RAY SUAREZ: Harry Browne won the Libertarian presidential nomination at the first ballot at their national convention this past Monday. He's 67, an investment advisor and author from Nashville, Tennessee. He has never held public office, but this is the second time he's running for president at the top of the Libertarian ticket. He finished fifth in 1996 with just under a half a million votes. Harry Browne, welcome to the program.
HARRY BROWNE: Thank you so much.
RAY SUAREZ: As you hear the major party nominees, the Republican and Democratic presumed nominees, Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush, argue about Social Security, you must wonder how you can get in on this argument, because your plan is totally different from both of theirs.
HARRY BROWNE: Well, when they're arguing about anything, what they're really arguing about is who knows best how to run your life. Who knows how much you should save for your retirement? Who knows what kind of school your child should go to, or how the doctor should treat you when you go to the doctor's office?
And with Social Security it's the same thing. 15 percent of your income is taken right away from you, without your choice what so ever to go into a government scheme for retirement. Half of it comes through your employer, half of it directly from you. George Bush, magnanimously was you to be able to keep 2 percent of that and invest it on your own, provided you do it the way he thinks is best. What I think is that you ought to have that whole 15 percent, you ought to be able to do whatever you want with it. You should decide how much you should put aside for retirement, you should decide what's best.
Do you want it in a bank savings account, do you want it in the stock market, do you want to buy government bonds? Why can't you make that decision? You're as smart as George Bush is, or Al Gore. Is Al Gore your investment advisor?
RAY SUAREZ: What do you do about the people who have already worked for significant chunks of their adult life, put in money into the plan -- how would you compensate them, how would you wean us from one system to the other?
HARRY BROWNE: Oh, that's a good question. Unfortunately today those people are dependent wholly on political promises. And that is the politicians promise to take the money from somebody else to give it to you if you're retired now. What I want to do is to sell off assets that the government shouldn't own, these hundreds of thousands of federal buildings, millions of acres of land, power companies, pipelines, commodity reserves, and use the proceeds to buy private lifetime annuities for everyone who is dependent on Social Security today.
That means nobody will be left holding the bag. They'll have accounts they can count on. The politicians won't be able to borrow from that money, they won't be able to attach the money in any way; it will belong to you if you're a retiree. And then all the rest of us will be freed immediately, and completely from the 15 percent Social Security tax.
RAY SUAREZ: That large sell off of government assets presumes a much smaller federal government, doesn't it?
HARRY BROWNE: Yes, doesn't it. I think the federal government should live by the Constitution. And the constitution has nowhere in it does it say that the federal government should operate a retirement scheme. Nowhere does it say the federal government should have anything what so ever to do with education or health care or law enforcement or welfare, or any of these things. And the 10th Amendment makes it very clear that if it doesn't say the federal government can do it in the body of the Constitution, then this is left to the states and more important to the people themselves, to take care of on their own.
RAY SUAREZ: So that smaller federal government would also allow you to, what, eliminate the income tax?
HARRY BROWNE: Eliminate the income tax.
RAY SUAREZ: How would you do that?
HARRY BROWNE: Well, if you limit the government to its constitutional functions the way it was for the first 120 years or so, you don't need an income tax. The government was financed completely by tariffs and excise taxes, and it paid for national defense, the judiciary, the mint, the post office, all of these things until 1913. When the income tax was passed, that provided a virtually unlimited source of income for the federal government, and they could get into anything they wanted because the money was always there, just raise taxes, raise taxes more. Today, tariffs and excise taxes are more than enough for a strong national defense, the judiciary, the mint and all those other constitutional functions. So we should repeal the income tax completely and not replace it with a flat tax or sales tax or any other kind of tax.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, who would build the highways? Who would patrol the inland waterways and keep dams open and those sorts of things that various federal agencies do today?
HARRY BROWNE: Sure. The funny thing about the highways is the federal government doesn't build a single highway. All that happens is we, our money is taken from us and sent to Washington, and then the congressmen get together and parcel it out on the basis of who has the most political influence, take 13 percent off the top and send it back to the states. And your statement government builds the interstate highway in your state.
Now, two things happen: First of all, it becomes more expensive. And secondly, the federal government gets its hands, the politicians get their hands on this money, and they use it to build an airport in Denver, billions of dollars that nobody in Denver wanted that airport. They built a subway system in Los Angeles that everybody there thinks is a joke.
They built a subway system in Miami that doesn't work -- a people mover system in Detroit that hardly anybody uses because it goes hardly anywhere, and this awful big dig in Boston, that probably won't be done for 20 or 30 years and is already billions of dollars over budget. These projects would never be built, these boondoggles, if that money, that highway money didn't go to the federal government in the first place. That's one of the dangers of letting the federal government into this.
RAY SUAREZ: So, once that large percentage is taken off the top and you get something more like your whole paycheck...
HARRY BROWNE: Yes.
RAY SUAREZ: …community, governments at lower levels start to provide all these services that the federal government once provided?
HARRY BROWNE: Some of the services. But some of the services should never have been provided in the first place. And what will happen of course is that education will be less expensive, when the money is not going to Washington in the first place. Get that government out of health care and maybe we will once again have charity hospitals in this country, which had been run out of business pretty much by government regulations.
We will once again have free clinics; once again doctors may even make house calls. And hospitals stay won't take a year's pay, and health insurance will be available to everybody. All the things the politicians promise today in health care, we once had in this country before the federal government moved in. But then the government moved in, made it very difficult to continue doing all these things so, then the government says, well, now, see, you can't get health care for 20 and 30-year-olds.
So we're going to have to do something about it; either we'll provide it or we'll mandate that companies have to do it. We have to have health care for people with pre-existing conditions, health care for people who leave their jobs. All of these things existed back in the 50's and 60's, but then the federal government moved in and now it's impossible for health insurance companies to provide that kind of service.
RAY SUAREZ: From reading your platform, I think one group of construction interests that might be very worried about President Browne, is the prison industry.
HARRY BROWNE: Yes.
RAY SUAREZ: You would decriminalize drugs?
HARRY BROWNE: Absolutely. The drug war is probably the worst scourge that has been visited upon this country in its history. It has put a million people in prison, who have never done violence to anybody else, who have never intruded on anyone's person or property. And the result of that is that there's no room in the prisons for the murderers, the rapists, the child molesters who are getting out on early release and plea bargains, and are terrorizing our cities.
The interesting thing is that there are no mandatory minimum laws for murder and rape and child molesting, but there are strict mandatory minimums for people smoking pot or selling pot to their friends and things of this sort. So you can't let those others out unless you get a presidential pardon, and I have sworn that if I am somehow elected president, and I know it's a long shot, but if I am somehow elected president, I swear that from the inauguration platform, I will give an unconditional pardon to every nonviolent drug offender who is in federal prison today.
RAY SUAREZ: All those programs that you talk about, each one had a friend, a sponsor -
HARRY BROWNE: Absolutely.
RAY SUAREZ: -- an interest group, a supporter. How could you become president and do away with them all?
HARRY BROWNE: You've raised a very important point -- because that's how government grows and that's how programs continue forever -- because those who benefit from them will always be Johnny-on-the-spot in Washington. It doesn't matter whether they give money to politicians. The mere fact that they are there and we are not. We are at home taking care of our own business, our own families, working at our jobs, trying to pay our taxes, and in Washington those few people who profit from any particular government program are there, putting pressure on. Now, how are we going to stop that? How are we going break that cycle?
The only way I know is that if we cancel all those programs at one time so that the reward will be so big, meaning the repeal of the income tax, that you and I and everyone else will be motivated to descend on Washington, either by mail or e-mail or fax or phone or what ever, but in some way be so motivated to put the pressure on the congress people not to renew these programs.
RAY SUAREZ: We've talked a lot about domestic issues. What would a Browne foreign policy look like?
HARRY BROWNE: It would be quite different. We have an enormous national offense today. We can annihilate any country in the world; we have troops in 100 countries around the world, as though we were the Roman army occupying the world. Our President can bully any two countries into any kind of settlement that he wants. But we have a very weak national defense.
We can't protect this country from any two-bit dictator who gets his hands on a nuclear missile; that's why we're afraid of Saddam Hussein and his biological weapons, and the North Korean dictator and India and Pakistan testing nuclear weapons. We had a missile defense and a strong border patrol to protect us from those rampaging Canadians when they come running down from British Columbia, we would be taken care of. And we could do that for a lot less money and would be a lot safer, because we would no longer be stirring up trouble around the world and inviting terrorists to come over here and influence our foreign policy.
RAY SUAREZ: So the world wouldn't be a more dangerous place without an American involvement --?
HARRY BROWNE: It would be a very less dangerous place, because no longer would anybody care what we do. Terrorists doesn't attack Switzerland. They don't attack Sweden, because those countries mind their own business, and if we minded our own business, we would not have to fear these people coming over here and trying to make us change our mind about this.
RAY SUAREZ: Briefly, you've conceded that our a long shot.
HARRY BROWNE: Sure.
RAY SUAREZ: Why do this?
HARRY BROWNE: Because I believe that it's entirely possible that by the end of this decade we will have a Libertarian president. It won't be me, but I can pave the way to elect Libertarians to Congress in 2002, run a more competitive race for somebody else in 2004 -- and maybe by then or 2008, elect a Libertarian president. But it starts with every possible vote we can get this year will bring us a step closer.
So if I can get two or three or five percent of the vote this year, we could change politics in this country forever and turn the attention away from what new government programs are we going to have, how fast should the government grow, to the question of how fast are we going to shrink the government and give you back control of your life -- because that's really what I stand for, is I want you to be free to live your life as you think it should be lived, not as Al Gore or George Bush thinks is best for you.
RAY SUAREZ: And it's hard work, too, this running for president?
HARRY BROWNE: Of course, but it very exciting also. I get to talk to people like you, and I mean that.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, good to see you again. Thanks for being here.
HARRY BROWNE: Thank you very much.