Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

32: LeFevre's Challenge

Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

32: LeFevre's Challenge

Article excerpt

Robert LeFevre (1911-1986) was a leading intellectual force in the dissemination of libertarian ideas. An articulate man of great charm and elegant appearance, he possessed no formal academic credentials, having been obliged to leave college after only a few months in order to marry and support a family. He had a varied and unorthodox career--stage actor in Southern California, disk jockey and radio personality in Milwaukee, staff member of a religious cult in Los Angeles, real estate agent and later hotel owner in San Francisco, air corps officer in Europe during World War II, radio and TV newscaster in South Florida, and editorial writer for and then editor of a daily newspaper in Colorado Springs. He also served briefly as a speaker and organizer for various ephemeral right-wing groups, but by the time he moved to Colorado his orientation had become less conventionally conservative and more uncompromisingly individualist.

In 1956, LeFevre purchased a half-section of wooded acreage in the Rampart Range near Larkspur, using a small inheritance as the downpayment. On it were two barely habitable structures. With the aid of his wife, Loy, and a handful of women friends who contributed their earnings and spare-time labor in return for spartan board and lodging, he proceeded to build a rustic campus for an institution to teach libertarian principles. It was called the Freedom School, and began by offering noncredit summer courses in concentrated two-week shifts. He brought in well-known exponents of the free market to teach them, and did much of the teaching himself, while continuing for nearly a decade to hold down his newspaper job. Eventually, the program was expanded to offer courses at the campus throughout the year, as well as seminars sponsored by companies for their management-level employees at other locations. By 1968, the Freedom School had reached the point where it prepared to offer master's degrees; accordingly, it changed its name to Rampart College. At the same time, however, a decline in financial support necessitated the sale of the Colorado campus, and a move by the college to Southern California, where sporadic seminars were held until its closing. By then, LeFevre had resigned as president and ceased to be involved in its affairs. (1) After the demise of Rampart College, he continued to write and lecture.

LeFevre's thirty-three page article, "A Challenge to the Georgists," was published in 1965, in the second issue of the Rampart Journal of Individualist Thought, (2) a short-lived scholarly periodical he had founded in connection with the Freedom School. Robert Clancy, then director of the Henry George School of Social Science in New York City, responded with "A Challenge to Libertarians" in the next issue, (3) which also contained a brief response by LeFevre. (4)

There appears initially to be a good deal of common ground between LeFevre and George. Both championed freedom, a market economy, and free trade. Both opposed income taxes, excise taxes, and taxes on wealth in general. LeFevre had some understanding of George's program:

   He [the Georgist] favors a tax to be levied exclusively upon the
   value of land. And it is his contention that if such a tax could be
   relied upon, economic justice and prosperity would eventuate; no
   other taxes would be required; ... and conceivably at this point the
   "war on poverty" would cease for want of an enemy to fight. (5)

And LeFevre was at least remotely aware of contemporaneous Georgist activity, for he quoted the stated principle of the Henry George School of New York:

   The community, by its presence and activity, gives rental values to
   land, therefore the rent of land belongs to the community and not to
   the landowners. Labor and capital, by their combined efforts,
   produce the goods of the community--known as wealth. This wealth
   belongs to the producers. Justice requires that the government,
   representing the community, collect the rent of land for community
   purposes and abolish the taxation of wealth. … 
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