Against Public Policy

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Perhaps no term is more banal, yet more terrifying, than “public policy.” It conjures up images of DC think tanks and bureaucrats, a land where intellectualism serves as cover for a stultifying grind of new regulations. It also puts the American public to sleep, as evidenced by a decided lack of “policy” discussion in the 2016 presidential campaign.

By:  Jef Deist

This article first appeared at Mises.org

To seek to organize society is just as crazy as it would be to tear a living plant to bits in order to make a new one out of the dead parts.

Mises’s enduring quote from Socialism, written in 1922, neatly encapsulates the evil behind the concept of public policy. The public is an abstraction, consisting only of the aggregated actions of individuals. No person or group is fit to decide what policies should apply to each individual. Just as housing policy, energy policy, agricultural policy, and the like are all bunk, the summation of various issues into an overarching public policy approach is bunk.

Simply put, nobody should be making policies for your life.

That’s why the Mises Institute stands against the public policy industry and its careerists. DC think tanks like to create the impression that they’re influencing “policy makers,” which is largely untrue. But even if it were true, it’s an enormous tactical and moral mistake to cede authority to that state by adopting its language and its premises. It’s an incremental road to hell.

Libertarian purists, the public policy advocates sniff, don’t want to get their hands dirty. They alone, as policy advocates, are the noble fighters in the trenches. But this is nonsense. Murray Rothbard himself argued in favor of compromise whenever a legislative proposal moved in a libertarian direction, provided such proposal did not contain additional illibertarian elements:

If, then, the libertarian must advocate the immediate attainment of liberty and abolition of statism, and if gradualism in theory is contradictory to this overriding end, what further strategic stance may a libertarian take in today’s world? Must he necessarily confine himself to advocating immediate abolition? Are “transitional demands,” steps toward liberty in practice, necessarily illegitimate? No, for this would fall into the other self-defeating strategic trap of “left-wing sectarianism.” For while libertarians have too often been opportunists who lose sight of or under-cut their ultimate goal, some have erred in the opposite direction: fearing and condemning any advances toward the idea as necessarily selling out the goal itself.

More importantly, the public policy approach ignores the oft-repeated truism that politics (and thus legislation/policy) is a lagging indicator, downstream from culture. This is precisely why the Mises Institute focuses on educating (and hopefully inspiring) an educated lay audience. Our entire mission consists of an end run around the political class, around academia, around mainstream media, and around court historians. Our strategy recognizes the simple fact that it is profoundly not in the interests of the political class to be persuaded by libertarian arguments.

If you agree, please don’t send any more of your hard-earned money to DC! Consider instead supporting the Mises Institute, which recently released its 2015 Annual Report. The following is an excerpt from that report which gives a quick snapshot of what we do.

More than 30 years ago our founder Lew Rockwell determined that the magnificent works of Ludwig von Mises needed a champion, an organization devoted to keeping the Austrian school of economics alive. With Murray Rothbard’s help — and with the blessing of Margit von Mises — the Mises Institute has grown into the world’s leading advocate and source for the scholarship of Austrian economics. We are certain that our early patrons, including Mrs. von Mises and Henry Hazlitt, would be pleased with how far the Institute has come.

Last year our website and social media outlets reached more than 4 million people, giving the Institute a far bigger digital presence than many organizations with much larger budgets. Our live events — Mises University, the Austrian Economics Research Conference, and Mises Circles — continued to grow in size, scope, and impact. Our beautiful campus in Auburn added new book collections, placing us among the largest private libraries in the US southeast. With more than 40,000 titles spanning the breadth of economics, philosophy, history, and political theory, the Mises Institute is a world-class research destination.

Everyone at the Mises Institute is committed to its mission. Our overriding goal is to educate people about Austrian economics, freedom, and peace. We also strive to maintain the integrity, reputation, independence, and radically uncompromising principles that set us apart from traditional think tanks and policy organizations.

We never sacrifice the Institute’s mission for the sake of public approval, fundraising, or popularity. We don’t succumb to political correctness or cultural fads. We don’t engage in the “pay-to-play” system that dominates DC organizations, where a particular donor determines what issues or areas are emphasized. We remain deeply committed to truth, reason, and revisionism, regardless of public opinion. And of course we never accept taxpayer funding in any form. The overwhelming majority of our donations come from individual donors.

Our campus is in low-cost Auburn, Alabama rather than the DC Beltway. Our staff is small and dedicated. Yet our impact on the economics profession, and the greater public debate, rivals or exceeds that of large public policy organizations. A donation to the Mises Institute represents a great value relative to many nonprofits, and we treat every donation and donor with respect. Unlike larger organizations, we know many of our donors personally and speak with them regularly.

While 2016 brings the divisive rhetoric of a presidential campaign year, it also brings an opportunity for those who believe that human affairs do not need to be organized by a central government; that war and intervention are evil; that money should be a market commodity; that unhampered markets create the best outcomes for all; and that private property rights provide the foundation for a free society.

This article first appeared at Mises.org