Economics Salon, Day 1: Introduction

The author, as a child.

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. ~1 Cor. 11

I’ve borrowed the title Economics Salon from my great friend, Jeannette Ryder of, who is interested in learning more about economic fundamentals. She has composed a panel of pseudo-experts (i.e. opinionated acquaintances) of varied backgrounds to guide her through the morass. Of course, I am thrilled to present the libertarian perspective. I’ve wanted to compile a history of my own personal intellectual development on political and economic matters for quite some time. Jeannette’s invitation is a perfect opportunity to get started.

My goal for this series is to have my legions of devoted critics understand my libertarian political ideas well enough to be able to predict what my position would be on any political question. Basically, I want to put my mind inside of the reader’s mind, as if the reader were performing a mind meld. I want the reader to know my thoughts, like this:

You, too, will believe! At least, that is the goal, and if you do not, it will not be for lack of understanding. Those who are not convinced will help me greatly if they told me which of the following explanations they found unconvincing, and why. That way, we may all proceed together in pursuit of truth.

Well, if I want to insert all of my political mind into yours, the best place to start is at the beginning: When I was a child. 

I vaguely remember, in my earliest years (they all blend together before a certain age), going with my parents down the block and around the corner to the polling place every few months. I vaguely remember the big gray machines with all the levers. It was a fascinating ritual–very important looking, but it carried no meaning for me other than that it was grown-ups business that did not concern me.

The author in 3rd grade.

My earliest memory of anything specifically political is from the 1988 election: George Bush vs. Michael Dukakis. There was a kind of faux election in my third grade class. Dukakis won. I just remember the guy’s name: Dukakis. I remember that a girl in my class named Kelly voted for Dukakis. I don’t remember actually voting, but I almost certainly voted for Bush. That’s who my parents would have voted for, I think, if I had read them correctly.

I remember receiving a few embroidered patches as a gift from my Air Force uncle. Among them was a anti-communist “Commie Busters” patch only slightly different than the one pictured below. In my late elementary school days, I wore these patches on a denim jacket without fully appreciating their meaning. I had heard the word “communist”, and its diminutive “commie”, and I properly associated it with the them USSR, which I understood to be “the bad guy”, but that was the extent of my understanding.  I liked the patch more for its Ghostbusters theme than for its political message. Nobody ever asked me about it. I was never called upon to explain it.

My first arguably independent political thought arrived when I was in the fifth grade, 1990, at the age of ten. The First Gulf War had commenced, and the infotainment was all over the cable news. I remember, as a class, tying yellow ribbons around our school fence in support of our troops in the Middle East. I also remember feeling as though our reasons for going to war were not adequately explained. Whatever was the quarrel between Iraq and Kuwait, I failed to see what Americans had to do with it. Although I didn’t appreciate at the time, this attitude about the First Gulf War would foreshadow my later political thoughts.

“Commie Busters” patch currently available at

My next political memory is from 1992. Another presidential race, four years later. Seventh grade: Bush vs. Clinton vs. Perot. I remember being one of two students in the class to support Bush. Everyone else supported Clinton. I knew that I knew absolutely nothing about what was really going on, and that I supported Bush only because I believed my parents did.

To my recollection, politics was never a huge deal growing up in my household. I had a vague understanding that I lived in a Republican family, but I don’t remember my parents saying much about it, either around the dinner table or elsewhere.

I remember in the riding the bus to high school, in the 9th grade, with my friend, Paul. He had asked me about my political persuasion, and I believe I identified myself as “very conservative”. I vaguely remember perhaps describing some of my alleged conservative beliefs, but Paul wasn’t buying it. He did not see me as a conservative at all, and he was right. I abandoned my conservative identity before long.

I remember being staunchly apolitical during the remainder of my high school years. People fought about politics all the time. What result? Politicians came and politicians went, but nothing ever changed. Why bother? That was my motto.

The marble book that I reserved for my 1996 presidential campaign research project, still empty as of New Year’s Day 2012.

I believe I was in 10th grade for the 1996 election: Clinton vs. Dole. My social studies teacher assigned as a major project that we follow the presidential campaign trail and keep a journal of newspaper clippings and other media highlights. This was hard work back in the pre-YouTube days, and I simply wouldn’t be bothered. I turned in absolutely nothing for this project, and scored a big fat zer0. Miraculously, I did well enough on my other exams to pull off an 80.1% grade overall. A ‘B’ appeared on my final report card.

Deep in my subconscious, however, a populist attitude was brewing. My sympathies lied with “the people”, and not with the well-to-do. How could they not? It’s only fair, right?

At one point, probably during high school, I hatched the notion that all workers in the economy ought to be paid the same amount of money, regardless of their field of employment. I don’t remember anyone telling me this directly. The opinion followed naturally from the unfairness that is apparent when compares the salary of entertainers and athletes to the salaries people like teachers, whose work I felt was more important. At first I thought that teachers should be paid more. I was at a loss, however, to calculate a non-arbitrary amount to pay teachers above entertainers and athletes. The fair solution, which I considered to be generous to athletes in light of their evidently low social utility, was to have everyone be paid the same amount. Just divide the whole of the GDP by the workforce population and redistribute. How could anyone object?

When I told my mother about my wonderful plan, she recoiled in horror. I remember her exact words: “Eww! You’re a socialist! Get away from me!” She followed with words to the effect of: “Don’t you think people should be paid based on how hard they work?” I didn’t pursue the matter because I didn’t forsee a rational discussion following, but it was clear to me at the time that this is not how the world works. I still consider her argument in favor of free markets to be unsound. Many people toil all their lives at useful labor and never make more than a pittance while others run up and down fields all day for no apparent purpose and make fortunes. That’s reality. At the time, though, I was convinced that this was not right. I was convinced that this unfair distribution of wealth should change.

The author’s 1998 yearbook photo. Please do not send mail.

Even so, I remained disinterested in politics. No politician ever proposed anything like my utopian cure-all. They were all a bunch of stuffed shirts as far as I was concerned. This attitude followed me through my high school graduation in 1998, and half way through college.

I hadn’t bothered registering to vote for a full two years after my 18th birthday. I had thought about registering and voting for Ralph Nader in the 2000 election, but that didn’t happen. I studied mathematics–perhaps the most apolitical of all disciplines–at Temple University with this guy named John. John had this elegantly passive non-voting scheme: “Just find someone who would have voted the opposite of you and agree not to vote,” he argued. His scheme was beautiful, except for one thing: I supported Nader. Who was my opposite? Apparently, I’d have to make a three-way agreement. In the end, I didn’t even bother to do that. I liked the idea of a Ralph Nader, mainly his rhetoric on the banality of the two-party system. Looking back on this old video, it is easy for me to recall the appeal:

I generally shared these populist ideals, and saw Ralph Nader as a real choice for once, as opposed to the two-party establishment. Alas, that was not enough to motivate me to the booth. I did not vote in the year 2000, and that election was my first wake-up call. Bush vs. Gore vs. Nader. The margin of victory was so thin, by most accounts it was actually negative. Hey, what do you know? Votes might actually matter. I awoke in a whole new world.

Life in this new world became suddenly stark following the events of September 11, 2001. I did not support the military invasion of Afghanistan on account of the actions of what I considered to be a few clever and very lucky rogues. I opposed the later invasion of Iraq more. The 9/11 terrorist attacks seemed to me to be a thin pretense for continuing prior, unjustified belligerence. The USA PATRIOT Act threatened civil liberties here at home. By 2003, after having graduated university, politics suddenly became quite interesting. …

(Continue to Day 2: Progressive Influences)

One Response to Economics Salon, Day 1: Introduction

  1. netter rox says:

    Very nice writing, TMatthew! I will leave a longer reply on fbk.

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