It’s been almost 6 years since we started recording Free Thoughts. We take today to look back on our 300 hours of recording. Nora Powell hosts Trevor and Aaron to discuss how we are fighting for freedom through podcasting. Are you a libertarian because of our show? Please reach out to us so we can meet you and thank you.
We would like to thank all of our listeners for staying loyal and engaged each and every week. Cheers!
00:08 Nora Powell: Welcome to the 300th episode of Free Thoughts. I am your host, Nora Powell. And today I am joined by my dad, Aaron Powell and my friend Trevor Burrus. Thank you for coming to the show, guys.
00:18 Trevor Burrus: Thanks for having me.
00:18 Aaron Ross Powell: Thank you.
00:20 Nora Powell: What is an important memory from this experience that you will cherish forever?
00:25 Trevor Burrus: I would say… We interviewed Thomas Sowell. That was pretty incredible, ’cause Thomas Sowell definitely was important to me and Aaron, and when we were thinking about these ideas, that was definitely memorable.
00:38 Aaron Ross Powell: Yeah, I think I have certainly shows that were particularly important or that were particularly fun to do, but in general, it’s just getting to do this show. I’ve said before that when I was in college, I was the guy who showed up to everyone’s office hours to just talk with professors instead of complaining about grades on paper and sort of that.
01:04 Trevor Burrus: I can verify that. He still goes back and sees the professor 20 years later.
01:07 Aaron Ross Powell: I still go back. And this show is now 300 hours into it, has been an opportunity to just get to continue doing that, that I get to ask interesting people if they can sit down and I can pick their brains for an hour, and in almost every instance, they say yes, and I get to do it. And it’s totally fascinating. And I’ve learned a ton of cool stuff and met a ton of really interesting people, and it’s somehow is part of what I get to do for a living, which is quite awesome.
01:38 Trevor Burrus: I agree with all that, it is.
01:40 Nora Powell: What is one of the most important things that you’ve learned from this?
01:43 Trevor Burrus: I think I’ve learned… So our job as hosts is to ask questions and is to clarify what the guests are talking about. I’ve learned to think differently than I’m thinking if I’m talking to someone myself, in terms of what would someone else understand this even though I may understand this thing that they’re saying. And then also how to bring up counter arguments. I think I’m better at that now than I was at the beginning, in terms of why would someone think differently about this? What’s the best counter argument against this?
02:11 Aaron Ross Powell: It’s… I mean, the whole, six years now…
02:15 Trevor Burrus: Yep, six, yeah.
02:15 Aaron Ross Powell: Of doing this has been a learning experience. If you go back and you listen to our earliest episodes, our first handful of episodes, they’re pretty rough. The first one is just us talking, and we haven’t done that a lot since. But even the early ones with the guests, like, just learning how to be a good host, learning how to maintain a flow of conversation, learning the tricks of having two hosts, which is really valuable in some ways because Trevor and I bring different perspectives to the show, we bring different styles to the show, different bodies of knowledge to the show. But it also can be a challenge, because if it’s just you asking questions, you know what you want the next question to be, you know where you want the thing to go next, and you can just do that. You can ask all the questions you want.
03:08 Aaron Ross Powell: But with another host, it’s gotten a lot better, but you can tell sometimes in the early episodes, the guest is talking and I’m thinking like, “This would be a really good follow‐up and I wanna see about this,” and then Trevor will ask instead a question that takes a different direction or I’ll do the same thing. And you have to learn to work with the flow of that, or just learn to anticipate what the other person is going to do. And this is, I think, the benefit of Trevor and me having known each other for 20 years now and have had, back when we were in college having had a lot of opportunities to have a lot of conversations, is that we came into this knowing each other pretty well. But the learning experience was knowing each other as co‐hosts within this context. And the little things, we always tell the guests before each episode. We sit down, and one of the things we say is like, “You’ll see us raise our hand and gesture. And that,” we say, “That doesn’t mean we’re trying to cut you off. Ignore us, keep talking, but it’s just us indicating to each other who’s going to ask the next question or I’ve got a follow‐up and just the flow of that and… ”
04:26 Aaron Ross Powell: And then everything else that goes into conducting a good show, what kinds of guests? What kinds of questions work? I think that both of us have gotten better over the years at anticipating the questions that our audience is probably thinking. You learn that your own ignorance of these topics, because when you’re talking with this many people about all these different things, it’s a lot of topics you don’t know anything about. Your own ignorance of that is an asset, because you can ask like… The prime examples, I think when we had our old colleague Mark Calabria on, about banking policy, like, we asked, “What is a bank?”
05:00 Trevor Burrus: Yes, and we weren’t playing dumb on that one…
05:02 Aaron Ross Powell: No, and these…
05:03 Trevor Burrus: These are things that deserve to be explained by someone like Mark. And I don’t really know it specifically, yeah.
05:08 Aaron Ross Powell: So, playing to that and recognizing that. But it’s all… And then just everything from microphone technique, to all of the stuff that goes on behind the scenes about producing and editing these shows that Evan and Tess and Landry over the six years have worked on, like learning about that, it’s… I’ve just learned so much from doing this. And all of that is independent of just what I learned from talking to the guests who have taught me an incredible amount of things.
05:36 Trevor Burrus: I’m thinking now about my favorite stupid question I asked. I liked your point about, if you don’t know actually what’s going on, you… I… Always say, I ask dumb questions about things I don’t know much about, like foreign policy and monetary policy. So I ask questions like, “What is money?” or, “What is the gold standard?” Or… My favorite one I ever asked was George Selgin asking him, “If you ran a… Before we had a US currency, before there was a centralized US currency, if you ran a store in New Hampshire in 1830, how did you deal with your cash register at the end of the day? Did you just have 50 bills of different states and different banks in your cash register? That seems really strange.” And so those are questions I had no idea about, and those are some of my favorite answer I’ve ever gotten.
06:19 Nora Powell: Other things that you think you would change in future podcasts?
06:24 Trevor Burrus: Well, I’ve always wanted to bring on more non‐libertarians that would be fun. They don’t tend to respond to our emails as readily as people we know who are libertarians who know CATO and maybe appreciate CATO. We have people we email who probably actively hate CATO, and they probably don’t email back. I don’t think they should but they probably do. So I’d love to have more debates of that sort between people in future podcasts. If anyone has any suggestions of guests that you think might be good who would like to come on here and have a constructive conversation about things that we disagree, we’ve had a few but it’d be nice to have more.
07:01 Aaron Ross Powell: Yeah, we certainly… We have had a few and they’ve been some of our best episodes and… But Trevor’s right, that is one thing that I would like to have more of is more people who disagree with the positions that we take. That said, I think one of the things that we have gotten to be pretty good at is anticipating and asking the questions. Even if we have a guest who we for the most part agree with, Trevor and I are good at putting on the hats of people who would disagree with us and the guest and asking the hard questions that they would. They’d be like, “Oh this guy, this is gonna be the question that gets him.” And we can anticipate that and ask those kinds of questions.
07:42 Trevor Burrus: Sometimes it’s so good that our audience thinks that I’m a gun grabber. There’s a… There’s one episode where I interviewed my mentor about guns, and I challenged him so hard that we got an iTunes review that was like, “I thought this was a libertarian podcast, till I realized the host hated guns,” and I was like, “Well, that feels good that I’m not good at playing devil’s advocate, that I actually seem like a gun grabber.”
08:02 Aaron Ross Powell: Yeah, I don’t know if there’s that many specific things that I would like to change versus just continuing to be willing to try new things on the show, bring on guests outside of the range, not just ideologically like people who disagree with us but… At one point we started bringing on more what we call practitioner episodes. People who aren’t…
08:24 Trevor Burrus: Academics.
08:25 Aaron Ross Powell: Talking heads and academics and policy people like we are, but instead are out there doing things in the world, and so the show isn’t really about politics anymore, but more just like, “Tell me what it is and how you do it.” And some of those have been among our best and most popular episodes. So I’d like to continue to explore those kinds of things.
08:47 Nora Powell: Which historical figure would you most likely have in a podcast?
08:51 Trevor Burrus: That’s a really good question Nora. I’m a dork for… I’m a constitution guy so I would like to have James Madison on. You know James Madison don’t you, Nora?
09:03 Nora Powell: Of course.
09:04 Trevor Burrus: I figured. [laughter] I don’t know… I think that you learned that… What? Third grade, fourth grade?
09:10 Nora Powell: Fourth grade.
09:10 Trevor Burrus: Yeah. Yeah. But I think, I’m trying to remember, I had a constitution class or part of my class I think in fourth grade. I think so. Anyway, James Madison would be a interesting guy because it roots relevant to the work I do. Also someone like Julius Caesar. [laughter]
09:26 Nora Powell: Okay.
09:28 Trevor Burrus: He doesn’t really have good libertarian bonafides, and he wouldn’t really know what we’re talking about in terms of government by consent or anything like that, but it would be interesting.
09:39 Aaron Ross Powell: I have to pick either…
09:40 Trevor Burrus: The Buddha.
09:42 Aaron Ross Powell: He would be interesting…
09:43 Aaron Ross Powell: But maybe not as like… I think it would be either Socrates or my probably number one choice would be Diogenes the Cynic.
09:52 Trevor Burrus: Well, Socrates would be really aggravating though ’cause he would just ask us questions until we’re convinced that whatever he’s doing…
09:58 Aaron Ross Powell: It’s what we’re doing right now.
09:58 Trevor Burrus: Whatever he’s doing… I know but he would just be… We’d be like Socrates is our guest and he’s like…
10:02 Aaron Ross Powell: It could not be otherwise.
10:04 Trevor Burrus: It could not be otherwise. Yes so… But that would be fun. Also, I think it’d be interesting to have someone like Joseph Stalin on, about… I’ve always wanted… Joseph Stalin might be a little extreme example but people who did a lot of wrong in history whether or not they’re actually just psychopaths, or they really were trying to do something that they thought was worth it, that would be interesting too.
10:29 Nora Powell: Can you explain why you named this Free Thoughts?
10:32 Trevor Burrus: It’s mine [10:32] ____…
10:32 Aaron Ross Powell: Trevor came up with that.
10:34 Trevor Burrus: Well, it’s a triple a triple entendre. It’s got three meanings I guess at least. It’s free flowing thoughts, it’s thoughts about freedom and no cost thoughts to our listeners.
10:48 Aaron Ross Powell: Right. I would only add to that that it was not… The name was not originally for the podcast, that when Libertarianism.org first launched before we had any podcasts, we had a blog and the blog was called… We for whatever reason decided that the blog needed its own name as opposed to just being the Libertarianism.org blog. And… So the blog was called Free Thoughts. So Trevor came up with that name and then at about the same time that we launched this podcast, we had decided we were going to end having a blog and just have regular articles on the site. So we moved the name over to that, and it’s been I think a pretty good one.
11:23 Trevor Burrus: Do you like the name, Nora?
11:25 Nora Powell: Yes.
11:25 Trevor Burrus: Yeah.
11:26 Nora Powell: Where did the idea of Free Thoughts come from? Where… You didn’t just start making it one day, you had to have been like, “Oh, I wanna do this.” Where did that come from?
11:37 Aaron Ross Powell: I mean… So I think the first motivation was as the people who have known us for years and years can attest to, Trevor and I had a lot of really fascinating conversations. So we were like, “Wow, these conversations we have are so interesting… ”
11:50 Trevor Burrus: Although we would cringe.
11:50 Aaron Ross Powell: “That we now would like to listen in to them.”
11:51 Trevor Burrus: We would so cringe now I’m sure.
11:53 Aaron Ross Powell: Yes. But no, I think it was… We both were fans of a handful of podcasts. So there was EconTalk who we’ve had Russ Roberts the host on the show was a big inspiration. There was also… There’s a show still going on now called, “The Partially Examined Life,” that was a bunch of people getting together and reading philosophy texts and talking about them. And we said, “You know the kinds of stuff that we’re doing with Libertarianism.org, the kinds of ideas that we talk about, the philosophy, the history, the theory that is the core of what we do, would lend itself very well to a show.”
12:35 Aaron Ross Powell: So CATO had a podcast for… ‘Cause it had a podcast for a long time but that show is about public policy and so it is like daily 10 to 15 minutes talking about an expert in a very specific policy field about what’s going on right now largely, and we thought that format doesn’t really match well the kind of stuff that we do at libertarianism.org, which is more abstract and looking at ideas and taking a step back from things. And so we thought based on these largely on Econ Talk and Partially Examined Life, we were like we should do a show that is conversations about libertarianism.org sorts of topics that is longer, that is an hour long. So it gives the topics room to breathe and room for us to explore and we also want a show that was more conversational because we both liked shows that felt like you’re just listening in on an interesting conversation. And so that’s what we wanted with our guests.
13:34 Trevor Burrus: I really wanted to make sure that people got an honest take on libertarianism because many of the ideas are really strange to people. So if you first hear someone say we shouldn’t have public education or we shouldn’t have publicly provided health insurance, or even let’s say legal licensing, what you really wanna do is ask that person questions like, “Are you crazy? Can you possibly support this crazy position?” And my idea was if you gave Michael Cannon or if you gave Neal McCluskey or like enough and you ask them the questions and you said make your case and you ask them the questions that people would want to ask them if they were in the room with them, then at the end of it they might be like, “Okay, that’s not so crazy anymore. I might not totally agree with it, but it’s not so crazy that I think that libertarians are just off the reservation of acceptable ideas. And so if people like podcasts and they wanna hear about new ideas and hear these new ideas get challenged and we could make one like that.” And that was the idea.
14:34 Nora Powell: How does it feel to have been doing this for almost six years?
14:39 Trevor Burrus: Well, I think it’s flown by, but do you think it’s flown by?
14:41 Aaron Ross Powell: Yeah, it’s certainly.
14:43 Trevor Burrus: That’s just the nature, see when you get older, Nora, a year is much shorter.
14:49 Aaron Ross Powell: Than when you’re 10.
14:50 Trevor Burrus: Than when you’re 10. Yeah. So cause you were four, you were on this show when you were four, when we started it.
14:57 Nora Powell: Five.
14:57 Aaron Ross Powell: Five.
14:57 Trevor Burrus: Five, I think you say four in the video.
15:00 Nora Powell: I think I said five.
15:01 Trevor Burrus: No, you when you introduce her, you’re like a four year old from the Washington DC area.
15:05 Aaron Ross Powell: Did I get your age wrong in the video?
15:06 Trevor Burrus: It depends on when we recorded. Anyway…
15:08 Aaron Ross Powell: I was already tired back then.
15:10 Trevor Burrus: And you were very young and you were very tired back then because you had the, well the twins coming up.
15:17 Aaron Ross Powell: Yeah, so yes, it’s flown by. I often… I feel bad sometimes because there are many, many of the 300 episodes that I shouldn’t say this ’cause it’s all of our guests are wonderful and they’re great people and thank you so much for coming on. But after 300 weekly episodes, they’re just like, I’ll go back, I’ll be like, “Oh, we did one on that? We had that?” You just forget some of it. But it’s been incredible. It’s an incredible way to spend six years. It’s been an honor, a privilege to be able to do this.
15:51 Trevor Burrus: I think our catalog is awesome too. If we stopped today, we’re not, but we have like 300 episodes of pretty good education yeah.
16:01 Aaron Ross Powell: Both Trevor and I really proud of this show and what we’d done. So, mainly it’s just been, the six years has flown by, but it’s been an incredible privilege to get to do this.
16:11 Nora Powell: So how has your podcast made an impact on the world?
16:16 Aaron Ross Powell: I distinctly remember maybe four years ago, Nora, that I was heading into work and you asked me why are you going into work or can you just stay home today or something like that. And I said, “No, cause I have to go in and fight for freedom.” And you said, “How is a podcast fighting for freedom?”
16:40 Trevor Burrus: That’s really funny. I think, I don’t remember you telling me that. But Nora’s question is good. How is a podcast fighting for freedom? I actually think it’s extremely important because I am a believer of what Hayek described in his intellectuals in society, secondhand dealers and ideas. So if you wanna change the world in a more libertarian direction, one thing you have to do is you probably need to make more libertarians or more people who believe at least libertarian things about something, about foreign policy or health care or something and make them into voters or make them around. And one of the reasons that we have the ideas that we just have in society that public education is necessary for our government to do, which most people probably believe is that everyone around them believes that. And so I sometimes say that we just need more libertarians and bars.
17:29 Trevor Burrus: Not just ’cause I go to bar a lot as a libertarian. When a conversation breaks out in a bar about the presidential election or what’s going on in a foreign overseas or something, there’s a libertarian in there who’s relatively well informed who says, “Have you guys considered this?” And then you start hearing more and more people be like, when I introduce myself, “Hey, I’m Trevor libertarian.” It’s like, “Oh yeah, my friend Brett’s a libertarian. He kinda makes sense sometimes,” and I guess we’re going for the Bretts of the world. And more and more of people like that who to make libertarianism more of a mainstream position. And overall I think and that’s the mission of a lot of the organizations in a general sense that are involved in libertarianism. And I think in the grand sense it’s been wildly successful.
18:14 Trevor Burrus: I think that in 1975, around the time that our colleague David Bowes got started in this stuff, every time you told someone you’re a libertarian, they had to be like, “I’ve never heard of what that is. I have no idea what that is.” Now, I think that’s less common, much less common. They’ve probably heard of libertarian. They may have really bad ideas of what a libertarian actually is, but hopefully they’ve heard it. And if you have someone who’s listened to a bunch of Free Thoughts episodes and says, “Hey, have you considered this viewpoint or I’m gonna vote for a more libertarian direction,” then I think that does slowly can change the world. And I hope, I think that there’s probably someone out there. And if you’re there, if you are out there, you can send me an email who is probably a libertarian because of this show. I’ve had people come up and tell me at student events that this has been very influential on them. But I think there’s probably at least one person out there who would make that claim.
19:08 Nora Powell: Okay.
19:08 Trevor Burrus: And that just feels nice by itself.
19:10 Aaron Ross Powell: We’ve had, we’ve had interns who have said…
19:12 Trevor Burrus: Yes, yeah, that’s true.
19:13 Aaron Ross Powell: The reason that they ended up as a Cato intern is because they found Free Thoughts, and to speak to what Trevor said, we have tried very hard in this show to speak to that audience, that we try not to, we don’t want to make this a show just for Libertarians. We wanna make this a really interesting show about lots of interesting topics and conversations with lots of interesting people that anyone will find valuable, and then we also talk about these things from our perspective, which happens to be a libertarian one, but we want it to be a show that is approachable by all sorts of people and I know that this is a show that people are like… So a libertarian listens to this and is like, “This is the show that I recommend to my friends and I’ve gotten my friends listening to it and you know they’re still, they haven’t been convinced yet, but this is the only libertarian show that they listen to”, and I think that’s really valuable too, because it’s one thing to get people to call themselves a libertarian, but that’s not what really matters.
20:21 Aaron Ross Powell: What matters is that more and more people embrace the principles we do of equal treatment and respect for rights and individual liberty and freedom and human dignity and all of the values that are so important and to the extent that they do that and that they understand why these are important and they put them into practice, that’s a victory for us no matter what label the person ultimately affixes to themself. And I think it’s always anecdotal, like we just hear from people who come up to us at events or interns who come talk to us or emails that we get, but it feels like we have been successful by doing just that.
21:02 Trevor Burrus: I think we have. I don’t know Nora, have you listened to all, a bunch of episodes of Free Thoughts? [chuckle] You can say no too [21:09] ____.
21:09 Nora Powell: Not yet, but I’m planning on it.
21:11 Trevor Burrus: You’re planning on it, okay.
21:12 Nora Powell: Okay. So do you have any regrets in regard to the podcast?
21:21 Aaron Ross Powell: I don’t know really have any regrets. There are certainly times when I’m like, “Oh, I really don’t wanna go down there and record another episode right now.” [chuckle]
21:29 Trevor Burrus: It’s usually when we record like four in a week.
21:30 Aaron Ross Powell: Sometimes when we record four in a week. So there are times when I’m like, “What have I gotten myself into?” but that’s not quite the same as like regrets about the show.
21:42 Trevor Burrus: Yeah, I’ve had a couple of times when we’ve had people on who I was disagreeing with, but you’re probably not aware of how much time has gone by and you wanna make sure that you cover some other things. But I’ve left some stuff on the table or they said something that was pretty ridiculous and/or wrong or needed to be questioned in some way, and I’ve been like, “Well, okay, moving on”, because we don’t have infinite amount of time, we try and keep between 45 and 50 minutes roughly, and you can’t go after everything. So that would be probably regrets. Sometimes when I didn’t email people, or get back to, email people, or maybe like follow up enough ’cause I’ll get no responses sometimes to some people, maybe I’ll follow up one more time and but maybe try again a few months later or something for people who you’d really are consider reach guests, maybe that you’d be extremely happy for them to come on that would be great. But overall I think we’ve done a pretty good job.
22:42 Nora Powell: Do you have any thing that your fellow libertarians would find interesting about you?
22:46 Trevor Burrus: Interesting about me? Just libertarians or…
22:54 Nora Powell: Anyone.
22:54 Trevor Burrus: Or anyone?
22:54 Nora Powell: Anyone.
22:54 Trevor Burrus: Anyone. I used to play in a bunch of kind of weird bands back in the day, I took five years off between undergrad and law school. I don’t know, Aaron, what is, is there anything interesting about me?
23:09 Aaron Ross Powell: Interesting things about you?
23:09 Trevor Burrus: I can tell you interesting things about Aaron, yeah. When I met Aaron he had blue hair, I think Nora has heard this and red hair.
23:16 Aaron Ross Powell: It’s been red.
23:17 Trevor Burrus: Not like red like mine, but red like dyed red.
23:19 Nora Powell: I’ve heard that he’s dyed his hair, but I didn’t know that when you met him, he had his hair like that.
23:24 Trevor Burrus: Yeah.
23:24 Aaron Ross Powell: Yeah, that was, that was…
23:24 Trevor Burrus: He thought…
23:24 Aaron Ross Powell: During my hair dying period.
23:25 Trevor Burrus: He thought he was punk rock. He still kinda does.
23:27 Nora Powell: How long ago was that?
23:28 Aaron Ross Powell: I was pretty Punk Rock. In high school, that’s all I did was going to punk rock shows in Detroit…
23:34 Trevor Burrus: I know. I know.
23:35 Aaron Ross Powell: Which is a very punk rock city.
23:36 Trevor Burrus: That is a very punk rock city.
23:36 Nora Powell: How long ago was that?
23:37 Trevor Burrus: 20 years ago.
23:37 Aaron Ross Powell: That was 20 years ago.
23:38 Trevor Burrus: 2000 or 1999.
23:40 Nora Powell: Wow!
23:41 Aaron Ross Powell: There might be some pictures.
23:42 Trevor Burrus: I heard you’re getting pretty punk, Nora.
23:43 Nora Powell: Yeah.
23:43 Trevor Burrus: Yeah, yeah.
23:44 Nora Powell: I have quite a few girl rock bands that I love.
23:48 Trevor Burrus: Oh, so you’re taking after your dad, so Aaron’s punk.
23:50 Nora Powell: Yeah, my dad got me into Sleater‐Kinney.
23:52 Trevor Burrus: Yeah, there you go. And I’m more on the metal side than the punk side, I used to have a studio in my house. I always say that my two obsessions are music and liberty, human freedom, which are actually the same thing, if you think about it in the right way. What else? What other is interesting? I mean I’m from Colorado and never really moved. My parents, my…
24:13 Nora Powell: You’re from Colorado? I never knew that!
24:14 Trevor Burrus: Yes, you did. How do you not know that?
24:16 Nora Powell: No, I didn’t!
24:17 Trevor Burrus: Oh, really? Okay, I guess… Actually I guess I never knew you in Colorado. I mean even though you were born in Colorado, and I was there right after you were born, I’ve been here pretty much all your memories. Yeah, I’m from right on the other, right on the south side of Denver, and my parents still live in the house I grew up in.
24:33 Aaron Ross Powell: Yeah.
24:34 Nora Powell: Oh wow!
24:35 Aaron Ross Powell: One answer to this question is that Trevor and I have been pretty open about all sorts of, like so long‐time listeners probably no most of the interesting stuff there is to know about…
24:44 Trevor Burrus: Aaron’s a bat man guy.
24:44 Aaron Ross Powell: Both of us.
24:45 Trevor Burrus: I’m a Daredevil guy.
24:45 Aaron Ross Powell: That is true. We’ve had, one of these days, there’s the regret is that we have not yet done a knock‐down‐drag‐out episode about Batman versus Daredevil.
24:54 Trevor Burrus: True, yes. [chuckle]
24:55 Aaron Ross Powell: So maybe for 350, that’ll be the treat for long‐time listeners, but let’s see. I am a published novelist.
25:06 Trevor Burrus: Yeah.
25:07 Nora Powell: Does everybody know that you’re a dad of three children?
25:09 Aaron Ross Powell: Yes.
25:10 Nora Powell: And that you own a cat that you hate?
25:12 Aaron Ross Powell: Yes. I haven’t really talked about the new cat but…
25:15 Trevor Burrus: Oh, you mean Urgle?
25:16 Aaron Ross Powell: Nurgle.
25:16 Nora Powell: Yeah, Nurgle.
25:17 Trevor Burrus: Nurgle’s pretty violent, I hear, yeah.
25:19 Nora Powell: Yeah.
25:19 Aaron Ross Powell: It turns out that if you name a cat after a chaos demon, it turns out poorly [chuckle] but… Yeah, but so I wrote a novel, I published a novel. Did not sell a whole lot of copies.
25:31 Trevor Burrus: But it’s very good, I highly suggest it. It’s called The Hole.
25:33 Aaron Ross Powell: I enjoy it.
25:35 Trevor Burrus: Aaron used to run a very, very big role playing gaming website.
25:39 Aaron Ross Powell: Yeah, for a while, I ran…
25:41 Trevor Burrus: Tabletop.
25:41 Aaron Ross Powell: Some of my friends and I ran the, what was the largest tabletop gaming website in the world, called The Gaming Outpost.
25:49 Nora Powell: Wow.
25:49 Aaron Ross Powell: So I did that all throughout college, which was a lot of fun, and I got to know lots of people who are now big names in the tabletop gaming industry, to the extent that one can be a big name in the tabletop gaming industry.
26:03 Trevor Burrus: And wasn’t that website once part of the IGN collective, and you went to Comic‐Con, or Dragon Con, or something?
26:08 Aaron Ross Powell: Yeah, yeah, I got to do some fun stuff. So, I did all of that. So basically, I’m, this kind of stuff, I’m even more nerdy than I seem on the air.
26:18 Trevor Burrus: Oh, I got one. Aaron and I used to run a T‐shirt business.
26:22 Aaron Ross Powell: We did.
26:24 Trevor Burrus: Called IdiotShirts.org. It was org or did we have com?
26:28 Aaron Ross Powell: I think it was dot com.
26:28 Trevor Burrus: Dot com. And it was just pictures of famous people with the word idiot under them. So if we’d have a picture of Che Guevara and it would say idiot. And we sold a bunch of these…
26:39 Trevor Burrus: To a bunch of people. It got pretty strange, we had a bunch of strangely abstract ones, like Thomas Aquinas, or George Custer.
26:47 Aaron Ross Powell: The Immanuel Kant one sold a lot of copies.
26:50 Trevor Burrus: Yeah, the Immanuel Kant, probably to objectivists. But, yeah, we had that domain name and we ran ads on Something Awful, and that was pretty fun.
26:58 Aaron Ross Powell: Yeah, yeah.
27:00 Trevor Burrus: Do you have any idiot shirts left?
27:01 Aaron Ross Powell: I don’t think so.
27:02 Trevor Burrus: No?
27:02 Nora Powell: Could I have one to wear to school?
27:05 Trevor Burrus: I think I have my Lennon and my Ralph Nader one, and I have the original Che Guevara one I made at Boulder, which is how the idea happened, ’cause I was sick of seeing Che Guevara t‐shirts at the University of Colorado Boulder. Yeah, I guess those are moderately interesting things.
27:21 Nora Powell: So we all know that people aren’t born Libertarian, Democratic, or Republican, they make these decisions during adulthood. What information helped you make your decision?
27:31 Trevor Burrus: Wow, that’s a really good question.
27:34 Aaron Ross Powell: You came to it earlier than I did, so you start.
27:37 Trevor Burrus: Yes. But a lot of the stuff that I believed I think… Libertarian me now would’ve called the self‐described libertarian at 15 probably just moderately libertarian, ’cause I wasn’t very libertarian on foreign policy.
27:50 Aaron Ross Powell: Yeah, you were a neocon in college.
27:52 Trevor Burrus: But I also never studied it and stuff. I mean, I wasn’t a neocon, but I think I was for the Iraq War, but I kind of came into libertarianism, totally domestic policy, economics. Okay, I always say that I’m a libertarian and I considered myself one since I was about 13, because I hate liars, and bullies, and I’m stupid. Those are the three things that… So when I was about 13, I got into this question about recycling and whether or not you should recycle. And I bet, Nora, in school, what have you learned about recycling in school? That you should always do it?
28:29 Nora Powell: Yeah. Did you think that you shouldn’t do it?
28:32 Trevor Burrus: Well, it didn’t makes total sense to me. Well, okay, so I go to my dad and I go, “Why are we recycling everything all the time? What are we doing? We shouldn’t be recycling everything all the time.”
28:42 Nora Powell: And wait, how old were you?
28:43 Trevor Burrus: Or sorry, I meant we should be. I was like 12 or 13. So, I said, “We should be recycling everything all the time,” ’cause I just went to school and I was told that recycling always mattered. And so I was giving my dad crap about that. So I’m like, “Why aren’t we recycling everything?” And my dad gives me a column by Thomas Sowell, who I mentioned previously, about recycling. And what that column actually said was, it asked the question about… The first line was something like, “When is something trash and when is it a resource?” And that struck me as very fascinating. And I ask you that question, Nora, so how do you know the difference between trash and a resource?
29:19 Nora Powell: Resources you can reuse.
29:22 Trevor Burrus: Yeah. Well, you could you could reuse toilet paper, but we don’t. We could…
29:28 Nora Powell: That would be pretty disgusting.
29:29 Trevor Burrus: It would be, but if you’re living on the space station, there’s a lot more like things you have to reuse, because things are rarer. So in some sense, you know the difference between trash and a resource, because a resource is valuable in a way that a trash isn’t. And there are some things we should throw away and some things we shouldn’t, but it’s not always the same things. That’s basically what this article told me. And I was really, really amazed by this, and then I was really, really mad that my teachers never told me any of this stuff.
30:02 Trevor Burrus: That all they did was tell me that recycling is always worth it. So being the somewhat argumentative chap that I am, I went back into school, and I started arguing with my teachers, and making them mad, and all this stuff. And then I started reading everything by Thomas Sowell and a bunch of other things. And the kind of rest is history to some extent. So, in that basic sense when you… Oh, to your question, Nora, about what facts would you need to know, ’cause you’re not born a Democrat, or Republican, or Libertarian, some of it was just basic economics. That meant a lot to me in terms of my development.
30:38 Aaron Ross Powell: For me, I kind of came to politics a lot later, like wasn’t terribly engaged or interested in it until I got to college. I mean, hanging out in the punk rock scene in Detroit, you got a fair amount of it, like Noam Chomsky pamphlets on sale everywhere. But I didn’t really have strong opinions one way or another. I was kind of just on the left, because that was what the people I knew were. Although, as I go back and self‐examine, I suppose, I think there was a factual element to it, that I was… I had leftist kind of economic views, because I just didn’t know much about the topic, and that was what people around me were saying. But temperamentally, I think I always was more libertarian. And so I was very Libertarian on, or what I came to learn was Libertarian, on a lot of social and cultural issues. So, for me, it was learning… It was largely learning the facts about economics and be like, “Oh, well, this sort of thing carries through all the way.”
31:52 Aaron Ross Powell: And this gets to it’s facts that matter. You need arguments, having facts to support your arguments is important, but it’s also just the kind of opportunities you have to explore them. So what got me into libertarianism wasn’t a set of facts dropped on my plate. It was meeting Trevor in a literature course, and having many, many, many long conversations over two, three years about these sorts of things, and playing with the ideas, and hashing them out, and trying out arguments against each other, and reading and exploring the ideas on top of that. But it was that kind of human contact that convinced me, in a way that had I just been reading like some blog posts, or, YouTube didn’t exist at that time, but YouTube videos or whatever, that wouldn’t… I think that it’s… And it’s similar to going back to like part of the value of Free Thoughts, which is introducing to these people to these ideas in a way that is that the libertarian at the bar kind of way. That you get to know people who have these ideas, and you’re like, “Well, it turns out, now that I know them well and I’ve heard them for a while, these people aren’t… Some of them might still be crazy, but they’re not as crazy or they’re not crazy in the same ways as I thought before, and so I’m more willing to listen.”
33:19 Aaron Ross Powell: And so, for me, that’s what it was, it was those conversations that had factual elements, and I’m sure lots of, again if we went back and listened to those conversations now, we would cringe at how little we knew about all sorts of things. But that was what played out for it, and I think that’s part of the real way you go about convincing people, and not just of libertarianism, but of any kind of new set of ideas is that personal interaction.
33:44 Trevor Burrus: I was just thinking, it popped in my head, we were… So we were 20, 21, 22, and we’re having all these conversations, and mostly it’s actually about economics, I mean, ultimately. Facts, at least policy facts. We weren’t talking about political obligation theory or things like that very much on the way we talk about it now.
34:02 Aaron Ross Powell: Yeah, these weren’t deep philosophical conversations at this point.
34:04 Trevor Burrus: Yeah, it was much more about economics and policy stuff. And so I’m thinking now, what if we were interns at Cato when we were 20, 21, and 22, and saw your political obligation lecture? I think we would be totally into it. But you would probably hate young you, if young you was an intern. Like, “These kids don’t know anything. Oh my God, he just came up to me and asked all these dumb questions about… ” So, [chuckle] I’m not sure what I’d think about young me, but I’m pretty sure Aaron would hate young Aaron.
34:35 Aaron Ross Powell: I don’t know about hate.
34:38 Aaron Ross Powell: Be annoyed by…
34:40 Nora Powell: So what does it mean to you to be a Libertarian?
34:44 Aaron Ross Powell: For me, it means taking other people seriously as people, as say a deep recognition of a shared humanity and a shared value, not value systems, but just value as people sharing this world, doing the best they can, trying to live the best life that they can with the only life that they get, and respecting the right of everyone to do that. And so there’s, yes, there’s all the economic arguments about economic liberty produces more wealth and there’s all sorts of… Like there’s the policy arguments, but for me, at the core of it is that you have ideologies, political views based on: People are instruments to be used to do things, to improve the state of the world, to pay for stuff that I want, to be molded into the kinds of people that I think are valuable and have the kinds of values that I think are best.
35:51 Aaron Ross Powell: And you see that on both the progressive left, which is very much in the, if you’re not thinking the right way, you’re a bad person, and we need to force you to think the right way, or if you’re not supporting the right stuff, or you’re not behind the right causes, there’s something wrong with you, and we should force you into this. And we should use government to take your stuff and give it to people we think deserve it more, and so on. So you’re using people as means to your ends. And on the conservative side, you get exactly the same thing with just a different set of policies. So there’s like a deep kind of disrespect for the dignity of the individual. Whereas, I think that all of my libertarianism is simply saying, “People are worthwhile in and of themselves. And their ability to direct their own lives is the most important thing that they have, and it’s the most important thing for us to respect. And whatever we do, whatever policies, whatever systems we set up, at the baseline level, they just have to respect the basic humanity and dignity of individuals.”
37:01 Trevor Burrus: I basically have the exact same answer, Nora, not to… I guess if we don’t have a diversity, but no surprise, we’ve been doing this together for so long, I’d put it in a different way. Of the policy stuff that I do here, there’s three that I particularly have gravitated toward and written the most on, that would be guns, firearms policy, the campaign finance, and the drug war. And I realize that all of those, all of those areas were this thing that kind of tied them together, was they’re all based in disrespecting people. So the drug war was based in saying, “Well, I don’t think that you can take these drugs responsibly in this very, very paternalistic way,” by people who passed those laws probably went home and had three bourbons before they went to bed, and said, “But you can’t smoke marijuana responsibly.”
37:51 Trevor Burrus: The firearms policy is often based on this idea that people, obviously they can’t own guns responsibly, but there’s a lot of ideas in the gun control literature that it says almost that guns have an effect on people that turn them into psychopaths kind of. That where you give someone a gun and they wanna go out and shoot people. Which is usually… It’s not a causal effect, let me put it that way. And then campaign finance is very much about saying, “If we let people see these ads, if we let people hear this kind of political speech, then they might be brainwashed”, I guess would be the term. I hate the term “brainwashed” by the way, ’cause everything about that is disrespecting people. Brainwashed only describes other people, you never described yourself as “brainwashed”, always other people are brainwashed, which implies that you’re just much better at making decisions or finding information than they are. And you hear that a lot in the campaign finance discussion. “Trump voters are brainwashed.” Or “Hillary voters are brainwashed.” That’s so disrespectful of people in a very fundamental way.
38:51 Trevor Burrus: I’ve often said in my campaign finance talks that people who don’t like campaign finance, corporate money in campaign finance, are just like the guy you knew in high school who was like, “So you can listen to the bands that corporations tell you that you should listen to or you can be a free individual and make your own path, you don’t wanna be a sheep.” Those people drove me crazy in high school because they were so elitist and arrogant and disrespectful of people. The very idea of sheep just makes me cringe all the time because it’s based in disrespect. And you do hear libertarians use that every now and then. There’s a type of libertarianism that I call “clued‐in libertarianism”, which lends itself to that attitude more than what I think it should be, which is a humility about what you can do, how much you can control people life, and an understanding of the unity that I’m an imperfect person with my own vices and foibles. And so is that person… And we’re all trying to do the best that we can do. An if we let that happen in a world of freedom, things work out more often than not and they work out in a way that respects the dignity of other people.
40:00 Nora Powell: Let me ask you, what does this podcast mean to you?
40:04 Trevor Burrus: It’s a really great opportunity to learn and hang out with Aaron.
40:09 Trevor Burrus: We talked about the effect that we hope it has.
40:12 Nora Powell: Yeah.
40:13 Trevor Burrus: Which I think is real and I think hopefully grows. But for me, it’s a great opportunity to learn to be a more informed on a variety of policy areas, meet people who I can interview and have a great time and hang out with Aaron.
40:28 Aaron Ross Powell: Yeah, it’s a helluva lot of fun. It’s… Even on those times when I’m like, “Oh, do I have to… I have to head to another episode in half an hour.” But then as soon as I get into it, I enjoy it. So it’s a real pleasure, it’s doing exactly what I love doing, which is just exploring fun ideas. That’s my favorite thing in the world to do. And it’s a way to take my favorite thing in the world and share it with people and share it with a lot of people which is pretty awesome.
41:03 Nora Powell: Okay, we all know that you will retire at one point. So when you do retire, will you pass this podcast on to maybe another person that came and wanted to work here or will you just end it?
41:17 Trevor Burrus: That’s a really interesting question. All signs point to probably Aaron and I working here till retirement age, so that would be 30 seasons of Free Thoughts or years of Free Thoughts. But I would say no because people listen to podcasts… One of the reasons they continue to listen to a podcast ’cause they like the hosts. And we have variances where it’s just me or it’s me and a guest host or Aaron with a guest host or something like that. But the core is me and Aaron.
41:50 Aaron Ross Powell: Yeah.
41:50 Trevor Burrus: And so, if other people who are young people working at Cato when we retire wanna start a podcast that even has similar type of themes, I think it should be called something different ’cause it’s not me and Aaron.
42:04 Aaron Ross Powell: Yeah, I agree. As just by way of example, we for a few years had a podcast at libertarianism.org called “Liberty Chronicles”, hosted by my colleague, Anthony Comegna. And when he left Cato not too long ago to work somewhere else, there was a discussion of, “Do we continue Liberty… What do we do with it?” And the only right answer was you bring it to an end because this show Liberty Chronicles is Anthony Comegna’s show. It would be weird for someone else to pick it up and continue it. And I feel the same way about Free Thoughts. When Trevor and I retire, I absolutely want… Libertarianism.org is still going strong at that time. They’re off TV…
42:53 Trevor Burrus: If podcasts are beamed directly into your brain.
42:55 Aaron Ross Powell: Yeah, whatever is happening, yes. That there ought to be a show that is an opportunity to have conversations about ideas and libertarianism.org ought to be doing it. But it does feel like we would… I… We would help with that, we would mentor whoever the new hosts are, but it would be their own thing, and parts… So they have the opportunity to build their own thing too and not just… Not be forever burdened with our thing.
43:25 Nora Powell: Now time for our final question. Of the 299 podcasts that you’ve made, which one has been your favorite?
43:35 Trevor Burrus: I listed in these in the fall, what were my top 10. But… And I’d probably have to go with my friend, Shon Hopwood’s episode about being in prison for 11 years and becoming a lawyer and getting out, that was really, really good. And there’s always a few that I… There’s tons that I constantly refer people to. If you wanna know about health care, if you wanna about foreign policy. But Shon’s… Dr. Neu, “Why Can’t You Email Your Doctor?” was a great one. Thomas Sowell, Matt Welch, Nick Gillespie. But if I had to pick one, it would be Shon’s.
44:11 Aaron Ross Powell: This is a hard question to answer because the episodes are so different. And there were episodes where I learned a ton, there were episodes that were with people who I had admired for a long time, there were episodes that were just great stories like the Shon Hopwood one, which was maybe the most… From the host standpoint, the most riveting podcast that we’ve done, where you just… Every question, the answer that was produced was even more crazy than the one before. So just a fantastic story. But if I have to pick a favorite, the one that I was the most excited about, it would have to be our Frank Portman episode, Dr. Frank. Simply because… It was a really fun episode. It was about the politics of punk rock and what those politics looked like in The ‘80s and ‘90s, but it was also just that the first punk rock show I went to when I was maybe 15 or 16, was to see Frank’s band, The Mr. T Experience, play at a small club, in Detroit, and ever since, The Mr T Experience has been my favorite band.
45:35 Aaron Ross Powell: They were the band that I bought every new album the day it came out and saw them every time they came through Detroit, or every time they came through Denver or Boulder when I was in college. And so, just to essentially get to spend an hour chatting with the person… The biggest rock star there is for me was just an utter delight.
46:00 Trevor Burrus: And marrying these two parts of your life is kinda crazy in its own right.
46:02 Aaron Ross Powell: Yes, So that one is probably, all told, my favorite.
46:06 Trevor Burrus: I got a question for you, Nora. When people say, “What does my dad do?” at school or they say, “Well he’s a libertarian think tank.” Or libertarian, what do you say libertarianism is?
46:19 Nora Powell: I’ve never been asked what it was, but I have been asked, yes, the question, “What do your parents do for a living?” I’ll always start with my mom because she has just like the simplest job to explain. She’s an elementary school teacher, and then I go…
46:38 Trevor Burrus: Hard to explain Aaron’s job. Yeah.
46:40 Nora Powell: Yeah, and then I say, “My dad… ” So, when I was a little, I would say, my dad fights for freedom.
46:47 Trevor Burrus: With a podcast.
46:48 Nora Powell: Yeah, and nowadays, I say, my dad works at CATO, which is a libertarian think tank. I also will say, “My dad works at a nerd club.”
47:05 Trevor Burrus: That’s true, it is a nerd club, yes.
47:07 Nora Powell: Yes. So, yeah, whenever anybody asks me what it is, that’s, most at the time, that’s what I’ll say.
47:13 Trevor Burrus: So, do you have an answer to… So, aside from people asking you, what do you think libertarianism is?
47:21 Nora Powell: Well, since I’m only 10 and I don’t know much about politics, I think it’s just an opinion that some people have of politics. I don’t know much about the difference between, say, libertarian and democratic, or libertarian and republican. So, I don’t know the difference between those. I don’t know enough about politics to fully answer that question.
47:51 Trevor Burrus: That’s great. If you’ve been immune with your dad working here, and living in DC, then we fight for a world where 10‐year‐olds don’t have to pay attention to politics.
48:19 Aaron Ross Powell: Thank you for listening. If you enjoy Free Thoughts, rate and review us on Apple Podcast, or on your favorite podcast app. Free Thoughts is produced by Tess Terrible and Landry Ayres. To learn more, visit us on the web at www.libertarianism.org.