The musings of one Andrew Langer - defender of liberty, passionate protector of individual rights, foodie. (Note: Said Musings of Andrew Langer are his own, and the views represented herein are likewise his views, and not the views of any other people, entities, foodstuffs, etc [unless otherwise specifically and explicitly noted].)

Sunday, April 27, 2008


My friend, colleague, and sometime advisor, Grover Norquist, has written a fantastic book. Called Leave Us Alone: Getting the Government Off Our Money, Guns, Our Lives, it's now available from your nearby bookseller. Essentially, it's the blueprint for the vision of an America true to its limited-government beginnings.

I was fortunate enough to attend a BookTV event for Grover several weeks ago, and CSPAN has now shown it several times. I asked Grover about my Tax Day idea, and got a great response from him.

The event itself is now available at C-Span's BookTV website (link embedded there). You can find my question about 45 minutes into the presentation.

- Andrew

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Happy Belated Tax Day!

Busy day yesterday - so I apologize for not posting anything. But IFL had a great day, policy-wise. But don't just take my word for it. This is from Jeff DuFour, who writes the Yeas and Nays Column for the Washington Examiner:

Dear Taxpayer, Thank You - The IRS
POSTED April 16, 12:24 AM
Would you feel better about sending your hard-earned cash to the government every April 15 if you got, say, a thank-you note in return from Uncle Sam?

Andrew Langer, president of the Institute for Liberty, suggested at a Tax Day news conference on Monday that the government do exactly that.

“We believe that the government ought to provide a receipt to each taxpayer in October of every year — a note of thanks detailing the total amount in federal income taxes paid by the filer for the prior calendar year,” Langer said. “If Americans are to really exercise their oversight roles, then the federal government has its own obligation to ensure that the populace knows exactly what they are paying. And saying thank you is, frankly, just good manners.”

He said the measure is an alternative to moving tax-filing day to October to coincide more closely with elections — an idea that has been popular on the right for some time.

As for the idea gaining any traction in Congress, Langer said his organization is going to start pushing members on the matter.

We did this at the Americans for Tax Reform annual Tax Day Press Conference. Here's my statement:

Statement of Andrew M. Langer, President

Institute for Liberty

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Happy filing day. I’m Andrew Langer, President of the Institute for Liberty, and with me at the podium is Kerri Houston, IFL’s Senior Vice President for Policy. IFL is an advocacy organization focusing on combating the tyrannies of government, especially as those tyrannies harm small business and entrepreneurship in America.

The power to take private property has always been regarded as, “the despot’s power.” And as income is the property of the person who earns it, the power to tax is part and parcel of that despotic power: apt to be abused and requiring the utmost care, attention, and oversight by the people.

For small business, taxes (both the complexity of the code and the amounts taken) continue to be of grave concern. The same holds true for taxpayers generally, but their ability to exercise their personal oversight is blunted by the withholding process. Withholding blunts the sting of taxation, and clouds the overall impact.

Some have called for filing day to be moved to the fall, to better link the payment of taxes with the exercise of one’s franchise rights. Perhaps if the idea of what one pays in taxes were fresher in the minds of Americans when they step into the voting booth, then many Americans who vote without a care for their tax burden might think more about the relationship between the candidates they support and what they are paying each and every year.

IFL agrees with that sentiment, but has an idea that might not be as complex as having to move filing day. If the “tax faction” truly believes that taxes are the price for living in a civil society, and ought to be the grateful obligation of a nation’s citizenry, then perhaps a note of thanks to the populace for fulfilling those obligations might be in order.

We believe that the federal government ought to provide a receipt to each taxpayer in October of every year – a note of thanks detailing the total amount in federal income taxes paid by the filer for the prior calendar year. If Americans are to really exercise their oversight roles, then the federal government has their own obligation to ensure that the populace knows exactly what they are paying. And it ought to be thankful – it’s just good manners for a thank you note to be issued.

Thank you again for coming out this morning. We would be happy to answer any questions you might have.


And here is the Press Release:

Advocacy Group Calls for Federal Tax Thank You Note

“It’s Just Good Manners”

Washington, DC – At a press conference held this morning, the Institute for Liberty called on the federal government to issue a thank you note six months after taxes are filed, saying that the government ought to be thankful that the citizenry are fulfilling what many believe to be the price of citizenship.

“We believe that the federal government ought to provide a receipt to each taxpayer in October of every year – a note of thanks detailing the total amount in federal income taxes paid by the filer for the prior calendar year,” said Andrew Langer, the institute’s president. “If Americans are to really exercise their oversight roles, then the federal government has its own obligation to ensure that the populace knows exactly what they are paying. And saying thank you is, frankly, just good manners.”

IFL is an advocacy organization dedicated to what it terms the “petty tyrannies” of government, specifically those that impact small business and entrepreneurship. Its motto is “Defending America’s Right to Be Free.” Taxes remain a primary issue for small business owners and entrepreneurs, both with regards to the complexities of the tax code and the sheer burden of what they owe each and every year.

“As income is the property of the person who earns it, the power to tax that income is part and parcel of the other powers to take private property,” Langer further explained. “The power to take private property has always been regarded as ‘the despot’s power’…apt to be abused, and requiring the utmost care, attention, and oversight by the people.”

IFL believes that by furnishing people with an accounting of what they have paid in the previous year, and doing so in the weeks leading to federal election time, that individuals will be more cognizant of their federal tax burden when going to the polls. Having that burden fresh in their minds would lead them to make choices that are more “tax friendly.”

IFL is a 501C(4) advocacy organization based in Virginia.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Republic Explained: The Electoral College

I have been asked by the Queen Anne's County Republican Central Committee to pen a series of articles on American civics. I'm calling it, "The Republic Explained". The first was published last week in one of the local papers, and I'm working on the follow-up piece right now (Super Delegates). I'm thinking about going through the Bill of Rights, and a few selected amendments (the 17th, for instance), as well - and I'm also open to suggestions.

Here's the first one:

When envisioning the Republic, the Founding Fathers were mindful of a number of different things, balancing powers most especially. The founders were distrustful of centralized power, and recognized that competing interests would require that the demands of a majority group be weighed against the impact of those demands against the rights of a minority group (political or otherwise). Thus, we are not a pure democracy, but a representative republic—and, the American Electoral College was born out of those precepts.

One of the challenges to the Republic, the founders knew, would be the inherent conflict between the interests of rural Americans and those who lived in cities. Different things are important to people living in farming communities than to those who live within urban centers—there are different public policy priorities, at the very least, and possibly different sets of values and societal mores. But in a pure democracy, regions with the highest populations would drive the public policy agenda, potentially sacrificing the interests of those in rural or desolate regions on the altar of the regions with the most people.

When it comes to the Chief Executive, in charge of enforcing the laws passed by Congress, it becomes that much more important. The founders didn’t want the selection of the President to be by “urban center fiat”, so they devised a mechanism to level the playing field. It is akin to how the World Series is played: it isn’t decided in one single game, or which team scored the most runs in a series of different games. It is broken down into a “best of seven” contest, leveling the playing field by allowing each time numerous chances to score incremental victories.

As initially envisioned, each state gets a number of votes equal to the sum of the number of House members plus the number of Senators. That way, even the states with the smallest population have a minimum of three votes, and are thus equalized. Moreover, when combined, the electoral votes of these smaller or less populous states could challenge or overcome the electoral votes of larger and more populated ones. Thus, the common interests of more rural states could be effectively aggregated, and their rights protected.

Each state is allowed to select its electors in its own way. Generally, states assign electoral votes based upon who wins the popular vote in each state (I’ll leave the complexities of voting for individual electors, faithless electors, etc, for another time). In recent years, some states have considered changing their procedures, some opting for an approach which divides electoral votes based upon the percentage of the popular vote – so instead of a “winner take all” method, one candidate might get two thirds of the electoral votes, another candidate only one.

Because of the 2000 election, and the possibility that a candidate who wins the popular vote might still not win the presidency because he failed to attain the electoral college votes needed, some individuals (and their states) are pushing for comprehensive reform. Some want to move to a purely popular vote, and some, like Maryland, want to move to a system in which the state assigns their electoral votes to the person who attains victory in the popular vote on a nationwide level.

Both, however, would undo the protections laid out by the founding fathers, and ultimately harm, rather than protect, the citizenry. Maryland is but one state of fifty in the union, and like every other state is unique in its character, history, and citizenry. Our state has different priorities, even from its neighbors on each and every side. Sure, we have a great deal in common, but we have tremendous differences.

It is because of those differences that we might wish to place our votes differently than Virginia or Delaware or Pennsylvania, not to mention California, Utah, and Washington state. We ought to have a right to make our voices directly heard in the process, not simply caught up in the din of 100 million votes cast!

The fact is, in the 2000 election, the mechanism laid out by the founders worked precisely as they envisioned that it would. There was a stark contrast between the issues of import to urban Americans and the issues that were important to rural Americans, and their electoral choices can be seen on maps identifying county-by-county how Americans voted. Ultimately, the rights of those rural Americans were protected by the Electoral College

In Liberty,

Andrew Langer

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Honoring The Conscience of a Movement

Andrew Langer with RJ Smith

Everybody involved in politics and policy needs people who stand behind them. And I don’t just mean for support – I mean people who sit there and question what they’re doing, the positions they take, the issues they either work or don’t work on, how far they’re willing to push. A Jiminy Cricket, in essence.

For me, one of those people has been Robert J. (“RJ”) Smith. RJ is, in my opinion, the academic dean of the property rights movement. The movement has its firebrands, like Chuck Cushman. It has its tacticians, like Ron Arnold. It has its field commanders, like Mike Hardiman.

But RJ has been the movement’s historian, the conceiver of many of its tenets, the engineer of the bedrock principles. And I was fortunate yesterday to attend a ceremony honoring RJ for his years of service to the movement. The event, sponsored by CEI, the Heritage Foundation, and the National Center for Public Policy Research, took the opportunity of “Private Conservation Day” to bestow upon RJ a lifetime achievement award.

Of course, Private Conservation Day is a holiday conceived by RJ himself. Recognizing the near-monopoly on environmental philosophy that the statist-left has, and how April’s Earth Day perpetuates that near-monopoly, RJ thought that the time had come to create a day that would recognize the essential role private property, and private property rights, play in environmental protection. The day he selected was April 12 – the birthday of Thomas Jefferson, one of the first proponents of harnessing the power of private property rights in both preserving and conserving our natural heritage.

Rather than give you a bland recitation of RJ’s history (which would pale in comparison to the stirring recount given by Myron Ebell at yesterday’s event), I’d rather give a testimony as to what RJ Smith has meant to me.

I first met RJ while I was a fledgling member of the property rights movement, working as a reader for Roger Marzulla, a blind attorney and one of the best property rights lawyers in the country. It was pure serendipity that I came to be in Roger’s service, as what I learned while working for him set the stage for what was to come in my life down the road.

We were working on Endangered Species Act reform then, and when I went to work for Defenders of Property Rights, I started working with RJ more directly on a host of other issues as well. RJ was one of the people who taught me about the destructive nature of the ESA, and how that law’s backwards principles actually serve to harm more species than they help.

It was when I started working at CEI that we began to really discuss the future of the property rights movement more directly, voicing concerns about a host of internal and external pressures that could have had a devastating impact on that important force for change. RJ conceived of Private Conservation Day, and I set about to write a resolution for members of Congress to sign (the one signed by the late Congressman Helen Chenoweth Hage was on display yesterday).

But it was after I let CEI that RJ had his greatest impact on me. I had been contemplating putting together a working group on property rights in DC, to strategize for both the near and long term. Because of my relatively-new job, I’d put that working group on the back burner. But RJ became seriously ill, and that moved me into action. I knew that any working group’s success would hinge in no small measure of the counsel of RJ, and so we needed to put it together. And we did. Some of the work of that group is still being used by Congressional staffers, from the “Omnibus Property Rights” bill concept, to smaller portions of that (like the call for a full inventory of federally-owned lands, again being considered by Congress this spring).

When other things took precedence over the property rights issue on my agenda, RJ was constantly there, pushing, in that inimitable way that only RJ Smith can. For all his academic vigor and his western upbringing, sometimes the brusqueness of his New York tenure can shine through (and those of you who know him know the off-color phrase to which I refer). “Langer,” he would say, “I hear you’ve abandoned us.”

Of course I hadn’t. And RJ knew it. But he knew that property rights are one of my greatest passions, and that I needed a bit of a nudge from time to time to bring me back.

Yesterday, RJ inspired me once again. He mentioned one of my pet issues, something I haven’t written or spoken on in several years (take a look at my speech to the Property Rights Foundation for America’s Conference in 2003, I believe): the Private Lands Pledge. Much like the taxpayer protection pledge conceived by my friend, Grover Norquist, and put out by Americans for Tax Reform, this would be a resolution for elected (and, frankly, executive branch officials) to sign, stating that there would be “no net loss of private lands”.

I’ll write more on this later, but to summarize, while I want us to consider disposing of certain public lands (after we get an inventory, we can get a real handle on exactly what we owe), at the very least we have to stop acquiring new lands. Or if we’re going to acquire new lands, then we need to dispose of a commensurate amount, acre for acre.

This will be an issue the Institute for Liberty will work on. No two ways about it. I could honor RJ with more flowing praise here, but for him, deeds have always been louder than words. And this way, he knows that I haven’t abandoned the movement.

Congratulations, RJ. Thanks for doing what you do, thanks for doing what you have done, and thank you for providing us with the inspiration to carry on your hard work for years to come.

- Andrew Langer

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Godspeed, Charlton Heston.

One of my favorite movies when I was a boy was "Planet of the Apes." Actually, I was a fan of the entire series - I used to love it when WABC (Channel 7 in New York) would run "Planet of the Apes" week on their 4:30 movie (anyone remember the 4:30 movie? Here's the intro:

So, it's with great sadness that we note the passing of Charlton Heston - fighter for conservative causes, champion of individual rights, and actor in a number of my favorite films.

I'd never seen "The Omega Man" until a few years ago, but it remains high on my list of favorite campy 70s movies. Yes, I do like those post-apocalyptic forays (Road Warrior, The Postman, The Stand, etc) - and Heston's "Robert Neville" is an intellectual zombie-slayer of the highest order (played very differently, but no less-admiringly, by Will Smith in the recent remake).

Heston's earnest, optimistic, anti-luddite Neville could be thought of as an allegorical representation of modern conservatism, pushing hard against the forces trying to undo centuries of progress. Perhaps he's the ultimate "rugged individualist"?

In any case, if you haven't seen "The Omega Man" - do so. Here's the trailer:

Safe travel, Mr. Heston.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Defending America's Right To Be Free

I promised a big announcement late last week.

Here it is:

After 6 years, I'm leaving NFIB at the end of this week. Yes, it's true. Some of you have heard the rumors, other have heard it directly from me. It's been a wonderful run, but a great opportunity was presented to me, and I simply can't pass it up.

Jason Wright, founder of an organization called the Institute for Liberty, approached me a little while ago, along with my old friend, Kerri Houston. Jason, who has written a number of books (one of which is being turned into a movie), was cycling out of IFL, and Kerri had shared with him some of my thoughts about needed entities in the policy world. So we sat down and chatted, and Jason asked me if I would like to take over as President of IFL.

How could I not?

IFL has, up until now, been largely focused on tech policy. We're going to be refocusing and rebranding the organization, dealing with what I call the "petty tyrannies" of government: the little things that add up to very big things over all, and impede, frustrate, and kill small businesses in America. IFL will be about the intersection, mostly, of federal executive branch policy and small business and entrepreneurship, building on the work that I have been doing for the last 6 years at NFIB. It is a perspective that is very much needed in this community, and I hope to lend it.

For those of you who know me, you know that I have relished my job at NFIB. Fighting on behalf of America's small businesses at NFIB is a real passion for me. At IFL, I will carry on that work, dealing with a wide variety of issues, including what I call the "incremental nature" of regulation, something few, if any, are talking about.

Here is a mock-up of the logo. We're still tinkering with it. The motto is right up in the title: defending America's right to be free. We're also working on a website rebuild. If you want to see what we have right now, the url is

What's great is that I can get back to, in my guise as President of the Institute for Liberty, of updating my blog on a regular basis (you'll notice, by the way, that while we're still, I have changed the blog title to "Langer's Liberty Blog". That was a conscious decision.).

I'm also writing a book, "The War on Small Business" (and looking for great stories from real small businesses).

So that's what's been happening. To me, this is a big change. I've loved my time at NFIB, but am really excited about the challenges of running this organization.

And I look forward to sharing a lot of it with you.

- Andrew Langer