The Libertarian candidate for President, Bob Barr, turned out to be a mediocre public speaker but quite good at answering questions.
When he spoke last Thursday evening at Oberlin College, Barr rambled a bit. His partisan audience was looking for excuses to cheer, but he didn't give them as many applause lines as he should have.
But when the appearance switched to questions and answers, Barr seemed more focused.
He answered more questions after the speech, when he met with three reporters, including me. My tape recorder was running, and I've transcribed some highlights:
On the government financial bailout and the economy:
The first thing would be not to go running around saying it's the end of the world. That becomes in large measure psychologically a self-fulfilling prophecy. It just drives me crazy. ... 'The sky is going to fall, the sky is going to fall,' and the only solution is to give us all of this power. It's a typical standing operating procedure for government.
As I mentioned to the group here this evening, there is a role for government. It is not the role of the government, though, to manage the economy or to control the economy or to dictate the economy, which is precisely what the government is now doing. They've been doing it in bits and pieces over the years. They're jumping with both feet now into central planning for our economy. I know the European countries and the European banks have been trying to move the U.S. in this direction for a long time, and now it looks like they have us in a position where they're pulling us in. Very, very, bad policy.
What the administration should have done, and what I as president would do, would be first and foremost to enforce the laws that are on the books, and to tell the SEC, for example, enforce the regulations. Don't loosen them. These regulations are there for a very good reason, and that is to ensure transparency and integrity in our financial institutions. The American people have a right to rely on that. Where have you been? What have you been doing? Nobody can tell me that there has not been trillions of dollars of bad paper floating around our economy for several years now. And there hasn't been cooking of the books? That there hasn't been some fraud here in terms of overvaluing assets? First and foremost, I think that would have sent, and would send, an important signal to the country that our government is serious about protecting the integrity and the transparency of these financial institutions.
We ought to be encouraging, not discouraging which we're doing now, other companies, other financial institutions and other individuals of means, like Warren Buffet, from stepping in and buying up these assets that are there. What we're doing though, is the federal government is undercutting Warren Buffet, and trying to undercut Wells Fargo, for example, when they step forward and say, 'We see some worthwhile assets here, with Wachovia, or Goldman Sachs,' or whatnot. Now the federal government is discouraging the market from operating to correct itself. That's wrong.
Getting out of Iraq
The Iraqi government and the Iraqi people don't want sectarian violence. There has always been some of that simmering under the surface there. But it really has only been since the U.S. entered the scene over there in 2003, and started to artificially impose a different view of society, and started favoring different groups over the others. And of course, the idiocy of disbanding the miltary and the police forces, so there was no mechanism to control to keep the sectarian animosity in check. It guaranteed pretty much there would be a great deal of violence and sectarian animosity, and indeed there has been. But that was largely the result, I think, of the way the U.S. basically destroyed the mechanisms that would have kept it in check over there in the first place.
If we remove ourselves from it, begin I think very quickly removing the U.S. military presence and the economic presence over there, I think the Iraqi people will do fairly well by themselves. Will it be perfect? No. But they get along with Iran pretty well. The Maliki government and the Iranian government seem to get along pretty well.
Staying out of Iran
I think the administration is very clearly considering it. I hope they don't. I think it would be a huge blunder. It would make the problems we had in Iraq pale in comparison.
Is a vote for the Libertarians a wasted vote?
It's just the opposite. Voting for the Republican or the Democrat, hoping that things will change, is throwing your vote away, because it guarantees that nothing will change.
There certainly are rhetorical differences between Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain. And there are differences in how they would implement policy, certainly between them. But fundamentally, there's very little difference between the two parties, between the two candidates.
They both support, with some nuanced differences, massive government involvement in our lives. Whether it's education, whether it's the economy, whether it's the environment, whatever it is, they want to use the government to channel our lives the way they see fit. McCain wants to do away with obesity in schools, so he'll use the Department of Education for that. Sen. Obama believes everybody has a right to health care, so he'll use the mechanisms, and the money the government gets, to do that. The only way that that system is going to change is not to vote for a Republican or Democrat. It's to vote for a Libertarian. That will guarantee that things will change.
Even if I don't win, if we get enough votes, similar to what Ross Perot did back in 1992, that will dramatically and positively begin to influence public policy. And we build on that.
Get rid of the income tax, pass a national sales tax instead
I would absolutely seek to abolish the income tax, that is the 16th Amendment. I think it would be foolhardy to implement a consumption tax without first repealing the 16th Amendment. Otherwise inevitably, you are going to wind up with both an income tax and a consumption tax, which is what's happened in I think Canada, if I'm not mistaken, and I think some of the European countries that have a VAT and an income tax.
It would encourage investment. It would encourage saving. That would encourage employment. It would encourage production.
Reforming Social Security
With regards to the Social Security tax, my preference would be not to have it. My preference would be individuals should rely on themselves for their retirement. The fact of the matter is, though, we have a Social Security system, and we have a FICA tax. And it is part of the status quo. You can't just wave a magic wand and do away with it.
What we have proposed, and we have a fairly lengthy paper on our Web site on Social Security reform, is to begin to dramatically reform it, and change it, particularly for younger workers. Folks my age, those who are in their 50s and above, leave the system the way it is. You don't have the time to change it, you don't have the resources to change it, much as I would like to be able to do that. But for younger workers, begin to implement a system of real individual retirement accounts, and where they have an ownership. It is absolutely immoral for the government to take money from an individual by force, to force them to put it in a government controlled retirement account, which is what Social Security has become, even though it wasn't intended initially to be that, and then tell the person, Oh by the way, you have no possession, you have no ownership in this. And if you die before you get these benefits, that's tough luck. That's immoral for the government to do that. Our plan provides that the individual putting money in that individual retirement account owns it.