“The price of liberty is eternal vigilance” goes the sentiment often ascribed to Thomas Jefferson. The spirit of those words never may have been more important than today.
Navy veteran, physicist, and business consultant Ralph Bayrer, author of the new book “Eternal Vigilance: Guarding Against the Predatory State,” joins the podcast to discuss the future of our nation and how Americans can defend our freedom.
We also read your letters to the editor and share a good news story about a recent victory for female athletes amid the fight to defend women’s sports from the agenda of the transgender movement.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
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Virginia Allen: We are joined today by Ralph Bayrer, author of the newly released book “Eternal Vigilance: Guarding Against the Predatory State.” Mr. Bayrer, welcome to “The Daily Signal Podcast.”
Ralph Bayrer: Well, thank you, and good morning. I appreciate the opportunity to share the book with you and your audience.
Allen: Well, I love how you begin the book. Right at the top, you have this excellent quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson, which is, “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” And I assume that that is where the title of the book came from.
So let’s unpack this idea a little bit that in order to maintain freedom, we have to maintain vigilance. So what did Jefferson and what do you mean by that?
Bayrer: I mean that we’ve got to be alert to what I call the darker side of human nature when it comes to government.
I’m not talking about necessarily vigilance on the everyday legislative process, that’s simply too complex and too easily obfuscated for the average person.
I’m really talking about a deeper vigilance with regard to constitutional principle and structure. Something that is a precious inheritance of our country is embedded in our Constitution, and something that, actually, as I show, comes from over two and a half millennia of human evolution.
Allen: In maintaining that vigilance, like you said, it’s this larger picture and we have to be acutely aware of what is happening in our country. So how do we recognize what actually is a threat to our freedom?
Bayrer: Well, maybe it was a little pretentious. I try to establish what I’d call an empirical principle in that regard, an argument that facts and results are what count, not sentimentality. And we’ve got to get people attuned to that.
I must say, in this regard, that The Heritage Foundation, along with Dow Jones, puts out this marvelous work every year, the Index of Economic Freedom. And that takes an empirical approach to looking at the performance of a country and what policies, what institutions are absolutely essential for producing the best outcomes.
Allen: So I think many Americans look at what’s happening in our nation right now and there is concern for the future, there is concern that we’re losing freedoms or that certain liberties are at risk. But not everyone will actually sit down and write a book about what they’re seeing and their concerns. So why is this issue so important to you that you actually took the time to write this book?
Bayrer: The growing problem has been around for some time before I started writing the book, things I guess have just gotten worse as we’ve proceeded. But it was so alarming to me and it was so puzzling to me that we really do know what needs to be done, what policies work.
Not only do we have Heritage, we have [the] Cato [Institute] and Mercatus [Center], and all sorts of people that have analyzed this. And yet somehow it was not getting through or not getting through enough to people at large.
And I thought that I could connect the dots, perhaps, in a way that would be more engaging. Plus, I wanted to understand it myself as to exactly what seemed to be going on.
Allen: Yeah, yeah. Well, we’re certainly thankful that you did take the time to write the book “Eternal Vigilance: Guarding Against the Predatory State.” I want to read a quote from the introduction of your book.
You say the book’s “central argument is that man’s discovery of ways to successfully cooperate with his fellow man on community, national, and global scales in the face of ubiquitous predatory instincts is his greatest achievement and the foundation for all advanced civilizations.”
So do you think [we are] losing that ability to successfully cooperate in America?
Bayrer: Well, the more intrusive government gets, the more they inhibit our ability to function freely. Now, it might only have a downside economic consequence, but I think ultimately we’ll have a consequence in terms of our liberties, our ability to meet our own needs as individuals.
I think we’ve had a steady encroachment by the government over the last hundred years or more. I believe that the progressive left has undermined constitutional protections and we’ve been fighting a … battle ever since.
Allen: I want to ask with that because, like you said, this hasn’t happened overnight, this has been a gradual instance that we’ve seen of, slowly but surely, just the government growing larger and more and more freedoms being placed at risk.
So I think there’s such a need to really understand history. We have to understand how we got here. So what shifted in the nation to where it is increasingly difficult to work together, to find those commonalities, even in spite of differences, and to guard against the continued growth of the government?
Bayrer: Well, we clearly have a contest between worldviews going on. I think one can be empirically defended and the other one cannot in the longer run.
I don’t want to cast dispersions on the arguments of the left, I’m sure most of those people are very sincere, they somehow want to do better for the average person, they think government is the vehicle to do that.
Whereas my book argues that … the government simply isn’t smart enough to do better than the distributed intelligence of people and their own ability to pursue their own needs. And we once believed that in this country, when the Constitution was formed.
And somehow in the last 200 years, there has been a gathering view that no, the individual can’t direct his life’s efforts to meeting his own needs adequately, but the government has to intervene.
But my book also looks at examples around the world where other people have dealt with the very same problems and have come up with better solutions.
Allen: I’m glad you mentioned that because I did want to ask you about those other countries that you refer to in the book.
So what are our other instances throughout history and around the world that we can look at and say, “OK, this country, whether it be 50, or 100, or 200 years ago, however long ago, was in a similar position. And this is either what they did right or what they did wrong”?
Bayrer: Well, if you allow me, I’d like to use four examples, the book actually looks at 13 in total.
Bayrer: Not all of them are good examples, but they made it in the book. But why don’t we start with what I think is the most startling and that most people don’t know about, let’s take Singapore for example.
Singapore is a country with no natural resources, but it does have a good port. At the end of the Second World War, it was dirt poor. It seemed to have nothing going for it, but it follows all the principles of, say, the Index for Economic Freedom, very closely. It pursues the worldview that I outlined.
And by golly, today they have a higher standard of living [gross domestic product] per capita than the United States. I find that utterly astounding, given all the advantages that we once had in this country going forward.
I think another example I would use, maybe less dramatic, but equally telling, let’s take a look at Switzerland for example.
If you go back to the end of the 16th century, Switzerland was sort of in the same position as the United States at the time of the Revolution.
They had to create a military alliance among the cantons to fight enemies, they didn’t trust one another particularly, and they came up with a constitution of limited government. Say, government can only do these things and everything else is reserved to the cantons.
That’s actually what our original Constitution said, that it had a numerated power. The central government could only do certain things, and everything else was left to the state and the people. That worked pretty well for Switzerland.
Now, Switzerland did face some of the same phenomenon that we do—the world grew, we had an Industrial Revolution, … but they changed their government in the way it should be done.
They debated every issue along the way, whether it was health care, social security, other things. And if they had to modify their constitution, they did it in a constitutional way.
The net result today is they have a much firmer fiscal situation. They have much more intelligent pension programs, health care programs, and other things than we do, and they certainly don’t have the horrible looming and unfunded entitlements that we have in this country. And they have a great growth record and they have a great protection of individual liberties.
The other two examples I would bring in my book are Sweden and New Zealand, which might not leap to everybody’s mind right away, but both of those countries went down the same path that we’ve been going down with very bad results economically.
They both hit fiscal crises, they could no longer continue on the path they were on, and they both proceeded along marvelous reforms.
In my book, I consider New Zealand to be the poster child of how reforms should be undertaken. And as a result, they have fast growth now, they’ve corrected all of their problems, they maintain their liberties. And I think those are wonderful examples for the reader to see.
Allen: So then what does America need to start doing tomorrow in order to get back on the right path of moving toward economic growth and more economic freedom and more freedom and liberty in our nation in general?
Bayrer: Well, that is indeed the question.
The programmatic things that we need to do are self-evident. We’ve got to downsize government, reform the entitlements from ground up, we’ve got to balance the budget, we’ve got to deregulate, we’ve got to get a Supreme Court that’s willing to enforce the Constitution as written.
The question is, how do you get from here to there given the stalemate that we have? I guess my book argues that we’re going to obviously need to see change in the electorate.
Enough of the electorate’s got to be brought to see the arguments that I bring forth in my book, but once that’s so, there are lots of things that can be done. Now, I say that if you can do it through the normal electoral process, the chances are we’re going to have a major fiscal crisis on our hands.
We’re going to hit the same walls that Sweden and New Zealand hit at one point, and then we’re not going to have a lot of choice in the matter. The hope is that, as Milton Friedman once said, that we’ve put enough things in play that we’ll know what to do. In fact, I summarize the book at the end with what some of the more dramatic things might be.
For example, there’s a book by [Mark] Levin, “The Liberty Amendments,” that indicate what amendments to the Constitution would address all these problems, the balanced budget amendment being obvious.
Cato has also come out with a list of amendments that would do the job, but those are only two sets of examples. The ideas are almost obvious at this point, if there’s a political will to proceed along those lines.
Allen: So are you optimistic? As a scholar and as a historian, are you hopeful for America’s future?
Bayrer: Well, that’s an interesting question. My very best friend, who I have lunch with every week, is very pessimistic. I, however, believe in an evolutionary development. That societies have evolved in a saner, more powerful direction, which is why we live in a more affluent world today.
I also strongly believe in the wisdom of the people. I think ultimately people are very wise, they’re not so easily misled, as you might think in a given election cycle. And in my own mind, I think that’s what brought Ronald Reagan to the presidency.
For all of his problems, I think [President Donald] Trump has reflected that unease in society. Who would have ever guessed that Trump would come to power? And I think there are further positive surprises in our future. But that’s just me, I tend to be optimistic by nature.
Allen: I think that’s a good thing. That’s a good way to go through life, being optimistic.
Well, the book is called “Eternal Vigilance: Guarding Against the Predatory State.” You can find it on Amazon, wherever books are sold. Mr. Bayrer, we just really appreciate your time today and appreciate you as well writing this excellent book.
Bayrer: Well, I appreciate the opportunity just as much to talk about it. So thank you also.