The Hon Mr John Howard (right) poses with the editor of Economics.org.au.

Editor of Economics.org.au, Benjamin Marks: Mr Howard, thanks for agreeing to share your thoughts with Economics.org.au, on the occasion of the launch of the first volume of your personal and political autobiography, Lazarus Rising (Sydney: HarperCollins, 2010). To get straight into it, why didn’t you decrease the size of government?

The Hon Mr John Howard, Prime Minister of Australia from 1996-2007: “The proper measure of whether or not government expenditure is excessive is not its nominal growth, rather its share as a proportion of GDP, or national wealth. A bigger economy can responsibly accommodate greater expenditure. Like so many other things, its relative size is the fundamental benchmark” (p. 538).

BM: I didn’t realise you were such a fan of telling the rich what to do and fostering government-dependency. Is it “responsible” to provide disincentives and obstacles to earning a living and being successful?

JH: “[W]elfare policy should encourage self-reliance and not state-dependency” (p. 234).

BM: You can be in favour of government welfare dependency, or, you can be in favour of self-reliance and opposed to government welfare; but you cannot remain principled and have it both ways. The welfare state is the opposite of self-reliance. Don’t you understand free-market principles; that the free market tends to increase productivity and affordability, by allowing everyone, including the poor, to specialise in what the market says they are best at?

JH: “I confess to usually siding with the small operator, even if some violation of free-market principles might be involved” (p. 20).

BM: I’ll take that as a “No.”

JH: “Those critics who have claimed that my Government spent too much have overlooked several factors. As a proportion of GDP, Commonwealth Government spending during my Government’s term in office actually fell from 26.2 per cent to 24 per cent” (p. 538).

BM: 2.2 per cent in nearly 12 years! Now, of course, it could have been far worse, and being more principled may have made you less electable; I realise all that. Nonetheless, it is a little difficult to work up much enthusiasm for supporting a platform of 2.2 per cent reductions every dozen years, especially when that means government actually increased greatly in absolute terms, absolutely no ideological legacy is left, and it is difficult to determine precisely what you believed in.

JH: “Although I had commenced my ministerial career with anything but a strong commitment to economic rationalism, I had by the time of the Fraser Government’s defeat in 1983, gone through something of an epiphany” (p. 136).

BM: Some epiphany! Do you believe in free-markets or not?

JH: “Peter Costello’s first budget in 1996 … was crucial to the Government’s later success. It set the standard, and it was a gold standard” (p. 537).

BM: What do you mean by “gold standard”? Do you think the gold standard is a good thing? Do you oppose central banking and fiat money?

JH: “I … oppose … pass[ing] authority from parliament to unelected judges” (p. 654).

BM: If this is true, then to be consistent you must oppose the RBA. Yes?

JH: [Indecipherable.]

BM: You disagree with then-secretary of the ACTU George Combet’s argument “that if a majority of people in a particular enterprise voted in favour of a collective agreement then that collective agreement should be imposed on all workers at the enterprise, even those who had voted in favour of individual agreements” (pp. 570-71). How can your disagreement with this be reconciled with your approval of the electoral process that got you elected, where many individuals did not want to be part of the “collective agreement” you forced on them as part of your “mandate” from getting a majority of people to vote for you?

JH: [Indecipherable.]

BM: In light of your huge success in implementing free-market reforms, what advice can you give those of us trying to get free-market ideas accepted by the public (without watering them down so much as to not be free-market ideas at all)?

JH: “Australians are pragmatic, worldly people who respond well to governments which ask of them difficult things, provided they are taken into the confidence of the Government, and the nature of the national interest is laid out” (p. 55). “On sensitive issues it is always desirable to be direct and clear” (p. 66).

BM: But you also say that there is “nothing wrong” with a politician “tempering his policies and his rhetoric to win votes” (p. 192). How can these two conflicting opinions be reconciled?

JH: [Indecipherable.]

BM: What is your position on fireworks?

JH: “A great Howard family ritual was observance of Bonfire Night, strictly speaking Empire Day, 24 May, that date being marked because it had been Queen Victoria’s birthday. We always had large amounts of fireworks, built huge bonfires, had a half-day school holiday and enjoyed ourselves immensely. Like all Western societies Australia has become a nanny state on activities such as this. As a consequence today’s children are denied much innocent fun. I think that fireworks prohibitions are ridiculous” (p. 16).

BM: Hooray. What is your position on firearms?

JH: “The policy attitudes I struck in government were a patent reflection of my basic political credo. My belief in the maximum degree of individual freedom meant that my Government always gave high priority to personal taxation relief, believing that people were better judges than governments of how to spend their money” (p. 654).

BM: But, of course, I cannot infer your beliefs from any of your claims to principle, which are misleading. So, what is your position on firearms?

JH: “[T]he ready availability of firearms of all descriptions was directly responsible for the very high murder rate in [‘America’]” (p. 248).

BM: “[D]irectly responsible” seems an unusual description of something that is entirely in the control of something outside itself. Suppose someone threw a shoe at you; is the “ready availability” of shoes “directly responsible” for the attempted assault? Suppose that shoes were banned, or monopolised by government, and someone punched you in the head; would that mean their fist was “directly responsible”? Were the planes “directly responsible” for the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks? In any case, if deadly weapons are so dangerous that you confiscated firearms from civilians, don’t the same problems arise that you claim necessitates their confiscation when government employees are armed? Why are the principles involved so different and government so much more trustworthy?

JH: “When I left office as Prime Minister I pointed with some pride to the fact that under my Government defence expenditure had risen by 47 per cent in real terms” (p. 358).

“The Bali attack was a reminder that the war against terrorism had to go on in an uncompromising and unconditional fashion. Any other course of action would be folly. Retreat would not purchase immunity from attack. That … had been the experience of mankind through history. It is impossible to escape the reach of terrorism by imagining that if you roll yourself into a little ball you will not be noticed, because terrorism is not dispensed according to some hierarchy of disdain; it is dispensed in an indiscriminate, evil, hateful fashion” (p. 411).

BM: Jeez, I can tell you were well-briefed. Fighting an enemy who has no “hierarchy of disdain” and is “indiscriminate” must make for some interesting strategy sessions.

JH: “The most regular popular criticism was that our action increased the likelihood of a terrorist attack involving Australians. That was not our assessment, no matter how intuitive the notion was for many people” (p. 424).

BM: Michael Scheuer, who was head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center bin Laden station from 1996-1999, said, “Muslims are bothered by our modernity, democracy, and sexuality, but they are rarely spurred to action unless American forces encroach on their lands. It’s American foreign policy that enrages Osama and al-Qaeda, not American culture and society.” What do you say to that?

JH: “I am somewhat cynical towards those who, after leaving office, self-indulgently parade a change of heart on a controversial issue, to the applause of former critics but without regard to the impact such a changed attitude might have on those affected by the repudiation of the decision taken in office” (p. 655).

BM: That being the case, it seems best to end the interview. Thanks for your time. If you’d ever like to ask any questions of me, I’m available. Here’s one more question for the road: what do you think of Kerry Packer?

JH: “I never met a more astute businessman than Kerry Packer. His intuition was legendary and he had the common touch. It was a rare achievement for the richest man in Australia also to speak for a sizeable chunk of the population. He did this when he told a Senate inquiry in 1991 that the public was not so impressed with the job the Government was doing with their taxes that people were queuing up to donate extra” (p. 589).

BM: Wasn’t it a House of Reps rather than a Senate inquiry? In any case, Economics.org.au has edited down to a short highlight-reel that Packer appearance. It is available on YouTube here. In future revised editions of Lazarus Rising, made necessary by this interview, you can link to it.

(in order of appearance on Economics.org.au)
  1. Acquiescence
  2. Why Sports Fans Should Be Libertarians
  3. Ron Manners’ Heroic Misadventures
  4. Government Schools Teach Fascism Perfectly
  5. Deport Government to Solve Immigration Problem
  6. The Drugs Problem Problem
  7. Self-Defeating Campaigning
  8. Gittinomics: Economics for Gits
  9. Exclusive Ross Gittins Interview on The Happy Economist
  10. Population Puzzle Solved
  11. An Open Letter to the CIS
  12. Principled Foreign Policy Options: Reinvade or Shut Up and Get Out
  13. WORLD EXCLUSIVE: Political Corruption Exposed!
  14. Feedback please: Is this worth doing?
  15. CIS and IPA Defend State Schooling
  16. A Thorough Review Without Spoilers of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
  17. Dead Reckoning and Government: A Proposal for Electoral Reform
  18. Quadrant Defends State Schooling
  19. The MPS 2010 Consensus
  20. Slogans for Property Rights Funeral
  21. Government is Impossible: Introduction
  22. Government is Criminal: Part 1
  23. Exclusive John Howard Interview on Lazarus Rising
  24. Response to Senator Cory Bernardi and the IPA
  25. Earn $$$$$ by Justifying Government Against Anarchocapitalism: Survey
  26. Statism is Secrecy: WikiLeaks vs Economics.org.au
  27. One question the Labor Party, the Liberal Party, the Greens, the CIS, the IPA, Ross Gittins, Ross Garnaut, Ken Henry, Gerard Henderson, John Quiggin, Clive Hamilton, Tim Flannery, Catallaxy Files, Club Troppo, Larvatus Prodeo, Phillip Adams, Robert Manne, Michael Stutchbury, Miranda Devine, Andrew Bolt and Dick Smith are scared to answer
  28. Libertarian Philanthropists Should Exploit Tax Evasion Convictions
  29. Ronald Kitching Obituary
  30. The Minarchist Case for Anarchism
  31. Libertarianism in a 300-word rant
  32. Economics.org.au in the news again
  33. Libertarianism In An Executive Summary
  34. The Banking Bubble Blow-by-Blow
  35. WARNING: Libertarianism Is NOT ...
  36. Would Anything Possibly Convince You that You Are Living Under a Protection Racket?
  37. An Open Letter to Dick Smith
  38. Economics.org.au at 42
  39. "My boyfriend calls himself a Marxist and votes Labor, what should I do?"
  40. "He says if I leave him due to politics, I should leave the country too."
  41. No Booboisie at Gülçin’s Galt’s Gulch
  42. "Hey, Mr Anarchocapitalist, show me a society without government"
  43. The Three Epoch-Making Events of the Modern Libertarian Movement
  44. Government is Criminal: Part 2 - Methodological Individualism
  45. Government is Criminal: Part 3 - Subjective Utility
  46. Government is Criminal: Part 4 - Praxeological Synonyms
  47. Government is in a State of Anarchy
  48. Limited Government is Absolute Government
  49. Why the 2012 double Nobel laureate is coming to Sydney
  50. Exclusive Oliver Marc Hartwich Interview on Hans-Hermann Hoppe
  51. A Critique of the Opening Two Sentences of the "About CIS" Page on The Centre for Independent Studies' Website, www.cis.org.au
  52. An invitation for ANDEV members to the Mises Seminar
  53. Sell the ABC to Rupert Murdoch: Lid Blown on ABC Funding Disgrace!
  54. www.inCISe.org.au, The Centre for Independent Studies new blog
  55. The Unconstitutionality of Government in Australia (demonstrated in under 300 words)
  56. The Best Libertarian Film Is ...
  57. Launch Southeast Asian Military Operations to Free Australian Drug Dealers and Consumers
  58. Workers Party Reunion Intro
  59. Hoppe's Inarticulate Australian Critics: The Hon Dr Peter Phelps, Dr Steven Kates and James Paterson
  60. Vice Magazine Westralian Secession Interview
  61. Sideshow to Dr Steven Kates' criticism of the Mises Seminar: Davidson vs Hoppe on Adam Smith
  62. The Best Australian Think Tank Is ...
  63. Announcing a new magazine to rival Time and The Economist
  64. The exciting new Australian Taxpayers' Alliance
  65. Neville Kennard Obituary
  66. Contrarian Conformism
  67. An invitation for Dick Smith, the IPA and other Walter Block fans to the 2nd Australian Mises Seminar
  68. Westralian mining legend Ron Manners of Mannkal belongs in The Property and Freedom Society
  69. What would Bert Kelly think of the Mises Seminar and Walter Block?
  70. Bad news about the Mises Seminar
  71. Gina Rinehart Fan Club gives big to Australian political education
  72. Sam Kennard wins North Sydney by-election by unanimous consent
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