The Foundation for Economic Education, located in Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y., celebrated its 60th anniversary on May 6, 2006. On that occasion, the Foundation held its third annual Adam Smith Award Dinner, with ABC-TV award-winning correspondent John Stossel as master of ceremonies.
I’m pleased to report that I was the recipient of this year’s Adam Smith Award for Excellence in Free Market Education, but I’m even more pleased that my co-recipient was Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus. The award honors were bestowed by Foundation for Economic Education’s President Richard Ebeling before an audience of more than 300 liberty-oriented Americans decked out in formal attire.
The Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) was founded in 1946 by Leonard E. Read and is the oldest free-market organization in the United States. Its mission is to study, educate and advance the first principles of freedom, principles that Americans have increasingly abandoned and attacked for most of the 20th, and now the 21st, centuries. Those first principles are: individual liberty, the sanctity of private property, the rule of law, free markets with peaceable, voluntary exchange, and choice and responsibility over government coercion.
FEE’s mission is to make the case for the moral superiority of personal liberty and its main ingredient — limited government. The Foundation advances its education mission through summer seminars for high school students, such as its Freedom 101: Liberty, Morality and the Free Market. For college students, there’s Young Scholars Colloquium: Frontiers of Knowledge.
They also sponsor and participate in both national and international conferences. Speakers cover the gamut with people from Professors James Buchanan and Vernon Smith, two Nobel Laureates from George Mason University, to Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and Harvard University Professor Richard Pipes. Much more information about FEE’s activities can be found at http://www.fee.org.
The truly distinguished guest of the evening was Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus, who delivered the keynote address. Communist rule in Czechoslovakia was ended by the bloodless Velvet Revolution in 1989. Dr. Klaus served as the minister of finance and then prime minister from 1992 to 1997. He guided one of the most successful transformations from Soviet-style socialism to a vibrant market economy.
In February 2003, he was elected the president of the Czech Republic. Influenced by the works of noted liberty-oriented scholars such as Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, and statesmen such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and his enthusiasm for Adam Smith, Vaclav Klaus is an eloquent and uncompromising voice for individual freedom and the free market, as well as a staunch critic of growing centralized power and control in the European Union.
The title of President Klaus’ address was "The Threats to Liberty in the 21st Century." Not his words, but the threat to liberty in the 21st century is the same as it has been throughout mankind’s history. That threat is use of the coercive powers of government, under the color of law, to take the rightful property of some people and give to others, and the forcible imposition of the will of one group of people on another group. Such acts, most often done in the name of good, explain the ugliest portions of human history.
The question is whether America will degenerate into what has been mankind’s standard fare throughout history. We have yet to see the kind of arbitrary control, abuse and violation of basic human rights seen elsewhere. But if we ask ourselves which way are we heading, tiny steps at a time: toward more personal liberty or toward greater government control over our lives, the answer would unambiguously be the latter. Organizations like the Foundation for Economic Education might slow the process and even help reverse it.
We Americans face an awesome challenge and responsibility because if liberty dies here, it’s probably dead for all places and all times.