Christmas came early this year. Of all the things I would like from Santa, nothing suits me more than to have a libertarian candidate in a prominent race and in my home state of Connecticut no less. Yesterday, on MSNCB’s "Morning Joe" television show, economist Peter Schiff announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate challenging incumbent Sen. Chris Dodd.
Mr. Schiff made his name predicting a meltdown in the U.S. economy and a video compilation of his predictions went viral, garnering a million hits on YouTube. But, his prognostications are worrisome. Schiff hails from the Ayn Rand school of economic and social theory. Ms. Rand, you will recall, came to America and reached the conclusion that what this nation needed was more selfishness. In the economic realm, this has translated into libertarianism of the kind espoused by Congressman Ron Paul in the 2008 GOP primaries.
Schiff’s website proclaims: "Peter is not a politician and has never held elected office, instead dedicating his entire adult life to economics and finance." The prominence of the claim would seem to indicate that he and his advisors see this as a plus. But, senators deal with a variety of issues. Senators must vote on social policies, such as abortion, they must vote on matters of civil justice such as the re-authorization of the Voting Rights Act, and they must make life and death decisions on matters of war and foreign policy. Mr. Schiff’s opponent in the Republican primary, former Congressman Rob Simmons is a man with whom I have many disagreements, but he served in Congress and, before that, in the state legislature, learning about a variety of issues. Senators are generalists, not specialists. Senators may develop areas of legislative expertise but it is far more important that a Senator be able to hire an expert and to make their expertise effective than to be an expert himself.
By way of example, Schiff’s website has a link for "About Peter Schiff" and another link for "How To Get Involved" which provides the options to volunteer or to donate. There is a link to a video of his announcement and an events calendar. Nowhere is there a link to "Issues."
Libertarianism is what got us into this economic mess, as even Alan Greenspan has admitted. Yet, indifferent to the human suffering of the economic downturn, the vanquished dreams, the families struggling, the medicines not purchased and the educations deferred, Mr. Schiff has assured us repeatedly on his show "Wall Street Unspun" that the economic crisis is the solution, not the problem. Libertarians, religiously averse to government intervention, bow down to worship at the pagan altar of the market and insist that only such unalloyed freedom from government interference will produce the best economic result. Alas, they cannot see that their own commitment to Adam Smith’s "invisible hand" is a form of slavishness, not an instance of freedom, that men and women have diverse and multiple ambitions in their hearts, not merely economic ones, and that the compact between the government and the governed is properly not one of indifference but of solidarity.
There is much about American culture that can and should give rise to concerns. But, nothing is more pernicious than the tendency to equate human worth and flourishing with material worth and flourishing, to reduce governance to economics, and to fail to see that the poor are rich in ways Wall Street cannot comprehend but which lead the Church to the beautiful realization that it is the poor and the suffering and the marginalized who are Christ’s beloved and, just so, the Church’s treasure.
Mr. Schiff sounds like a nice man and he is certainly engaging. But, to the extent his candidacy is based on the triumph of laissez-faire, it could not be more opposed to the view of life found in Pope Benedict’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate.