Reagan/RFK interview from 1967

Fascinating. (via Andrew Sullivan). Both of them were well-prepared, and they both strike me as smarter than the guys we have now. (I actually think RFK would have been a pretty good president in 1968, but that is a story for another day.) The Europeans asking them questions are just as contemptuous of Americans then as they would be now. Some things don’t change.

The last little comment from Reagan is a good synopsis of his view of things, which was extremelty consistent over many years.

I believe the highest aspiration of man should be individual freedom and the development of the–of the individual, that there is a sacredness to individual rights. And I would like to say to all of the young people as they pursue their way … I think you should weigh everything that is proposed to you, everything in the line of government and law and economic theory, everything of that kind and weigh it on this one scale–that it should at all times not offer you some kind of sanctuary or security in exchange for your right to fly as high and as far as your own strength and ability will take you as an individual, with no ceiling put on that effort. Plenty of room for a floor underneath so that no one in this world should live in degradation, beneath that floor, but you reserve the right for yourself to be free.

Note the business about a “floor.” That is what Reagan meant when he said he wanted to repeal the Great Society, but not the New Deal. Helping those who need it does not mean shackling those who do not. To Reagan, freedom meant no ceilings on how far you could go. How unfashionable. How timeless.

3 thoughts on “Reagan/RFK interview from 1967”

  1. Consider also that the morality (from a libertarian standpoint) of imposing “floors” or “safety nets” becomes less of a political issue as incomes and wealth expand. It is one thing to take from Peter to pay Paul when you are taking 50% of Peter’s income. It’s much easier politically, and less destructive economically, to take 5% after the Peters of this country have grown so wealthy that those 5% are the same amount of money as 50% were before. Economic growth can ameliorate a multitude of problems: the economy can grow its way out of any concerns about the welfare state (and the environment, BTW), just as it can grow its way out of debt. The problem is that too many people, other than the direct beneficiaries, benefit from the existence of a welfare state and therefore keep expanding its size and scope of activities.

  2. The problem I have with the Left is not its goals, but its methods. Who wants to live in a country where there is great privation? So, a “Safety net” is necessary. Remember, America is the most charitable country in the world, despite high taxes for its welfare programs.

    But, how you construct that “Safety Net” is important. How do you make sure that all the needy are covered? How do you keep down the numbers the lay abouts and frauds? There appears to be, as shown by the Poor Commission of England in 1630, a small number of people who will operate their lives in a way indistinguishable from the “deserving poor.” And if they can defraud the system, then their public contempt will induce others to copy their methods. If you reward people for the appearance of public poverty; their numbers will rise to the extent that you finance that appearance; so that, eventually, you threaten to bankrupt any system. There have been only two methods, albeit flawed, to avoid that bankruptcy: bureaucracy and the market.

    The usual method, bureaucracy, fails because frauds are cunning; they will act in ways that avoid detection. The worst part of this method is to produce either onerous and inflexible regulations or a bureaucracy that will consume a budget many times that which is given to the needy. The cure becomes worse than the disease.

    A better method is the market. A market is always a trade. The question to the poor now becomes, “What will you do in return for us keeping you alive?” If their answer is, “nothing” then they have shown themselves to be undeserving, so why should they get help? True, the poor have different capacities to give in return and often have disabilities that prevent giving back much. But, the rule remains: if you are truly needy and have no other alternatives then you will be grateful and want to return something. If you are a no account that is scamming the system then you will whine and complain. You will cry out that this is an injustice, If you are a Leftist or one who is presently employed in the bureaucracy.

    But, supply and demand holds; if you want to create a “safety net” you cannot make it easy to get or keep. You must have some system that cuts down on the frauds. This means that you either employee an army of checkers, or you make the “Safety net” so unpleasant that no one in their right mind would want to be on it for long. The latter is more economical. But, boy, will people complain about it.

    Or you can make the system private. If the management is profligate then it will run out of money and can no longer help anyone. This will help keep down stupid or corrupt management, but periodic scandals and long jail sentences are useful too. The best system is one where there are many helpers, but they confer with each other to weed out the frauds, and many methods of helping the poor so that no one who is deserving is left out.

  3. A remarkable interview. Note the similarities of the anti-American arguments — full of wildly exaggerated statistics and absurd imputations of economic motives — to what we hear from the “antiwar” side today.

    And the ironic tragedy that a year and three weeks later, RFK was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist, the very first casualty in the war against the West.

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