It would probably be a shorter article if we mentioned what does Penn Jillette does not cover in this video, but let’s give it the old college try and do it right.
Welcome to 18 glorious minutes of Penn Jillette (magician, comedian, author and passionate Libertarian) laying his view of modern politics on us – with the disclaimer that he doesn’t know what’s best for others, and he doesn’t pretend to.
Jillette was raised in a home where the philosophy was ‘live and let live’. Neither he nor his parents have had a drop of alcohol or an ounce of illicit drugs, but they respect other people’s choice to do so. Men want to marry men? Who cares. If a genius wants to throw their life away, who cares. If a woman wants to have a baby or not, who cares. You have to respect people enough to make their own decisions.
In explaining his view of libertarianism, Jillette boils it down to a question that can be applied to any government decision: Would I use a gun to do that? Let’s rewind. First he states that the US government is the only organization that is supposed to be able to use force. He continues: “The government is supposed to be a government of us which means – in my thinking, my morality – the government should only use force for things I’m willing to use force for. So the question becomes what would I use a gun to do?” The tricky part would be reaching a consensus of what we would and wouldn’t use violence for. Stopping a murder – yes. Stopping a rape – yes. Defending our country – yes, we have to. What about building a library? Huh?
Jillette frames taxation as a form of government violence. “Now people try to say taxation is voluntary. It’s not. If you don’t pay your taxes eventually somewhere down the line, someone with a gun will show up. They just will.” Taxes take money from poor and middle class people and channels it into public schools, roads and social welfare – which is great – but a large chunk of it is used to buoy big corporations. Corporate welfare is the biggest issue in Libertarianism.
Jillette suggests avoiding this kind of corruption and the deeply troubling rich-poor divide by reducing the size of the government. Make it so small that corruption doesn’t pay. Let the free market actually be free.
Of course you can’t talk politics without discussing Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, so he tackles both of those and for good measure throws in an imagined debate between Bernie Sanders and Gary Johnson as a model to show that while we may not be ready for total Libertarianism, or total socialism, total anarcho-capitalism, or total anything right now, the debate and compromises that would come from two candidates with a broader social conscience and less of a thirst for power would steer the country away from the rocks.
Changing taxation and shrinking the government may sound nuts, but hear Jillette out: “… For right now can we just do what every mother*cking American believes which is stop giving so much money to the corporations, let the people have more control, let them smoke dope, let them put what they want into their bodies, let them have sex with whoever they want as long as there’s consent. And let them do that in every state. Let them love who they want and enjoy life the way they want. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Is that a nut position?”
Penn Jillette’s most recent book is Presto! How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales.
Penn Jillette: Let me lay on you what Libertarianism is to me. Once again I’m speaking for myself which is about as Libertarian as you can get. I do not believe I know what’s best for other people. I also don’t believe that other people know what’s best for other people. I can barely make decisions for myself. I do my best to make decisions for my family. Should my ten-year-old son take music lessons? That’s a hard question for our family. Do you want to push him into it or wait until he really wants it? Those are hard decisions. I have trouble making those for my family so making the decision of what someone else’s job in healthcare should be like who is in another part of the country who I’ve never met is not something I’m qualified or desirous to do. That’s Libertarianism. Libertarianism is taking a right on money and your first left on sex and looking for utopia straight ahead. To me the way I was brought up in western Massachusetts, kind of a New England philosophy. We believed in responsibility and keeping your nose out of other people’s business. We believed in live and let live I think to a fault. My mom and dad were older parents too. My mom was 45 when I was born so I was raised by another generation. You see my mom would be whatever – 120 now or 115 now. A whole other generation.
My mom was born – now you’re going to see that my math is wrong. My mom was born in 1909. She’s dead now. So it’s a whole different generation. And my mom’s feeling about absolutely everything was who cares. Her whole feeling on the gay rights movement was who cares who they want to get together with. It doesn’t matter to me. Her whole feeling on drugs. I have never had a sip of alcohol or any recreational drug in my life. That was true for my mother, true for my father, true for my sister. I don’t know how many generations it goes back but never. And yet my mom always thought that sure, any drug should be legal. If you’re living in a free country do whatever you want. Take responsibility for it. When you tell people about Libertarianism you just tell them we think you should take as little from other people by force as possible. And you should be able to do whatever you think is right. Now that’s a pretty heavy thing I’m saying. Because I’m saying that if there’s an 18-year-old girl who is the greatest math whiz that we have in this country, let’s say she’s the smartest person in math we have anywhere. And let’s say we give her a full scholarship to go to whatever school she wants to go to – Stanford, MIT, wherever she wants to go. And she decides she wants to work at McDonald’s and get pregnant at the age of 19. That’s her decision.
Jim Morrison – did he have a worse life because he did an awful lot of drugs and died at 28? I don’t know. I’ve already lived a lot longer than Jim Morrison but were his choices worse than mine? I don’t know. I know I would not have liked to have lived like Jim Morrison although I’d like to look that good in leather pants. But Kurt Cobain. Did I want to live like that? No, not even slightly. Prince? I don’t want to live like that. But they probably don’t want to live like me either. Libertarianism is the strongest sense of please do what you want, try not to hurt me.
Our government has a monopoly on force, they have a monopoly on force. The government is the only organization that is supposed to be able to use force. The government is supposed to be a government of us which means in my thinking, my morality, the government should only use force for things I’m willing to use force for. The government are the only ones that are allowed to use guns to hurt another person or threaten another person legally. So the question becomes what would I use a gun to do? Now I’m a coward and I have no skills with guns or with violence. I’ve never hit a person in anger in my life. I’ve been hit. I never hit back. So this is hypothetical. But if I were not a coward would I use a gun to stop someone from being killed? Yes. Would I use a gun to stop someone from being raped? Yes. Would I use a gun to build a library? Would I take money from someone to build a library? Well I’d certainly give my money. I’d certainly work. I’d certainly beg you for money to build a library. Libraries really matter to me. I was born in 55. I’m from a small town. Without a library I would have known nothing. I had to drive to – I had to ride my bike to the library to learn about Lenny Bruce, Franz Kafka.
I got Stravinsky records from the library. It meant everything to me. Libraries matter. But that’s the Libertarian question. Now taking care of people. Would you use a gun to take care of others? That’s a hard one. Because taxation is using violence. Now people try to say taxation is voluntary. It’s not. If you don’t pay your taxes eventually somewhere down the line someone with a gun will show up. They just will. At some point if you don’t do that. What do we do with our taxes? Would we use a gun to defend our country? Yeah I guess we’ve got to, right. Would we use a gun for everything we use for taxes? So when I see the government doing something I ask myself would I use a gun to do that. Now all of that being said that is the high level, the theoretical part of Libertarianism to me. In a nuts and bolts level it becomes much, much simpler. It is one of the cases where the reality is simpler than the theory. When someone is worried about Libertarianism they worry about what happens to public schools, what happens to welfare, what happens to roads. Those are the first three questions they ask. And those are the hardest questions. I will give you public schools. I will give you welfare. I will give you infrastructure. I will not give you the government using a gun to take money from poor people and giving it to rich people.
The biggest issue in Libertarianism is stopping corporate welfare. What we give in welfare to the poor, we give in government money to the roads. We give government money to the schools is nothing compared to the money we give to rich people. The best way to stop crony capitalism, the best way to stop graft, the best way to stop all sorts of bad stuff in government is to make government small enough. The way you stop corruption is make it small enough that corruption doesn’t pay. Give the government little enough and there’s not a lot to steal from them. But government is buoying up the rich corporations. The rich corporations love the government. They’ve gained the system in a way an individual never can. Any big corporation has a team of the best lawyers to figure out how they cannot pay taxes. No middle class person has that. They have regulations set to keep other people out of the business, right. Even the manicure shops, you know. They want to license, register everything so that other people can’t get in. It’s limiting. If you had a true free market you would not have the big mega corporations.
Libertarianism is not about rich white people getting a lot of money from corporations and leaving everybody else to whistle. Libertarianism is let’s not use the government to take money from poor people and middle class people and give it to rich people. Because really that’s all that’s ever happened. That’s all that’s ever happened. In our present climate we have somebody running for president who we know for a fact lied. Lied a lot less than other people. We know for a fact she lied. And we know for a fact that she is an insider and that knows the way to play all the games. We also know that she knows what’s better for other people. And we know that she says and claims and brags that she will do a lot of killing of people overseas. We also know that she is essentially – even after I’ve called her a liar, she’s essentially a good, honest person. She essentially has a good heart. She also has a 65 percent disapproval rating or higher. That’s Hillary Clinton. There are two things that I always believed about modern politics. One was that everyone who had ever run for a major office was smarter than me. And the second thing was there was no one worse than Hillary Clinton.
Both of those things have been disproven by Donald Trump. Donald Trump, all the good qualities I mentioned about Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump does not share. He’s not skilled. He does not have as far as I can tell any compassion. And he does not have very much knowledge. He does have a weird kind of charisma that I cannot understand myself. It doesn’t seem to work on me. But certainly demonstrative that he has charisma that works for some people. And he’s willing to give easy answers. And being willing to give easy answers which in his case aren’t answers, they’re just I will fix it. We’ve got this problem, I’ll fix it. Well no, you don’t get to say that. You have to demonstrate how you’re doing it. But both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are very interested in getting a lot of power for themselves. I believe Hillary Clinton wants that power because she thinks she knows what’s best for other people. Let’s refer back to me saying I don’t know what’s best for other people. I also don’t think she does either but she believes that. And I believe her heart’s in the right place. I don’t think Donald Trump knows there are other people to be concerned about.
I don’t think he even knows that. You’ve got those two. And neither one of them – this is not fair to Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump is giving no theoretical policy ideas for how government should run. Hillary Clinton is not giving enough for my taste. Here’s the debate I want to see. Now I know that my buddy Gary, Gary Johnson, I know we were trying to get him to do the debates that if he gets 15 percent he’ll be in the debates and that’s wonderful. We should all work for that. Even people who don’t like Gary want to see someone else on stage talking. I don’t see why you wouldn’t want him involved in the conversation. If Hillary Clinton really is great, let her talk to Gary in public. Well there’s nobody that entertains that Donald Trump really is great. If you thought that for a moment, why not have Gary Johnson talk. Here’s the conversation I want to have. I want to have this debate. I don’t even want to call it a debate. I want it to be a simple conversation. Bernie Sanders, Gary Johnson. Put them side by side. Two good people. Two paragons, you know.
Here’s the debate I want to see. It’s not even a debate, a conversation, a public conversation in front of as much of America as wants to watch it. Bernie Sanders, Gary Johnson. Both paragons, both virtuous, both honest, both smart, both concerned about other people, both with experience in government. And I want to hear Bernie Sanders say, you know, a lot of people in this country have trouble taking care of themselves. We need a strong infrastructure for business to thrive. We need to protect our country, to protect the people around us. We need a big strong government with a good solid safety net that can take care of people and treat them with compassion and make better choices than some individuals will make. We need a government where more qualified people can take care of those that aren’t and where we can keep corporations at bay and where we can keep some money out of politics. That’s what we need. And here’s some examples of how we can get there from where we are. Here are the checks and balances we want to put in place on corporations. Here’s what we want to do with campaign finance. Here’s what we want to do with schools. Here’s some of my ideas. But I want Gary Johnson to say, you know, all those things are problems. But I think that maybe a little more freedom as opposed to a little more control from the government might give us a lot of that.
I want individuals to have a little more money in their pockets and use that for charity and use that for building. And I think instead of putting up tariffs to keep foreign businesses out we can actually make America more competitive, less taxes and let them have more power that way and be more successful. There would be more money all over the place. We can take care of people. I think that’ll work pretty well and while we’re at it we’ll stop the corporations by not having a big government that flows money to them. And then Bernie Sanders says back, you know, that sounds really good Gary. It really does. But there are some people who just plain are going to be left out. They’re not going to make it. They’re just not going to make it in your dog each dog free market economy. You’re just willing to throw them away? And then Gary says, you know, maybe a subsistence amount of money for everybody. Maybe just get paid. Just give them that money. Because you know compared to what we’re paying for food stamps and all of that stuff just writing them a check is much easier. So maybe we can do that. And Bernie says, you know what you’re saying about keeping businesses over here kind of makes sense Gary. Maybe we can do a few less tariffs and a little lower taxes to help our corporations and maybe that’ll help a little bit. And they go back and forth and they come up with an impasse where they don’t agree.
And then the American people say, you know, let’s try it Bernie’s way for a while. Let’s give it four years of Bernie because it seems like he’s got some ideas. Let’s go four years with Bernie. You know Gary you’re a good guy. You’ve thought about this really hard and you made a really good case and we know you’re a good guy. We like you. We trust you. But we’re going with Bernie now. And we try that for a while. And as Bernie’s doing this there’s other people in the government that go what about this and he pulls back on this and he adjusts and he does that. And then he comes, you know, four years go by and the country goes let’s hear that debate again. Maybe it’s someone else in place but whatever. They do the debate again and they go, you know, we tried. We don’t really feel your burn. Now feel my Johnson. We’ll have Gary Johnson take over for four years and see how that goes. And you go back and forth and you have a discussion of what we want to do as a country between two good, honest, hard thinking human beings. And please let’s get one of them to be a woman by the next time we do this. Please. And let’s get someone to be of color please. Let’s just do that.
We’ve got plenty of people on both sides that aren’t just white guys. But for right now my example of Bernie and Gary and we go back and forth like that. Why aren’t we doing that? Why do we have two people that all they agree on is that they should have power. Two psychotic, power hungry, hated, unpleasant people clawing and scratching to take power over other people’s lives. Why not two people who are actually having a discussion about what direction our country should go in. And by the way we’re never going to go all the way Bernie. We’re never going to go all the way Gary. But that’s the discussion we have and let that go. So that is what I think about modern politics and that’s what I think about Libertarianism. Yeah, maybe someday in the future we should go to anarcho-capitalism. Maybe someday in the future we should go to full out socialism. But for right now can we just do what every mother fucking American believes which is stop giving so much money to the corporations, let the people have more control, let them smoke dope, let them put what they want into their bodies, let them have sex with whoever they want as long as there’s consent. And let them do that in every state. Let them love who they want and enjoy life the way they want. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Is that a nut position?