BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Virginia Postrel, author of "The Future and Its Enemies," you say in
the acknowledgment section that your husband came up with that title.
Ms. VIRGINIA POSTREL, AUTHOR, "THE FUTURE AND ITS ENEMIES": That's
right. "The Future and Its Enemies," which I think is a great
title--and a lot of people think its a great title--is an allusion to
a famous book called "The Open Society And Its Enemies," by Karl
Popper. And what I'm talking about in the book is the open society,
very much so and yet calling it the future has that ring, and
that it’s about how we make progress and how we move into
the future in a dynamic, rather than static way.
LAMB: All right. You say also in the acknowledgments that, `I have
spent countless hours discussing this book with my beloved partner in
life and work with whom I spent countless hours.' Who is your husband?
Ms. POSTREL: My husband is Steven Postrel. He's a PhD economist who
teaches business strategy at UC Irvine down in Orange County. We live
in Los Angeles. We met when we were 18 years old, freshmen at
Princeton. And we've been, you know, we're just kind of soul mates,
and--intellectual and otherwise.
LAMB: So is this a wonk marriage?
Ms. POSTREL: We're not just wonks. We're interested in big
ideas, but you know, we enjoy--we have a lot of fun, too. It's
not just policy wonkery.
LAMB: Were did you get the idea for the book?
Ms. POSTREL: Well, it goes back to a 1990 piece I did for The
Washington Post. I didn't start working on the book till '95,
but--back in 1990 I was very interested, as a lot of people were, in
the environmental movement. It was the 20th anniversary of Earth Day.
And I took a sort of less wonky approach. I went back and read a
lot of green theorists, people--not people saying, you know, `What
should we do about air pollution,' but people saying, you know, `What
is the right way for societies to be.' And I was very struck by the
idea of stasis, in that idea--in that writing, people like E.F.
Schumacher, author of "Small Is Beautiful" probably would be the best
But this idealization of society as a steady state, as the way that
human beings ought to live being in a world without change. And the
idea of nature is also static of having sort of a balance, or climax
phase. And I started to notice this idea of stasis cropping up in
other areas--attitudes towards trade, for example. And started seeing
little beginnings of left-right crossovers. And got
interested in that, and then got interested in the idea of, `Well,
what is the opposite vision of that'? And came up with this idea of
dynamism, and I was seeing some left-right crossovers there as well,
particularly on open economy issues.
I wrote this piece saying that, you know, `The political landscape is
changing,' this bold thing. And I predicted--in addition to
talking about environmental stuff, I predicted that international
trade and immigration, which at that time were kind of issues that
only interest groups and a few specialists worried about, I predicted
that they would become hot button issues and issues that would divide
and create new coalitions along this stasis vs. dynamism division.
And, in fact, that happened.
And I continued to think and speak about these ideas. And then
in 1995 I decided, you know, I should really develop them and
talk about what it means to have a political landscape divided, not
between left and right, but between an open-ended vision of the future
vs. some notion that it should be controlled or managed or perhaps
kept stable in a past form.
LAMB: All right. This probably isn't correct English--the
funnest fact for me in this book was that 80 percent of all the
doughnut shops in California are owned by Cambodians.
Ms. POSTREL: That's right. Now I have...
LAMB: Where did you get that?
Ms. POSTREL: I got it from an article in The Wall Street Journal, a
very good piece, that was on the growth of the doughnut industry
in California. And it is something you notice there, I mean,
if you live there and you occasionally go into a doughnut shop,
particularly. If it's not the chain stores, they are mostly owned by
And what happened, apparently, was there was a Cambodian refugee,
sometime after the war, who came to Southern California, as many
Southeast Asians did, and he got a job in a doughnut shop. And
he started to think that this would be a really good business for him
because you didn't need to know a lot of English. You basically
needed to work hard, and it wasn't that much capital to get into
the business. So he got into the business, and he then--other people
started working for him and it spread through the ethnic community.
The knowledge about how to make doughnuts and they developed
specialized suppliers. And they kind of built this market.
It's not just that they sort of took over existing doughnut
shops. They did that some, they bought them out, but they expanded
the market for doughnuts. And this is an example of how, you know,
the economy grows in a very unexpected way. You know what I mean?
Because doughnuts are not a Cambodian food. This was a sort
of chance occurrence.
LAMB: So how do you apply all kinds of economic theory to that?
Ms. POSTREL: Well, this can, if you want to use a highfalutin
term, this is an example of what economists call past dependence,
which is that some seemingly random occurrence sort of sets history of
an industry off on a--in a particular direction. So that--and then
skilled begun--and networks begin to be created. And it becomes
more likely that a Cambodian will get into the doughnut shop
--into doughnut business than, say, into the acrylic nail--into
the nail salon business, which is dominated by Vietnamese people in
LAMB: The nail--what'd you say again?
Ms. POSTREL: The nail salons--manicurists, which I don't write about
in the book, but I've written about elsewhere. And then it's also
more likely that--it's less likely that somebody who's not a Cambodian
will get into it. It's not impossible. I mean, there are people who
are not Cambodians who open doughnut shops. But it is an example of
the sort of unpredictability of the way the economy works.
LAMB: And why do you use that--what reason do you use the
Cambodian doughnut owners in this book?
Ms. POSTREL: Well, one reason is to explain about how
history matters, that we don't start off from scratch. We don't
make progress from starting over from scratch, that that's a
false idea that we've had about history and about progress in the
Another is--another point that I make--where it's interesting that
they're Cambodians, is that they were escaping from a static utopia.
The Khmer Rouge sought to start over at year zero, and to
sort of create the kind of society that very civilized, humane greens
write about as though it were an ideal. I mean, people who would
never consider genocide. But I argue that if you want to know what
that would take, look at Cambodia--to empty the cities and turn
everyone into peasants again. Even in a less developed country,
let alone in someplace like the United States, that these sort
of static utopian fantasies are just that.
LAMB: How long have you been associated with this?
Ms. POSTREL: Reason magazine? I came to Reason magazine in 1986,
and I've been the editor since 1989--mid 1989.
LAMB: Who's the audience?
Ms. POSTREL: Oh--it's anybody—the magazine motto is `Free
minds and free markets,' so it has that sort of political
orientation. It's a monthly magazine about politics, culture and
ideas. The audience is a very dispersed one. We have a strong
audience is Washington, but we also have a very strong audience
among what we would call grass roots opinion leaders, you know, the
kind of people who watch C-SPAN, take an interest in current affairs.
We have a particular strong segment of our audience--it's not by any
means all of it, of people who are in various kinds of technology,
jobs and ventures.
What the exact association is between that and the ideas of the
magazine is something that we always puzzle over. I mean, at this
point it's sort of like the Cambodian doughnut shops. Because of that
interest on our audience, we tend to write a little bit more about
those issues which are increasingly important in the political
debates. And so, therefore, we get more readers of that nature. But
we cover a full range of topics.
LAMB: Where did you get the name Reason?
Ms. POSTREL: Well--I mean, Reason was found in 1968 when I was in
the third grade, so I didn't get the name Reason. But it was
originally founded as a student publication at Boston University by
a student who was a great devotee of Ayn Rand's work. And so she
supported the idea of Reason, so he took the name
from that. And I think having that name has encouraged the magazine
to have a certain tone. I mean, we try not to have the same tone
throughout. We try to have, you know, variety and humor and
different voices. But I think we address issues--we try to address
issues in a sort of rational way, in a way that appeals to
people's intellects as well as to their passions.
LAMB: Where did you grow up?
Ms. POSTREL: I grew up in Greenville, South Carolina.
LAMB: What did your parents do?
Ms. POSTREL: My father was an engineer and worked for a polyester
film manufacturing company. My mother when I was--most of my
childhood when I was growing up, my mother was a full-time mother with
a vast range of volunteer activities. When I was in high school,
she went back to graduate school and got her master's in English, and
taught English at the college level for a number of years. And now
she's primarily a poet and fiction writer.
LAMB: When did you get interested in--first in things intellectual?
Do you remember?
Ms. POSTREL: I don't know. I mean, I guess it would depend on what
you meant by things intellectual. I mean...
LAMB: Were you a student in high school?
Ms. POSTREL: Oh, yes. I was always...
LAMB: Were you a good student?
Ms. POSTREL: I was always a very good student, very serious about
my--I always loved to read. And I was always interested in politics,
I mean, always. I remember the Kennedy assassination, even
though I was almost four. I mean, obviously my knowledge of John
Kennedy was more that he had kids my age than, you know, what his
policy was vis-a-vis Cuba. But, I was always interested in ideas
and history and politics and literature.
LAMB: Did you start off being of a party?
Ms. POSTREL: Well, I was--when I was in high school, I was a
Democrat. I worked--the only campaign I've ever worked in my life
was Charles Ravenel's campaign against Strom Thurmond in 1978, which
was my senior year in high school.
When I was in college--by that time my views had actually evolved
quite a bit. I was not as liberal as I had been earlier,
and--particularly on economic issues. I always had this libertarian
streak. I was always a big civil libertarian. When I was in college,
I was more or less a Republican, although I was never active in the
Republican Party politics.
Ms. POSTREL: Princeton. And now I'm an independent. So I
have been, you know, across the political spectrum. But there's
been--there has been a consistency in my thinking, in the sense that I
was always very concerned with issues of individual liberty. And it
was a matter of understanding how those play out in the world.
LAMB: So you're an independent. What does that mean?
Ms. POSTREL: Well, that just means--I mean, it is a party. You
asked me about party.
LAMB: So you don't belong to a party?
Ms. POSTREL: I'm not registered with a party.
LAMB: If you had to put a label on you today, what would it be?
Would it fit any--I mean, you said free markets and all that.
Ms. POSTREL: Well, I would say classical liberal, or libertarian.
Or, as I say in the book, dynamist, which is a term that's a little
LAMB: Did you invent that term?
Ms. POSTREL: I did invent that term.
Ms. POSTREL: Dynamist. Trying to get at the idea of people who
support this open-ended idea of progress through decentralized trial
and error, as opposed to through some type of planning or through
saying that progress is a myth. And so I would say that most
libertarians are dynamists, but not all dynamists are libertarians.
LAMB: And you have a set of rules on page 116 on what a dynamist is.
Is that right? You say, `An overview dynamist, Rule One: Allow
Individuals, including groups of individuals, to act on their own
knowledge.' What does that mean?
Ms. POSTREL: Well, there's actually a whole chapter. This is
chapter five, which follows chapter four, which is on knowledge.
There are very different visions of knowledge in these static and
dynamic visions. The static notion--I use the analogy of a tree.
The static notion is like this--these palm trees we have out in Los
Angeles. And knowledge is this big trunk that everybody kind of
knows, and then there's a little bit of specificity at the top of
a few little fronds. And that, therefore, it's very easy to plan the
future for society to sort of tell people what they should do, whether
that's whole society or even this--you could apply this to, say, a
company--how you thought about knowledge in the organization. You
could have, you know, strategic planners sitting in some corporate
office deciding exactly what should be done in all its specifics.
The dynamist notion is that knowledge is like a spreading elm tree,
that there is a shared amount of knowledge, but that most knowledge in
society and most knowledge in the world is dispersed. That we know
many things we can't articulate that are very hard for me
to explain. It's very hard for me to explain what is a good Reason
magazine article. I can, sort of, get part way there but it's
hard to do.
And we also specialize and we reap the benefits of other
people's knowledge through complex webs of social and economic
interaction. Well, what this means in terms of rules is that the
kind of rules you have underlying society should not be ones that try
to dictate, in detail, what sort of decisions people should make.
Rather they should be ones that allow people to look at the facts
around them, and make what they see as the best choice under the
LAMB: So what would you think of the V-chip?
Ms. POSTREL: Well, I have--I talk about the V-chip
in the book as an example of the difficulty of articulating
knowledge. There's this notion that you can have one set of
ratings. And that--first of all they should be required by
Congress. But also that one set of ratings can capture whatever a
parent might be interested in. I mean, you know, I think one
thing--interesting contrast is the Internet filters and services that
have evolved without a mandate. And those filters offer many
different kinds of choices to parents.
And what happened with--I tell a story in the book about this notion
of ratings. When they were debating TV violence in Congress
and--everybody, whether in Congress or commenting on it,
always used the same example. They always said, `Well, the problem is
you wouldn't want to ban "Schindler's List," of course. That's a
serious show. We would--but, of course, it has violence, it even has
some nudity. You wouldn't want to ban that--keep that away from
children because that's an important subject matter. And we're
concerned with, you know, "Terminator 2",' or whatever.
Well, the very first show to ever appear on network television with an
M rating, which was the rating that if V-chips were in place--the
technology hadn't been developed yet--it would be kept away from
children, which includes teen-agers, was "Schindler's List." And so,
in fact, this rating system couldn't capture that sense that
people had of the difference between "Schindler's List" and some other
show. And yet, there was one congressman, Congressmen Coburn from
Oklahoma, who denounced NBC--I think it was NBC--or no, it couldn't be
NBC, they don't do ratings. But whoever showed "Schindler's List" for
putting it on network television, and saying it should not have been
on television because it has all this nudity and violence in it,
and it wasn't appropriate for airing. So--you know, people disagree.
LAMB: I'll go back to another one of your rules in a moment. At
Princeton you studied what?
Ms. POSTREL: I was an English major. I specialized in
Renaissance drama. And I talk about the Renaissance some in the book.
And I also took a lot of economics.
LAMB: When did you go to Southern California, and why?
Ms. POSTREL: I went to Southern California in 1986, and I went
because my husband had a job at UCLA.
LAMB: Where'd you meet him?
Ms. POSTREL: I met him at Princeton when we were freshmen. We
live in the same dorm and he actually lived across from
another student that I knew from South Carolina.
LAMB: Now you lived in Greenville, South Carolina, you lived in
Princeton, New Jersey, and in Southern California.
Ms. POSTREL: Right. Right. In between Princeton and Southern
California, I lived in Philadelphia, where I was a reporter for The
Wall Street Journal. And then I lived in Boston where I worked for
LAMB: How long were you at The Wall Street Journal?
Ms. POSTREL: Two years.
LAMB: Does the world look different to you out there living in Los
Angeles than it did in the East Coast community?
Ms. POSTREL: Well, it's hard to compare because I've lived in
Los Angeles so long. So in many ways the world looks different
because the world just is different. It would look different even if
you were on the East Coast. But I think--yes, there is a
different sense of openness. Now when I was at Inc., living in
Boston, it was the PC revolution and we were covering it. And then it
was the shake-out in the PC revolution. And, you know, and I
think--so we were very tied into that whole community.
But in Southern California, or in California in general, there is a
sense of the future being present. I don't know how to describe
that. I mean, you're in very cosmopolitan places with people from all
over the world who have come there believing in the possibility of a
better future for themselves and their children. So that's part of
it. Part of it is that you are looking toward the Pacific rather than
across the Atlantic, which has a sense of--I mean, you're not looking
back toward the old country. It's a strange kind of effect
that that has.
And, of course, then there's all the industries that we associate
with the future evolution of the economy, which obviously you've got
the high-tech Silicon Valley area, and then biotechnology which is
also strong in both Northern and Southern California. But I would
also argue things like entertainment and design and some of these
types of industries that are oriented toward beauty and
aesthetics, as well as sort of entertainment are part of the future
evolution of the economy.
LAMB: Who owns the magazine?
Ms. POSTREL: Reason is published by an organization called the
Reason Foundation, which is 501(c)3 tax exempt organization that
actually came after the magazine. The magazine was 10 years as an
amateur effort, and then the--in 1978, some of the people who were
involved with it--particularly Bob Poole, who's the president of
Reason Foundation, decided to start this foundation which would
publish the magazine, and would also research the--at that time the
very radical notion of privatization, which he had done some work in
as a consultant in a consulting firm.
LAMB: Does it make money?
Ms. POSTREL: No, it does not.
LAMB: How big is its circulation?
Ms. POSTREL: About--between 50,000 and 55,000.
LAMB: And the people that are behind it, are they names that we know,
are they political names? Like who's Charles Paul Freund?
Ms. POSTREL: Charles Paul Freund is a--he's a writer here in
Washington--writer and editor. He worked for--he actually edited
at The Washington Post, my first article on stasis vs. dynamism. He
worked for the Post outlook section for a number of years. He used to
write--people who read The New Republic may remember him from writing
The Zeitgeist Checklist. He used to do that, but...
LAMB: How about Nick Gillespie?
Ms. POSTREL: Nick Gillespie is an English PhD who lives in
Oxford, Ohio, where his wife is--who's also an English PhD, is a
professor at Miami University. And he is, you know, a bright, young
journalist who's a--I mean he has his PhD, but he's pursued a
journalistic career. And he has been at Reason for about four years,
LAMB: Your other senior editor is Jacob Sullum?
Ms. POSTREL: Jacob Sullum lives in New York. We're a very virtual
organization. He is a journalist by background. He worked
for newspapers before coming to Reason. And has been, actually, with
us since I became editor in 1989, with a brief detour to National
Review and to write a book called "For Your Own Good," which is about
the anti-tobacco movement. And he's also a syndicated columnist.
LAMB: And who's Bob Poole?
Ms. POSTREL: Bob Poole is the president of Reason Foundation. He is
an MIT-trained engineer who is known in the privatization world as one
of the godfathers of that notion. He actually coined the
term--adapting the term from Peter Drucker. And he does a lot of
research in transportation and infrastructure issues these days,
working on ideas of privatizing roads and airports, all that sort of
LAMB: I'll ask you some more about people involved in Reason, but
we have to go back to Rule number two for a dynamist. By the way,
who's your favorite statist?
Ms. POSTREL: My favorite statist--favorite in...
LAMB: Just give us an example of somebody that is a well-known
Ms. POSTREL: Well, what I like the best is when you see these
cross--people who are statists who are agreeing with each other that
they wouldn't expect. And the story that I tell in the book is about
Pat Buchanan and Jeremy Rifkin on "Crossfire." And Pat Buchanan was
being the host on the right that day, and Jeremy Rifkin, who's this
anti-technology activist, is--was the guest on the left, and yet they
spent the whole time agreeing with each other that this dynamic
economy that we have is very dangerous, and that we need to do
something about it.
So I enjoy finding those kinds of political alliances
--so—I don't know that I have a favorite statist. There
are some people who are good at articulating certain kinds of ideas,
LAMB: What's Bill Clinton?
Ms. POSTREL: Bill Clinton is an interesting mix. He is
primarily what I call in the book a technocrat, which is a form
of statist that is very prevalent in American politics, has been for
at least 100 years. Which is somebody who says `No, no. I'm for the
future.' It's very different from a Jeremy Rifkin or a Pat Buchanan.
`I'm for the future. I like technology. I like, you know,
economic progress, whatever. But I have this plan, and the future
must conform to my plan.' It's sort of a script. And that is actually
assumption that we operate under in a lot of our political
discussions, that the future is something to be planned in advance as
opposed to evolving.
And I think Bill Clinton's bridge to the 21st century is a good
metaphor for that because it was a very effective political slogan,
particularly since Bob Dole pledged to build a bridge to the past.
And so it made a nice contrast to these young, forward-looking
candidates vs. the backward-looking older candidate. But when you
think about it, a bridge is a very static structure. It assumes that
we're all at point A, and we're all gonna go to point B. And we know
exactly where point B is, and we're going to build this bridge by
blueprints and sort of centrally plan it. And these kinds of civil
engineering metaphors--these very static metaphors, go back to the
turn of the century and to that notion of progress.
So I would--I put him in the static camp, but with this caveat. He
has a little bit of the dynamic vision in some of his rhetoric, and
certainly there have been people who have worked in the administration
who have taken those ideas and worked them out.
LAMB: What about Newt Gingrich?
Ms. POSTREL: Gingrich is even more mixed. Newt Gingrich is--I
think he has a lot of dynamist instincts in his personality, but they are
overwhelmed by his political desires. His goals to shape
civilization as a politician. So that—and actually,
his PhD dissertation was on technocracy, which is kind of
interesting in the Belgian Congo, but he has--he
understands more about dynamism than a lot of political figures. And
the story I tell in the book about him where he's taken the
dynamist side--I tell some others where he's being more
technocratic--is about beach volleyball.
LAMB: Did--and now when that happened I remember a lot of
derision in the press about that. Did people miss that story? What
was really going on there?
Ms. POSTREL: I think people missed that story, and I think he didn't
try to explain it, and he didn't have any allies who tried to explain
what he did...
LAMB: When did this happen?
Ms. POSTREL: OK. At the 1996 Republican National Convention, which
was in San Diego, and was shortly after the Olympic Games, which were
in Atlanta, which is were Gingrich is from. It's important to get
these geographic context. Before he gave his formal remarks, Newt
Gingrich brought onto stage this Olympic beach volleyball player named
Kent Steffes, who is--he's a Republican, he's a big Gingrich fan.
He'd gone to UCLA, and been in the--economics major, which is kind of
known as a sort of market oriented economics department. He's also a
C-SPAN fan. And I describe him in the book as “the only
C-SPAN devotee ever described by People magazine as brash, bronzed and
built like a Greek statue.”
So Gingrich pulls him on the stage, and he makes this sort of not
terribly articulate encomium to beach volleyball and he says, `You
know, 30 years ago nobody would've envisioned--nobody played beach
volleyball, and now people all around the world play and it's in the
Olympic Games. And no bureaucrat would have planned it, and
that's what freedom is all about.' And everybody went kind of, `Huh'?
You know, I mean, the crowd cheered because, of course, it was an
applause line and they cheered, but they didn't really know why. And
the sort of more liberal pundits, to use this to show how wacky
Newt was, and they called him weird, was the word that they kept
using. And then the conservative pundits were even more horrified.
And The Weekly Standard had this headline in its convention edition
that said: No more beach volleyball, please.
And what I argue is that, actually, this was a dynamist moment that
he--what he said was correct. That this was an example of how things
rise--and this is a reasonably good sized industry--beach volleyball,
actually--they rise from unexpected places. And no bureaucrat
would plan them because who would think of it. No one would design a
beach volleyball industry. And that he was right, but
it didn't fit in with the political rhetoric. And then I also point
out that this vision of play, as a positive good, and in some kind
of--somehow tied to the progress of the market economy, and tied to
creativity, is something that is not accepted in intellectual
circles, and particularly in conservative circles. And that he was
getting in trouble from that, too, and I have a chapter on play.
LAMB: Rule number two: Apply to simple generic units and allow them
to combine in many different ways.
Ms. POSTREL: Yeah. Combinations are a real theme in where progress
comes from. You know, when you combine things, you can get an
enormous number of outcomes. And the way I derived these rules was
I looked at all different kinds of dynamic learning systems, and those
could be market economies, they could be the scientific process, but
they were also things like--there are certain kinds of computer
programming techniques that people use where they essentially have the
little programs that simulate evolution and they get good
outcomes and, you know, what did those have in common? What do
adaptable buildings have in common? People writing about all
different kinds of evolutionary learning systems--What do they have in
And I was struck over and over again by--one of the things is that
when you make rules, they're very generic and they don't restrict the
kinds of combinations that people can make, whereas when we make
different kinds of laws and regulations, we often make very static
categories. So you can say, you know, there are homes and there are
offices, and home and office never meet, and this is written into many
zoning and building codes and permitting codes. So what I'm
arguing is that you need to have these--you need to allow many
different combinations because people will combine things in
unfamiliar and surprising ways.
LAMB: Rule number three: Permit credible, understandable, enduring
and enforceable commitments.
Ms. POSTREL: Commitments. Well, rule number two actually gives you
the law of contracts--I mean, the idea that you should be able to make
different kinds of agreements. And when I talk about rule number two,
I emphasize the ability to find like-minded people or--rule number
three is the other side of contract, which is commitment. It's not
just about combinations. It's about keeping your commitments. And
that one of the things you see, for example, in the former Soviet
Union and in other places, sort of less-developed economies, is a
difficulty in making durable, enforceable commitments. You don't know
whether you can trust people, and this limits the number of
commitments people are likely to make. So in order to have a good
market economy, you need to be able to make deals with strangers. And
what you find in places where people can't trust each other, because
the legal system doesn't work, is that they will only make deals with
family members or people that they've known for a long time, and that
works to a point, but it doesn't work to give you an extended
order, a really advanced economy.
LAMB: By the way, who do you want to read this?
Ms. POSTREL: Everybody. No. I think people who have an interest
in, as it says in the subtitle, creativity, enterprise and progress.
If you have any sort of interest--those words mean something important
to you, you ought to take a look at it. And if you have an interest
in some of the peculiarities and changing shapes of our political
order, you might want to pick it up. And I think
also that there are many people who are interested in business and
entrepreneurship and technological innovation who would find it very
interesting and useful.
LAMB: How did you get Tom Peters to say, `It's the best damn
non-fiction I've read in years'?
Ms. POSTREL: Well, I sent him a copy of the manuscript,
and I had done an interview with him for a reason, and I actually
quote some parts of it in the book, some of the
things he said about various things. And so I had met him, and I knew
that his thinking--that he would like the ideas in this book, so I
sent it to him, and actually, the full quote was even longer and it
said things like, `My hands literally shook as I read every page and,
you know, it was a liberating experience.' But the
publisher wanted to keep it, you know, short and to the point, so they
used the sort of movie blurb.
LAMB: Rule four of five of the dynamist rules that you've--this is
all your stuff. You invented all of this.
Ms. POSTREL: Well, I didn't invent it from whole cloth. I read a
lot of other things, but I synthesized it.
LAMB: No, but, I mean...
Ms. POSTREL: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: ...these words are your words.
Ms. POSTREL: Right. That's right.
LAMB: How long did it take, by the way, to think all this through?
Ms. POSTREL: Well, writing the book took about two and a half years,
and the rules chapter probably took the longest. It's the longest
chapter and it was, in many ways, the most difficult to write.
LAMB: Two and a half years of how much work?
Ms. POSTREL: How much work? That's hard to say. During part of
that, my husband was visiting--he was a visiting professor at the
Kellogg School at Northwestern University, so he was in Evanston,
Illinois, and I was in Southern California, and what I would do is I
would go for a week a month to see him and work on the book. And
that's--so that would be, you know, roughly a quarter of my time, but
that wasn't for the full two and a half years. It was less at the
beginning because there's a lot of wheel-spinning when you--especially
when you've never written a book before. You don't know how to do it.
And so it was--I was working on it somewhat less at the beginning and
then more as time went on. I would say probably it was about a
fourth of my time.
LAMB: And how much would you--talk about your--like these
five rules that you've got here, who did you bounce all those off of?
A lot of people?
Ms. POSTREL: Well, the actual rules, when I was writing them, I
--it was mainly talking to my husband, although, after I would
write a chapter, then I would send it to--I had a few people,
including--we talked about Nick Gillespie, my colleague--I had a few
friends that I would send the chapters to--each chapter and say, you
know, `Please give me comment.' Lynn Scarlett, who's the head of the
Reason Public Policy Institute, which is the other half of the Reason
Foundation, read a lot of it along the way, and so I got this
kind of immediate feedback and then I would revise the chapters later
on, and then eventually my editor at The Free Press, Paul Gollub, read
everything and gave me some good advice.
LAMB: Is there a place we can go in Southern California, it says
`Reason' on the door?
Ms. POSTREL: Yes, there is. We have an office on Sepulveda
Boulevard in Los Angeles and--right by the freeway. If you want a
traffic report, you can give me a call. And there is a--but we are
very--as I mentioned, we do have people all over the country and
do a lot. We've used the new technologies--here's an interesting
example of combination--we've used these new technologies of the
Internet, primarily, but to allow people to make accommodations to
their personal lives and keep people on staff if their spouse has a
job or needs to go to school in a faraway city, and then...
LAMB: How many people do you find there at the Reason offices? And
is the Public Policy Institute right there?
Ms. POSTREL: The Public Policy Institute is also there, although
they also have some dispersal. They have one person here in
Washington, DC, for example, but most of their dispersed people are in
the Southern California area, just living far out and coming in maybe
once or twice a week. But--well, there--how many people are actually
in our offices, I guess, would be maybe 20, but there are about 35
people working--now that's--there must be about 25 people.
LAMB: Rule number four: protect criticism, competition and feedback.
Ms. POSTREL: Yes. When I walk about progress coming through trial
and error, experimentation and feedback, the feedback is a big part of
that. And one thing that people sometimes don't get about my book is
they think, `Oh, Virginia's for change. She's just for change. Every
change is good.' And that's not at all what I'm saying. I am saying
let people try things. That's the competition part. Let them enter,
let them try their new ideas, but let other people criticize them.
And I talk about two different forms of criticism. One is
criticism by expression, which is criticism, it's, you know, `Well,
this movie is lousy,' or, `This is a terrible product. You
know, Consumer Reports tested it and found that it falls apart.' The
other is criticism by example, which is competition, which is saying,
`I can do better than those--whoever is existing, and I'm
gonna try.' So you need to protect both of those in order to have the
learning process that makes progress possible.
LAMB: Anybody associated with this organization politically involved
with the Republicans or the Democrats?
Ms. POSTREL: Directly, it--I guess it depends on what you mean
by `associated with.' No one on the Reason magazine staff is.
We're very much journalists and not involved at that--in
that way. There are people who have been at Reason Foundation. For
example, the director of the Public Policy Institute's Privatization
Center for many years, Bill Eggers, recently left and ran for the
state Assembly in California as a Republican. And unfortunately,
'cause I think of--highly of him, he lost and he's now gone to work
for Governor Bush in Texas and in the--Texas, working on
some of those privatization issues. So we have had people like that,
but it is not--it is a non-partisan organization. And so if people
are involved in politics, they're involved--either if they're gonna
run for office, they have to leave their jobs, or they're involved as
LAMB: Where do you get your money?
Ms. POSTREL: We get our money primarily from our
readers and in--from individuals, and now some of those individuals
give us, you know, $25 a year and some of them give us $25,000 a year,
but it's--Reason magazine is very fortunate that we have a very
diverse funding base. And the advantage of that is it gives you a
great--a lot of independence. The disadvantage is if you
hear that Joe Smith, who's this fantastic writer, is looking for a
job, you don't have Mr. Money Bags that you can go to and say, `Oh,
you know, please give me some money to hire Joe Smith.' And the
Reason Foundation, as a whole, also gets money from some foundations
and some corporations.
LAMB: There's a footnote in the back on page 252 I want to ask you
about. It happens to be footnote 52. Actually, I don't know how this
is--let me make sure--is that 52 on one chapter?
Ms. POSTREL: It's one chapter. Yeah.
LAMB: Yeah. It's the last chapter in the book. Let me just
make sure so that if somebody wanted to find this, Chapter 8, On The
Ms. POSTREL: Right.
LAMB: Did you get The Verge from Daniel Boorstin?
Ms. POSTREL: Daniel Boorstin, yeah.
LAMB: Oh. But here's the--here's the footnote. `Hillary Rodham
Clinton's speech at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in
Davos'--or Davos, I'm not sure how you pronounce it--`Switzerland,
February the 2nd, 1998'--so it's not too long ago, about a year
ago--`aside from the flaws in Bell's argument'--who's Bell?
Ms. POSTREL: Bell is Daniel Bell, and basically what Hillary Clinton
is doing in that speech is repeating the argument that Daniel Bell
made in the "Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism." Bell is a very
prominent sociologist. And he was arguing there in that book that
over time, capitalism will destroy itself by undermining the puritan
ethic that he argues is at the basis of that. And in the chapter
on play, which is the preceding chapter, I sort of take issue with
LAMB: Well, you say here that—and `Aside from the flaws in
Bell's own argument discussed in Chapter 7 and the utter lack of
empirical evidence that capitalism is languishing, there is something
unseemly about a wealthy and powerful woman and former Wal-Mart
director lecturing a selection of the world's wealthiest people on the
evils of consumer aspirations. Intellectuals easily accept such ideas
because they tend not to count their own pleasures, such as travel,
books, art, gourmet food or tax-deductible conferences in Switzerland
as consumerist indulgences, and for those motivated primarily by power
or fame, of course, consumer products are trivial pleasures.'
Ms. POSTREL: Right.
LAMB: Did you have fun writing that footnote?
Ms. POSTREL: I guess. Oh, yeah, this is sort of the style I use in
a lot of Reason editorials, which is the--I kept under wraps a little
bit in the book. But, yes, there is this—I get very angry
sometimes when people who are like me--I mean, these people
have similar--I'm not--I mean, I like to have nice clothes,
I'd like to have a nice house, like anybody else, but it's not my
primary motivation. I'm not working to maximize my income. I could
be doing things that would make me much richer. But when people who
are intellectuals go and they rail about consumerism and it's so
terrible, and what they mean is--I mean, what they're really attacking
is people's desire to have an easier material life. And they tend
to be attacking--often, it's tied up with notions of taste and they're
often attacking kind of the--the middle-class notions of taste, and
Wal-Mart being a big example. That's why I thought it was
particularly ironic that Hillary Clinton, of course, had been on the
board of Wal-Mart.
And there is this argument that the desire for better consumer
goods undermines over time the virtues on which capitalism depends.
And what I argue in Chapter 8 is that, first of all, this is an
argument that we have to destroy dynamism in order to save it.
The--well, it's gonna destroy itself anyway, so we might as well
destroy it now and somehow rein it in. But it's also--it's a
misunderstanding of where the problems come from. The problems
that--where the system gets blocked up rarely come from people
wanting, you know, Nintendo games or something. They come
from people try--who work very hard--most of them have a big work
ethic--but work to stop competition or to in--get some advantage
for their industry or for their interest group, that it's more of
a political problem.
LAMB: Rule number five, for dynamists, something you invented:
‘Establish a framework within which people can create nested, competing
frameworks of more specific rules.’
Ms. POSTREL: Yes. This is the really hard-to-explain one, but it
is, in some ways, real--it's something I kept coming up against again
LAMB: Let me read it again.
Ms. POSTREL: Yes.
LAMB: OK? “Establish a framework within which people can create
nested, competing frameworks of more specific rules.”
Ms. POSTREL: Right. Let me start with an example. You can have a
dynamic--dynamist society with all this kind of competition and
feedback and variety and innovation. But within that society, let's
say you want to run a company that is very consistent. You want to
run--you have a McDonald--you want to have McDonald's french fries be
the same everywhere. You don't want to encourage people to--your
franchisees to have trial and error with the french fries. And so you
have within the broader dynamic system, where people are trying new
things, you have these more specific rigid rules that are designed to
meet some more specific goals and that incorporate your local
knowledge, getting back to the rule number one, of what those goals
should be. So again and again, I came to this conclusion that nesting
of rules is very important, and that within the--you have simple rules
at the sort of social level, at the--the system wide level, but
that within those rules, people can have other institutions that have
more specific rules and that may be very sort of like these
They may be oriented toward dynamic learning or they may be oriented
towards something else, and then those rules can compete with each
other, and then we can see, you know, which ones work best
or--and it may be that they can co-exist, too, that, you
know, McDonald's french fries are good to have consistency, but
you also want to have a restaurant with a gourmet chef who makes a
different dish every night. And there's no reason that the
restaurant industry can't accommodate both of those kinds of
LAMB: OK. Here's the list of Reason Foundation trustees.
Ms. POSTREL: OK.
LAMB: And I'll read it quickly and then, obviously, go back and ask
you about a couple.
Ms. POSTREL: Right. Right.
LAMB: Harry Teasley Jr., the chairman. Well, let me
just stop there. Who is he?
Ms. POSTREL: He is a retired Coca-Cola executive. He was
a--he was CEO of a number of their different divisions over his career,
and he lives in Tampa, Florida. He has a great
sort of dynamist understanding of the world, particularly in--as it
relates to resource use and the relationship between business
innovation and environmental issues.
LAMB: Well, there are three names that pop right out, are well-known
in this town. One of them is James Glassman...
Ms. POSTREL: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: ...who is?
Ms. POSTREL: Jim Glassman is a columnist for The Washington Post.
He was the founder of Roll Call. And he was at one
time, the publisher of The New Republic. And it's actually--Jim is
the most related to the book of the people you might list because he
became a trustee because of this book, essentially. When I wrote--a
few years after I wrote the 1990 Washington Post article, we had--we
opened a Washington office here, and we had a party to celebrate the
opening, and Jim came to the party and he was praising this article,
`Oh, you got that right, you know, dynamism vs. stasis. This is
really how the world works.' So then when I started writing the book
and I was doing research in 1995, I said, `Well, gee, I'd better go
find some of these dynamists, you know. It's like I know some
technology people, but I need to find some people who are more--at
least involved in politics.'
So I said, `Well, I'll interview Jim Glassman,' whom I--you know, I
knew slightly, but we were by no means friends. So I called him up
and I said, `You know, we're--I want to do this interview,' and we
did the interview, and he, at some point--it might've actually
been earlier than that he had called me looking for The Post piece and
wanting to write a column about the idea. Anyway, we got to be
friends on the basis of these ideas, and he has a very good background
in magazine publishing. So eventually, I proposed that he would be
a good board member, and the board agreed, and he joined our
LAMB: C. Boyden Gray.
Ms. POSTREL: Boyden Gray is a relatively recent addition to Reason's
board. He was, as you obviously know, a counsel to President Bush.
His brother, Burton Gray, was one of the--it might have been one of
the founding board members of Reason, was a board member for
many years and died very young, very tragically--had a heart attack.
And so the Gray family has been involved with the Reason
Foundation over many years and we actually have our--Reason magazine's
summer internship is endowed in memory of Burton Gray, and so
Boyden has taken an interest in us….
LAMB: Walter E. Williams.
Ms. POSTREL: Walter Williams is a professor at George Mason
University and a syndicated columnist, very articulate spokesman for
libertarian ideas and has, again, been involved with Reason for many,
LAMB: Now Thomas Beach and William Dunn and Neal Goldman,
Stina Hans--Is that...
Ms. POSTREL: Stina Hans.
LAMB: Got that one wrong. Manuel--or Manuel...
Ms. POSTREL: Oh, he actually goes by Manny Klausner, yeah.
LAMB: ...Klausner, David Koch or Koch?
Ms. POSTREL: Koch.
LAMB: David Koch.
Ms. POSTREL: David Koch.
LAMB: Missed that one, too. James Lintott, Robert Poole, Al St.
Clair, Joel Stern. Any of those folks that you can explain to us and
how they get there? I mean, what's the central reason why
somebody comes to the Reason Foundation?
Ms. POSTREL: Well, I think they are excited about the ideas that we
believe in and they are--sometimes they've been involved with us on
some particular policy issue. Often, they--many of the people
whose names you read are people who are essentially magazine readers
and are enthusiastic about the magazine, and then came to know about
the Public Policy Institute through that and, you know, they
believe in what we believe in. And at some point they, you know, want
to get more involved.
LAMB: One of the names most mentioned in your book is Friedrich von
Ms. POSTREL: Yes.
LAMB: Who was he?
Ms. POSTREL: Friedrich Hayek was, I say, the most important
philosopher of dynamism. He was an Austrian-born economist and
social philosopher who ventured even into issues of cognitive
psychology and other real--really Renaissance man of ideas, who
was a great defender and articulate--well, not just a defender but an
explorer of what it means to have a market economy and a free
society. And many of the ideas in the book about knowledge come from
him because he was one of the first people to articulate the notion
that what a market does is act as a telecommunications system for
dispersed knowledge. He actually used that analogy, and he
was a Nobel laureate. He died in, I believe, '92 or '93. This would
be the 100th year of his birth.
LAMB: You have a quote in your book, `Why I am not a conservative,'
and I want to read it. "As has often been acknowledged by
conservative writers, one of the fundamental traits of the
conservative attitude is a fear of change, a timid distrust of new--of
the new as such, while the liberal position is based on courage and
confidence, and on a preparedness to let change run its course, even
if we cannot predict what it will lead. Conservatives are inclined to
use the powers of government to prevent change or to limit its rate to
whatever appeals to the more timid mind. In looking forward, they
lack the--they lack the faith and the spontaneous forces of
adjustment, which makes the liberal accept changes without
apprehension, even though he does not know how the necessary
adaptations will be brought about." Could he write that today?
Ms. POSTREL: Well, he could write it in the context in which he
wrote it. As I mentioned, he was Austrian-born. He--after the
Nazis came to power, he went to England and he was at the London
School of Economics for many years, and eventually, he came to the
United States and was at the University of Chicago. But he had very
much of a European perspective and the--it--his use of the word
`liberal' is in the classical sense. It is not in the American sense.
And so in that sense, I think it is true, and one of the--he struggled
in that essay with what to call himself, and he came up with the
not-very-catchy identification of Old Whig, but he--'cause he
didn't like libertarian because that was too clunky and too much of a
neologism, and `liberal' had this problem of having been confused with
sort of various kinds of planning or redistribution notions.
But what I would argue is this sense of open-endedness is very much
what I'm getting at with the notion of dynamism, that a society
and individuals can venture into the unknown future and make
adjustments and be much more resilient than they're often given credit
LAMB: Would a dynamist then have "Road to Serfdom" on their--a
Ms. POSTREL: They might. I mean, the one that I particularly
will--use in this book is "The Constitution of Liberty," and
also--which is--but "Road to Serfdom" was his best-selling book.
LAMB: Based on what you said very early, would they have all of
Ayn Rand's books up there on the shelf?
Ms. POSTREL: Not necessarily. Some--I think--many people
who are very devoted to Rand's works have been very--they have
responded very well to this book because many people like Rand,
are drawn to Rand because of her celebration of the creative
spirit, and particularly in her fiction and her way of showing how
restrictions on market enterprise are just as restrictive of the
creative spirit as restrictions on artistic enterprise. That said,
Rand's thought is a--her--the other side of her thought
--her rationalistic philosophy can take different forms
vis-a-vis these ideas. Depending on your personality, you may take
it and say, `Oh, well, I love this open-ended notion,' but it might
also be restrictive.
LAMB: Is there any candidate that you know running for president of
the United States as we speak who you would find would be most--the
most interested in a book like this, based on what you know?
Ms. POSTREL: The most interested, I don't know. I think that
there are very few people in elected office who would
thoroughly be comfortable with the dynamic vision because our politics
is this very technocratic politics. People get elected by saying, you
know, `I will make the future look like this.' And I
actually quote in the book someone from Capitol Hill saying a year
after the Republicans came in office that what had gone wrong was
that, "They're good conservatives, so they want to shrink the size of
government, but they think of that as getting as close to the abyss as
possible without falling off," and that's very contrary to the dynamic
vision, which is--you know, that thing you call the abyss, that's
called life. That's called society. That's called the rest of us
outside of Washington.
So it's very hard for somebody to survive in that environment. I
think there are elements of dynamist thought in any number of
candidates, and there are people around people--I mean, I am very
hard on Al Gore in this book because I think he is a combination, in
many respects, of the technocratic planning impulse with his sort of
reactionary stasis notion, but there are certainly people who have
worked for Al Gore and who have been around Al Gore who are very
dynamist. I quote a guy in there who was a speechwriter for him,
Dan Pink, who writes about the free agent economy now, who is very
much thoroughly in keeping with these. And similarly, you know, on
the Republican side, people have said to me, `Well, John Kasich
would--he would like these ideas,' and sometimes I hear him and I
think, yeah, he would. And then other times I hear him and I'm not so
sure. Or George W. Bush would like these ideas or Steve Forbes would
like these ideas.
LAMB: A couple quick personal questions. By the way, how long have
you and your husband been married?
Ms. POSTREL: For 12 years.
LAMB: Have you had--do you have children?
Ms. POSTREL: No.
LAMB: And are you ever going to get into politics?
Ms. POSTREL: No. I think we can pretty safely say that.
LAMB: What did you think of this process of writing your first book?
Ms. POSTREL: It was the most difficult thing I've done and the most
fun thing I've done, actually.
LAMB: Are you gonna do another one?
Ms. POSTREL: Undoubtedly. I'm not sure what it'll be on. I have
LAMB: Here is the book. It's called "The Future and Its Enemies," by
Virginia Postrel, who is also the editor of Reason magazine. Thank
you very much.
Ms. POSTREL: Thank you.
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