Dinner With Charles Murray

 

img-murray-charles-hr_101703740559My husband and I were seated next to Charles Murray at dinner recently and had an interesting conversation. I first asked him if his Madison Fund has gotten off the ground. It hasn’t, because Murray is a public intellectual, not an organizer of funds, but investors have expressed interest, and I think it looks like an opportunity for a business-savvy Ricochet member!

For those of you who haven’t read his latest book, By the People, the Madison Fund is intended to fight the crippling the excesses of the administrative state. The idea is that the fund will act like insurance against regulatory overreach, and that Madison Fund lawyers will take on cases that fight silly — as opposed to reasonable — regulation in order to make it unenforceable.

Murray believes that the administrative state is very incestuous (with a single agency often playing the role of police, prosecutor, and judge) but thinly-spread. He thinks that with the help of an organization like the Madison Fund — or collection of them — businesses can challenge regulatory rules without risking their very existence. Currently, businesses tend to just ignore many regulations that cost a lot but don’t serve any sensible purpose, though this opens them to the risk of enormous penalties and legal fees should they come under scrutiny.

The Madison Fund — or Madison Funds — would take cases knowing full well that they will lose, since the business is technically in violation. However, this would drive-up the costs of enforcement and they Fund would publicize the heck out of the cases, showing how antithetical to both safety and business many regulations are. In the process, they will name names of regulatory administrators who not only put such regulations in place, but are willing to put people out of business for ridiculous reasons. Such petty administrators love to control people, but hate the limelight because they don’t want to be publicly exposed for the unelected tyrants they often are. In other words, the idea is to use regulatory agencies’ tactics against them — to put fear in their Grinchy little hearts — because they do not actually have the resources to regularly fight this kind of civil disobedience.

So there you go, smart business Ricochetti! Write up a business plan for the Madison Fund and send it along to Charles Murray! Perhaps he can put you in touch with investors and the fund will be off and running!

Published in Domestic Policy
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  1. MLH Inactive
    MLH
    @MLH

    I got to page 17 in the book. It made me mad-sad and I haven’t picked it up again. Yet.

    • #1
  2. Merina Smith Inactive
    Merina Smith
    @MerinaSmith

    MLH:I got to page 17 in the book. It made me mad-sad and I haven’t picked it up again. Yet.

    Really!  I  read it and was convinced.  I mean, it is sad, no question, but I like that it has a smart and ultimately upbeat answer for some considerable problems our country faces.

    • #2
  3. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    I was like MLH. I can only have my blood boil so long. Did read the Bell Curve though

    • #3
  4. Johnny Dubya Inactive
    Johnny Dubya
    @JohnnyDubya

    So how exactly would it work?

    I suppose the investors would provide the initial capital for startup costs: hiring, offices and equipment, etc.  The insurance premiums would provide income to support continuing operations.  Would it also provide a return to the investors?  If it were not an adequate return, the investors would have to be motivated by the cause.  Would the revenue be sufficient to pay market salaries to the attorneys?  If not, they would also have to be motivated by the cause.

    There would have to be a significant marketing effort to sign up a critical mass of small businesses for the insurance coverage.  As Merina said, it would have to be “reasonably-priced”, which means that the number of insured would have to be rather large to reach that critical mass.

    It seems that this might be a loss-making entity requiring large investor-activists such as the Koch brothers.

    • #4
  5. GLDIII Reagan
    GLDIII
    @GLDIII

    Mrs III & I went to his debut intro of the book at AEI and had him sign the pre publishing copies he had available. We chatted for a while (Seems he and his wife Catherine have an interest in NASA) So I got some unwarranted level of his attention.  My first question to him was has he lawyer up for the eventual IRS harassment, which seem to be this administrations weapon of chose for malcontents.  He did not dismiss it out of hand as implausible but thought he was cleared because he said he is not aggressive in his tax filings.  I thought that was irrelevant since the process would be the punishment. Got him thinking.

    • #5
  6. Merina Smith Inactive
    Merina Smith
    @MerinaSmith

    My sense is that the Madison Fund would be something of a non-profit, at least at first, that would be doing something vital for the nation.  In terms of growth, if it succeeded, you’d think there would be less need for it, so you’d get a lot of free-riders.  So I don’t think the idea is to be a highly profitable new form of insurance from a business standpoint, the idea would be to kill the regulatory state.  I assume they’d pay a competitive rate to attorneys, who would have the added satisfaction of doing good while making a living.  I can imagine Murray being punished by the IRS for this, but on the other hand, if he is correct that publicity is the enemy of the regulatory state and the overreaching IRS, that ought to give him some protection.

    • #6
  7. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    Merina Smith:My sense is that the Madison Fund would be something of a non-profit,

    That was my impression listening to him, but I haven’t read the book.  It makes  sense that it could take on any really abusive regulatory overreach whether the affected individual business is insured or not.   The agencies couldn’t really handle a lot of court cases and we wouldn’t want them to just target the uninsured.    Disappointing it hasn’t gotten off the ground yet.

    • #7
  8. Merina Smith Inactive
    Merina Smith
    @MerinaSmith

    I Walton:

    Merina Smith:My sense is that the Madison Fund would be something of a non-profit,

    That was my impression listening to him, but I haven’t read the book. It makes sense that it could take on any really abusive regulatory overreach whether the affected individual business is insured or not. The agencies couldn’t really handle a lot of court cases and we wouldn’t want them to just target the uninsured. Disappointing it hasn’t gotten off the ground yet.

    Yes–it is disappointing.  I don’t think Murray intends to see that it gets off the ground–not really his bailiwick-  but I posted here hoping for some crowd sourcing for the idea and maybe some thoughts about a person to run it.  I think it’s really smart and likely to do a lot of good.  I have a brother-in-law who is an excellent businessman who IMHO would be a good one to take it on, but he’s not a lawyer.  I suppose the ideal person would be a lawyer/MBA or something like that.  They’d have to write up a business model and then I think Murray could give them some names of people willing to donate to the fund.  It will need to be a very large fund most likely.  It’s the kind of thing the Kochs might support, but it probably would be better not to have their name on it.

    • #8
  9. GLDIII Reagan
    GLDIII
    @GLDIII

    So is Lois Lerner doing time then? I though not.

    Unless the Government is starved for funds and cuts people I don’t see us gaining ground on them. Force them to prioritize real problems not political ones

    • #9
  10. Merina Smith Inactive
    Merina Smith
    @MerinaSmith

    She’s not doing time, but I still think there would be a big fuss if the feds went after a well-respected public intellectual like Charles Murray.  In other words, it might backfire on them, and I hope they’d be very wary about doing it.  Meantime, especially in light of the rather silly Paris conference that is going on right now for purely political reasons, that is the million dollar question–how can we get the feds to focus on real instead of political problems.  That’s what I think Murray’s plan is designed to address.

    • #10
  11. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    I presume you dined in Belmont?

    • #11
  12. Merina Smith Inactive
    Merina Smith
    @MerinaSmith

    Well, dives in Fishtown are fashionable right now, but in this instance we dined in Belmont.

    • #12
  13. Locke On Member
    Locke On
    @LockeOn

    Merina Smith:She’s not doing time, but I still think there would be a big fuss if the feds went after a well-respected public intellectual like Charles Murray. …

    Does the name Dinesh D’Souza right a bell?

    • #13
  14. Majestyk Contributor
    Majestyk
    @Majestyk

    Merina Smith:My sense is that the Madison Fund would be something of a non-profit, at least at first, that would be doing something vital for the nation. In terms of growth, if it succeeded, you’d think there would be less need for it, so you’d get a lot of free-riders. So I don’t think the idea is to be a highly profitable new form of insurance from a business standpoint, the idea would be to kill the regulatory state. I assume they’d pay a competitive rate to attorneys, who would have the added satisfaction of doing good while making a living. I can imagine Murray being punished by the IRS for this, but on the other hand, if he is correct that publicity is the enemy of the regulatory state and the overreaching IRS, that ought to give him some protection.

    I admire Murray’s thoughts here, but why not simply LawFare the principals of these agencies a la the Church of Scientology?  It seems more direct and has a better chance of directly succeeding rather than fighting a sort of rearguard action which is designed to bleed the system itself.

    • #14
  15. JavaMan Member
    JavaMan
    @JavaMan

    Merina Smith:

    She’s not doing time, but I still think there would be a big fuss if the feds went after a well-respected public intellectual like Charles Murray. In other words, it might backfire on them, and I hope they’d be very wary about doing it.

    ….And therein lies the rub. These are not elected officials and as such are almost entirely immune from public fury. At most some heretofore faceless bureaucrat gets the opportunity to be the scapegoat of the moment in exchange for a golden parachute. The policy will then be continued with the next anonymous apparatchik (one of the only commodities in the universe with an inexhaustible supply).

    There is no current legislative appetite for dismantling the administrative state and massive incentives to keep it in place. (I don’t have to answer for vote X on unpopular issue Y if it never comes up for vote. And I can even lead a populist “revolt” against horrible agency Z promising to disenfranchise/defund them if “enough” people like myself are elected to join my cause.) Charles Murray’s brilliant insight is that these agencies can be tied up in their own process (another apparently limitless commodity) with huge inputs of courage, but relatively meager financial investment. “By The People” is like a libertarian/conservative “Rules for Radicals” an asymmetric battle plan to weaken and perhaps eventually topple a leviathan state. At the very least it has the potential to make it a manageable risk.

    • #15
  16. Merina Smith Inactive
    Merina Smith
    @MerinaSmith

    Locke On:

    Merina Smith:She’s not doing time, but I still think there would be a big fuss if the feds went after a well-respected public intellectual like Charles Murray. …

    Does the name Dinesh D’Souza right a bell?

    Another person my husband and I shared a meal with lately.  He really did violate campaign laws.

    • #16
  17. Merina Smith Inactive
    Merina Smith
    @MerinaSmith

    Majestyk:

    Merina Smith:My sense is that the Madison Fund would be something of a non-profit, at least at first, that would be doing something vital for the nation. In terms of growth, if it succeeded, you’d think there would be less need for it, so you’d get a lot of free-riders. So I don’t think the idea is to be a highly profitable new form of insurance from a business standpoint, the idea would be to kill the regulatory state. I assume they’d pay a competitive rate to attorneys, who would have the added satisfaction of doing good while making a living. I can imagine Murray being punished by the IRS for this, but on the other hand, if he is correct that publicity is the enemy of the regulatory state and the overreaching IRS, that ought to give him some protection.

    I admire Murray’s thoughts here, but why not simply LawFare the principals of these agencies a la the Church of Scientology? It seems more direct and has a better chance of directly succeeding rather than fighting a sort of rearguard action which is designed to bleed the system itself.

    Maj, I don’t quite understand what you are saying.  Could you elaborate?

    • #17
  18. Merina Smith Inactive
    Merina Smith
    @MerinaSmith

    JavaMan:

    Merina Smith:

    She’s not doing time, but I still think there would be a big fuss if the feds went after a well-respected public intellectual like Charles Murray. In other words, it might backfire on them, and I hope they’d be very wary about doing it.

    ….And therein lies the rub. These are not elected officials and as such are almost entirely immune from public fury. At most some heretofore faceless bureaucrat gets the opportunity to be the scapegoat of the moment in exchange for a golden parachute. The policy will then be continued with the next anonymous apparatchik (one of the only commodities in the universe with an inexhaustible supply).

    There is no current legislative appetite for dismantling the administrative state and massive incentives to keep it in place. (I don’t have to answer for vote X on unpopular issue Y if it never comes up for vote. And I can even lead a populist “revolt” against horrible agency Z promising to disenfranchise/defund them if “enough” people like myself are elected to join my cause.) Charles Murray’s brilliant insight is that these agencies can be tied up in their own process (another apparently limitless commodity) with huge inputs of courage, but relatively meager financial investment. “By The People” is like a libertarian/conservative “Rules for Radicals” an asymmetric battle plan to weaken and perhaps eventually topple a leviathan state. At the very least it has the potential to make it a manageable risk.

    Want to take it on, Java?

    • #18
  19. Majestyk Contributor
    Majestyk
    @Majestyk

    Merina Smith:

    Maj, I don’t quite understand what you are saying. Could you elaborate?

    During the Church of Scientology’s fight to gain tax exempt status from the IRS there was considerable doubt as to whether or not they should receive that status.

    Moneyed members of the Church then took it upon themselves (with L. Ron Hubbard’s encouragement) to file personal lawsuits against the IRS personnel in charge of the review all the way up to the head of the IRS.  Such was the bulk of the lawsuits (over 2,000 were filed) that the IRS relented and granted tax exemption to the Church in exchange for dropping the lawsuits.

    It was a highly effective strategy.

    The heads of these various agencies have a lot of control over how administrative law is interpreted and applied.  Personalizing the matter and saying that an individual company or person is being hounded by that agency in a lawsuit might be a more effective barrier – those bureaucrats don’t have deep pockets and there are no issues with gaining standing so they’re likely to be quite amenable to cutting deals.

    If pursuing a company or individual over a ticky-tack matter of regulatory law meant taking the chance of being personally sued by a team of bloodthirsty lawyers it might make them think twice about doing so.

    • #19
  20. Belt Inactive
    Belt
    @Belt

    I’ve not read the book, but I’ve heard interviews on a few different podcasts.  I like the idea that Murray is proposing, but I have three qualms.

    The first is that I guess I’m bit shy of civil disobedience.  I believe in playing by the rules, and this smacks of ‘not playing fair.’  But I can get over that, if it becomes clear that it’s necessary to restore our basic liberties.

    The second is that we are faced with an overwhelming mass of regulations.  How could it be effective?  I fear that Murray overestimates the difference it would make.  This would target individual instances of bureaucratic overreach, but there would always be more to come.

    The final is that I’ve little trust left that the government would play by the rules.  This is probably the big one.  Assume that Murray’s tactics are actually effective – This would be a threat to the regulatory state, and the power and authority of government in general.  I could easily see the government fighting back by using the vast number of regulations to harass anyone who made use of the Madison Fund’s services, to make them an example to the others.  And I could easily imagine the Madison Fund itself getting targeted for retribution, perhaps under RICO laws, or under new laws passed to forestall its activities.  For the public good of course.

    I wish them well, but I’m not sanguine about their chances.

    • #20
  21. Merina Smith Inactive
    Merina Smith
    @MerinaSmith

    Majestyk:

    Merina Smith:

    Maj, I don’t quite understand what you are saying. Could you elaborate?

    During the Church of Scientology’s fight to gain tax exempt status from the IRS there was considerable doubt as to whether or not they should receive that status.

    Moneyed members of the Church then took it upon themselves (with L. Ron Hubbard’s encouragement) to file personal lawsuits against the IRS personnel in charge of the review all the way up to the head of the IRS. Such was the bulk of the lawsuits (over 2,000 were filed) that the IRS relented and granted tax exemption to the Church in exchange for dropping the lawsuits.

    It was a highly effective strategy.

    The heads of these various agencies have a lot of control over how administrative law is interpreted and applied. Personalizing the matter and saying that an individual company or person is being hounded by that agency in a lawsuit might be a more effective barrier – those bureaucrats don’t have deep pockets and there are no issues with gaining standing so they’re likely to be quite amenable to cutting deals.

    If pursuing a company or individual over a ticky-tack matter of regulatory law meant taking the chance of being personally sued by a team of bloodthirsty lawyers it might make them think twice about doing so.

    Ah–I see.  Yes.  This is an excellent idea.

    • #21
  22. Merina Smith Inactive
    Merina Smith
    @MerinaSmith

    Belt:I’ve not read the book, but I’ve heard interviews on a few different podcasts. I like the idea that Murray is proposing, but I have three qualms.

    The first is that I guess I’m bit shy of civil disobedience. I believe in playing by the rules, and this smacks of ‘not playing fair.’ But I can get over that, if it becomes clear that it’s necessary to restore our basic liberties.

    The second is that we are faced with an overwhelming mass of regulations. How could it be effective? I fear that Murray overestimates the difference it would make. This would target individual instances of bureaucratic overreach, but there would always be more to come.

    The final is that I’ve little trust left that the government would play by the rules. This is probably the big one. Assume that Murray’s tactics are actually effective – This would be a threat to the regulatory state, and the power and authority of government in general. I could easily see the government fighting back by using the vast number of regulations to harass anyone who made use of the Madison Fund’s services, to make them an example to the others. And I could easily imagine the Madison Fund itself getting targeted for retribution, perhaps under RICO laws, or under new laws passed to forestall its activities. For the public good of course.

    I wish them well, but I’m not sanguine about their chances.

    Well, yes, these are all worries.  I think Murray is relying on the use of mass media to help get the public on board against the regulatory state.  People don’t trust government right now.  That helps the cause.  He envisions deep pockets so that if new cases are brought, the team takes those on too.  There would surely be push back, but IMHO it’s worth a try.  At this point there aren’t a lot of options.

    • #22
  23. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    I appreciate Murray’s concept, but there is a sense in which it should not be necessary in a better world. Without passing on the effectiveness of conservative organizations practicing public interest law, I think it’s safe to say that they lack the funding and staff to defend unpopular causes on a broad basis, and could serve some of Murray’s goals if they did not. This is exacerbated by the fact that the federal regulatory bureaucracy tilts leftward, and, when it doesn’t, the ACLU is around to step in. Not only do conservatives lack an ACLU-type organization of comparable strength, but the major law firms who take on public interest work (often pro bono) operate from the left of the spectrum and frown on taking”controversial”work for conservative causes. So, there are IMO vehicles for assisting those who “resist,” but those organizations could use some help. There’s certainly a Rome wasn’t built in a day aspect to this.

    • #23
  24. Capt. Aubrey Inactive
    Capt. Aubrey
    @CaptAubrey

    I enjoyed this book and I’d love to see it work. Sorry to hear it hasn’t gotten off the ground. I suppose it will take lawyers willing to work for a non-profit. That shouldn’t be impossible to find but not being a lawyer myself I am at a loss as to how to begin.

    • #24
  25. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    It’s an interesting notion, and it should certainly be taken up in a state. States have the same types of executive-branch bureaucracies that the fed has.

    I was involved peripherally in a lawsuit and political activist group STOP against the EPA and the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) for about eight years. We lost the case ultimately. We should have won. The law was clearly on our side.

    In the process, I learned a lot about government agencies. They are completely out of control and beyond the reach of the average citizen and taxpayers. They are the source of tyranny in this country.

    I wish Congress would accept its responsibility for laws that it passes. Congress needs to stop just handing over law-enforcement authority to the executive branch and then walking away. Parents become good and responsible parents when they make rules and then see what happens with the rules they make. It’s a natural accountability that exists.

    There is no such natural accountability in the way the executive branch agencies are set up. They can be as dictatorial and inconsistent as they want to be.

    Honestly, I admire Murray’s idea, and I think it would have been great to put in place a hundred years ago, but we are way past the point that we can reign in the federal government this way. I’m a state’s rights nut now. The federal government is too big. It should be handling national defense only.

    • #25
  26. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Merina, an honest question:

    Given your generally low opinion of libertarianism, why do you esteem Murray? He identifies as a libertarian (so much so that he wrote a book on the matter), is popular among libertarians, and seems to be on the other side as you on at least one issue you care passionately about (and typically cite as a prime example of where many libertarians go wrong).

    Now, I’m glad you like Murray — as do I! — but I don’t quite understand why you do.

    • #26
  27. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    I think  what is dislikeable in him is precisely his libertarianism. But the reason I noticed for conservatives to like him is his work on the social consequences of liberalism. That gives social conservatives facts & the imprimatur of empirical science. Anyone who went through or looks at the democratic revolution of the 60s fearfully–add loathing to taste–might turn to the writer who adds facts to the ‘I’m telling you!’ & ‘I told you so!’ of morality. There is, of course, always the hope among moral people that speeches can lead people to change deeds, even when the deeds make up the tendency of a society.

    • #27
  28. Derek Simmons Member
    Derek Simmons
    @

    Belt:  I believe in playing by the rules, and this smacks of ‘not playing fair.’ But I can get over that, if it becomes clear that it’s necessary to restore our basic liberties………The final is that I’ve little trust left that the government would play by the rules.

    Hmm. So you believe in ‘playing by the rules’–rules that govco creates for its own benefit, not yours–AND you believe that govco does not and will not play by those very rules–AND YET
    There is still an “IF” it becomes necessary?

    It is very dark at the bottom of the slippery slope. And things go bump there. Are you sure you just want to continue going along for the ride?

    • #28
  29. Merina Smith Inactive
    Merina Smith
    @MerinaSmith

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:Merina, an honest question:

    Given your generally low opinion of libertarianism, why do you esteem Murray? He identifies as a libertarian (so much so that he wrote a book on the matter), is popular among libertarians, and seems to be on the other side as you on at least one issue you care passionately about (and typically cite as a prime example of where many libertarians go wrong).

    Now, I’m glad you like Murray — as do I! — but I don’t quite understand why you do.

    Do you not understand why I would like By the People?  What specifically about the idea do you think I wouldn’t like?  I think it is a smart way to reign in unaccountable and out of control agencies.  I am a pro-business, especially small business, conservative.  Why would I be against this? I plan to write another post, perhaps tomorrow, about the rest of the conversation with him that did include some talk about marriage.  You are correct that I don’t agree with him about that, but he is actually a rather moderate and very genial libertarian.  I might add that I too, contrary to popular libertarian opinion here, am a moderate and genial person!!!!!

    • #29
  30. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Merina Smith: Do you not understand why I would like By the People?

    That wasn’t my question.

    • #30
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