Ruff House with Howard Ruff
Guest - J. Neil Schulman
Aired Weeks of March 17-23, 1980 & March 24-30, 1980
AP: Ruff House: How To Prosper During The Coming Bad Years, featuring Howard J. Ruff, the Editor of The Ruff Times. This writer has devised a fictional plot so nightmarish it just might happen. Stay tuned for today's guest, novelist, J. Neil Schulman.
Howard Ruff: Welcome to Ruff House. Today we are going to be doing something we haven't done in a long time, we have a novelist with us. You know, we have a different perspective on the show. I don't like to get into anything that I don't think is important. And I don't have novelists just for the sake of helping some one plug their book. But I ran across this book; frankly, it had come to me as a review copy. Publishers send me stuff they'd like me to read and review in my newsletter. But I didn't realize I had it and I picked it up in a bookstore because it looked pretty interesting, read it, and said I've got to have the author of this book on my TV show because it is a marvelously prophetic story. It is called Alongside Night. Just to tell you what it is about, it is a novel of 1999. Now the reason I thought it was a wonderful book is because 1999 in his book looks very much like my scenario for about 1985. 1 happen to think that he is a little optimistic about how long it is going to take to get there but that is not the point. The point is the philosophy in the book, for the most part, is something I can resonate to with some exceptions we will be discussing on the show.
I have with me today then a very interesting young man and I wish I had written a book at his tender age, J. Neil Schulman.
Neil, nice to have you with us on the show.
J. Neil Schulman: Delighted to be here.
Howard Ruff: Sit down and relax.
Neil, is this the first book you've written?
J. Neil Schulman: Yes it is, my first novel.
Howard Ruff: First novel, you've written other things though.
J. Neil Schulman: Mostly articles and short fiction, but this is my first book-length attempt.
Howard Ruff: Did you start out by deciding you wanted to be a writer? Or have you trained as a writer? Was that your purpose in life?
J. Neil Schulman: Well, not trained in any formal sense of having gone to a lot of writing courses or conferences or this sort of thing, but I think all writers train by reading and I read novelists who I enjoyed like Robert Heinlein, and C.S. Lewis.
Howard Ruff: Okay, I assumed you were in science fiction, you named two of my favorite authors.
J. Neil Schulman: Very much into science fiction, fantasy and also some very good mainstream writers.
Howard Ruff: Okay, so what you have written is a kind of social science fiction, in effect, something that takes the present trends in society, particularly inflation, and government regulation, and you have projected it into a future, assuming that the trends continue.
J. Neil Schulman: Yes, what I am doing is I am projecting what I see as the upcoming crises that I think we are going to be facing in this country and probably throughout most of the world too, and essentially dramatizing it to show what these things look like because when you are talking about ideas abstractly you very often don't get a feel for exactly what it is going to be. Incidentally, let me follow up on what you said about 1999. That date was chosen by the publisher to sell the book. I never mentioned a date in the book.
Howard Ruff: They always mess around with that. For example, Paul Erdman, who I've interviewed in the show, wrote a book called The Crash of '79. Well, in Europe it is selling as The Crash of '81. The date doesn't matter.
All right, give us a very brief four sentence synopsis of the plot, without giving anything away.
J. Neil Schulman: Four sentence synopsis. Hero of the book is 17-year old Elliot Vreeland, who is the son of a world famous Nobel Prize-winning free-market economist, Martin Vreeland. And suddenly at the beginning of the book, Elliot finds that he and his family are in great peril because during the economic crisis in his book --of hyperinflation, of the rise of the counter-economy, or what is being called the underground economy, and various revolutionary activities -- his father is critical of the government's statist economic policy, and because of this his family is in great danger and the story follows his attempts to essentially find his family amidst all this chaos.
Howard Ruff: All right. Okay . Let's describe the conditions of chaos that you have here.
It takes place in New York City.
J. Neil Schulman: New York City, a prime candidate for chaos.
Howard Ruff: Absolutely. That's where I don't think New York can hold out until 1999. That's why I think they ought to rename it. But, enough about that. We've beaten that horse.
All right. Now. In New York City you have a runaway inflationary economy that's somehow still managing to function to some degree. In other words, it hasn't all come down around our ears, there are still taxi cabs, there are still airplanes, there is still government, there is still television, and so forth. Many of our institutions are still there, but it is obviously under great stress and strain. There are also free markets which are underground.
J. Neil Schulman: And the underground, which is a central part of the economy of the society which I am portraying is the reason why such things as taxicabs are still functioning because they are functioning as gypsy cabs, or as I call it in the book, taking the word from the French, tziganes, and this is the way that business is being done. It is being done on the underground economy. People are using things other than what I call the New Dollars in the book -- or the blues -- to trade with. They are using gold, they are using silver, they are using a currency from the European Common Market Treaty Organization or EUCOMTO, as I call it -- essentially, United States of Europe -- which is the gold backed currency.
Howard Ruff: Okay. It is interesting to me that when these people get in trouble, the one way they try to be able to carry wealth from one place to another is Krugerrands.
J. Neil Schulman: Mexican 50 Peso pieces. The thing I like about the 50 peso pieces is that they are in grams. In other words, you can calculate in terms of grams.
Howard Ruff: Right, using the metric system. Now, our hero, our 17-year-old boy, in attempting to find his father comes into contact with a whole underground economy he never knew existed.
J. Neil Schulman: That is right.
Howard Ruff: It was interesting to me that there is a part of New York, incidentally, which is sort of off limits to the police, where anybody can do anything. They can all do their own thing. It is sort of by unspoken consent, I guess, it is sort of a free zone where anything goes.
J. Neil Schulman: I have two different sorts of things sort of like variations on a theme, in the book. One is Fifth Avenue, which has become sort of like, as my publisher called it, like a North African marketplace and which anything goes so long as there isn't any violence or violation of property rights.
Howard Ruff: Anything such as?
J. Neil Schulman: Narcotic sales, sexual transaactions, black market trading anything, it's all out in the open and the only rule is don't hit anybody over the head and run away with their wallet.
Howard Ruff: You are really not far away from that. Have you ever been to the combat zone in Baltimore?
J. Neil Schulman: No.
Howard Ruff: Well, I stayed in a hotel where I had to drive through it to get there and they've got several streets there where it's just anything goes, except there you can get hit over the head and have your wallet taken.
J. Neil Schulman: That was the first variation. The second variation is an underground trading center called Aurora, which is the seat of underground agoras -- which is the word from the Greek meaning marketplace, and Aurora in my book is essentially a black market shopping center, which is very tightly secured by a revolutionary group, which is like a protection or police force for the black marketeers. And this is called the Revolutionary Agorist Cadre, and they are the revolutionaries in the book.
Howard Ruff: Okay, now, there is the format folks, obviously a fascinating book. Now, the reason why I got interested in this is I have been postulating in my newsletter, which you may or may not have read, and in my book, that we are facing a runaway inflationary environment that will cause great stresses in the economy. I projected that it would take about four years for a runaway inflation to run its course and you get a collapse of the currency, so that is why I had my 1985 scenario or date, probably. And, I was utterly fascinated to see that someone had arrived at basically the same conclusion of how things were going to work. I was terribly interested in the cross currents where we have some interesting surprises in the book. Maybe we'd better not spring them on people.
J. Neil Schulman: No, it's perfectly okay. Tell them all about it.
Howard Ruff: All right. You've got some interesting surprises where you find out to your absolute and utter amazement, that this young lady that this young man meets and falls in love with turns out to be the daughter of the head of the FBI, who is really the head of the repressive arm of this monster of government that has grown and some interesting confrontations. Very interesting, human people in the book. I resonated to them.
J. Neil Schulman: Well, you know, certainly a novelist tries to do a lot of different things with a book. Obviously, one of the things is the allegory about the political-economic aspects, but also there are personal things I'm trying to bring out, such as, you have Elliot Vreeland and his relationship to his father. And this is like model for the good father, the trusting relationship, and then as a counterpart to that, you have the young lady's relationship with her father and they are very much at odds.
Howard Ruff: She hates his guts.
J. Neil Schulman: She hates his guts. They are both very, very strong personalities, but he doesn't understand her and she can't stand him because she considers that has violated all human decency.
Howard Ruff: I'll tell you when we come back after this break, here is what I would like to talk about. There is a strong thread of libertarian philosophy running through here, and I would like to discuss libertarianism. It is something people are hearing more and more about. I'd like them to know what it is all about. I'd like to discuss the disagreements which I might have with libertarians.
J. Neil Schulman: All right, let's have at it.
Howard Ruff: All right. And we will be back in just a few minutes after these messages.
Howard Ruff: Back again. A fascinating book. Incidentally, if you don't think the book is soundly based economically, he got an endorsement from Milton Friedman. Let's see, you had one from, also, Anthony Burgess, one of the great science fiction writers, the author of A Clockwork Orange.
J. Neil Schulman: He is also equally well-known as the author of the T.V. Jesus of Nazareth.
Howard Ruff: Yes. Incidentally, your hero, your kind of hero that we don't see much of, your Nobel Prize-winning economist, sounds a heck of a lot to me like Milton Friedman.
J. Neil Schulman: Yes, that happened sort of by accident. I was trying to essentially pick out an Austrian school of economics economist as sort of like the role model in this thing and essentially what happened is that halfway through the writing of the book, Milton Friedman got his Nobel Prize and so the similarities started to crop up.
Howard Ruff: So, Vreeland evolved a bit.
Well, look, anytime you want to write a novel with a central figure that is sort of Howard Ruff in disguise, I'd probably endorse it too. That is not so dumb. That is good strategy, I just might use it myself.
All right, now let's look at some of the philosophy of this. Incidentally, the other question about Milton Friedman. Inherent in your philosophy is a hard money philosophy, a gold-oriented philosophy. Milton Friedman is not a gold bug. Milton Friedman says gold has no place in the monetary system at all.
J. Neil Schulman: That is the reason why authors have disclaimers in the front of books to avoid just such difficulties as that. Martin Vreeland is hard money and Milton Friedman isn't.
Howard Ruff: All right, now let's take a look at the whole libertarian philosophy. There are a lot of people that know there are Republicans or Democrats, they've heard there are socialists out there, but the libertarians are really not understood. There are some people who think that libertarians are the wave of the future. I 'm not one of them. For the most part I wish they were. But the libertarian approach in a nutshell says that government or anybody else for that matter has no right interfering in anybody else's life.
J. Neil Schulman: That's right.
Howard Ruff: The less government, the less law we have, the better off we are.
J. Neil Schulman: Not necessarily the less law. I believe that history can demonstrate that law arises out of the marketplace. In the Middle Ages, you had merchant courts and fair courts. The large body of common law which we have today essentially arose through precedents in private arbitrations. I think that you have to distinguish between statutory law and common law, which I believe is much closer to the law of justice which libertarians would believe.
Howard Ruff: All right, well now, of course, a lot of my subscribers are libertarians, and I've been interviewed by Reason magazine, and one of the major publications of the libertarian movement, and you run into the hard money field because most libertarians tend to be hard money Austrian economic school types. And I have some problems with libertarianism. I'm for free market. I'm opposed to government regulation. I think we've got about six times too much government. We'd be better off if it all died and went away tomorrow. If there were no Department of Energy, no FTC, no OSHA, no EPA, or whatever, all of the rest of the alphabet soup. One thing that I've objected to, to much of the libertarian philosophy and realizing that libertarianism is not monolithic and there are differences of opinion, but there is a hard core in the middle. The Rand followers who believe that everything stems from humanism it is essentially, you have to do some gymnastics sort of mentally and emotionally to be a religious person who believes that there is some absolute divine law to be a libertarian, too.
J. Neil Schulman: Okay. I don't think that it necessarily has to follow . . .
Howard Ruff: Not necessary, but it seems to.
J. Neil Schulman: At this point, I don't think that the large body of libertarians are necessarily followers of Rand. She has a great popularity among libertarians but as you say, it is not a monolithic thing.
Howard Ruff: All the writers in this area seems to think she is one of them.
J. Neil Schulman: All right, yes, as a novelist, I'm a great admirer of Rand. I admire her philosophy, but I have disagreements with her too. I think that libertarianism comes down to the following: in other words, it does not make any statement about what your personal beliefs should be, religious or ethical, so long as you are not violating other people's rights. And this is an absolute. This is a moral absolute, that my right to swing my arm ends at your chin. That my property boundary is sacred. You can't cross it without violating my rights. And once you accept this as a moral absolute, then all sorts of these questions become matters of teaching, of getting across philosophy and moral ideas, which of course, is one of the things I'm doing in my book. I'm trying to persuade people peacefully.
Howard Ruff: You know, the only problem with society is that it is not that simple -- right and wrong -- where one person's rights end and another one leaves off. For example, so many cases involve conflicts of rights. In the courts, where rights are definitely in conflict it is going to be decided. For example, in San Francisco, or in Los Angeles recently, the City Council decided that it if an apartment owner were to say, "I am not renting to children," that he was violating the rights of parents who have children to have the free choice of where they are going to live. I think that was a dumbheaded decision. Nevertheless, there were some rights in conflict.
J. Neil Schulman: Well, you see, I don't go along with that. I see rights as a moral absolute. And I don't see that it is something that can be debated in the political arena. The proliferation of rights that we have now of rights to housing, of rights to this, that and the other thing, it seems to me is redefining rights so that it doesn't have any moral meaning any more. Rights as far as I can determine, having studied moral philosophy, essentially means the right to take those actions which are good for my life. In other words, to pursue my own interests so long as in doing so I don't cross anybody else's boundaries and violate their rights. This was formulated a long time ago as the law of equal liberty. And this is the basic moral code of justice of libertarianism.
Howard Ruff: Well, again, that all sounds wonderful, but now you get into such things as homosexual rights -- my right as a parent if I should choose to not have my children taught by a homosexual teacher, as opposed to the homosexual's right to be a teacher if he wants to. Rights in conflict.
J. Neil Schulman: I don't see it is as a right in conflict, but as a matter of rights to associate or disassociate both ways.
Howard Ruff: I really can't have any choice unless I am wealthy enough to send them to a private school. They've got to go to the public school.
J. Neil Schulman: Again, you are taking something which is an abrogation of rights -- an incursion into the private sector of saying we are going to tax you and you are going to pay for these schools whether you want it or not. I'm talking about restructuring things in such a way that there is no initial incursion of rights in the first place so that you have to choose between false alternatives.
Howard Ruff: But now we have got to live in the world the way it is.
How would a libertarian resolve that dispute do you think? A typical libertarian if there is such a thing. In the world as it is now.
J. Neil Schulman: All right, my answer, as a libertarian, is to get out of the game. And this is why I call myself a revolutionary.
Howard Ruff: Fine, so I get out of the game, I take my kids out of school, they come after me and put my kids in school. A guy up in Utah just got shot because he refused to send his kids to school.
J. Neil Schulman: That is very tragic.
Howard Ruff: Of course it is. But this is the world as it is.
J. Neil Schulman: The world as it is. I have no overnight solutions. The only thing I can talk about is taking those actions, first of all, that you recommend in your book to secure as much to protect yourself and your family as you can and then beyond that, to get in touch with other people who have the same common interest in favor of liberty and to organize along lines of protecting them, and I think the groundswell of support for this is going to come from what we call the underground economy or the counter-economy. And, as I portray in my book, this is the marketplace.
Howard Ruff: If it comes from anywhere, that is where it is going to come from.
Well, look, this is a fascinating book and you can sit here and debate this philosophy and you can say, "Well, maybe I am not interested in that, or maybe it went over my head," but when you get people that you get interested in like I did in this 17-year old kid and his girlfriend, when you believe in them and you follow them through a very rationally structured world the way you did in your book, it all comes home and it becomes very important. I don't know, in fact, you've got me convinced, I'm going to write a novel. I think I can persuade better with a novel, of course that assumes I am going to be a good novelist, and heaven only knows about that. But you are a good one, and I recommend your book and I think everybody out there ought to buy it and I hope that zillions of them go buy it and you get yourself a best seller because it is worthy of it. Keep writing.
J. Neil Schulman: Thank you very much.
Howard Ruff: And we'll be back in just a few moments with some questions and some answers that we hope you can use.
Howard Ruff: We are back again. I hope that young man goes far. Real tremendous thought. I haven't enjoyed a novel so much in many years, I might as well warn you there is a little bit of sex in it. I always like to warn you and not anywhere near as explicit as a lot of books in the marketplace. So, at least, I don't get nasty letters from you saying "Why did you recommend that book when it's got sex in it?" I told you so.