I would never attempt to compare myself with the great Justice Antonin Scalia, but one comment he made during his recent interview on 60 Minutes really struck me, and I can't help but relate to the sentiment completely.
Lesley Stahl asked about a letter Scalia wrote to former Justice Blackmun, in which he expressed a sense of discouragement at the end of the 1995-96 term. In answer to Stahl's question, Scalia reflected, "after a while, you know, I’m saying the same things in today’s dissent that I said in a dissent 20 years ago."
While he did go on to say that "It's been less dire in more recent years," I still share that sense of discouragement and frustration with each passing day.
It's not easy being the only person in my circle of associates who holds decidedly libertarian views. Having become acquainted with the teachings and philosophy of the Austrian School of Economics -- albeit on a basic level -- I find myself constantly in the role of the contrarian in every conversation related to current events and politics.
Two recent experiences come to mind.
The first took place at the end of a Saturday evening dinner cruise around Newport, Rhode Island, where my law school held its annual "Barrister's Ball."
When we got off the boat, a group of us decided to have a nightcap at a nearby hotel.
Before long, I found myself in a heated debate with a classmate who described himself as a "conservative Democrat."
The conversation began innocently enough, with both of us expressing our admiration for Ron Paul. But within a short period of time, the conversation grew louder and louder, as he voiced his belief that "we have to protect our jobs from going oversees," and I retorted that Democrats have this abiding faith in the supposedly guaranteed outcome of government programs.
It was actually a great conversation, and we both laughed about it in class a few days later.
But it still illustrates my point: here is a person I probably have more in common with than not, but who, in my opinion, is still awash in the hopeful certainty of well-intentioned government intervention.
The other frustrating conversation occurred at work, during an otherwise routine coffee break.
A few days earlier, while my colleagues and I were discussing the high price of gas, someone made the ridiculously naïve statement that he is “sure” that gas prices will go down as soon as President Bush is out of office.
Now I am no fan of President Bush. I fact, in my opinion he is not only the worst president in history, but he actually embodies everything the Founding Fathers attempted to protect against when they designed the Constitution.
But, really, enough is enough. I know we are living in a dark and depressing time, much of that the result of W’s great idea to attack a country that posed us no threat. And at least part of the reason gas/oil prices are so high is a direct and foreseeable result of the instability in the middle east. Again, instability that W’s great idea exacerbated. And I suppose it is comforting for people to be able to point to a single person and say, “It’s all his fault,” when confronted with such a profound issue. But to allow your dislike for a president to cloud out other legitimate sources of a problem is just plain lazy and irrational.
So in my attempt to respond to this utter nonsense, I pointed out that there are many variables that contribute to the price of gas. Federal and State taxes alone account for almost $.50 per gallon. Add to that the soaring demand from the fast-growing economies of China and India, without a corresponding increase in supply; a rudimentary understanding of the law of supply and demand should be enough to shake you from your “Bush is to blame” safety blanket.
Speaking of increased demand fighting for the same supply – there hasn’t been a refinery built in the United States in over 30 years. Who’s to blame for that? The same people who don’t want any drilling off the coasts of California or Florida. With all of the environmental restrictions and potential liabilities involved in building and operating a refinery, anyone with any money to invest would be crazy to opt for that route.
My case made, we went back to work.
The next day, the same group of colleagues and I were on our coffee break (as I said, that’s the routine), and again the topic of gas prices came up. This time the same colleague wondered aloud why Congress doesn’t create a commission to study the issue to try to get prices under control.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing; it was as if the previous day’s conversation never took place. I thought about going over my points one more time, and perhaps throwing in something about the dangers of government price controls, but decided against it. What’s the use? It would just fall on deaf ears.
At any rate, I do not intend to imply that Justice Scalia is a libertarian, or that he shares the economic views of the Austrian School. Nor do I wish to sound like an apologist for the oil companies: I don’t believe in corporate welfare and truly think the world would be much better off with actual energy competition and greater innovation.
But I do share Scalia’s sense of frustration in having to make the same arguments day after day, whether it be to the same audience or an entirely different one.
My frustration has become a bit less stark, though, now that Ron Paul’s new book is number one on Amazon.com.
So maybe there is a light at the end of the tunnel.