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Ep. 66 Tough Questions for Conservatives

Bob asks a series of tough (but fair, he hopes) questions for conservatives, ranging from tariffs to impeachment to drug prohibition.
Mentioned in the Episode and Other Links of Interest:

The audio production for this episode was provided by Podsworth Media.

About the author, Robert

Christian and economist, Research Assistant Professor with the Free Market Institute at Texas Tech, Senior Fellow with the Mises Institute, and co-host with Tom Woods of the podcast "Contra Krugman."


  1. Tough Questions for Conservatives on 10/07/2019 at 1:17 PM

    […] latest episode of the Bob Murphy […]

  2. Michael on 10/07/2019 at 2:15 PM

    Another tough question: “So as a conservative, you likely hold the founding fathers up as heros, and look to them as both role models and iconic American figures. But they themselves weren’t the conservatives of their day – not only were they radicals, but they were so radical that they conspired towards the violent overthrow of their governing institutions. What makes you so sure that, if you were around in those days, your conservative tendencies wouldn’t have attracted you to the loyalists in opposition to the very founding fathers you revere?”

    You could also phrase the question similarly with slavery/abolitionism.

    • Tyler Burnette on 10/13/2019 at 10:17 PM

      As a Conservative, I appreciate the variety of opinions that existed among the founding Fathers since a lot of them believed differently from each other. They weren’t angels but just men and had to compromise to get their job done. They were smart in adding a Bill of Rights, and they were smart in allowing the Constitution to be amended when needed. Most educated Conservatives recognize that they were Liberals for their time, and the Conservatives of Europe were the monarchists. The Fathers had their faults, just like everyone, but they developed the founding principles of a government that’s lasted almost continuously longer than another other nation on Earth, and for that I am grateful for their foresight.
      Some Conservatives today who tend towards the Order side of fusionism very well might support Monarchies though with their support of a powerful Executive branch.

      • Chad on 11/01/2019 at 1:09 PM

        The US is not older than any other nation on Earth.

  3. Bob Robertson on 10/07/2019 at 6:40 PM

    Thank you for having an easy “Download” button.

  4. Jeff on 10/10/2019 at 12:31 AM

    Nobody can be sure what they’d think in wildly different circumstances. But being conservative now means holding many of the values (personal rights, liberties and responsibilities) those radical colonists held, which they wrote into the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Amendments in the Bill of Rights. Being a radical for the sake of rebelling, or to force change is narcissistic nonsense.

  5. Joe Citizen on 10/10/2019 at 1:36 AM


    I guess that is a radical idea.
    The radical nuts of today want to squelch freedom.
    That’s about as simple a difference as I can make it.

  6. Doug on 10/10/2019 at 3:17 AM

    The founders were conservative. They didn’t want their rights as Englishmen taken away. These rights as handed down by common and civil law were usurped by progressives in parliament. Edmund Burke made the conservative case but his fellow parliamentarians wanted to progress to the point of ignoring the rights of fellow Englishmen. Being conservative does not mean they won’t fight for liberty.

  7. Al Berstler on 10/11/2019 at 3:17 PM

    Would be curious about questions if in written, or transcript. Uninterested in podcast or audio.

  8. Tyler Burnette on 10/13/2019 at 10:49 PM

    Hey Bob, love your show, and as a Conservative myself, I wanted to tackle some of these issues to provide the best response I can.

    In my beliefs school choice isn’t a moral imperative but more an economic/pragmatic one for the imperative of educating a child, and parents generally should be given broad options since they know best how to educate their child in the majority of circumstances. If a parent shows gross incompetence or negligence (and I am only one person with one position and don’t speak for all conservatives) it would be reasonable to assign a school for them. Hopefully it wouldn’t come to coercion, but CPS I believe is a valid organization in some circumstances even though there have been tragedies with families I know of personally, and means for appeal should be easily available.

    I do think consumer protection laws for physically dangerous products are necessary to a degree if the product can result in injury or death. Intellectually dangerous things are different than physically dangerous ones. While I don’t agree with the statements within certain books, I recognize the founding principles of the country are designed to protect minority opinions. Who knows, I might be wrong on a topic, and the book might be right or help to refine someone’s good arguments by having a counter-argument exist. Drugs/products are different categorically from ideas.

    For the immigration argument, I’m not in favor of birth citizenship for immigrants’ babies, but that amendment is sort of hard to touch politically for obvious reasons. I’m generally in favor of immigration though for economic and humanitarian reasons. I’m just hesitant about it because it does cause instability and national security concerns. That’s sort of how we acquired Texas was we had a lot of emigrants move into Texas, they seceded from Mexico, and then we annexed Texas into us, so the same thing could happen the other way as well.

    I am in favor of people owning tanks and bazookas. Some already do, I think? Theoretically they could have nukes too, but that’s typically cost-prohibitive for anything but a government to build and maintain. From a more safety-conscious Conservative, they might go with the constitution and say that nukes are categorically different than “militia arms” of guns and tanks (really just big guns on treads with armor). Also, having the laws can serve as a cause to arrest someone they suspect of per-emptively arresting a terrorist before they attack. Without the law it would be hard to get a warrant. This can’t be used for everything of course, but I can see it being useful even once in an extreme case.

    As for taxes, I hold a somewhat unorthodox position in believing that the government physically makes the dollars, and it owns the money it creates. All issued money is owned by the government, and it’s lended out to the public at no interest, but the government can legally take as much of it back whenever it wants to. It’s bad to do this of course, economically, but it means that taxation is not ethically theft. I believe Jesus’ statement to the Pharisees in Matthew 22:21 is actually literal. Referring to coins and taxes, Jesus said “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. Render unto God what is God’s.” Conservatives who believe we completely own our money should indeed advocate for 0% taxes or voluntary taxation or begrudgingly accept the government is stealing from them which I think is the majority opinion.

    I didn’t vote for Trump, but for the people who do and still support him as a man, indeed their argument is not one based in a consistent morality. It’s mostly just Owning The Libs. I think you’re thinking way too hard on it. Many believe Trump is morally righteous and trying to remove him is an act against God. Privately they’re guilty of the same kinds of things Trump is guilty of, so it makes them look better in their own eyes, and it makes them feel less guilty. It could be a sort of the Divine Right of Kings argument but only for America. It’s more that he’s their Guy and their morality is centered on the man than on detached intellectual principles.

    I’d be fine without having an ATF, myself. For Conservatives that do want one I’d maybe say it’s from a pragmatic position. Bad things happen but worse things would happen if it didn’t exist. Of course it’s not provable, but part of the core of Conservativism in America is resistance to deviation of what is at least functional. Stability is one of Conservatism’s chief goals.

    With the prosecutor behind closed door story hypothetical, I know you’re making a Samuel vs. David over Bathsheba analogy where it’s actually the USA you’re talking about. Most of the circumstances (I would hope) are likely more nuanced than that, but either way it’s definitely not ethical and those that engage in it will be brought to actual justice one way or another. Sadly this probably isn’t exclusive to the USA. I wish I could give you a good fix for it but I can’t, only to make less crimes be punishable in such a way that encourages such behavior or to make harsher punishments for it.

    The torture is a little more severe, and it shouldn’t be done on citizens convicted of crimes, but on POWs I think the threat of violence is viable and warranted if it yields confessions that promote the conclusion of the war. Sometimes a false confession can be used to contradict confessions of another POW. The extra jail time I think is a little more nebulous to me since that can be factually true that if someone pleads guilty and starts a rehabilatory path earlier, they could parole earlier. I’m generally okay with plea deals. They’re pretty common. It’s basically “We don’t have enough evidence to 100% convict you, and we don’t want to chance it, and neither do you, so if you confess it’ll be easier on you than the full sentence. Few criminal cases are ever 100% slam dunks. I’d rather have partial sentences for criminals than no sentence, and I’d rather have a half sentence for a wrongfully convicted man than a full sentence for something he didn’t do. A little bit of justice is better than no justice. God ultimately has the final say.

    For separation of illegal immigrant families I’m not a Trump supporter, but for the policy I would say that if there’s a better alternative to family separation I’d use it, and it’s best to keep them together if possible. Each case for that is going to be different though since every family is different, and the separations, to my knowledge, are not long term. I wouldn’t categorize assault on the concept of family being the same thing because one is an intentional deconstruction of the family structure required for society to work and the other is an individual circumstance of violation of US law which based on environmental situations can result in these unfortunate separations. If it were me in that situation and were I to migrate with my child to the USA hoping for a better future, I would accept that this is indeed a risk.

    I’m definitely on the side that the return to the workplace after WW2 got us out of the depression where the increased demand for consumer goods as well as the USA’s global status in power and trade got the economy to ramp back up over 1920s prosperity. WW2 may have boosted GDP but didn’t improve living standards which IMO is the goal of the study of economics. Most Conservatives have never heard of Keynes or Mises or Hayek or Rothbard, so they only think WW2 got us out of the Depression because that’s what they were taught in history class.

    In terms of top-down government projects for our country, I personally think it’s more effective where more local planning is done, but I don’t think most of the time technocrats are doing it in bad faith. They think they know how psychology works from an intellectual perspective, but they don’t account for all the costs and human motivations. It doesn’t always fail utterly in all circumstances. Some of the changes can be good, but it rarely fixes everything, as similar argument to my next point.
    I’m not usually a fan of overseas interventions unless there is a legitimate Causus Belli and a clearly defined obtainable goal. Each intervention is its own situation, and some I agree with and some I do not. It’s never without costs in lives and wealth, but it can depose despots and correct injustices and prevent wholesale slaughter and genocide. Sadly, many right wingers (maybe not conservatives) don’t really believe like that, and they’re all for bombing a country to dust, and they’re perfectly willing to leave it like that OR they’ll start to try to spread democracy, realize it’s too hard, and they’ll say something racist like “they’re not advanced enough to understand Democracy”. It’s not a principled position. They sort of just like to play with toys and win wars. They don’t view the other country’s citizens as people.

    Spending can never be stopped by a democratic consensus process. The more people there are involved in a governmental process, the more incentive there is to get a piece of the pie. The fewer governmental figures there are in power, the higher the chance spending will be cut. Or, the fewer people a leader is directly accountable to, the more likely they will cut government spending. As long as re-election and party control of govt. is an incentive, promises and spending will increase. Govt. deficit is just a political bludgeon for the minority party.

    I didn’t get a whiff of your pointing out that the US makes policy in line with Israel as being anti-semitic. It’s true. We tend to make policies that support Israel. Being anti-Israel doesn’t necessarily mean anti-semitic, but Anti-semites definitely don’t like Israel.

    In terms of America-as-superpower to Conservatives, you have people like me who believe in an element of Real Politiks and acknowledge that there’s no such thing as good guys and bad guys, just evil actions and an understanding that if we’re not there worse things will happen. Most conservatives don’t care what we do, and most libertarians don’t care about foreign nations at all.
    It’s sort of like in Warhammer 40,000 the humans have a kind-of-almost-dead God emperor who might be controlling the psychic forces in the entire galaxy that prevents humanity from being conquered by aliens. So they support their own national authority unwavering to prevent their Emperor from truly being killed and potentially lose that psychic blessing he grants to their armies. They don’t even know if it’s real, but they’re currently surviving in the conflict, so they just keep on trusting that the Emperor is doing something to help them. The only way to know for sure is to kill the Emperor and see if it stops. Once he’s dead though, you can’t get him back.
    As a super-power status it works the same war for America, some elements of our citizenry do evil things on a national stage, but if we pull back everything, we don’t know what kind of chaos might develop, so we keep those systems in place hoping they’re what’s preventing collapse of society. It’s sort of like the goose that laid the golden egg where the egg is kind-of-stable international society and the goose is the US military presence.

    Abe had his good points and his bad points. I don’t revere him as much as some conservatives do for the reasons libertarians don’t like him. I think slavery could have died out on its own, and a war wasn’t needed, but you’ll get a thousand reasons from different Conservatives for why the Civil War was justified.

    I’m with Scott Linciome in terms of tariffs. Most people just don’t understand the economics of trade with other nations and why it’s good. Most people just listen to their leaders who want to use tariffs as an economic bargaining chip. The leaders don’t care about trade other than they can use it as diplomatic leverage, but if they told the public the truth about this, the public would rail against them since it causes unemployment and higher prices for us.
    I do believe it can be necessary to embargo rogue nations like North Korea or Iran, however, if they’re acting sufficiently dangerous to their neighbors. It’s akin to war, so there has to be a valid Causus Tariff. China’s doing plenty of things worthy of levels of tariffs, but the dumbest least impactful ones are being cited. It’s the same tool as a boycott on a national level, just done by a government.

    In terms of a Cold War, it wasn’t just an ideological war. In fact it may have just been a power struggle between the US and the USSR and China. The ideologies were the easiest way to motivate the internal elements of those countries to rally together. I personally wouldn’t have been as worried if nuclear weapons weren’t involved. Even a slightly technologically backward nation with a stronger military can conquer an technologically forward nation like in the Korean War which would have been lost without US/UN intervention or in Vietnam where the US gave up after the government ROIs came back negative. A better system doesn’t guarantee perpetual success. After all, national leadership is in the hands of God.

    I agree with the Declaration of Independence that secession can be necessary. I am on the fence if it can be done justly without government reprisal since a government believes they own their own land. I can’t say that my house is now a micro-nation, and that I cannot be taxed by the federal government without the IRS disagreeing with me. The government would have a justified re-conquest causus belli potentially to establish control of my land. A level of feudalism may still be in place. The government could view it as theft of property, and the seceeders can view it as right of self-determination in face of tyranny. It would be a matter of perspective since the government wouldn’t think that it’s naturally doing evil things warranting secession.

    In terms of intellectual property, I wish we had freer legislation from the DMCA etc., but similar to the US network of military bases, we worry what would happen if we just gave it all up over night since we could never replace it if it turns out we needed it for something. People cite the medical industry and patents on new medicine. If that went away it might disincentivize production if there were not profit incentive. Most Conservatives don’t have much opinion on this. We just know we love our copyright stolen memes.

    For WW2 I definitely would say that it’s better to have participated rather than not. I think Stalin would have happened anyways since Communism in Russia was a reaction to WW1, and in the long run USSR collapsed anyways. If the allies didn’t join in, I don’t see anything other than Nazi Europe for decades in a counterfactual what-if. I wouldn’t have gone to War in WW1, and most Conservatives in-the-know treat Wilson as our worst president.

    Most conservatives I know don’t give much time of thought to death penalty what-ifs since it comes up relatively rarely given the US population, and it’s typically a state matter rather than a federal one. I think the state level rather than federal level is the right place to decide terms for death penalty scenarios in most cases. Wrongful execution is going to happen periodically, and it’s tragic and awful when it happens, and the government should try to compensate the family if it happens. I don’t think it means you dismantle the system because of a few errors. If a judicial system of a state can literally not get it right most of the time, the citizens can and should be able to vote to restrict or abandon the death penalty.

    In spite of the broad brush that Reagan was using in his clip, Conservatives generally feel like the government shouldn’t micromanage things which affect a small scale number of people. We believe it can be the correct tool when addressing solutions everyone has to deal with such as international diplomacy, war, and extraterrestrial endeavors. Some problems need a scalpel, and some problems need a sledge hammer.

    There’s definitely a very broad range when it comes to what people who call themselves Conservatives believe, so I wanted to provide my own perspective as well as what I thought the most general average of Conservative thought would provide. Thank you again for this video and the opportunity to exercise my thinking organ today. God bless, you Bob and keep up the good work.

    • Ray Roberts on 10/14/2019 at 9:43 PM

      You not only have an unorthodox view of money saying that “the government physically makes the dollars, and it owns the money it creates”, your view is bizarre.
      So are you saying that we could not have money if we had no government or central bank to make it? That’s ahistorical nonsense and what exactly do you recognize as money? Pieces of paper called Federal Reserve Notes backed by nothing but debt and the governments power to tax you to pay that debt? What happens when the majority of people realize the emperor has no cloths and his paper money is actually nothing but dishonest worthless paper? Is it still money then if nobody wants to accept it in exchange for goods or services?
      And you believe from the goodness of their heart that they lend it too you at no interest? OMG! Don’t you know anything about fiat money, FED monetary policy and government debt?
      What about precious metals like gold and silver? Are they not historically the most honest and accepted forms of money for 1000’s of years because they are fungible commodities that have real intrinsic value?
      You also take Jesus’ statement to the Pharisees in Matthew 22:21 is actually literal? How could you unless you don’t understand it in the context of the situation and the times?

    • LP on 10/15/2019 at 5:42 PM

      WRT your view on money:
      I actually don’t disagree with you, so far as what you say goes. My go-to examples are the Canadian Tire Dollar and the SecondLife Dollar, both of which are privately issued fiat currency. CTD is tied 1:1 with the Canadian dollar, it’s a rewards program by the Canadian tire company, and yes, it trades at par at a number of bars in Canada. SLD is a virtual currency used in a persistent online video game. If either company decided to devalue or recall the currencies, that’s fine with me. By using those currencies, you’re choosing to trust the issuing authority not to muck with them as a store of value.

      There is, however, a major difference: legal tender laws. If we could conduct business in other currencies (I mean legally, not practically), then I’d have no problem with taxes on USD denominated things. The problem is that, even if we write and sign a contract denominated in something else (BTC?), either party can force the resulting debt to be settled in USD. Additionally, many states (at least my state and the one next door) assert that even in barter exchanges, use tax is owed on the value of the exchange, again denominated in USD. And that’s before considering property taxes (I had family in the area before it was a US territory, no they didn’t get their title to their land via government grant).
      That said, if you fixed the legal tender laws, it would be quite possible to finance the government via a fixed inflation rate (this is similar to how crypto development is financed). As long as that inflation rate is specified in advance, its economic disruption is minimized, and there’s nothing morally wrong with it.

      Oh, as for render unto caesar… What is caesar’s? What is God’s? Specifically, what did a 1st century Jew consider the answers to those questions, and note the juxtaposition of the questions. Also to consider:
      Where did the exchange take place?
      What were the rules for graven images in that location?
      What was the inscription on the coin?
      I’ll let you do some digging, but if you can’t find it yourself I’ll help. It’s a very common rhetorical technique in the New Testament, to engage in a pseudo-doublespeak that makes something clear only upon contemplation, but allows deeper understanding than a simple positive statement would.

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