What to make of Glenn Beck, Fox phenom? He invites libertarians on his show (I’ve seen Sheldon Richman once and Randy Barnett three times) and treats them as fellow travelers. He calls himself a libertarian. He’s even friends, I understand, with Penn Jillette. But surely I can’t be the only one to think he’s a major loon.
He has Richman on, for example, as an expert about the meaning of fascism, but never lets him get a clear sentence out, interrupting to raise conspiracy concerns that this country has been going fascistic ever since the government chose in 1916 to put a bundle of sticks with an ax, or fasces, on the back of our dimes (something that predates Mussolini and Hitler).
Recently Beck was talking with the agriculture commissioner of Alabama, who was brought on to rail against an alleged plan of the federal government to detail how much of which crops every farmer is allowed to grow. The commissioner, a political hack, used the forum to complain that we are losing farm jobs in America (something economists call “improved productivity,” as it now takes fewer farmers to grow more food), and that nonetheless many American consumers insist on continuing to buy foreign food (something economists call “free trade”). Beck – the libertarian? – not only didn’t disagree; he actively agreed.
Soon after, he was talking with a guest about Obama’s “pay czar.” This is another stupid idea of the administration, and Beck was right to lambaste it. He was also, I thought, on a good tack when he pointed out that many politicians looking into CEO salaries had never worked in the private sector in their adult lives. He mentioned in this regard Sen. Dodd and Rep. Frank. He went on to say (I paraphrase): Congressmen make $174,000 a year. Government records indicate that Barney Frank is worth something between $700,000 and $1.8 million dollars. How is it possible that someone who makes only $174,000 a year can be worth so much? Is Beck truly so limited in his knowledge of investments that he thinks that possessing, by age 69, assets between four and 11 times your annual income is anything out of the ordinary?
Beck’s audience continues to grow. To the extent that he is libertarian, this seems to be a good thing. To the extent that he appeals to the most ignorant segment of the American public (also, I fear, a growing segment), it is not such a good thing.