Category Archives: Libertarians

Irwin Schiff (1928 – 2015)


Irwin Schiff: author, lover of liberty, tax protester, and father of Peter Schiff lost his battles with cancer and the federal government on October 16, 2015. There is no shortage of people who are opposed to the income tax but Irwin Schiff took his opposition to another level. Not only did he write books advocating for people to simply not pay their income taxes (like Sen. Reid says, the income tax is voluntary right?) but he also lead by example even when doing so would cost him his very freedom.

Here are a few excerpts from Peter Schiff’s article about his father:

My father Irwin A. Schiff was born Feb. 23rd 1928, the 8th child and only son of Jewish immigrants, who had crossed the Atlantic twenty years earlier in search of freedom. As a result of their hope and courage my father was fortunate to have been born into the freest nation in the history of the world. But when he passed away on Oct. 16th, 2015 at the age of 87, a political prisoner of that same nation, legally blind and shackled to a hospital bed in a guarded room in intensive care, the free nation he was born into had itself died years earlier.

My father had a life-long love affair with our nation’s founding principals and proudly served his country during the Korean War, for a while even having the less then honorable distinction of being the lowest ranking American soldier in Europe. While in college he became exposed to the principles of Austrian economics through the writings of Henry Hazlitt and Frederick Hayek. He first became active in politics during Barry Goldwater’s failed 1964 presidential bid. His activism intensified during the Vietnam Era when he led local grass root efforts to resist Yale University’s plans to conduct aid shipments to North Vietnam at a time when that nation was actively fighting U.S. forces in the south. Later in life he staged an unsuccessful write in campaign for governor of Connecticut, then eventually lost the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination to Harry Brown in 1996.


But my father was most known for his staunch opposition to the Federal Income Tax, for which the Federal Government labeled him a “tax protester.” But he had no objection to lawful, reasonable taxation. He was not an anarchist and believed that the state had an important, but limited role to play in market based economy. He opposed the Federal Government’s illegal and unconstitutional enforcement and collection of the income tax. […]

His crusade to force the government to obey the law earned him three prison sentences, the final one being a fourteen-year sentence that he began serving ten years ago, at the age of 77. That sentence turned into a life sentence, as my father failed to survive until his planned 2017 release date. However in actuality the life sentence amounted to a death sentence. My father died from skin cancer that went undiagnosed and untreated while he was in federal custody. The skin cancer then led to a virulent outbreak of lung cancer that took his life just more than two months after his initial diagnosis.

The unnecessarily cruel twist in his final years occurred seven years ago when he reached his 80th birthday. At that point the government moved him from an extremely low security federal prison camp in New York State where he was within easy driving distance from family and friends, to a federal correctional institute, first in Indiana and then in Texas. This was done specially to give him access to better medical care. The trade off was that my father was forced to live isolated from those who loved him. Given that visiting him required long flights, car rentals, and hotel stays, his visits were few and far between. Yet while at these supposed superior medical facilities, my father received virtually no medical care at all, not even for the cataracts that left him legally blind, until the skin cancer on his head had spread to just about every organ in his body.


As the cancer consumed him his voice changed, and the prison phone system no longer recognized it, so he could not even talk with family members on the phone during his finale month of life. When his condition deteriorated to the point where he needed to be hospitalized, government employees blindly following orders kept him shackled to his bed. This despite the fact that escape was impossible for an 87 year old terminally ill, legally blind patient who could barley breathe, let alone walk.

Whether or not you agree with my father’s views on the Federal Income Tax, or the manner by which it is collected, it’s hard to condone the way he was treated by our government. He held his convictions so sincerely and so passionately that he continued to espouse them until his dying breath. Like William Wallace in the final scene of Braveheart, an oppressive government may have succeeded in killing him, but they did not break his spirit. And that spirit will live on in his books, his videos, and in his children and grandchildren. Hopefully his legacy will one day help restore the lost freedoms he died trying to protect, finally allowing him to rest in peace.

Honestly, I don’t know much about Irwin Schiff other than what Peter has said and written (I’m much more familiar with Peter’s work). The treatment Irwin received during his incarceration (which probably cost taxpayers far more than the taxes being “lost” from Shciff’s refusal to pay) is horrible but not too surprising. Irwin Schiff sacrificed a great deal for his beliefs.

Was it worth it? It’s not really for me to say.

What I can say is this: next time some Lefty tries to tell you that taxes are voluntary or that we libertarians are being hyperbolic when we say that government is violence, tell this person the story of a man who refused to “volunteer” by the name of Irwin Schiff.

Why Is Rand Paul’s Campaign Failing And What Can Libertarians Learn From It?


Many people were expecting Rand Paul to be a serious contender for the Republican nomination. However, as of writing Paul averages at just 2.3% support according to Real Clear Politics. What the hell happened? Why is the “most interesting man in politics” struggling so badly?

A couple of (pre?) autopsy pieces came out today that try to explains it. First up is Jerry Taylor, the head of the newly launched Niskanen Center, who had a piece on He argues that the reason why Paul failed is because there never was a libertarian moment in the first place.

According to an August survey by the independent polling firm Eschelon Insights, far and away the most popular candidate nationwide among libertarian-inclined Republicans is Donald Trump, the least libertarian candidate in the race.

Libertarians who can’t stomach Trump scattered their support without any ideological rhyme or reason (11 percent for Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, 9 percent for Ted Cruz and John Kasich, 8 percent for Carly Fiorina, 7 percent for Paul).

The secret of Trump’s appeal to Paul’s base is that a large segment of the “Ron Paul Revolution” leavened its libertarianism with a pony keg of crazy. Birthers, 9/11 Truthers, a wide assortment of conspiracy theorists (many of whom believe the Federal Reserve to be a modern manifestation of the Illuminati), and naked racists rivaled the number of reasonably sober libertarian-ish voters among the faithful.

Very little I can disagree with here. Way back in 2007, we were making the point that many people in the Ron Paul rEVOLution were part of the wacko fringe. Taylor’s description of many (but not all) Ron Paul supporters is dead on. You have nutcases in every political movement, but the rEVOLution seemed to attract more of them than usual. Rand to his credit has refused to pander to these people, for the most part. It would also be dishonest to say Ron Paul himself agreed with these fringe nutters, but he hasn’t been as hostile to them as Rand.

The only thing I would point out is the libertarian(ish) vote comes in many different variations. If Libertarians (capitalized intentionally) don’t agree on everything, why should we expect libertarian-leaning Republicans?

Taylor goes on to make a few points that I have to disagree with, at least partially.

Sure, one can argue that Paul has run a sub-par campaign and that a more adroit effort would have produced better results. But given the above, it is hard to argue, as some do, that Paul would have done better had he run as more of a libertarian.



If real libertarian votes were there for the taking, someone would have come along and done the harvesting.



If there was truly a $20 (electoral) bill lying on the sidewalk, it’s hard to believe that none of the other 14 starving candidates would bother to pick it up.

Let me start with where I agree with Taylor. I do believe that the “libertarian vote” has been overstated. Only 7% of the American electorate is libertarian according to the Public Religion Institute poll Taylor cited. If the libertarian vote was a major factor in American politics, the Libertarian Party would be a major party.

However, another 15% of American voters lean libertarian. For example, the author is a “libertarian leaner” but not a full blown libertarian. Also, 12% of the Republican party’s voters are libertarian. The problem is that they may not be doctrinaire libertarians. Those generally join the Libertarian Party and we see how well it performs. The libertarian(ish) votes are there, Paul failed to grab them.

Which brings me to the second piece of this series, one by Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post. He lays out four reasons why Paul failed.

  • The libertarian strain in the GOP peaked in 2014.
  • Paul’s move to court the establishment cost him among libertarians.
  • Paul has been a very weak fundraiser.
  • Rand hasn’t been a good candidate.

I would add a fifth reason which is an extremely poor campaign that seemed to lack a basic, consistent strategy. First they were going to fight nationwide. Then, New Hampshire became must win. The new strategy is to get some wins in other caucus states. Problem is, the first ones don’t vote until March 1. Ask President Rudy Guiliani how waiting until after the early states vote to get your first victory works out.

Two of the four reasons Cillizza pointed out would’ve been mitigated by Paul being a better candidate. Paul would’ve been better able to sell a more non-interventionist foreign policy and been able to raise the money if he was a better candidate. Taylor’s article points out a large reason why Paul lost his dad’s base. However, if Paul was a better communicator, he could’ve better reconciled his more pragmatic viewpoints with hardcore libertarianism. Instead, he got the reputation that he’s a flip-flopper. Finally, Paul just didn’t communicate to voters on things they were interested in.

Does this mean that libertarians should give up on politics? Nope. Instead of libertarians should realize that the market for hardcore libertarianism is very limited. Most people are not inclined to support laissez faire economics, believe America should have a foreign presence, and are willing to accept state controls of some behavior. That’s fine.

Instead, libertarians should focus on coalition building and advancing libertarian policies pragmatically. That involves showing a willingness to compromise. Finally, it may involve grabbing the “low-hanging fruit” of policy instead of big ticket items such as the ending the Federal Reserve which appeal to libertarians, but have very little interest to the average citizen.

Now of course Rand Paul may turn things around and make the most improbable of comebacks. However, if he doesn’t this will provide many valuable lessons to be learned. Will libertarians learn them?

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Men, Women and Rand Paul

Zuri Davis, Brittany Wilson and Grace Charlton Standing With Rand.

Since the issue is getting a lot of coverage now, I will explain why libertarians are “mostly dudes” and why women are not as statistically likely to support Rand Paul.

Let me begin by explaining why it does not matter.

People are not representatives of the groups to which they belong. We are all individuals in a category of one. Denying differences between broad classes of people, like “men” and “women,” is to deny reality. But it is also a denial of reality and a logical error, to generalize differences between those broad groups to the individuals within them.

The male and female bell curves of any trait encompass wide areas of overlap. They do so for height. They do so for mathematical ability. Other than whatever criteria is used to assign the individual data points to their respective categories in the first place, there is literally nothing true of all men, but not true of any women.

It is therefore almost never accurate or productive to say things like “men think or say or do or feel xyz, but women think or say or do or feel the opposite of xyz (or xyz to a lesser extent).” That is taking differences at the extremes and generalizing them in a way that obscures the wide areas of overlap for the vast majority of traits.

So headlines like “Women Don’t Like Libertarianism Because They Don’t Like Libertarianism” (which I will not link to here) are just insulting and inaccurate.

Two-thirds of libertarians are men.

I know math is supposedly hard for us ladies (hey, like libertarianism!). But by my calculations that means female libertarians are not exactly unicorns. They are 33 out of every 100 libertarians.

And I am one of them.

My mother and sister may not call themselves libertarians, but their political views are virtually indistinguishable from mine. I have a female second cousin who is a libertarian. I have worked in a small town in a ten-person office, unrelated to politics, where one other woman was a libertarian, and yet a third voted for Gary Johnson in 2012. My social media feeds are filled with libertarian(ish) women like Julie Borowski, Libertarian Girl, Elizabeth Nolan Brown, Shikha Dalmia, Cathy Reisenwitz, Veronique de Rugy, Lucy Steigerwald, Cathy Young, and more.

So I am not really perceiving this massive shortage of libertarian ladies.

But if I had to guess why there are not as many women as men who are libertarians, two answers seem intuitively compelling:

  1. Women as a group (not as individuals) are more likely to prefer belonging to in-groups and acting under established norms. They are less likely to be comfortable in out-groups or as outliers to established norms. Similarly, for example, women are only 36% of atheists.
  1. Women as a group (not as individuals) are more likely to have moral hierarchies that focus on empathy and connectedness, over liberty and autonomy.

(I hope since I am a libertarian, and since I spelled it out up above, it is clear that I recognize these things are not true of all women.)

So, no, Jeet Heer, it is not because libertarianism reflects nostalgia for a time when white men were freer, but women and minorities were less so.

We libertarians are more futurist and optimistic than such cynicism admits.

Various women commenting on Rand Paul’s “gender gap” have intuitively landed on one or both of the same explanations as I posited above. Mollie Hemingway pegs libertarian discourse as “high systemizing and low empathizing.” Julie Borowski notes:

Most libertarian women that I have met are very different than your “average woman.” I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I wasn’t intimidated by a lot of them. They’re strong and independent. They don’t give a *beep* what you think about them. Mess with them and they’ll kick your butt. Basically, they do what they want.

In order to speak out about “unpopular/marginal” ideas, you need to have that kind of personality. If you have a great desire to be liked, ha, don’t get involved in libertarianism. Or at least hide your views. If you post about it on Facebook, get ready to get defriended or uninvited to Thanksgiving dinner this year.

But what to Do About It?

First, do not succumb to handwringing. Libertarianism does not need an even split of men and women to be a worthwhile political philosophy. Neither liberalism nor conservatism are split evenly either.

Ideas should be judged on their merits, not by quotas.

Second, there is nothing we can do to make women (as a group, not as individuals) more comfortable being outliers, “going it alone,” or belonging to fringe groups. As libertarianism becomes increasingly mainstream, however, more women (and men) will be comfortable venturing into our territory and supporting candidates like Rand Paul and Gary Johnson.

Third, what we can do to nurture the process along is get better at explaining how our political philosophy is about empathy and fairness. Yes, we oppose minimum wage hikes because we care about the property rights of business owners. However, we also oppose minimum wage hikes because we understand how they hurt people, and hurt poor people most of all.

Too often we fail to defend the moral high ground when by rights it should be ours.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

A Sign of the Times – Nebraska Repeals the Death Penalty

"Old Main" NM State Penitentiary

Yesterday Nebraska became the latest state to repeal the death penalty. While this is encouraging as states in recent years have ended this barbaric practice, what is even more encouraging and unusual is the fact that Nebraska is a red state. Nebraska is the first predominately conservative state in 40 years to repeal the death penalty. This isn’t to say that all conservatives were on board with the repeal. Republican Governor Pete Ricketts vetoed the repeal but supporters overrode the veto with the minimum number of votes required by 30 to 19 (conservatives accounted for 18 of the votes in favor of repeal).

Pema Levy writing for Mother Jones elaborates:

Today’s vote makes Nebraska “the first predominantly Republican state to abolish the death penalty in more than 40 years,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, in a statement shortly after the vote. Dunham’s statement singled out conservatives for rallying against the death penalty and said their work in Nebraska is “part of an emerging trend in the Republican Party.” (Nebraska has a unicameral, nonpartisan legislature, so lawmakers do not have official party affiliations.)


“I think this will become more common,” Marc Hyden, national coordinator of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, said in a statement following the repeal vote. “Conservatives have sponsored repeal bills in Kansas, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Missouri, and Kentucky in recent years.”

The article goes on to point out that in the most recent Pew survey that 77% of Republicans support the death penalty. My question is, why? Fellow Liberty Papers contributor Albert Northup made a compelling case earlier this year as to why conservatives and libertarians should oppose the death penalty:

Are you pro-life? Opposed to big government? Do you believe in reducing government spending? Do you support the death penalty? If you answered yes to all of these questions, then you may want to re-think your position on the death penalty. As supporters of life, liberty, property, and limited government, I believe that all conservatives and libertarians should oppose the death penalty.

I couldn’t agree more. Perhaps more conservatives will come around to this more logically, philosophically consistent position.

Quote of the Day: Jason Pye on the Smarter Sentencing Act


Jason Pye, former contributor to The Liberty Papers and current Director of Justice Reform at FreedomWorks posted an article yesterday for Rare Liberty about some promising political developments in the area of criminal justice reform. Perhaps one of the most promising of these developments at the federal level is a bill being considered is S.502 – The Smarter Sentencing Act.

Jason explains why he believes this reform is a step in the right direction:

With federal prison spending booming, an unlikely bipartisan alliance has emerged to bring many of these successful state-level reforms to the federal justice system. Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have joined with Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) to reform federal mandatory minimums – a one-size-fits-all, congressionally mandated approach to sentencing.


The Smarter Sentencing Act would expand the federal “safety valve” – an exception to federal mandatory minimum sentences for low-level nonviolent offenders with little or no criminal history – and cuts in half mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders. This more rational approach to sentencing will reduce costs on already overburdened taxpayers. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated a net $3 billion cost-savings over a decade. The Justice Department believes the bill will save an eye-popping $24 billion over 20 years.

The benefits of the Smarter Sentencing Act may not end with the fiscal savings. It could also reverse the damage done by federal mandatory minimum sentences in certain communities, which, as Lee recently explained, “have paid a high cost for the stiff sentences that mandatory minimums require.”

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