Hello Freedomphiles! Time for another rEVOLution candidate interview. Today's subject is a fascinating man named Eric Schansberg. If you hold any pre-concieved notions about libertarians or about Christians, he will surely challenge them.
Author of the book Turn Neither to the Right nor to the Left: A Thinking Christian's Guide to Politics and Public Policy, Mr. Schansberg is an Evangelical Christian, a libertarian, and an economics professor at the University of Indiana who has written about public policy for over twenty years.
He is a recent winner of the Libertarian Party's Thomas Paine Awardfor excellent libertartian communicators, and he is an Adjunct Scholar at the impressive Acton Institute, a Christian Libertarian think tank eponomously named after Lord Acton, the brilliant scholar that coined the phrase “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Married for thirteen years next month, he lives in Indiana with his wife Tonia and his four boys. He is running for office in the 9th Congressional District of Indiana.
I had a chance to have a terribly interesting email conversation with Dr. Schansberg over the last couple of weeks, where we talked about politics, religion, economics, and adoption.
FF: Congratulations on winning the Thomas Paine Award.
SCHANSBERG: Thanks. I washonored to receive the award and humbled to join the company of such fine previous winners. In our time, we have a tremendous opportunity to communicate a message of Freedom– with people who are increasingly disenchanted with the Republicans and Democrats. May we all take advantage of those opportunities.
FF: So, can I assume that means you think the Libertarian Party is the best way to communicate that message?
SCHANSBERG:Well, the Libertarian Partyaligns with my political philosophy. I suppose I could run as a libertarian within the Republican or Democratic parties down the road — if they could handle someone who was principled!
FF: So, what prompted you to run for office?
SCHANSBERG: Because neither of my major-party opponents are all that impressive: no fiscal conservatives; no opposition to our on-going efforts in Iraq; they have both supported corporate subsidies to corporations and Planned Parenthood; and little discussion of policy issues that most impact the working poor and middle class (e.g., payroll taxes and Social Security).
And it is an opportune time to run. This will be their fourth race together, and the second for the three of us. Few people like either of them, and few people like either of the major political parties at this point.
It's nice to have one race under our proverbial belts — fixed costs are taken care of (website, printed materials, learning what to do), we've started earlier, building on what we did last time, more money raised already, etc.
FF: That definitely does give you an advantage over the first-timers. So, what can people do right now to help you?
SCHANSBERG: If you want to help, go to the website. From there, my volunteer coordinator and treasurer will take care of things. If you're local, you can do all sorts of things. If you're not local, phone calls and contributions to buy more radio and cable TV ads.
FF: Now, you are billed as a rEVOLution candidate, and I know you have some association with PaulCongress. How would you say you are most like Ron Paul? Most different?
SCHANSBERG: I don't know of any differences. I think I have one advantage, though, in that I'm micro-focused whereas Ron is more macro-focused. For example, he'll talk about the Fed and the Gold Standard and, for most people, this induces some combination of confusion and boredom. As an applied micro-economist by trade, I have a range of issues to discuss which are easier for people to understand.
FF: What are a couple hot-button micro issues for you?
SCHANSBERG: The price of gas is probably the most important issue for the public right now. On top of that, my Democratic opponent repeatedly demanded a debate on gas prices from the Republican in May 2006– when gas prices were about $2.60. Now, for some reason, he doesn't want to debate gas prices and energy policy! When he refused, we got terrific coverage in the local paper: photos of me and the Democrat and a headline that didn't even mention the Republican!
Staying with the same theme, I am opposed to all corporate subsidies. The Republican supported subsidies to oil companies when he was in office. The Democratic supports subsidies to alternative energies. But we should never take your money to give to a corporation– whether they're producing energy or eggs.
FF: Exactly! Not only is it wrong to take our money and give it to corporations that haven't earned it rightfully, but who says the government knows better than the market what innovations are most worth pursuing? I believe Hayek called that the “fatal conceit.” Would you consider yourself an Austrian like Hayek and Mises, or more of a Chicago Boy like Milton Friedman?
SCHANSBERG: I'm in the middle if that's possible. (How's that for a political answer!) The easiest way to explain this is to say that I share the Austrian distrust of economic modeling and empirical analysis, but not so much that I would throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. I also think models are (quite) useful– as long as one recognizes their inherent limits.
FF: What are their inherent limits? Are you speaking of their usefulness as an analytical tool, versus their usefulness as a predictive measure?
SCHANSBERG: Models and statistics are proxies for the state of the world they attempt to represent. And both can be useful– in trying to understand vast and complicated realities. But by definition, they're limited. In response to these limitations, one can discard models and statistics altogether. Or one can recognize the limitations and use them appropriately when they're a decent representation of the greater reality.
SCHANSBERG: Well, we use demand and supply all the time in Micro. And we talk about a market being “at” equilibrium. Then, we change some variable– tastes and preferences, income, price of an input. This causes a change in demand or supply and the market “moves to another equilibrium”. If taken wooden and literally, one might think that the market snaps its fingers and we move presto-chango from A to B on some graph. The reality is far messier than that; market processes give us a tendency toward equilibrium. (In fact, it is rare if ever that a market would ever rest at a “point of equilibrium”. And there are some markets where “disequilibria” persist naturally.) Nonetheless, as long as students understand this limitation, then demand/supply graphs can still have some value in describing the real world.
Putting it another way, thinking requires abstraction– analogies, models, and so on– but the abstractions can be misleading if one is not careful. This should not be taken as a call to prohibit abstractions but to use them judiciously.
FF: It seems to me that what you illustrate is a common problem with thinking about political economics. The Nirvana Fallacy. People expect it to jump from equilibrium to equilibrium effortlessly and with no pain. When it doesn't, they view that as a failure of the market, rather than the market doing its job – pain and loss are part of the creative destruction process of making more efficient markets.
SCHANSBERG: A great point. That's the flip side of the technological advances that extend economic prosperity and create opportunity. The other problem is that the economic benefits are often subtle and diffuse while restrictions and regulations create political benefits that are obvious and concentrated. That's why special interest groups are so successful, at our expense, in their interactions with government.
FF: Getting back to specific policy prescriptions, what is your plan for the Iraq War?
SCHANSBERG: We should get out within 6-12 months– preferably, completely out. Beyond that, we should bring most of our military home instead of spending tons of money trying to defend other countries and build nations.
FF: What about for the economy? What would you like to do?
SCHANSBERG: The obvious (and tired) answer is to cut waste and earmarks. But beyond that, the federal government is involved in far more than it should be. Dept of Education? Gone. Why should the federal government have any role in education?
Too often, people look to federal politicians to solve local and state problems. But that makes no sense– constitutionally or in terms of ethics or efficiency. If we need more police in New Albany, IN, why does it make any sense to send our money to Washington, have them take a cut of it, attach some strings to it, and send it back to us– so we can fix our problems? Why should people in Casper, Wyoming be taxed to pay for police in New Albany? Why do we expect such spending to be done efficiently?
Aside from taking care of those to whom we have made a financial commitment, Social Security should be “privatized”. The current system– its probable bankruptcy, its average 1% rate of return, its negative rate of return for African-Americans– should all be taken behind a barn and shot. You can't cut off Grandma given the promises we've made, but younger people should be weaned from the program.
FF: Yeah, if a private fund manager ran a retirement program the way our government does Social Security, he'd be in federal prison. How would you like to phase in the privatization? Are you a fan of the Chilean model?
SCHANSBERG: I haven't studied that in great depth. From what I understand, the Chilean model requires people to save but gives them considerable flexibility in deciding where to invest their assets. That's not an ideal Libertarian solution, but probably the best we can do politically for the foreseeable future– and a far cry better than the status quo.
As for phasing it in, I haven't played with the numbers. But there are two basic possibilities: a phase-out and an opt-out. Using some arbitrary numbers, with a phase-out, people over 60 years old would receive full SS. People who are 55-60 would receive 80% of what they had been promised; those between 50-55 would receive 60%; and so on. With an opt-out, people would have the option of forfeiting all future SS benefits in order to avoid some/most/all of the payroll taxes that support SS.
FF: Gay marriage. For or against? State or federal issue?
SCHANSBERG:The pursuit of civil unions or the State's version of marriage is the prerogative of the State. That said, ideally, the State would not be involved with marriage all. But if it's going to be involved, it should be at the state level. But states should not be forced to observe what is done in another state. (For example, a marriage in CA should not necessarily be relevant to TX. Similarly, if a 12-year old can drive in WI, this should not mean that he could drive legally in IN.)
FF: How do you think that view jibes with the Equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and the “full faith and credit” clause?
SCHANSBERG: I don't see the Equal Protection Clause in play with respect to an inter-state discussion of rights and protections. The “full faith and credit” clause is a tougher question. But I tend to defer to states' rights in resolving that tension.
FF: Drug War. Fight it or surrender?
SCHANSBERG: “Fight” it, but without the govt– for both ethical and practical reasons.
FF: So, fight drug abuse and help people medically, but not with laws?
SCHANSBERG: Yes. Ethically and practically, this is handled best by private entities.
FF: Do you see a role for government in that at all? Perhaps from a public health standpoint?
SCHANSBERG: In a Libertarian utopia, I can't see any role for government here. If one assumes some level of government involvement, then a transition from punishment to education and treatment would probably be an improvement.
FF: Free trade or “Fair” Trade?
SCHANSBERG: Definitely free trade.
FF: Do you believe that international trade bodies like the WTO and the World Bank are a help or a hindrance to free trade? How do you feel about free trade agreements, like NAFTA?
SCHANSBERG: I'm for free trade– except for legitimate concerns about national defense (e.g, we need to be able to produce some steel — instead of relying on countries which may not like us someday) and moral concerns like slave labor (i.e., trading in stolen goods). As the old saying goes, why does free trade require a (long) free trade agreement? The “agreement” ought to be five words: “enjoy voluntary, mutually beneficial trade”. So, to the extent that free trade agreements promote free trade, then I'm for them. To the extent they are a cover for restrictions for trade, the hypocrisy is annoying.
FF: Can you tell me more about your involvement with K-Tag? Was it a conscious descision to adopt minority kids, or did it just work out that way?
SCHANSBERG: A conscious decision. Tonia and I wanted to adopt two and “have” two — and the Lord honored that desire. I've had a number of friends who were adopted and my dissertation adviser adopted trans-racially. There is a great need for people to adopt children — other than healthy, white babies. We felt called to step into that gap with respect to race.
As for K-TAG, in our context, it is useful (if not crucial) to have a support group and to expose our kids to families which “look like ours”.
FF: Do you think the argument that its best to match up kids with parents of the same race holds water? How about gay adoption? Do you approve, morally or politically?
SCHANSBERG: All things equal, I would say that it would be slightly better to have a child raised by parents of the same race. Unfortunately, not nearly all things are equal. To note, there are simply not enough members of some races (in the U.S.) to adopt the adoptable children of the same race. If the choice is trans-racial adoption or foster care with whatever race, then the optimal choice is typically going to be adoption. (This is not to impugn foster care, which can obviously be done quite well. But permanence trumps impermanence.)
Again, all things equal, Biblically and practically, I believe it is typically better for children to have a mother and a father. Therefore, I believe it is best for adoptable children to be adopted by a mother and father. But as above, not all things are always equal. Not all mother/father combos are great parents. And unfortunately, there are not enough adoptive mother/father combos willing to adopt all of the adoptable children– particularly if the children are older, of certain races, or with special health needs/concerns. Given that, gay adoption or adoption by a single parent would typically be preferable to foster care.
FF: I see you are pro-life. Is that a personal or political opinion, or both? What is your libertarian argument against legal abortions?
SCHANSBERG: It's based on science (which clearly shows that life begins at conception) and Christian beliefs (on the sanctity of life). Even if one says they're unsure about when life begins, one should err on the side of caution and not abort if it might be life. (For example, we wouldn't chuck dynamite into a cave if we were only “pretty sure” that no one was in there.) In terms of the politics, I hold Ron Paul's positions.
FF: What do you think of faiths that punish people for their political opinions, such as when they said that John Kerry shouldn't be able to have the sacrament of Holy Communion because he votes pro-choice?
SCHANSBERG: Churches certainly have the right to enforce codes of conducts, adherence to religious doctrine, and so on. In fact, the Bible lays out a responsibility to engage in “church discipline” in significant cases. Thus, a failure to enforce such things (e.g., pro-choice politicians taking communion in the Catholic Church) would be highly problematic.
FF: So, you don't think it is possible to be morally against abortion, but politically pro-choice? Or do youbelieve that's a politician's answer, and God can see right through it?
SCHANSBERG: Possible, yes. I can think of three cases. (And yes, God and hopefully people will discern motives!)
If one finds abortion morally bothersome, but does not see it as the taking of life, then a Libertarian will still be pro-choice. For example, if abortion damages a woman's body or psyche, then women should be allowed to harm themselves. Or one might say that abortion implicitly treats life in a far-too-casual sense to be ideal for society. But one might remain pro-choice by arguing that such indirect connections are not sufficient to invoke government as a means to the desired end.
If one thinks that abortion may be the taking of life– but isn't sure– then one could say that their views are too subjective to make into law. This view is increasingly archaic, given what science now tells us biologically about human life. Over time, some people will have the courage to wrestle with new information that will upset their former views. But like many other things, it will fall to a newer, younger, more progressive generation to rethink the flawed views of their elders.
Finally, I think one could be implicitly pro-choice politically but pro-life morally — in that one might see government as an ineffective means to the desired end. In other words, one might invite government involvement in theory, but in practice, one imagines that a prohibition will cause far more ethically bothersome damage.
This last point informs my views on the topic– and presumably the views of any Libertarian. For those who see a potential role for government in saving the life of a baby in a womb, they should still be sobered by the fact that a.) this is not a political issue as much as a social/cultural issue; b.) government is rarely as effective in practice as in theory; and c.) the proportion of pro-choicers today means that we can have, at best, incremental reforms at the margins (on issues like “partial-birth”, informed consent, regulations on minors, etc.)
FF: We've been treading at the margins of a discussion of your faith here, so let's just jump right in. How has your faith informed your political opinions? Do you think that the libertarian political philosophy and the evangelical movement are compatible? Are you a dominionist, or more of an Andy Olree type?
SCHANSBERG: Andy is more of a Eric Schansberg! (My book on this topic came out before his!) In November 2006, he and I met for the first time– when we shared a hotel room at the Evangelical Theological Society meetings and both spoke on this topic!
But as a Christian and an economist, I bring atypical topics and passions to the table: payroll taxes, a fuller critique of Social Security, how government inadvertently harms the poor in helping special interest groups, etc.
I would say that Libertarian political *practices* are completely consistent with a Biblical view of what Christians should seek from government. (Various strands of Libertarian *philosophy* are difficult to square with a Christian worldview.) Check out my journal article in Markets and Morality or much longer treatment of this in my book.
FF: That's interesting. Can you go a little further into your views of the relationship between religion and government? Do you believe that the Bible requires you to push for a certain kind of government. If so, what kind and why?
SCHANSBERG: Yes, the teachings of the Bible encourage me to “push for” a certain kind of government. But most of that is working to reduce the size and scope of government– and the damage and injustice it does to individuals and society.
From another angle, the Bible encourages a “negative” approach to government — in other words, what one should NOT do with government. For example, one cannot find Biblical license for using the government to prevent my neighbor from gambling, to make my neighbor pay higher prices for imported goods by restricting trade, taking my neighbor's money to give to corporations or the governments in foreign countries, and so on. The Biblical prescription for the Christian pursuit of government as a means to an end aligns perfectly with the implications of Libertarian political philosophy: government can be invoked to protect the life, liberty and property of others.
FF: Well-said. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. This has been immensely interesting. Good luck on the campaign!
SCHANSBERG: Thank you.Tweet
Latest posts by RS Davis (see all)
- Blacks and California’s Prop 8 - November 14, 2008
- A Big Victory for the LP in North Carolina - November 7, 2008
- A Tale of Two Cities - October 30, 2008
- A Sad Excuse for a Law Professor - October 28, 2008
- Barr Gets Smacked Down Again! - October 24, 2008
- Who Could Have Predicted This? - October 22, 2008
- Open Source Government? - October 19, 2008
- A Culture of Death? - October 16, 2008
- I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watchin Me… - October 15, 2008
- Cobb County Police Get a New Toy - October 13, 2008
- Oil Markets Get Limber - October 10, 2008
- 3rd Parties Get No Respect - October 9, 2008
- The Sex Offender Registry - October 9, 2008
- A Racial Catch 22 - October 8, 2008
- The Thinker, The Creation of Adam, and Sonic the Hedgehog - October 6, 2008
- When Sgt. Fido is Wrong - October 3, 2008
- Obama/Barr ’08 - September 30, 2008
- Tempest in a Teapot - September 29, 2008
- Why Bob Barr Is Right - September 26, 2008
- Barr Gets Smacked Down - September 25, 2008
- Goldwater’s Heir? - September 23, 2008
- Barr Finally Fights For Texas - September 19, 2008
- Scientology – Silencing Critics for Decades - September 9, 2008
- Free Katie - September 3, 2008
- Barr Fights for Texas - September 2, 2008
- In the UK, Every Window is a Rear Window - September 1, 2008
- Can’t We All Just Get Along?? - August 29, 2008
- Do You Really Need a License to Arrange Furniture? - August 29, 2008
- Is Wesley Snipes the New CEO of NewEgg.com? - August 27, 2008
- The UK’s War on Unpleasant Children - August 25, 2008
- Torture by Proxy: The Case of Maher Arar - August 19, 2008
- Did Scientology Kill Isaac Hayes? - August 11, 2008
- GOP Saves Big Oil from Windfall Profits Tax - June 11, 2008
- Highway Robbery - June 10, 2008
- rEVOLution Interview with Dr Eric Schansberg - June 6, 2008
- Welcome to the Police State - June 5, 2008
- Time Doesn’t Make You Innocent - June 4, 2008
- Drunk Driving Hysteria and the Neo-Prohibitionists - June 2, 2008
- Progress for New Zealand’s Sex Workers - May 30, 2008
- New York Recognizes Gay Marriage (For Now) - May 29, 2008
- Is Samuel Adams Spinning in His Grave? - May 28, 2008
- Pragmatism or Purity? - May 27, 2008
- Eddie Walker Walks - May 23, 2008
- It’s a Cult Cult Cult Cult Cult Cult Cult Cult Cult Cult Cult - May 22, 2008
- The Case of Mehdi Kazemi - May 21, 2008
- Say it Ain’t So, Joe… - May 20, 2008
- RPR: MO Caucus Coup Update - May 20, 2008
- The Invisible Genocide - May 16, 2008
- The Postal Robber Barons - May 15, 2008
- A Speed Bump on the Road to Paulville - May 14, 2008
- Another Innocent Victim of the Drug War - May 13, 2008
- GOVERNMENT: Putting the cart before the horse for 232 years - May 12, 2008
- RPR: rEVOLution interview – Dan Druck - May 12, 2008
- Islamic Religious Freedom in the Western World - May 9, 2008
- Conyers Questions the War on Sick People - May 8, 2008
- RPR: Want to Move to Ron Paulville? - May 7, 2008
- So the UK is as Messed Up as We Are - May 7, 2008
- The Rise and Fall of the Religious Right - May 6, 2008
- Bureaucracy vs The Market - May 5, 2008
- Gay Holocaust Victims Get Their Due - May 2, 2008
- The World Goes Topsy-Turvy for One Marijuana Researcher - May 1, 2008
- FDA Follies - May 1, 2008
- Two Incredible Men - April 30, 2008
- Wait – A Water Heater Installer is Not a Drug Expert? - April 29, 2008
- BREAKING NEWS: Hell Freezes Over! - April 28, 2008
- RPR: A Call to Arms for Ron Paul Supporters! - April 26, 2008
- I Hope You Didn’t “Always Bet On Black…” - April 26, 2008