This is interview #29 in JohnsonForAmerica.com’s “Important Voices” series, where we talk with key figures, such as elected officials, candidates, authors, commentators, and policy experts, about the issues of the day. A new interview is released every Monday and every Thursday, so check back often!
Our guest for today’s Important Voices interview is Robert Higgs. Robert is a Senior Fellow for The Independent Institute and Editor of the The Independent Review. He received his Ph.D. in economics from Johns Hopkins University, and he has taught at the University of Washington, Lafayette College, Seattle University, and the University of Economics, Prague. He has been a visiting scholar at Oxford University and Stanford University, and a fellow for the Hoover Institution and the National Science Foundation. He is the recipient of numerous awards, and has edited or written many books, including Crisis and Leviathan. He has contributed to more than 100 articles and reviews in academic journals, and his articles have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and many other publications, television programs, and Web sites.
Josiah Schmidt: What is the Independent Institute all about, and what do you do as Senior Fellow for it?
Robert Higgs: The Independent Institute is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that sponsors and publicizes research on public policy and related issues across a broad range of topics. My principal responsibility at the institute is to edit the institute’s quarterly scholarly journal, The Independent Review. I also write occasional op-ed columns for newspapers, and I contribute to the institute’s group blog, The Beacon.
Josiah Schmidt: How did you come to hold such a liberty-oriented philosophy?
Robert Higgs: My training in economics gave me an appreciation of the free market. After I finished graduate school and began work as a professor, I read more and more of the literature of liberty and found the ideas appealing.
Josiah Schmidt: Why is government so prone to growing, as opposed to shrinking?
Robert Higgs: The people who compose the government can get more of what they seek–power, money, and kowtowing by the public–if the government grows. Therefore, in general, they seek to make the government bigger whenever they see an opportunity to do so without excessive risk to their retention of public office.
Josiah Schmidt: Why is free trade better than so-called “fair trade”?
Robert Higgs: Free trade means an absence of government obstacles to trade. “Fair trade” is a slogan used by protectionists to argue that they should have protection if sellers in other countries enjoy protection. In reality, “fair trade” means that if other governments are hurting their countries’ consumers, then our government should hurt consumers in this country.
Josiah Schmidt: Do you see this current recession getting worse, and why?
Robert Higgs: It might worsen. I don’t know. I will be surprised if a vigorous recovery occurs. My best guess is that a long period of stagflation lies ahead of us, but I am only guessing. I’m not a prophet.
Josiah Schmidt: In what ways is our current economic situation similar to the situation before and during the Great Depression?
Robert Higgs: The similarities are many, including a prior real estate/construction boom fueled by easy money policies, and a variety of government interventions that made the recession worse once it began. Also, in both cases, government employment has displaced private employment, and the state has grown rapidly in size, scope, and power.
Josiah Schmidt: What’s wrong with the US government’s current foreign policy?
Robert Higgs: The U.S. government intervenes excessively in virtually every part of the world. Many of these interventions worsen the local situation (e.g., by propping up local dictatorships) and cause foreigners to hate Americans. American foreign policy aims at global hegemony; it ought to withdraw from a great many of its foreign entanglements.
Josiah Schmidt: What is the best thing the US government could do to truly strengthen homeland security?
Robert Higgs: Remove its military forces from the Middle East and stop sending military and economic aid to the governments of the area–all of them.
Josiah Schmidt: Is there any country in the world today that’s doing things right?
Robert Higgs: No country does everything right. Switzerland may be the country whose government does the least wrong.
Josiah Schmidt: Any parting words for our readers?
Robert Higgs: It is more important to live a decent life than to succeed (in any way) in politics.
Josiah Schmidt: Thanks for speaking with us, Dr. Higgs!