MADISON, Wis., August 3, 2013 ― Andrew Kirell, senior editor at the news outlet Mediaite, prides himself on “chronicling the blowhards in political media.” Before joining Mediaite, Kirell worked on John Stossel’s production team at Fox Business and ABC News. Overwhelmed by journalistic magnetism, he decided to forego television production to pursue writing and editorial work.
Kirell, who is heavily influenced by his experiences at George Mason University studying under free-market economics professors like Walter Williams, Byran Caplan, and Don Boudreaux, enjoys using his position at Mediaite to dish out some “equal-opportunity mockery of the Northeast Corridor’s worst bloviators.”
Joseph S. Diedrich: How were you introduced to libertarian ideas?
Andrew Kirell: I grew up with Republican parents who listened to talk radio and bought Rush Limbaugh joke reels on cassette tape. When I was in my early teens, I read books by the likes of Ann Coulter. But around the time of the Iraq War, I began to question my beliefs and become disgusted with conservatism. That process was expedited when I read John Stossel’s first book, which introduced me to brilliant minds like Friedrich Hayek, Frederic Bastiat, and my future professor Walter Williams. Studying under GMU’s economics program only served to cement my libertarian beliefs.
JSD: What is your greatest memory from your time at George Mason?
AK: I went to George Mason University specifically for the libertarian economics professors, but in the pre-Ron Paul days it was not easy spotting fellow libertarians among the student body. One day I wore a “Free State” t-shirt to the mailroom and a friendly stranger noticed it. We became close friends, started a liberty-minded newsletter, and began an initiative of reaching out to find a bunch of all the other hidden libertarians on campus. Now? GMU is a stronghold for libertarian students.
JSD: If you weren’t doing what you are now (as a career), what might you be doing instead?
AK: Not a doubt in my mind: I would be a musician. More than libertarianism or intellectual pursuits, music is my true love. I’ve been in several bands, but as I became more and more enveloped in my career I lost the time to perform and practice with friends. So now I just have a large batch of songs I’ve written by myself, waiting to play for an audience.
JSD: What type music do you listen to?
AK: It really depends on my mood, and I’m tempted to list a thousand artists, but my go-to musicians will always be: Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash, The Walkmen, Arcade Fire, Dr. Dog, Bruce Springsteen. I’ve also enjoyed hip-hop and R&B’s recent creative renaissance with artists like Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, Kanye West, and Miguel.
JSD: In a society more influenced by libertarian ideas, how would art and music be different?
AK: Old school music critics lament how we don’t have a musical spectrum. It’s sort of dominated by large artists that everyone knows. In a society that is freer and more robust, you would have more choice. You would have greater technological advances that would give more empowerment to individuals and reduce the influence of large, bureaucratic corporations. We already have a niche market for everything, and I think we’d have even more access to more choices.
JSD: Do you see potential in Bitcoin, especially in terms of libertarianism?
AK: I think it has great potential. Going around bureaucracy and government to get what we want is the way to create a freer society. In addition, sites like DuckDuckGo and Silk Road help make this happen. Bitcoin is just the beginning.
JSD: What do you think is the greatest hindrance to the libertarian cause?
AK: The state is obviously the greatest hindrance, along with the backwards incentives it creates in a political economy. It’s hard for libertarianism to really take hold on a wide scale because, as Hayek said, the worst get on top; and libertarianism requires that those “worst” types willfully restrain their own power. Fat chance.
That being said, another great hindrance is the reflexive need to defend all things corporate. Big Business can often be one of the greatest enemies of free markets, as the incentives exist for companies to insulate themselves from competition by gaming the political system. When the left attacks corporations, I think a lot of libertarians jump to a knee-jerked defense, but that takes for granted the great deal of overlap we share with the left on issues of corporate welfare and private risk/socialized losses. Companies like Walmart are not automatically virtuous for the wealth they create; they also do questionable things like abuse eminent domain or support feel-good regulations ― for instance, Obamacare ― as a means to harm smaller competitors.
JSD: Do you think a libertarian should take part in politics, especially by voting?
AK: Of course the very libertarian answer of mine is that I don’t like to tell others what they should and should not do. I don’t vote, personally, and I don’t take part in the political process. For me, voting is not the best way to affect change. I think libertarians can do better. I don’t think voting matters: Your vote has an infinitesimally small chance of affecting the outcome of an election. That said, I think everybody has their own choice as to whether or not that can actually advance libertarian ideas.
JSD: What period in U.S. history do you think was the most damaging to personal freedom?
AK: Libertarians love to point to the New Deal as the most loathsome period of American policymaking, but I’d go with Woodrow Wilson’s presidency. His adventurist foreign policy set the tone for many presidents to come, especially the George W. Bush administration and its trillion-dollar expeditions and experiments with what economist Chris Coyne would call “exporting democracy at gunpoint.” Not only did Wilson foreshadow our current foreign policy with bloody, pointless warfare, but his civil liberties abuses like the Sedition Act of 1918 and the Palmer Raids were astounding, even by today’s standards.
JSD: Could you share a personal story that you consider important to your development as an individual?
AK: I’ve long struggled with depression and anxiety problems. It went untreated for a long time, but it all came to a hilt when one night I had a panic attack that landed me in the emergency room. While it was the most terrifying experience of my life, it forced me to confront my issues head-on and take control of my life. I feel I’ve become a much stronger person with a more confident voice and vision because of the therapy and choices made thereafter.
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