The coronavirus lockdowns of the last two years pretty much lived up to the low expectations of the featured speaker at the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii’s 20th Anniversary Gala
Matt Kibbe — economist, author, podcaster and self-described “crazy libertarian who expects the very worst from government” — said even he was surprised at how long the lockdowns lasted.
Kibbe said he wasn’t denying the devastation caused by the virus itself, “but it’s a self-inflicted damage of everything we did that we didn’t have to do that created a class of people that have suffered mightily.”
Noting that his speech was taking place just after the gala presentation by local comedians Da Braddahs, Kibbe said it was important to laugh, considering all we have been through since March 2020.
“We need to laugh a little bit,” said Kibbe. “We need to have some fun, we need to get together, we need to talk to each other without double-masking, if that’s OK, because it turns out that even us crazy libertarian economists need human connection. I didn’t even know this, but it’s true, and it’s particularly true after the last two years.”
Sparking some audience laughter himself, Kibbe added, “I don’t know about you guys, but that was the longest two weeks of my life.”
Kibbe spoke with amazement about how, “This thing that some people call capitalism — I call it the market; maybe we call it individual liberty and entrepreneurship — but this thing that was liberating people from poverty all over the globe, we shut that down.”
The result, he said, has been severe economic damage worldwide, with up to 150 million people being plunged back into deep poverty, reversing a 20-year trend.
In addition, there were consequences for people who had to put off treatments for cancer or cardiovascular disease — the top two killers worldwide — or for depression or other mental-health issues.
Kibbe lamented the difficulty of speaking out against the lockdowns, noting that doing so invited being called a “science denier.”
“Me, as an economist, you couldn’t ask questions like, ‘Well, what happens if nobody makes food? What are we going to do? What happens if nobody makes energy? What happens if hospital workers and truck drivers don’t show up?’”
Ultimately, the lockdowns were a terrible time for people who cared about liberty. But on the upside, he said, don’t think about it as a problem.
Instead, he said, “Think about it as an opportunity, as a teachable moment, to explain to people what it is that those of us [who] believe in freedom and limited government and reasonable tax policy and reasonable regulations — all the things that Grassroot talks about all the time — that’s what we’re really talking about. We’re talking about the ability of people to cooperate and solve problems. … Think of it as a tremendous opportunity to not just help yourself and your own family, but to help this community that we feel here tonight. It feels better together.”
To see Kibbe’s entire presentation, click on the video below. A complete transcript is provided.
3-5-22 Matt Kibbe at GRIH 20th Anniversary Gala
Michael W. Perry, emcee: Our speaker tonight will interest you, because he went to Grove City College, got his B.A. in economics, then George Mason [University], where he did graduate work in economics.
I guess there was a word that kept coming up to him, and it meant something: the word “liberty.” To a lot of us back at that time, liberty was a bell, and a statue — and a wonderful department store — but he said, “You know what, there’s something going on here. I have to tell the next generation what liberty is.”
And that’s what he does; that’s his whole life right now. He is the president of Free the People, he does a podcast “Kibbe on Liberty” — which is kind of fun to say — he is cofounder and partner of Fight the Power Productions, he does strategic communications, and 18 years ago he founded his own grassroot advocacy organization, FreedomWorks. And freedom does still work.
I believe he wrote the book with the best title of the past 10 years; it’s called, and it’s a New York Times bestseller, “Don’t Hurt People and Don’t Take Their Stuff.” Simple as that.
You’ve seen him and his famous mustache on every cable network, on PBS, Bill Maher had him on, and we’ve brought him and his lovely wife, Terry, 5,000 miles west just to be with you here tonight. Please give a big Hawaii welcome for Matt Kibbe.
Matt Kibbe: Keliʻi, you did not tell me that I had to follow those guys. [Audience laughter] I don’t know who set up the program, but the idea that you would follow the funny guys with the economist … [Audience laughter]
But Terry and I did fly a very long way to be here, and this is the second time we’re scheduled to be here. As all you know, we were hoping to do this together last October, but the sense of community alone makes that flight worth it.
We live in Washington, D.C. There is no community in Washington, D.C. There are a lot of people that get off on power, and I just got to say give Keliʻi and his team a round of applause for gathering us here tonight. [Applause]
We need to laugh a little bit, we need to have some fun, we need to get together, we need to talk to each other without double-masking, if that’s OK, because it turns out that even us crazy libertarian economists need human connection, isn’t it? I didn’t even know this, but It’s true, and it’s particularly true after the last two years. I don’t know about you guys, but that was the longest two weeks of my life. [Audience laughter]
I am one of those crazy libertarians that expects the very worst from government, and even I was surprised. I didn’t think it would go on this long. I didn’t think that such mistakes were made. But Terry knows the story and she’s going to yell at me at some point because I am an economist, I love to quote dead people — typically dead economists that none of you have ever heard of.
But when the lockdown first hit, there was a hashtag — I won’t say all of it because this is a family gathering — maybe you remember there was a hashtag that said, “Stay the eff home.” This is early March and the people that were doing this on Twitter meant it, right? They’re like, if we stay home, we can be safe and everyone will be OK.
I thought to myself at the time about a dead economist, Frédéric Bastiat. “I wonder what would actually happen if we all stayed home?”
I was thinking about supply chains, right? Because I’m that dork. And I was thinking about a particular essay he had. Sorry. [Audience laughter]
But I have to quote more dead people. I was thinking about Bastiat’s essay where he talks about the incredibly complex division of labor that makes sure that when we go to bed at night, when we wake up in the morning, we have the food that we need and we have all the things that make our lives livable.
And if everybody stayed home, obviously none of that would happen. You guys would feel it first. You may know this, but you’re sort of at the end of the supply chain and there’s a lot of dumb regulations that make it particularly difficult for you guys to live your lives.
So I was just thinking about the unseen consequences of these government policies that did this thing that we’d never done before. Epidemiologists and public health officials never ever believed that lockdowns were a good idea and suddenly we’re doing it anyway.
I don’t know why exactly, but in the process of that, we learned that they didn’t really mean for everybody to stay home. They were going to divide us between essential workers and non-essential workers. At the time, it would probably be more insulting to be a non-essential worker, but as it worked out over these last two years, it was the non-essential workers, who we now call the laptop class, who were comfortable at home.
Maybe they worked for the government, maybe they worked for tech companies, maybe they worked for companies that fed off of the power of the government — the people that never worried that they would lose their jobs by sheltering in place at home, fully expecting all the people that they didn’t know to grow food, to drive trucks, to distribute it, to bring it right up to their front door.
So perhaps unintentionally, we created this two-tier system — these two classes of people, haves and have-nots, based on some arbitrary government distinction that you’re essential or non-essential — and in the process; tell me if you’ve noticed this — in the process, the fabric of American society has been shredded.
We’re all sort of grumpy. My wife would tell you that I’m more grumpy than most people about the last two years, because this beautiful thing called community, these beautiful values that have defined America, this sense that we’re part of something bigger than ourselves, it felt totally shredded, right?
Those of us — and I gotta give a shout-out to Grassroot Institute, they were on the front lines suggesting very early that unchecked executive power and endless lockdowns and vaccine mandates and deciding whether or not I get to go into a restaurant based on my health status — like how did we get there? You guys were always there, and that was not an easy thing to do. Give them a round of applause for that, please. [Audience applause]
It was not an easy thing to do, and you remember this. If you questioned Lord Fauci [laughter] — the commander-in-chief for all purposes, right? — if you questioned him, remember what you were called? A science denier. That’s a very loaded term, “denier,” right? You couldn’t ask practical questions.
Me as an economist, you couldn’t ask questions like, “Well, what happens if nobody makes food? What are we going to do? What happens if nobody makes energy? What happens if hospital workers and truck drivers don’t show up?”
You are a science denier, even though you’re asking very practical questions. And in the process of doing all that, we’ve done tremendous damage to people.
The last two years — and I’m not denying the science and I’m not denying the devastation caused by the virus itself, but it’s a self-inflicted damage of everything we did that we didn’t have to do that created a class of people that have suffered mightily. Probably not the people in this room, maybe not even that many people in the United States relative to the rest of the world.
Maybe you’ve seen this data: The World Bank has come out and said that somewhere between 100 million and 150 million people were plunged back into deep poverty, reversing a 20-year trend.
This thing that some people call capitalism — I call it “the market”; maybe we call it individual liberty and entrepreneurship — but this thing that was liberating people from poverty all over the globe, we shut that down.
So it’s been a couple of really tough years. And we won’t even talk about the unintended consequences of people that couldn’t go to the hospital for cancer treatments or cardiovascular disease — the No.1 and No. 2 killers in the world. Not COVID. We won’t talk about the depression and mental health issues and all of that stuff.
So what do we do with that? What do we do with all of the devastation that has been created?
Well, we being Americans and spending too much time on Twitter, we naturally start attacking each other, right? We’re all pissed off and we’re dividing each other based on whether or not you have a Fauci prayer candle in your living room or you’re over here. Whether or not you’re on Team Red or Team Blue. Whether or not you’re a conservative or a progressive. And the list goes on and on, where we spend all of our time fighting with each other.
We are at a strategic position that I think is tremendous in a sense. Mainly because things can’t get any worse, right? We can’t screw this up anymore. But you know, Dick Rowland talked a lot about upwards, and the difference between tyranny on the bottom and upwards on the top.
But in the last two years, as a libertarian or a constitutional conservative or an independent — that was the authoritarian narrative — maybe we found ourselves for the first time sort of in the middle. Why can’t we get along? Why can’t we cooperate? Why can’t we get together and have a reasonable conversation about ways that we can keep people safe and still keep this beautiful engine that feeds us alive?
Because [for] those 100 [million] to 150 million people that are plunged deep into poverty, it’s not about economics, it’s about health. It’s about how long they will live. It’s [about] whether or not their children have access to food and basic things that all of us take for granted. This to me is an opportunity.
An opportunity because those of us that believe in human dignity and liberty, we’re not taking teams. We’re not on that side. We’re not on this side. I’m not with the Republicans or the Democrats or the conservatives or the progressives or the “science deniers” or the Fauci guys, whatever you want to call those guys.
We’re just like, “Let’s have a conversation again.” And Dick Rowland talked about this, and this is really important.
This whole left-right thing, it never made sense anyway. You learn in grade school that some people on the far right — let’s call them Nazis — were really bad, really bad people. Millions and millions of people were slaughtered. A heartless, anti-human philosophy. You didn’t want to get too far over there.
I guess I’m on the left right now, so we’re going to go over here. [Audience laughter] You don’t want to be too far over here because that’s bad. But of course, if you go too the far left, if you go too far over here, there’s just as much human misery and devastation.
Is there really a difference between Adolf Hitler over there and Pol Pot over here? It never made any sense at all, and Dick Rowland is the guy that explained this to me.
All of these isms, these deadly isms — socialism, communism, fascism, Nazism — it was really about power over people. It was really about not valuing human life. It was definitely not about valuing the dignity and liberty of each individual one of us.
If you go up from there and if you work really hard, you get to things like democracy — and not the vulgar democracy that says that 50+1% of the public gets to tell the other 49% what to do. The kind of democracy where we all have a choice, and a voice, and an ability to do for ourselves the things that matter most in our lives.
In the past two years, by the way, that was really radical, things like speaking your mind in the public square, leaving your house, being allowed to work; super radical crazy libertarian stuff, right?
If you go up a little bit higher, as Dick Rowland taught us, you get to the things that free people do. What do we do? We love to cooperate, and we learn that that one grassroot stem, when it’s willing to find other free people to work together, that together we can do something that’s far more beautiful than any one of us could have even conceived of by ourselves.
So as we look at the devastation of the last two years and the devastation to liberty, and to freedom, to economics, to prosperity and to human dignity, ultimately we should think about it as an opportunity, as a teachable moment, to explain to people what it is that those of us that believe in freedom and limited government and reasonable tax policy and reasonable regulations — all the things that Grassroot talks about all the time — that’s what we’re really talking about. We’re talking about the ability of people to cooperate and solve problems.
That ultimately was my biggest beef with the government’s reaction to lockdowns. It wasn’t just that they didn’t understand economics or didn’t care. It was ultimately this narrative that came out, and maybe you guys remember this: Remember when they said there are no libertarians in a pandemic?
And I was thinking to myself: The entire purpose of a market — a market’s not a place, it’s not a thing, it’s not a building. The market is just the process of free people struggling to figure stuff out.
We live in this radically uncertain world that in good times, we don’t know what’s coming tomorrow. It’s the way it is. This is how time works. We know what happened in the past and we can project what’s going to happen in the future, but we don’t know.
You might even say that’s radical uncertainty. When you’re dealing with a novel virus, the thing that you really want to do is tap into local knowledge. Don’t give all the power to one guy, because even if it’s the best guy, even if it’s the smartest guy, that person couldn’t possibly know what we know.
People in our communities, people at local hospitals, people trying to solve problems, truck drivers and pickers and growers and packers, and all of these distributed responsibilities that we have as a community, the power is when we get together — and only free people get together; you can’t coerce people into cooperating. It doesn’t work that way.
You can subjugate them, and you can break their spirit, and we know what that looks like. But cooperation is that beautiful thing, that beautiful thing that solves all the problems.
We’re not very good at talking about that beautiful thing that communities do, that greater social intelligence that they can create when they’re free to cooperate. We talk about that individual blade of grass — right? — that’s like, “Am I being detained?” That’s a libertarian joke. [Audience laughter]
Everybody wants to beat their chest and be free, but the power of the opportunity here is to connect with people who are frustrated but didn’t know why. Who were disappointed but didn’t know why. Who didn’t understand why they weren’t essential workers.
All of these things I’m talking about, you guys have felt here in Hawaii. Harder. You’ve gotten hit harder with inflation. You’ve gotten hit harder with the lack of distribution. The impacts of spending too much money you don’t have. The impacts of tax policies that punish innovation and entrepreneurship. It all hurts a little bit more here.
Think about that — not as a problem. Don’t throw up your hands and say, “This isn’t worth it. I don’t care. I’m going to move somewhere else.”
Think of it as a tremendous opportunity to not just help yourself and your own family, but to help this community that we feel here tonight. It feels better together. [Applause]
Those of us — and I’ll wrap up because I know I’m not a comedian [audience laughter] — those of us that have been fighting for liberty our entire lives, took sort of an emotional beating the last two years. It seems like we lost a lot of ground. But I’m old enough to remember past disasters that just seemed like the end of the world. I was there fighting against the Wall Street bailout in 2008. Terry and I actually hosted a party at our house, where we invited every single person in Washington, D.C., that was opposed to the Wall Street bailout, and it was like 20 people. The entire Washington, D.C., voice was opposed to that, and we’re like, “OK, it’s over,” so we had an “end of freedom” party.
About two years later, you had this massive grassroots movement rise up, spontaneously, creating a sense of community and purpose and knowing that they were stronger together, [and] that’s where we are right now.
We know it’s bad, but we don’t fully appreciate ourselves the unchecked power of cooperation, and I hope tonight that you will consider — if you’re not part of this tremendous organization — I hope you’ll consider joining because they need your help, and you’re going to feel good about doing something that matters for not just your family, but your community. Thank you guys so much. [Audience applause.