A Libertarian in the Senate?

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.


Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
9 years 4 months ago
Do you know anything about ''libertarianism''? Do you know the libertarianism of the likes of Hayek and von Mises-arguably the heart of Ron Paul's libertarianism-does not in any way resemble that of Rand? (Did you know that Rand hated Hayek because Hayek was pro-religion?) Have you ever even bothered to read Hayek or von Mises? These aren't writers who impugn the motives of socialists (in fact, Hayek's disagreements with socialism were purely methodological-he was first attracted to it out of concern for the poor but then realized it did them more harm than good)-and they don't espouse radical selfishness. Do you know anything of the public choice school of economics-libertarians who have studied why failed government programs and regulations persist despite knowledge that they fail-because power hungry politicians and bureaucratic inertia keep them in place? 
By the way, the Austrian economists, under the influence of Hayek and von Mises, had the tools to foretell the collapse of the economy, and much of the prognosis has to do with centralized monetary policy and government policy that encourages, albeit unintentionally, bad behavior and reckless risk-taking.
So don't paint with such broad strokes. It's intellectually dishonest and emotionally manipulative, especially when you tack on an encyclical at the end of your largely ignorant screed.
9 years 4 months ago
I respectively have to disagree. Name me one government program that hasn't gone over budget, is still solvent, and the public sector can't do better except for things like national defense? Even UPS and FedEx operate better than the USPS and they've had YEARS to try and get it right.
9 years 4 months ago
Had to stop reading at "Libertarianism is what got us into this economic mess" said "Alan Greenspan".
It should have read Bush and Alan Greenspan helped to get us into the mess, and it didnt matter if it was a republican or democrat ran senate or congress they added on to it. I am sure at the end of the day Shiff won't win, but I will pay for front roll seat's to see a debate on politics between Schiff and any of the other candidates running.
9 years 4 months ago
Go ahead and scratch that itch, Michael: just call him a racist. You KNOW you want to!
9 years 4 months ago
Obviously, you neither understand Rand nor Objectivism. In the context of selfishness, Rand used to the term rational self-interest. Being a practicing catholic at times, I can tell you that the church would be nowhere without guilt, and sacrifice, and not in that order. Then again, religion is not about rationalism. This has been so since Augustine, who laid such foundations to keep people in debt to the church. Pelagius was right...the wrong road was taken. What the church represents today is a refuge of marxists and neo-fabian socialists that want to promulgate such views through the church. What they do not realize is as the government takes on such social concerns as previously done by the church, the church will eventually cease to exist, first financially, then physically. Why should I give money to the church if I am taxed to death by the government and the government does your job? Not only that, but now the state becomes the religion. how does that work for you, Mr. Winters?
9 years 4 months ago
Yes, Heaven forbid that someone running for political office might have some real-world background and experience in doing something other than ... running for political office.
9 years 4 months ago
I think Marcello's comment is simply ridiculous.
Regardless of content, this is just some amazing writing. Well done. Your ability to summon religious prose to frame any political discussion is uncanny.
I am a Catholic democrat. But I find it hard to get my faith fired up enough for any election that will keep Chris Dodd in office. I understand that a libertarian approach to economics is idealogically opposed to Catholic Social tradition. I get it. But Chris Dodd? The Familiy and Medical Leave Act was a wonderful bill that bears his name. But after 30 years in the Senate, I would hope that he would have more to show for his efforts. And as the chairman of the Banking committee, I would have hoped he could have implemented some way to oversee the billions of dollars that went into the bank bailout.
While I'm not going to go work for Schiff's campaign, I hope some democrat will mount a serious primary threat. Although that's nearly impossible given Dodd's war chest.
9 years 4 months ago
yeah, a command/control Congress and central bank tasked with micro-mismanaging interest rates sounds like libertarian free market economics to me too... after smoking crack.
9 years 4 months ago
Von Mises and Hayek seem to miss that corporations are creatures of the state, given both their charters and their reliance on a publicly created financial system.  Indeed, the financial and banking system and the trading of stocks go hand in hand.  You cannot disband one without disbanding the other.  They also ignore the fact that most labor markets are not free, but exist in an environment of monopsonistic competition - meaning that employers have economic power over employees.  Catholic Social Theory rightly states that both organized labor and governments are necessary in such an environment - and that Catholic business owners must find ways, either privately or through government, to overcome the inherent injustices of this arrangement.  You cannot serve both God and money.
9 years 4 months ago
Mr Winters:
There are a number of issues I could take exception with in your article, but I would like to focus upon your statement:
''Ms. Rand, you will recall, came to America and reached the conclusion that what this nation needed was more selfishness.''
It is true that Rand used the term ''selfishness'', but not in the context that you seem to be using it above.  To make her usage clear, she always qualified her ethical concept as ''rational self interest''.  She believed that in a free society that there were no true conflicts of interest among rational men; in other words, no conflict of interest among people who understood that their freedom of action rested upon a foundation of individual rights, which required that one always maintain a full conscious awareness and respect for the rights of others as well.  She was clear about the distinction between the producer, who pursues their values in life by dint of their own efforts, and the looter, who feeds off of the productive work of others.  When used in the unqualified sense as you have done, you lump both types of people into one group and treat the producer as though they were the moral equivelant of a looter.  If you are going to do that, at least have the decency to not ascribe this to Ayn Rand and then dismiss her based upon this erroneous misapplication of the terminology.
For those interested in a quick overview of Rand's views on selfishness, check out the entry in the online Ayn Rand Lexicon at:  aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/selfishness.html
C. Jeffery Small
9 years 4 months ago
I live in Connecticut and I'm a Democrat, but I'm also ABD...Anybody But Dodd. (Though I do hope a strong Democratic challenger comes forward.) Thirty years in Congress is more than enough time in office for a legislator of any political persuasion. There should be 18 year maximums for senators and representatives. That's enough time to put one's talents and experience to good use, but not enough time to allow the trappings of power to corrupt (or at least to corrupt thoroughly). I used to support Dodd, but no more. He's developed a sense of entitlement (e.g. VIP treatment regarding mortgage rates) that is offputting to me, and I can't forget his flip-flop on abortion and other life issues. I'm ready for change, and I hope the rest of the state is, too. And don't get me started on the junior senator in Connecticut...   
9 years 4 months ago
I agree with the argument that although "the Market" may be self-correcting if left unfettered, the social and economic darwinism that rules in the marketplace should not be left to rule unchallenged.  If one of the functions of government is to protect the citizenry, protection ought to be extended to save the most vulnerable from the most extreme swings of capitalistic ups and downs.  And I capitalized "Market" because it is a false god worshipped by survival-of-the-fittest economic adventurers.  My sincere question is: can you be a libertarian and not hold Mr. Schiff's economic views?  Anyway, I think most of us with any common sense could feel the crash coming.  He just had access to the media.
9 years 4 months ago
I hope soon our debates and arguments will bring out the best of our intellectual and spiritual character, not the juvenile. Goyo, you raised some excellent questions and differences with Michael about his understanding of libertarianism. Many of us would have looked forward to more dialogue between you and Michael, but you closed off that opportunity with your characterizations of Michael (and by extension those who might agree with him) as having produced an "ignorant screed" by being "intellectually dishonest" and "emotionally manipulative." How is our world better by "winning" some imaginary personal battle than producing a community of discourse? I would love to learn what you know about libertarianism, but your comments suggest I had better learn elsewhere. It's a shame to lose such an opportunity on such an important matter.
9 years 4 months ago
Go Peter Schiff!
9 years 4 months ago
Your first claim gives reason to dismiss all your other claims:
"Schiff hails from the Ayn Rand school of economic and social theory"
Schiff is from the Austrian School. HE IS NOT AN OBJECTIVIST.
"Libertarianism is what got us into this economic mess..."
Artificially manipulating interest rates, a very non-libertarian policy, is one of many factors that got us into thismess.
"...to the extent his candidacy is based on the triumph of laissez-faire..."
You ought to look up the definition of laissez-faire. If you think we've had anything resembling that, you're delusional. During Bush, thousands of pages were added to the federal register, regulating almost every aspect of our lives.
Just another dunderhead writing Schiff's coattails, trying to drive up traffic to his site.
9 years 4 months ago
Mr. Binder,
I'm not sure what you've read of von Mises or Hayek. Your account of their accounts is missing a lot. More fundamental to the account is that human propensity to exchange is pre-state. Moreover, the development of complex institutions-including the state and its apparatues-results not just from a state mandate, as you would have it, but the spontaneous interaction of intentional efforts and unintentional effects of those efforts, along with a lot of trial and error to find systems and institutions that work. (Though von Mises, I concede, was more axiomatic than Hayek, he still offered invaluable insights regarding these points.)
But the really weird part of your account is this talk of power over employees. If we follow MSW's beliefs, all citizens should be charges of the Santa Claus state, dependent upon political manipulation by those in de jure control, as opposed to the possibly de facto but variable control of private employers and forces of the market, which would leave no one at the whim of the arbitrary rule of power-seeking politicians or power-thirsty union bosses. In any event neither Hayek nor von Mises believed in absolute free markets-Hayek in fact decried ''laissez-faire'' as a French rationalistic, hyper-individualistic term that ignored the reality of the important, though limited, role of the state in facilitating free competition and basic rules of the game. Read Hayek's essay ''Individualism True and False'' in Individualism and Economic Order if you want your preconceptions shattered.
It's funny that Catholic Social Teaching-here appealed to as if it were expressive of obvious truths-really was nonexistent while the Church held monopolistic or duopolistic monetary and political authority in society in eras of rampant poverty. Does that bother anyone else? It bothers me-and I say it in good faith among other Catholics. Moreover, having heard sermon upon sermon about the need for money in Catholic churches, as well as constant appeals for various causes and the fiscal health of the Church, I wonder when someone is going to admit that wealth has to be created before it can be distributed. So please, keep the hoary slogans about serving God and money aside.
9 years 4 months ago
Where Jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul pracice. 
But the wisdom from above is first of all pure,
then peaceable, gentle, compliant,
full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity.
And the thr fruit of righteousness is sown in peace
for those who cultivate peace.
Where do the wars
and where do the conflicts among you come from?
Is it not from your passions
that make war within your members?
You covet but do not possess
You kill and evnvy but you cannot obtain,
you fight and wage war
You do not possess beacuse you do not ask.
You ask but do not receive,
because you ask wrongly, to spend it on you passions.
Today's mass espitle-the refrain says ''The Lord upholds my life''.  Libertarian blocking of significant true health reform will kill; according to studies done by Physicians National Health Plan which documents over 50,000 American lives are lost annually as health care is rationed by corporations.  All other rich Western countires in 2009 provide more rational care to their citizens.  Our Super Capitalism of transnational but,  American legalized do not democratically represent and provide liberty for human flourishing, only their goal of obscene prfofits for owners and share holders.   Reading statistics of income distribution figures for the Unisted States proves selfless prevails throughout our daily economic life here which truly remains a culture of death driven by love of money and power. I find myself mediating of the story Jesus told of Lazurus in the "Bossom of Abraham" after sitting at the rich man's door for years  with the dog licking hs wounds. Those who are are Amreican citizens and poor are indeed exiled and not treated as the beloved of Jesus the Christ. So strange to hear it all so clearly in the blogs of AMERICA MAGAZINE. 
9 years 4 months ago
Dear Dr. Mary,
I hope you're ready to take in countless new patients in your practice. Because until we have more doctors, we'll have the odd consequence of having universal coverage without universal care. 
And let's not hope anyone gets too sick; after all, our Canadian brothers and sisters come to the US for major surgeries because the waiting periods are too long up north. Where will we go when our situation resembles theirs?
I agree with you that everyone deserves to be treated as the beloved of Jesus Christ. But I disagree with you so strongly that you are offering a real solution.
Good intentions don't equal good results, a lesson that we'll learn soon enough so long as leftie pablum passes for serious debate on these blogs.
Unfortunately, profit-motive also drives innovation, an inconvenient truth for those who would disparage it. And so much of the life-saving technologies (especially for those dying with AIDS) that we now enjoy are the fruits of ''super capitalism.'' Until you show us how we can get one without the other, please don't manipulate us with sermons.


The latest from america

Native American protestors hold hands with parishioner Nathanial Hall, right, during a group prayer outside the Catholic Diocese of Covington on Jan. 22, 2019, in Covington, Ky. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
The furor over a chance meeting between Catholic high school students and Native American protesters underscores the need to listen and learn from indigenous voices.
Marlene LangJanuary 23, 2019
The staggering parliamentary defeat for Prime Minister Theresa May, seen here leaving 10 Downing Street on Jan. 23, pushed the country even further from safe dry land. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
After the stunning defeat of Theresa May's exit deal, Scotland is looking anew at independence, and the U.K. government fears economic disaster.
David StewartJanuary 23, 2019
Michael Osborne, a film director, documents the damage from a mud slide next to his home in Los Angeles on Jan. 18, after three days of heavy rain. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
The conceit of California-as-disaster-movie is ridiculous. But maybe watching our fires and mudslides helps other states consider both their own fragility and their underlying strength.
Jim McDermottJanuary 23, 2019
A commitment to religious liberty demands that effort be devoted to resolving, rather than exacerbating, any real or apparent tension between religious obligation and civil duty.
The EditorsJanuary 23, 2019