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Free Thoughts

News & Politics Podcasts

A weekly show about politics and liberty, featuring conversations with top scholars, philosophers, historians, economists, and public policy experts. Hosted by Trevor Burrus. Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


United States


A weekly show about politics and liberty, featuring conversations with top scholars, philosophers, historians, economists, and public policy experts. Hosted by Trevor Burrus. Hosted on Acast. See for more information.






Coming Soon: The Liberty Exchange

Coming soon, a brand new podcast from Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


Fighting Government Secrecy (with Patrick Eddington)

The Jones Act biases American shippers and shipbuilders at the expense of international competition, passing higher prices onto consumers and kneecapping free trade. The Cato Institute (and others) have been urging the government to reform this protectionist policy for several years now. But new findings prompt us to ask; how could such an ordinary task for a think tank constitute treason? Cato Institute Senior Fellow Patrick Eddington joins Trevor today to explain how the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) sheds light onto the dark and hidden memos, documents, and recommendations shuffled between bureaucrats behind closed doors—when it can. But how did FOIA come about? What is the process involved? And how do agencies avoid complying with requests? Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


When Is Democracy Undemocratic? (with Emily B. Finley)

The rise of global populism reveals a tension in Western thinking about democracy. Warnings about the "populist threat" to democracy and "authoritarian" populism are now commonplace. However, as Emily B. Finley argues in The Ideology of Democratism, dismissing "populism" as anti-democratic is highly problematic. In effect, such arguments essentially reject the actual popular will in favor of a purely theoretical and abstract "will of the people." On today’s episode, Emily Finley and Trevor sit down to trace a line from Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Jefferson to Woodrow Wilson and John Rawls, point out the flaws in deliberative democratic practices, and try to find a way to conceive of a better democratism—one without mob rule. Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


Floods, Nuclear Power, and Wages (with Peter Van Doren)

The illustrious, ingenious, notorious PVD is back with us once again. Today, he and Trevor sit down to discuss dilemmas of flood damages following Hurricane Ian, the viability of subsidies for nuclear energy, and minimum wage increase’s effects on workers’ wages. Peter references the following: The National Flood Insurance Program: Solving Congress’s Samaritan’s Dilemma by Peter Van Doren Hurricane Ian’s Toll Is Severe. Lack of Insurance Will Make It Worse. Subsidies to Nuclear Power in the Inflation Reduction Act by David Kemp and Peter Van Doren How Important are Minimum Wage Increases in Increasing the Wages of Minimum Wage Workers? by Jeffrey Clemens and Michael R. Strain Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


How the 14th Amendment Changed America (with Randy Barnett and Evan Bernick)

Adopted in 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment profoundly changed the Constitution, giving the federal judiciary and Congress new powers to protect the fundamental rights of individuals from being violated by the states. Yet, according to Randy Barnett and Evan Bernick in their new book The Original Meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment: Its Letter and Spirit, the Supreme Court has long misunderstood or ignored the original meaning of the amendment’s key clauses, covering the privileges and immunities of citizenship, due process of law, and the equal protection of the laws. On today’s episode, they join us to answer questions as simple as; what is the fourteenth amendment, and why is it possibly one of our most important? As well as more complex ones, including; does the equal protection clause guarantee positive rights? And what can libertarians learn from the anti-slavery Republicans who wrote the 14th Amendment? Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


Free Market: The History of an Idea (with Jacob Soll)

After two government bailouts of the US economy in less than twenty years, free market ideology is due for serious reappraisal. In his new book Free Market: The History of an Idea, MacArthur Fellow and USC professor Jacob Soll details how we got to this current crisis, and how we can find our way out by looking to earlier iterations of free market thought. He helps us answer questions such as; what role did early market theorists believe that states had in building and maintaining free markets? How do many get John Stuart Mill, John Locke, and Adam Smith wrong? And what do stoicism, Christianity, friendship, and love have to do with free markets? Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


Can Public Schools Work? (with Neal McCluskey)

American public schooling was established to unify diverse people and prepare citizens for democracy. Intuitively, it would teach diverse people the same values, preferably in the same buildings, with the goal that they will learn to get along and uphold government by the people. But intuition can be wrong; significant evidence suggests that public schools have not brought diverse people together, whether from legally mandated racial segregation, espousing values many people could not accept, or human beings simply tending to associate with others like themselves. Neal McCluskey, Director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom and author of the forthcoming book The Fractured Schoolhouse: Reexamining Education for a Free, Equal, and Harmonious Society, joins the show today to explain how the fear of community balkanization, the panic over critical race theory and “gender ideology”, and reactions to the COVID-19 crisis have only further driven rifts between the right and left on the topic of education. But how many of these are new problems, and how many are simply old ones in new forms? In the end, we may be forced to ask; is the intractable problem of not agreeing on what “our” children should learn solvable? And if not, is funding public education even worth it? Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


Why More People Means More Wealth (with Marian Tupy and Gale Pooley)

Generations of people have been taught that population growth makes resources scarcer. In 2021, for example, one widely publicized report argued, “The world's rapidly growing population is consuming the planet's natural resources at an alarming rate . . . the world currently needs 1.6 Earths to satisfy the demand for natural resources . . . [a figure that] could rise to 2 planets by 2030.” But is that true? Today’s guests, Marian Tupy and Gale Pooley, authors of the new book Superabundance: The Story of Population Growth, Innovation, and Human Flourishing on an Infinitely Bountiful Planet analyzed the prices of hundreds of commodities, goods, and services spanning two centuries, and found that resources became more abundant as the population grew. The two sit down with Trevor to answer questions like; how can we innovate enough to cover the resources needed for 8 billion people? How sustainable is our current mode of sustained innovation? And how is the total sum of atoms different than the sum total of knowledge? Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


Racial Classification in America (with David Bernstein)

Americans are understandably squeamish about official racial and ethnic classifications. Nevertheless, they are ubiquitous in American life. Applying for a job, mortgage, university admission, citizenship, government contracts, and much more involves checking a box stating whether one is Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, or Native American. David Bernstein’s new book, Classified: The Untold Story of Racial Classification in America, attempts to illuminate these “crude classifications”, showing how the government’s formalizing and flattening of racial categories led to the forming of new interest groups, anti-discrimination policy, and complicated, ever-evolving definitions. But rather than attack affirmative action, it asks: if we’re going to classify people by race, what is the goal? How do the tools we use to do so accomplish it? And what can we do going forward to do so in a better way? Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


The Statrix: How Government Warps Our Perception of the World (Rerun)

We’re taking a break this week, but in the meantime, enjoy this treasure from the Free Thoughts vault where Trevor explains the “Statrix”, how government warps our perception of the world around us, and how it disproportionately affects the poor. Trevor mentions the recent spate of track problems and fires that have been plaguing Washington D.C.‘s metro system, which led to the creation of this website, He also explains this song by the Kingston Trio, which was meant to a protest fare increases on Boston’s public subway system.Here’s a series of articles by Megan McArdle on Washington D.C.‘s streetcar project, written in 2009, 2014, and 2015 (the project was originally slated to be completed in 2006 and is still not fully rolled out today, in 2016). Trevor also mentions our podcast episode with Randal O’Toole, “Transportation, Land Use, and Freedom,” James Tooley’s book “The Beautiful Tree: A Personal Journey Into How the World’s Poorest People are Educating Themselves,” and NeuCare, a new way to think about medical care. Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the Drug War (with Johann Hari)

We’re taking a break this week, but in the meantime, enjoy this treasure from the Free Thoughts vault with writer and journalist Johann Hari to discuss his book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs. In it, he seeks to answer questions such as; what was the U.S. government’s original motivation behind drug prohibition? How has the way we view addiction changed over time? What happens when a country—or a state—decriminalizes drugs? What about hard drugs? Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge (with Matt Ridley) (Rerun)

We’re taking a break from new episodes for a couple of weeks, but in the meantime, enjoy this treasure from the Free Thoughts vault where Matt Ridley joins us t to discuss his book, The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge (2015). In it, he theorizes that much of the order we see in the natural world and in human culture and society is the result of unplanned, bottom‐up, emergent evolution. Is there a way to introduce these evolutionary pressures to government? Is there a bias to thinking that the world operates by design, from the top down? Does this bias have an origin in our evolutionary psychology? Is it reflected in how we view history? Ridley’s newest book, The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge (2015). Ridley’s bestselling book is an optimistic look at progress and economic history: The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (2011). Also from Matt Ridley, The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation (1998). has a video from 1983 of professor and Nobel laureate Friedrich Hayek talking about cultural evolution and the origins of tradition in society. Ridley mentions the ideas and management practices of Mike Bracken, the UK government’s former digital chief. Here’s an extended interview with Bracken about his ideas for government and why he chose to leave. Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


Black Liberation Through the Marketplace (with Rachel Ferguson and Marcus Witcher)

Rachel Ferguson and Marcus Witcher’s new book, Black Liberation Through the Marketplace: Hope, Heartbreak, and the Promise of America, chronicles the achievements and failures of market-based attempts to achievement liberation for the Black community throughout American history. From the great shame of slavery to the racist roots of the minimum wage, their liberal examination uncovers both stumbles and strides in the quest for truly equal human flourishing, and urges readers to resist tribalism from the Right and Left. The authors sit down with Trevor to examine the importance of the black church and civil society, explain some differences between common law and enlightenment conceptions of property rights, and more modern manifestations of racially charged, government sanctioned means of discrimination. Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


How Evil are Politicians? (with Bryan Caplan)

What is the difference between demagoguery and political strategy? It may be tough to tell, but Bryan Caplan, Professor of Economics at George Mason University and author of the new collection How Evil Are Politicians?: Essays on Demagoguery has a few ways to help tell the difference. Plus; what does Spiderman have to do with the "evil" nature of politicians and why should we focus on them instead of the voters who give them power? Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


Inflation! (with Norbert Michel)

What can hurricanes teach us about supply side shocks? Norbert Michel, vice president and director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Monetary and Financial Alternatives, joins the show to explain the Consumer Price Index, how the Federal Reserve responds, and how its period of “Great Moderation” was a better time. Plus: why should we have expected the rate of inflation to increase? Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


What’s Wrong with Zoning (with M. Nolan Gray)

One border libertarians might be curious about lies between what zoning is and what zoning is not. M. Nolan Gray, author of the new book, “Arbitrary Lines: How Zoning Broke the American City and How to Fix It” joins the show to explain the roots of our zoning regulations, clarify if overpopulated cities are the real problem, and describe how cities like Houston, Texas are adapting. Plus; where do we go from here? Is the complete abolition of zoning the end goal? What progress is left on the table by our current way of doing things? Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


Forensic Frauds and Criminal Justice (with M. Chris Fabricant)

How did bite mark analysis become one of the most misunderstood forms of forensics evidence in our criminal justice system? M. Chris Fabricant of the Innocence Project is leading the fight to bring accurate scientific analysis to the courtroom. He joins Trevor to explain how junk science, a reliance on expert witness testimony, and scientifically illiterate juries drive wrongful convictions and help create a sense of legitimacy for what he calls, “poor people science.” Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


Conservatism Vs. The Right (with Matthew Continetti)

Where has the right gone wrong? Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


The Socialist Temptation (with Iain Murray)

Socialism isn’t what is used to be. Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


A Conversation About Guns (with Clark Neily)

Why are gun-targeting policies ineffective and impractical, and what can we do instead to stop gun violence, while still respecting everyone’s rights? Hosted on Acast. See for more information.