Glenn Beck is a polarizing person among libertarians. Some laud him for being one of the few voices on television to criticize both Democrats and Republicans as being equally complicit in growing the size of government and pointing out that there is no significant difference between them. Others view him as a phony usurper of the freedom movement.
This raises even more interesting questions than just about Beck himself: what makes a person a phony? At what point can a person with formerly statist views be considered to have had an authentic change of heart?
The funny thing is that those who think he is a true libertarian tend to watch him; those that think he is a fake do not. I was one of those who did not, and it caused a lot of debate with those who did. Why not watch him? He is interesting, he raises good questions, and so on.
I finally watched him last night as he discussed the book Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. Thaler was my dissertation advisor a few years ago when I received my Ph.D. in Finance from the University of Chicago. I read an early version of their book. I even provided an extra Simpsons reference for them. I am mentioned in the acknowledgments. I have read every single post on the Nudge blog, sent them useful links, and commented on items. In short, I am intimately familiar with the themes and the content of Nudge.
Watching Beck, I discovered the truth about him: neither those who claim him as a libertarian nor those that denounce him as a phony are right. Beck is not a libertarian; he is a deep-seated socialist. But he is also not a phony; it is so deep-seated in him that he doesn’t even realize it.
I had three problems with Beck’s show. The first is that he provides the right conclusions but he gets there with the wrong arguments. This is extraordinarily frustrating to watch. Suppose you like a girl, or a boy. Or you find a particular religious text magnificent. Then imagine how you would feel hearing someone praise your girl or boy, or your religious text, but for all the wrong reasons. You want to simultaneously object and agree. Yes, the object of your heart is wonderful, but not at all in that way. “Thumbelina is beautiful. She is so tall!” Huh?