Dependence Day

The Fourth of July is a day of celebrating freedom and the sacrifice of many to create the nation we live in today. The Mackinac Center interns are certainly among those who are daily thankful to live in America. However, they are also aware of the government’s influence in their lives, even over things they do on Independence Day.

Red White and Brew – Evan Fryzelka

For many of us, a Fourth of July celebration would not be complete without a few ice cold beers. It is ironic then, that on the day that we celebrate liberty and independence, the process by which that ice cold beer is delivered to us, is anything but free. Brewers cannot simply sell their beer to any retailer who is willing to buy it. They must first sell it to licensed wholesalers who will then sell it to licensed retailers. The brewer must also make exclusive territory agreements with each of his wholesalers. This is called a three-tiered system and it is meant to prevent over-promotion and bring order to the market. What it really does is create convenient government-sanctioned monopolies to ensure that distributers will never have to compete with each other. The belief is that competition will lead to over-promotion, and because we as free individuals cannot make the right choices for ourselves, this will become a detriment to public health. In the spirit of Independence Day, our government should unleash the free market on this old and outdated system.  Producers should be allowed to compete and consumers should be allowed to decide where, when and from whom they will buy their next ice cold beer.

Sea to Shining Sea – Todd Flynn

My favorite part of 4th of July is swimming and boating on the lake. Being from Traverse City, this has been a common 4th of July activity my whole life. My parents and relatives take the boat out each day, and find the lake much more crowded than usual. There are boats everywhere, and with that comes sheriffs. These law enforcement officials are out in full force on the 4th. They are out to make sure that nobody is driving drunk, and that each boat is generally following other laws as well. In the state of Michigan, the driver of a boat must be no younger than 12 years old, and must be carrying a boater’s license issued by the DNR. Additionally, each boat is legally required to have a fire extinguisher, a throw-able floatation device, and an additional personal floatation device for each passenger on board. Boats are also required to give each other a berth of 100 feet when operating at speeds over 5 miles per hour, among other passing regulations. Sheriffs are the most prominent regulatory influence on my 4th of July.

The Rocket’s Red Glare – Shelli Cammenga

I can’t imagine the Fourth of July without fireworks! The bright bursts not only feed my excitement in the celebration, but the image of “bombs bursting in air” reminds me of the sacrifices which were made for the freedoms we enjoy today. But when it comes to figuring out where, how and which ones I am allowed to set off, I don’t feel quite as free. Until the Michigan Fireworks Safety Act of 2011, Michigan had banned any consumer fireworks except ground based devices and hand-held sparklers. Not surprisingly, the motive behind the 2011 advancement may have had to do with the sales tax and 6 percent safety fee collected from vendors, as well as the cost of permits to sell the consumer fireworks in state, which can cost a retailer between $600 and $1000. The legislature estimated that the new revenue from tax and licensing fees could range as high as $14 million a year. Though citizens can now use Roman candles, bottle rockets and firecrackers, to assure legality they must use them on private property and on the days immediately surrounding a holiday, when state law trumps any local ordinances against them. Even then, local authorities may have the power to restrict their usage during nighttime hours. According to the Detroit Free Press there was no spike in injuries after these new laws, and the type of firework with the highest percentage of injuries reported nationally remains the sparkler.

Though there is no doubt that many of these rules are aimed to protect people and create order, they are also proof that public policy touches all of our lives – even on the day we most celebrate our freedom.   



An Old Hope

Though it is entitled “A New Hope,” the story of Luke Skywalker is really a tale as old as time. The characters of Leia, Han and Obi-Wan may have been original, but their types are ageless: the underdogs rising up from humble positions to face a universe bigger than ever imagined, deeply in need of rescue and reform.

Since the ancients, the ability of men to harm one another has called for some way to maintain order in society. The idea of the populous voting for individuals to perform this function was already in place by the time of the Roman Empire. This protective entity is, of course, the government, and it can do much in the way of controlling crime and serving humanity. However, the danger is that the government is run by men as flawed as those they are trying to assist, but these men are legally allowed to use force for their purposes. This is why internal checks and balances are so necessary to limit corruption.

Of course, sometimes even these fail. As mentioned in my previous Star Wars article, the Galactic Senate was one such entity. As “A New Hope” progresses, its last echoes, now under the name of Imperial Senate, are dissolved. When Grand Moff Tarkin is asked how the Emperor will be able to maintain control post-bureaucracy, he reveals the true power of the death star, “Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station.”

A government for the people is all well and good, but when it finds it necessary to rule by fear, historically men have found the need to rise up in defense of liberty. In Ancient Rome, the suspension of the senate added to the discontentment of its people, and though it took through the Middle Ages to recapture their rights, individual freedoms returned with the signing of the Magna Carta centuries later. Fighting for this same liberty, the colonists in America separated from a parliament who wrongfully exercised their legal force and declared their independence from such offenses. Through the years, though the flame has wavered through numerous wars and the coming and going of political philosophies, the spark of freedom has never died.

When Luke Skywalker found the nerve to fly his X-wing into the face of an oversized enemy, it was not to further develop and expand the galaxy, but to return to the freedoms and individual liberties of the old Republic. The rebel’s rallying cry is not so much for “change” as for “renewal” of the time tested system that reigned in brighter days. Observing similar movements in America by regulation rebels such as the Tea Partiers, one could call it a rebirth of interest in the founding principles. Once again, citizens are coming to remember the excessive government control the country was founded to avoid.

Though times change, empires rise and fall and movie sagas endlessly progress, the image of Luke Skywalker taking on the Death Star is engrained in our culture. It reminds us decade after decade that there will always be men to fight for freedom, because that is the oldest hope in the Galaxy.

Saving Liberty Through Equality — and Equality Through Liberty

If there’s one thing Americans are passionate about, it’s liberty. But tax laws that favor specific socioeconomic groups and health care laws that diminish our personal choices should cause us to ponder what liberty actually means. Liberty is undermined or supported according to the way in which we understand equality.

Abraham Lincoln is known as the champion of equality and liberty. In a speech to Union soldiers, Lincoln said: “Nowhere in the world is presented a government of so much liberty and equality. To the humblest and poorest amongst us are held out the highest privileges and positions.” When a government strives for liberty and equality by protecting the rights of its citizens, it creates the environment for individuals to thrive and accomplish their noblest dreams. Universal and equal ownership of natural rights, Lincoln believed, is the definition of equality. This may sound similar to popular political thought today, which says that all are equally entitled to the same things. However, this was not Lincoln’s definition of equality.

He said about the founders: “[T]hey did not mean to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean to say all men were equal in color, size, intellect, moral development or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness in what they did consider all men created equal — equal in certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. …” Lincoln never advocated an equality of outcome, but solely equal protection under the law.

“Inequalities” unique to individuals didn’t excuse slavery. In a letter to Henry Pierce, a congressional representative from Massachusetts Lincoln wrote, “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, cannot long retain it.” Equality is not ruling others, which eradicates our right to liberty; it’s simply self-rule.

Lincoln, a poor American farm boy, is a stark contrast to Alexis de Tocqueville, a French aristocrat, but they were contemporaries and both lovers of freedom. De Tocqueville studied and wrote extensively on the U.S. His ideas on equality and liberty present a different side of Lincoln’s argument. De Tocqueville believed that equality isn’t some political issue, but rather a condition, or a social fact. It’s not simply equal rights, as it was for Lincoln. The government cannot give or take true equality or freedom from individuals — it is inborn. De Tocqueville wrote: “For it is something one must feel and logic has no part in it. It is a privilege of noble minds which God has fitted to receive it, and it inspires them with a generous fervor. But to meaner souls, untouched by the sacred flame, it may well seem incomprehensible.”

De Tocqueville believed freedom and equality in the heart and soul is essential for liberty to function in society. No matter the economic status of different citizens, each one is endowed with the same rights and privileges. Protection, but not dictation, of those rights is the government’s job; the sense of freedom and equality originate only from within.

Without understanding Lincoln and de Tocqueville’s views of equality, it’s easy to think equality means that if I’m working hard and barely making ends meet, my neighbor is not entitled to the luxury of buying a new yacht. Today’s commonly accepted view of equality attempts to offer not only equal protection of rights to citizens, but also an equality of lifestyle through the tax structure and health care options. To many, equality now means entitlement. By striving for more of this definition of equality, liberty is lost, making government, comprised of one faction of “we the people,” the ruler over others.

While every citizen is entitled to the same protected rights as every other, the government has no place offering free healthcare as a step towards equality of lifestyle. Nor is it the government’s place to “level the playing field” by burdening richer citizens more than poorer ones.

Politicians today seek to redistribute wealth in an effort to reach their skewed view of equality. Focusing on this type of equality negates liberty and places the government in the role of master. The spark of liberty within us should clash against political changes like ObamaCare and selective tax laws. True freedom comes from the inside, and those who love freedom should not accept repression of it. As government expands, freedom contracts.

Americans are passionate about liberty. Our understanding of equality determines whether freedom thrives or dies. Equality is equal rights, not the entitlement of wealth. If freedom isn’t burning within, liberty and equality will perish.

Vouching for Choice

In the past several years a wave of education reform has swept across the United States. Charter schools are on the rise, vouchers programs are springing up in various parts of the country, and parents have more control over their child’s education than at any time in our country’s recent past. This commendable progress, although far from finished, owes much to the efforts of Milton Friedman. Friedman consistently and forcefully espoused the virtues of educational choice and flexibility.

Perhaps the most well known of Friedman’s educational reform proposals was the school voucher system. In his seminal book “Free to Choose,” Friedman diagnosed the problem with the nation’s education system: “For schooling, the sickness has taken the form of denying many parents control over the kind of schooling their children receive. … Power has instead gravitated to professional educators.” Friedman recognized that the solution was to give parents more flexibility as to where their kids could go to school.

Friedman’s voucher plan, originally proposed in the 1955 essay “The Role of Government in Education,” was remarkably straightforward. Friedman noted that when a child is withdrawn from a public school and sent to a private school, taxpayers are spared the expense and liability of educating that child. There remains a disconnect, however, as the family that withdrew the child receives “no part of that saving except as it is passed on to all taxpayers.” Therefore, Friedman advocated giving such families a voucher in exchange for relieving the state of their child’s educational costs. If the family saves the state $4,000 in costs and receives a $2,000 voucher in return, the state still saves money while the family simultaneously receives assistance for private school tuition. This financial aid, in turn, would make private schooling financially feasible for a greater number of families.

In May of this year, Indiana passed comprehensive education reform legislation that the Wall Street Journal editorial board called “the most ambitious voucher program in memory.” The law provides over 7,000 vouchers in its first year of enactment, eventually uncapping the number of available vouchers in three years (but still limiting availability through means-testing). The vouchers award up to $4,500 for students who are in public schools and want to switch to another public or private school. The legislation also includes other mechanisms that enhance school choice, such as a $1,000 tax deduction for families that spend money on private school expenses. Other places where Friedman-inspired educational choice legislation has been proposed or enacted include Texas, New Orleans, Florida and Washington, D.C.

Although this wave of education reform is welcome, the gains achieved are tenuous and reversible. Entrenched interests — most notably public-sector teacher unions — are determined to stymie reform efforts. Given their organizational advantages and significant financial war chest, such entities are a constant threat to school choice.

It is also important recognize that vouchers are not the be-all-end-all of the educational reform movement. As Friedman himself wrote, “[My wife Rose and I] regard the voucher plan as a partial solution because it affects neither the financing of schooling nor the compulsory attendance laws. We favor going much farther.”

Friedman’s own intellectual contributions to education have made “going much farther” a greater possibility than ever before.

Knowing Friedom

John Maynard Keynes famously quipped, “Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.” Free-market economist Milton Friedman, however, actually did manage to capture the minds not only of practical men, but of politicians and even other intellectuals. He understood that the world would change if people understood the meaning of freedom.

Historic social and political movements began with powerful ideas. For instance, the rise of the Roman Empire predicated itself on the idea of Roman citizenship and a sense of personal duty, and America’s founding relied on a distinct knowledge of personal liberty and its implied negative rights. Pivotal events, such as shifts of culture or the rise of a new state, occur in response to the outcomes of various conflicts in an ongoing war of ideas.

Milton Friedman joined this intellectual struggle knowing that education provides the best weapon. Most importantly, he believed education was a personal undertaking. This perception led to his recognition that most current “education” was actually compulsory schooling or training. The government mandated that children attend taxpayer-funded schools where little to no actual education ever occurred. His solution: school vouchers, which enabled parents to choose where they think their children will be best educated, whether it be public schools, private schools, charter schools or even home schools. Vouchers redirect taxpayer dollars from bureaucrats to the families who need them, coupling education and choice to make the greatest impact.

Friedman’s book “Free to Choose” and a subsequent television series highlight the tenets behind the power of ideas and an education’s role in shaping those ideas. Free markets result from a combination of individual choice and scarcity of information. They offer great benefits, but require individuals to trade with each other in order to obtain them. These types of exchanges only result when individuals possess freedom of choice. This idea undergirded America’s economy until progressive promotion of increased centralization eroded individual choice and increased government meddling in the economy. Thanks to their efforts, a large portion of Americans now hold the institution of federal government responsible for their every need, from the cradle to the grave.

Ultimately, Friedman recognized education’s foundational role in changing society’s institutions. Sustainable political change must be preceded by sustainable social change, which can only result from education. The battle of ideas starts in our schools. Friedman knew ideas like individual choice and freedom had lost significant ground there, but he also recognized that the ground could be regained by letting people choose how they want to educate themselves. He, like economist F.A Harper, knew that “men who know freedom will find ways to be free.”

Friedman: the Influence of Ideas

On the bookshelf of an average American patriot, it would be more common to see a collection of Ronald Reagan biographies than books on the life of Milton Friedman. Ask a person on the street who they think holds the most power in America and you have a good chance of hearing “the president.” However, the president is a single man whose power is limited by checks, balances, and, depending on his character, his personal desire for re-election. One free man with an idea can prove influential and limitless without holding public office. Milton Friedman was that man.
Behind every great success lies a great inspiration. For the millions of conservatives who venerate Reagan, they are also (wittingly or unwittingly) admiring the impact Friedman made on the mentality of his times and on Reagan himself. That the political climate even allowed a man with Reagan’s platform to be elected was due in part to Friedman’s work, starting as early as the failed Barry Goldwater presidential campaign, which began calling for a return to laissez-faire economic principles when the position was extreme. This movement gained momentum, culminating in Reagan’s election.
In 1980, Reagan appointed Friedman to the select Economic Policy Coordinating Committee. As a team they applied Adam Smith’s concepts, and the economy became a freer and more prosperous place; regulations were limited, inflation was brought under control, taxes were cut, and government began to find its place – on the sidelines. Reagan’s policies are widely recognized as bringing about the second-longest peacetime economic expansion in the history of the United States. The key to bringing this prosperity was the wisdom of those advisors who, like Friedman, truly understood economic policy. Later, Friedman was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Friedman didn’t only have an influence at home in America; his ideas brought significant changes around the world. Former prime minister of Estonia, Mart Laar, who is credited with bringing Estonia’s rapid economic development in the 1990s, said that the only book on economics he read before his election was Milton Friedman’s “Free to Choose.” Under Laar, Estonia became the first country to institute a flat tax, which was very successful. While speaking about Friedman’s “Free to Chose” TV series, Reagan mentioned that the principles Friedman expressed had also helped inspire the Polish drive for freedom.
Although politicians come and go and their ideas can change with the political winds, the protection and presentation of sound economic ideas remains a vital tenant of freedom. Politicians are only in power for a few terms at most, but influencing the electorate and swaying public opinion toward freedom is a full time job with no term limit. This position in the cause of freedom is taken today by think tanks like the Mackinac Center. They, like Friedman, publish articles, give lectures and research responsible policy changes, sharing their findings publicly.
As an intern at a think tank, I am inspired by Milton Friedman. Looking at his example, I know that as a responsible citizen, I can live an influential life of loving and sharing liberty without needing to be elected. My job is to provide, present and protect the principles which will bring about the next age of prosperity.

The Good Life, No. 4: Love

Ultimately, political and economic conservatives are concerned with liberty. Each of the planks in the freedom-loving platform is directed at the things Americans need to protect it: lower taxes, less regulation, fewer government programs, reformed legislation. We’re consumed by this struggle — maybe rightfully so, but then again, maybe not. The response to that statement depends entirely upon what we use our freedom for.

Pope John Paul II in a prison cell, forgiving the man who made an attempt on his life

“Freedom,” John Paul the Great wrote, “exists for the sake of love.” Love, caritas, is the greatest of those things that abide, those permanent gifts that are also hallmarks of our humanity. So when attempts are made on our freedom to love, we ought to react strongly.

This is the ethical problem with the welfare state: Someone, somewhere has decided that removing someone’s wealth by force is justifiable, simply because a need exists elsewhere. However, legislating morality only discourages the generosity it attempts to impose. When my wealth is taxed away to support a stranger, I’m more likely to shrug my shoulders when I see someone in need and to assume the government will address that need, even though I might otherwise have donated freely.

And thus the government has effectively stamped out my opportunity — my freedom — to love. This is just one instance of the dehumanizing effects of coercion.

Talk to Me: What other hallmarks of our humanity can we bolster by escaping force?