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A Libertarian With Roots In Rock Music


We're going to hear now how a prominent libertarian found his political voice.


MARTIN: Matt Kibbe was just 13 when he fell under the spell of a certain rock band.

MATT KIBBE: Well, I was listening to a lot of Led Zeppelin, but it was the band Rush really got me starting to read and pay attention to ideas.

MARTIN: On the Rush album, "2112," the band sings of a futuristic society, in which thought and expression are controlled by a top-down autocracy.


MARTIN: Now, many years later, you could say Matt Kibbe has turned those early teenage notions into a career. He's the head of FreedomWorks, the grassroots organization that helped launch the Tea Party. His latest book is called "Don't Hurt People and Don't Take Their Stuff: A Libertarian Manifesto."

I asked him to talk more generally about America at this moment and whether he thinks our society already resembles the dystopia imagined by Rush.

KIBBE: I do think that there's a fascinating and potentially dangerous clash going on between the consolidations of power, particularly in government, versus the rest of us. Once you get all of this power and discretion in Washington, D.C., somebody other than you is starting to pick winners and losers. and I think what they're predicting in that totalitarian dystopia is a place we could go, even in America, if we're not careful.

MARTIN: So the core of your argument, as you just articulated, is that government has gotten too big, too powerful, and that elites who think they know better are making all the decisions - which is the philosophical grounding of the Tea Party movement. Why has the Tea Party had such a hard time though making inroads into the mainstream Republican Party. and the culture-at-large.

KIBBE: Well, I think if you look at it politics is about consolidating power and particularly incumbents that have been here forever, Republican or Democrat. They want to keep their jobs. And they view this decentralization, this democratization of citizens that know more - they're getting it online, they're connecting with each other through social media - that's a threat.

MARTIN: A lot of your book is an attack on the Affordable Care Act, which you see as a violation of personal freedom because of the requirements it puts on individuals and employers to purchase health insurance. But there is widespread consensus that the health care system as it was was broken. Is that something that you agree with?

KIBBE: Oh, I agree with that 100 percent. I think that the main problem with health care in my lifetime is that there's too many middlemen. There's always somebody between you and your doctor, you and your family, and some times...

MARTIN: Those middlemen are often insurance companies.

KIBBE: Sure. Sometimes they're insurance companies. Sometimes they're employers. And more and more its government through Medicare, through Medicaid and now the Affordable Care Act. But the problem is it's the incentives that were created in the 1930s that made health care part of your employers' benefits package.

I think it'd be a lot smarter to make it portable, to make it controlled by the individual and to allow young people to buy what makes sense for them, which is usually a small catastrophic plan. And as you get older, you start saving for the health needs that you'll know you'll need as you deal with more health problems. We don't do that today, and now it's just a transfer. And I think it's a form of crony capitalism where insurers and committee chairmen game the system.

MARTIN: If that was easy to implement, if that could be done, how would you balance the books because that's expensive what you're talking about. The reason why young people are required to buy insurance is so society at large doesn't have to pay for when they have go to the ER.

KIBBE: Yeah. The easiest thing to do, change the tax code. If we think that health care is special, we think it's an extraordinary thing that everybody should have, why not make it tax-free for everybody? Right now it's tax-free for some people through your employer. But if you get your insurance outside of your employer, you pay in after-tax dollars.

Huge bias really corrupts the incentives in the system and it doesn't cost money. I think actually saves money because you make patients customers. You make everybody think about how they spend money on preventative care and even catastrophic care. Right now, if somebody else is paying the bill you don't even think about it. You don't even ask the doctor: Well, how much would that cost.

MARTIN: Those hot-button social issues - abortion, gay marriage - you don't tackle in this book. And you would think that those have historically - although issues that have divided Democrats and Republicans - there have been threads of both parties, more Libertarian threads that have been united over that idea - less government. And that means let me define my own marriage and decide what to do with my body.

That's a decision you make consciously to leave that out of the book?

KIBBE: I'm not an expert on social issues. And personally I don't like the idea of telling people what to think on very personal values-based stuff. But I do actually talk about marriage and I talk about it in the context of my marriage. I deeply resented the idea that I had to get the government to license the most important relationship in my life. And I wonder why it is that we federalized marriage, which is a social institution.

It strikes me that my church and my pastor, maybe he should have an opinion about my marriage, but certainly not the Senate Finance Committee, for Pete's sake.

MARTIN: The Tea Party and your movement has gotten a lot of flak for a tone of negativity, of being angry of saying we're not going to compromise because that is not solving the problem. Are you as angry as this book is?

KIBBE: I'm worried about the future of my country. And I'm afraid that's what's so special about America is slipping away. And I think the reason why a lot of activists are so frustrated with Washington, is for all of the talk about balancing the budget and the national debt, its still going in one direction. There's been no compromise. We haven't split the difference between balancing the budget and just reducing the debt. Now we just spend more money we don't have.

And so, I think there's this famous quote attributed to Gandhi: First they ignore you, and then they laugh at you, and then they attack you, then you win. I think we're in that attack mode, where anybody the questions how D.C. is run is roundly denounced as being destructive, not willing to compromise. But we have to get their attention. We have to stop what they're doing.

MARTIN: The book is called "Don't Hurt People and Don't Take Their Stuff: A Libertarian Manifesto," written by Matt Kibbe. He joined us in our studios in Washington.

Matt, thanks so much.

KIBBE: Thank you.


MARTIN: You're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.