and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
March #2

Late libertarian advocated for individual rights,
minimalist government
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, March 2, 2006

My old friend, Harry Browne, author of "How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World," just died at age 73.

I met him only once, at a libertarian event, but by then he'd been an "old friend" for 20 years. I consider all the authors of the books that most influenced me to be "old friends" from Felix Salten who wrote "Bambi," to Lucy Maud Montgomery, J.D. Salinger, Aldous Huxley, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Allen Drury, Werner Erhard and Ayn Rand.

"How I Found Freedom," which was written in 1973, shared Harry's plan for living "without high taxes, societal restrictions, family problems, or long working hours." Seven years later, I was divorced again and working 70-hour weeks fighting high taxes. There was no time for a social life, never mind societal restrictions.

I recognize now that I was influenced by a writer whose apparent mid-life crisis inspired him to write about "freedom from marriage problems," as well as, to note the titles of other chapters in the book, "freedom from family problems, (other) bad relationships, social restrictions, business problems, insecurity, exploitation, the treadmill, and pretense all the "traps," as he called them, of an unfree world.

Nevertheless, his advice worked not only for my ex-husbands who went on, as I did, to more rewarding lives that include our ongoing friendship but also for Browne himself.

When I met Harry, he was happily married to his second wife, and his friends tell me he was a happy man, at least until his final illness. He lived by this rule: "In everything you do, with the knowledge and insight at your disposal, you choose what you think will give you the most well-being and the least mental discomfort."

This seems obvious to me. But its reality is sometimes disguised by those who insist they act out of altruism, or duty, or morality. However, if you look closely enough, you find that they have determined that they need to be helpful, or dutiful, or moral, in order to be happy. In the end, unless force is involved, we generally do what we want.

This brings us to another chapter, "Freedom from Government," which Harry defines as "an agency of coercion that's accepted as necessary by most people within its area of influence." He makes three recommendations for dealing with government: 1.) Don't be awed by it. 2.) Don't confront it. 3.) Don't organize.

He explained that "no cumbersome, bureaucratic government can move as fast as an individual who's determined to stay ahead of it." Other suggestions: Work as and with independent contractors; don't look to leaders to help you; don't register to vote.

I did OK with "don't be awed by it," but clearly didn't take his advice on the other items. Instead, I took the confrontational, organizing, voting route from the beginning. And in this new century, "hiding out" from government and other giant entities would be more difficult than it was in 1973. Nevertheless, as issues arise today, I often think of him.

For instance, illegal immigrants seem to be living free. No Social Security number, no payroll tax, no driver's license, no voter list. They cross the border to find freedom, and we citizens get to pay for their benefits. Not exactly what Harry had in mind, but he would say it is up to us to avoid the "exploitation trap" with a good tax accountant.

Most libertarians think that protection is a legitimate role for government, but Second Amendment organizations warn us about the startling court decision that "because the police have no general duty to protect individuals, judicial remedies are not available for their failure to protect." If he'd read about the young woman who was killed in New York recently after a night of drinking, Harry might remind us of our responsibility for our own safety, which I'd argue must include staying sober.

"Freedom" argued that "rights exist only in theory. A right to something means that someone else must provide that something, whether he wants to or not."

While I would argue that our constitutional rights are inherent in our humanity, and require only that the government and others leave us alone, it is more clear every day that the concept of "rights" is out of control, with even some conservatives talking about the right to higher education, "affordable housing," cable access and cheap water and gasoline. Democrats add the right to "good jobs at good wages," child care, and public television, not to mention cheap, or even free, health care.

I'd be happy just to hang on to property rights. But the government, with its eminent domain power, is the greatest threat to that once-clear concept.

Harry might have recommended that we choose to live in a state that repudiated the recent Supreme Court decision. We political activists support legislation to make ours one of those states.

And I must note, smiling, that Harry eventually gave up on avoidance and ran for president on the Libertarian ticket!

We political activists and voters honor Harry's life by fighting on for freedom in an unfree world.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News, Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, (Lawrence) Eagle-Tribune, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence Journal and other newspapers.