James Bovard on His Famous Libertarian Books, America's Failing
Freedom and 'Why Life Is Too Short to Drink Bad Beer'
by Anthony Wile
The Daily Bell
by Anthony Wile: 9/11,
the Damage of the Aftermath and the Brightness Ahead
James Bovard is the author of nine books, including Attention
Deficit Democracy (2006), The
Bush Betrayal (2004), and Lost
Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty (1994). He has
written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal,
Playboy, Washington Post, New Republic, Reader's
Digest, and many other publications. His books have been translated
into Spanish, Arabic, Japanese and Korean. He is a contributing
editor for American Conservative magazine and The Freeman
and a regular contributor to Freedom Daily magazine. The
Wall Street Journal called Bovard "the roving inspector
general of the modern state," the New York Times tagged
him "an anti-czar Czar," and Washington Post columnist
George Will called him a "one-man truth squad." His writings
have been publicly denounced by the chief of the Federal Bureau
of Investigation, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of
Housing and Urban Development, the Postmaster General, and the chiefs
of the US International Trade Commission, the Drug Enforcement Administration
and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as by many
congressmen and others of the highest rank and lowest common denominator.
Thanks for sitting down with us. What is the state of freedom in
the world today?
It is under siege in most places where it has not already been abolished.
How about America?
There has been a long-term trend of trampling rights and liberties.
After 9/11, the pernicious trend greatly accelerated.
Have things gotten worse since you began writing?
Yes, but that is not solely because of my articles.
Give us some background. Where did you grow up? How did you become
a libertarian-oriented person and writer?
I was raised in the mountains of Virginia. When I was a teenager,
I watched Nixon devastate the economy with wage and price controls
at the same time he took the US off of the gold standard. Political
perfidy permeated the 1970s, and I learned to expect very little
from politicians. My own dealings with government agencies
such as the summer I spent goofing off while on the payroll of the
Virginia Highway Department also spurred my disdain.
Summer Road to Perdition
Give us some more background. School? College?
I attended Virginia Tech off-and-on for two years and then dropped
out. I sold my first piece to the New York Times op-ed page
when I was 22, and have been hitting newspapers and magazines ever
since sometimes often, sometimes less frequently. In fact,
my first modest effort used a kind of Swiftian approach to ask whether
conscription (as opposed to elections) would give us a better quality
of congressmen. You can see it here: Satire.
Impressive. Why did you decide to write libertarian-oriented books?
I wanted to wake folks up to the perils of Leviathan, and books
provided far more opportunity to marshal evidence than did newspaper
or magazine articles. Plus, I enjoy the hell out of writing.
OK, give us a quick take on the impact of the Internet the
Internet Reformation, as we call it on the libertarian dialogue.
Is free-market thinking become more widespread? Have things changed
since you started writing?
It is far easier for individuals to discover free-market thinking
now than it was 20 years ago. On the other hand, people's reading
ability seems to be declining. The habits that people develop while
"reading" material on the web sometimes undercut the concentration
necessary to grasp new ideas.
When did you discover Austrian economics Mises, Rothbard,
et al? Is Keynesian/Fabian finance dying or dead?
I have great respect for the Austrian economics approach. I was
gung-ho in favor of free markets from the time I was 15 or 16. A
few years later, I heard a speech by William F. Buckley about Hayek's
to Serfdom. I tracked down that book and then devoured most
of Hayek's other books. Hayek's legal/philosophical framework was
invaluable for understanding both economics and politics. Hayek
also spurred me to do more reading of Scottish, British and French
political theorists. His Mirage
of Social Justice (Vol. 2 of Law, Legislation, and Liberty)
inspired my 1991 book, The
Fair Trade Fraud.
the Keynesian approach is not dead because it will always be profitable
to politicians. Keynes's "multipliers" give politicians
a license to do stupid things (or to give tax dollars to their donors)
and claim that they are saving the nation.
What was your first book and how did you get it published?
Fiasco (1989) was the first book. I wrote it after a California
think tank contacted me and offered to pay me to write a book bashing
Why have your books been so successful? Because you decided to focus
on government inefficiency?
I enjoyed throwing rocks at the government. It was fun to find the
facts that would debunk some political or bureaucratic salvation
Did you have trouble finding publishers in the beginning?
Some of the first book projects I carved out did not make it into
print, but they were valuable training.
Let's take some of your books and examine them. Give us some commentary.
Trade Fraud: How Congress Pillages the Consumer and Decimates American
Here are some epigrams from that 1991 work:
cannot make trade more fair by making it less free.
trade" is a moral delusion that could be leading to an economic
- The US government
has created a trade lynch law that can convict foreign companies
almost regardless of how they operate.
trade negotiators have exerted far more effort to close the US
market than to open foreign markets.
- It should
not be a federal crime to charge low prices to American consumers.
- The myth
of fair trade is that politicians and bureaucrats are fairer than
markets that government coercion and restriction can create
a fairer result than voluntary agreement and that prosperity
is best achieved by arbitrary political manipulation, rather than
allowing each individual and company to pursue their own interest.
- Our great
grandchildren may look back at the trade wars of the twentieth
century with the same contempt that many people today look at
the religious wars of the seventeenth century as a senseless
conflict over issues that grown men should not fight about.
Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty (1994) ...
More epigrams ...
needs fewer laws, not more prisons.
- It is important
to have a sounder distinction between democracy and thievery than
simply counting votes.
the taxpayer is the main achievement of the welfare state. The
federal tax system has turned individuals into sharecroppers of
their own lives.
- The key
to contemporary American political thinking is the neutering of
the State the idea that modern government has been defanged,
- A law is
simply a reflection of the momentary perception of self-interest
by a majority of a legislative body.
have sought to maximize social progress by maximizing the number
of people labeled to be criminals.
a realistic concept of government, political philosophy is only
an exercise in moral aesthetics.
In this short 1995 book, I sought to mix muckraking and mirth
to shock readers at the same time I provoked belly laughs. The book
had volley after volley of bureaucratic rampages involving asset
forfeiture, HUD, the Food and Drug Administration, money laundering,
the Endangered Species Act and even breast-feeding (as far as it
related to harebrained child abuse accusations). I sought to plant
the seeds of skepticism in readers' minds by vivifying how, across
the board, government was far more abusive, oppressive and deceptive
than they suspected.
in Chains: The Rise of the State and the Demise of the Citizen
OK, more epigrams ...
is a desperate gamble that lying politicians will honestly care
for those who fall under their power.
- The Night
Watchman State has been replaced by Highway Robber States
governments in which no asset, no contract, no domain is safe
from the fleeting whim of politicians.
- So much
of political philosophy throughout history has consisted of concocting
reasons why people have a duty to be tame animals in politicians'
- The surest
effect of exalting government is to make it easier for some people
to drag others down.
- The growth
of government is like the spread of a dense jungle, and the average
citizen can hack through less of it every year.
government nowadays means dividing humanity into two classes:
those who can be trusted with power to run other people's lives,
and those who cannot even be trusted to run their own lives.
Your Pain: The Explosion and Abuse of Government Power in the Clinton-Gore
Years (2001) ...
Some more ...
exploited and expanded the dictatorial potential of the US presidency.
- The power
a politician acquires for government will survive long after his
photo opportunities have faded.
- Faith in
the coercive power of the best and brightest permeated Clinton
- The lies
that Clinton got away with were far more important than the ones
on which he was caught.
- The better
that people understand what Clinton did in office, the greater
the nation's chances for political recovery.
and Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice, and Peace to Rid the World
of Evil (2003) ...
Others that come to mind ...
happened on 9/11 that made the federal government more trustworthy.
- The Patriot
Act treats every citizen like a suspected terrorist and every
federal agent like a proven angel.
- The worse
government fails, the less privacy citizens supposedly deserve.
- There is
no technological magic bullet that will make the government as
smart as it is powerful.
foreigners is no substitute for protecting Americans.
- It is impossible
to destroy all alleged enemies of freedom everywhere without also
destroying freedom in the United States.
- A lie that
is accepted by a sufficient number of ignorant voters becomes
a political truth.
should distrust politicians who distrust freedom.
- In the long
run, people have more to fear from governments than from terrorists.
Terrorists come and go, but power-hungry politicians will always
be with us.
corpus is an insurance policy to prevent governments from
Bush Betrayal (2005) ...
- Truth is
a lagging indicator in politics.
- The arrogance
of power is the best hope for the survival of freedom.
- We need
a constitutional amendment to make the federal government obey
- There are
no harmless political lies about a war. The more such lies citizens
tolerate, the more wars they will get.
- People have
been taught to expect far more from government than from freedom.
Washington nor Jefferson ever intended for the President of the
United States to become the Torturer-in-Chief.
Deficit Democracy (2006). ...
A final few ...
- In recent
years, Americans have devoted far more effort to spreading democracy
than to understanding it.
- Rather than
a democracy, we increasingly have an elective dictatorship. People
are merely permitted to choose who will violate the laws and the
of revealing the "will of the people," election results
are often only a one-day snapshot of transient mass delusions.
- A democratic
government that respects no limits on its own power is a ticking
time bomb, waiting to destroy the rights it was created to protect.
- Bogus fears
can produce real servitude.
- As long
as rulers are above the law, citizens have the same type of freedom
that slaves had on days when their masters chose not to beat them.
unleashes the State in the name of the people.
- The more
that democracy is assumed to be inevitable, the more likely it
Deficit Democracy produces the attitudes, ignorance and arrogance
that pave the way to political collapse.
Thanks. What is your latest book? You must be working on something.
Tell us about it.
Attention Deficit Democracy was the most recent book (2006).
I wrote it to disprove scurrilous rumors that I had become an idealist.
But what are you working on now?
Whittling on some memoir essays on some of my adventures from teen
years onwards. I hope that my Parole Officer gives permission to
Do you think your books have made a difference? They are very inspirational
and well researched in our view.
Thanks for your kind words. It is hard for me to gauge the impact
of the books. They have given some people good laughs, and they
have made me many enemies over the decades.
Are you more optimistic or pessimistic these days?
I try to have a firewall inside my head where my natural
optimism on life is not tainted by my cynicism about government
and politicians. I am neither optimistic nor pessimistic at this
point just jaded. Comedian Lily Tomlin best expressed the challenge
of our times: "No matter how cynical you become, it is not
enough to keep up."
Do you believe there is a kind of power-elite cabal that is trying
to set up one world government? We call it the Anglo-American power
Don't forget the French. They were the ones who dragged NATO into
the war in Libya. I hope that whatever Anglo-American power elite
exists can be soon exiled to some isolated Colorado mountaintop
where they hold gassy conferences in perpetuity that no one attends.
What do you think about the wars in which the US is involved?
The US has not had a "good war" since long before I was
born. I have been disappointed to see how both George W. Bush and
Obama have gotten away with so many false statements regarding their
foreign conflict. And I am appalled to see how the Obama team is
using drones to kill people in more nations than we yet know.
What is your opinion of 9/11? How did it happen?
US foreign policy sowed anger through much of the Middle East. Eventually,
a cadre of Arabs decided it was worthwhile to kill themselves to
try to strike back. US politicians exploited the attacks to seize
far more power over Americans and much of the world.
Is the US getting less free?
Perhaps not in the last 24 hours, but I would not want to wager
heavily on that score. Politicians have been seizing and abusing
more power with almost every passing year. I am still waiting for
the "Liberty Rebound" or at least a "dead
cat bounce" for freedom.
Should central banking be abolished?
Central banking has worked out great for the banks and the politicians.
Practically everybody else has gotten shafted. I have been amazed
how the mainstream American media kowtows to and glorifies the Federal
Reserve. Ron Paul has done heroic work in putting the Federal Reserve
on the national radar screen. Open their books and their prestige
Is the EU on the way out?
I hope so. Greek politicians will steal anything that is not nailed
down. It was folly to add Greece (and several other countries) to
the EU. The notion of a free trade zone covering all of Europe was
a vast step forward after World War Two. Seeking to create a political
union should have been recognized as a Pandora's Box even before
it commenced. Simply because two nations drop trade barriers does
not mean that politicians should put more people under their thumbs.
Is the US headed for an endless depression? Is it in one?
No, it is a bad recession. At some point, the current gang of political
rascals will be pushed out of power and American economic vitality
could begin to revive.
Is China an up and coming power?
At least for now. We will see if it blows up financially.
Are we headed for more wars?
As long as politicians can profit from stampeding the citizenry,
I fear that it is only a question of time until more conflicts are
A world war?
Hopefully not. One benefit of John McCain's defeat in 2008 was that
the US government became much less likely to fight Russia over Georgia.
Any other points you want to make?
"Life is too short to drink bad beer," as a savvy commentator
Resources you want to draw to our readers' attention?
Thanks for sitting down with us.
Thanks for the excellent questions!
was born at the right time, possessing the proper talent
a combination of acute intelligence, skeptical humor and investigative
discipline. But he is still lucky to be living when he is. It suits
his peculiar genius.
years ago, those in government were not so obviously hypocritical.
And government itself was generally much smaller, and thus had not
fully exhibited the destructive tendencies of the modern era. The
Age was, in a sense, one of naïve sincerity. Even socialism
and communism seemed feasible (unfortunately so); applicable, too.
government abuses (as a result of those "isms") are so
obvious and manifold that Bovard's books might not have quite the
impact that they did in the silence of the pre-Internet era. It's
hard to be shocked by anything Western governments do these days,
given the increasing wars and swelling economic dysfunction. More
people are talking about it, thank goodness.
through the rankest hypocrisy at the very top of his talent. At
the time when he was at his peak, (not to say he has diminished,
only that he has for the most part turned to the essay form on his
blog), he churned out brilliant, investigative book-length journalism
on a variety of topics. In fact, for someone like Bovard, it was
"easy pickings." Those who run Western governments, and
especially America, were still trying to pretend, with increasing
futility, that government was good and that American exceptionalism
was in full flower.
Anglosphere power elite and its enablers continue to offer this
meme, but it has withered considerably. Times are different. Technology
has unraveled the matrix; reality has undone the lying. The Internet
Reformation has made the intelligentsia far more sophisticated and
even free-market oriented.
of course, there were only a few voices explaining what had gone
wrong, and Bovard's was unique. He delighted in taking on hypocritical
bureaucrats and their programs and then confronting them with discordant
truths. The mass of contrary evidence he turned up could make your
One thing that
always struck us about his books was how rigorously researched they
were, coming with copious numbers of footnotes. There was apparently
no arguing with his fact-checking or his conclusions, which is why
he was a secret pleasure for so many libertarians who rushed to
buy his latest work as soon as it appeared.
await his next book a medley, no doubt, of indisputable logic,
suppressed indignation and slyly humorous argumentation ... all
Bovardian notes. Whatever he publishes, it will likely gather anew
his grateful audience, one that respects his life work and remembers
when he was a far lonelier voice, presenting truth to power.
In fact, we
tend to believe, as the years go by, that the full measure of his
efforts will gradually reveal themselves and his compositions will
be increasingly admired.
with permission from The
Wile is an author, columnist, media commentator and entrepreneur
focused on developing projects that promote the general advancement
of free-market thinking concepts. He is the chief editor of the
popular free-market oriented news site, TheDailyBell.com.
Mr. Wile is the Executive Director of The Foundation for the Advancement
of Free-Market Thinking – a non-profit Liechtenstein-based foundation.
His most popular book, High
Alert, is now in its third edition and available in several
languages. Other notable books written by Mr. Wile include The
Liberation of Flockhead (2002) and The Value of Gold (2002).
© 2011 The
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