real action was. This was the good guys. And the British looking at that said, “Oh, wait a minute. That’s a bad idea. We need to conserve our institutions and —
GLENN: Sure. Sure.
YARON: So the conservative movement really starts in England as a rebellion in a sense the French Revolution. And nobody saw — and this was one of the great tragedies of history — nobody saw that there was a third alternative that was a revolution, but not the French Revolution. And that was the American Revolution. The real revolution. Because everybody was so Europe-centric, that they viewed anything that happened in Europe as important. And what happened to those 13 colonies, that’s the margin. That’s not as significant. So the American Revolution was what is really meaningful historically. The French Revolution is a footnote at the end of the day. It’s America that moved the world forward, that progressed us.
GLENN: So do you see — we’re talking to Yaron Brook. He’s the author of Equal Is Unfair: America’s Misguided Fight Against Income Inequality.
Do you see, with the fight over facts today, the war with the media, the war with the White House, the war against left and right — I mean, it’s getting insane. We’re all living in a movie that none of us would believe, if we were sitting around the script-writing table, we’d all say, “Nobody is going to buy this movie.”
Do you see enough people saying, kind of like we are, of I’m just tired of all the labels, I’m tired of all of it, none of this stuff works, I want to find reason and find the way out through this?
YARON: You know, I can’t be optimistic here. No, I’m not seeing enough people doing this. I mean, I don’t consider myself right or left anymore.
You know, I’m done with those labels because they’re so perverted, so distorted, they’re meaningless. I view everything in a sense and in terms of what America is, what it represents, and what is going on today. So I believe America is individualism. That’s the essential characteristic of what America is. The American Revolution is about the individual first, placing the individual at the core. Everything is about protecting that individual and his freedom.
Everybody today on the political map — everybody on the political map is a collectivist of one sort or another. On the right, they’re collectivists. On the left, they’re collectivists. America first is an awful slogan. I couldn’t vote for John McCain when he came out of the Republican Convention with the term “country first.” It’s not about country. It’s not about America as a geographic place.
GLENN: It’s about the idea.
YARON: It’s about the idea. But the idea is the individual first.
YARON: The state is there. The only purpose of the American state — and should be the only purpose of every state — is to protect us.
It’s a policeman. It is a judge when there are disputes between us, and a policeman and a military. And other than that, it’s supposed to leave us alone to live our lives as we see fit. That’s what the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness means. It means you have the freedom to act in pursuit of the values necessary for your life, free of coercion. And the government is there to protect you from people who would coerce you. And, of course, the biggest violator, as the Founders knew and warned us, the biggest violator is government.
GLENN: Is government.
YARON: And today, left and right, they want to violate our rights.
GLENN: Let me take a quick break. Back in just a second.
GLENN: Yaron Brook is here. Name of his book is equal is unfair. America’s misguided fight against income inequality. And you think this fight is the revolution.
YARON: It really is the core fight. This is — this is the intellectuals in America trying to make us like Europe.
PAT: Man, I believe that.
YARON: Think about America. America was founded on the idea that all men are created equal, right? It’s in our Declaration of Independence. But what did the Founders mean?
GLENN: Right. Right.
YARON: The Founders knew that we’re all different. We’re all unequal. In a fundamental metaphysical sense, we are unequal. If you put us out there and you free us, we’re all going to have unequal outcomes. So what did they mean when they said all men are created equal? They meant we’re all equally free. We all equally have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We all have equality before the law. The law — the government should not treat us differently. It should treat us all the same.
But once you free us up, we are all going to produce different amounts. We’re all going to do different things with our lives. We’re all going to, you know, express who we are, and we’re all genetically different, environmentally different, and you know what, we make different choices in our lives because free will does exist. And we choose different things.
So in my view, inequality of outcome is a feature of freedom. It’s not a bug. It’s not a distortion. It’s a feature. It’s part of what freedom is about.
Because freedom allows us to express who we are and what we are. And we’re all different. And isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t that amazing that we’re all different? Isn’t that —
GLENN: But that’s easy for you to say who is successful. What about those people who are going to be hungry and won’t be able to make it?
YARON: Well, this is the thing about freedom is that under freedom, those people have a chance not to be hungry anymore. Under freedom, those people have a chance to get a job and to rise up, to whatever level they can. And some of them won’t — you know, I’m never going to be super rich. And some people will never be as wealthy as I am. That’s just reality. Right?
But the beauty is that under freedom, they can rise and they can live a good life. And all of history, of capitalism and freedom, shows that, that the poor do very well, when they are free.
What is the alternative? The alternative is no freedom, where all of us are poor. Yes, there’s equality. But equality of poverty. Two hundred fifty years ago — people don’t know this because they don’t study history — 250 years ago, all of us were poor. People blame the Industrial Revolution for child labor. Well, what were children doing before the Industrial Revolution? They were dying and working.
YARON: But 50 percent of kids didn’t make it to age ten. And those that did make it to age 10 kept on working on the farm, and life expectancy generally was 39. All of us in this room, with the exception maybe of Stu, would be dead by now.
PAT: No, Stu would be dead too.
YARON: Okay. Stu would be dead. He just looks young. He looks young.
People have no concept of what life before the Industrial Revolution — before capitalism, before freedom, before America —
GLENN: I know. But now think about how great it will be after America.
YARON: Yes, after America, we’ll all revert back to what it was.
YARON: Look, as late as the 1960s, in China, because of communism, because of an attempt to make us all equal in outcome, somewhere between 40 to 60 million people died of starvation in one of the most fertile countries in the world. They died of starvation. That’s what equality of outcome means.
Now, no American intellectual is going to say that’s what they actually want. Oh, no. We don’t believe in complete equality. We just believe in more equality than we have right now.
And I always ask them: Give me a number. How much is the right number?
PAT: Yeah, they can’t.
YARON: And they can’t. Oh, we’ll decide when we get there. That’s what democracy is about.
No, the whole point is you don’t get to decide whether I pursue a financial career and make a lot of money or go and become a teacher and not make a lot of money. That’s my decision.
And, you know what, many of us choose not to make a lot of money because life, in spite of what the left says, is not only about money. It’s about the pursuit of happiness, it’s about the pursuit of flourishing, of human fulfillment. Sometimes that involves money. It certainly involves a certain amount of money. But it’s not just about money. So leave people free to make decisions about how far they want to go in life financially, in terms of other things, and the poor — again, the poor, the people who get a bad education — and some people, through no fault of their own, are going to be — it’s going to be hard for them. They’re going to do better under a free system than any other system possible.
GLENN: Equal Is Unfair is the name of the book by Yaron Brook and Don Watkins. Yaron is joining us. The argument you have to make and the best argument to win this case of freedom, coming up.