The Growth of an Idea
FEBRUARY 01, 1956
Filed Under : Government Intervention, Ludwig von Mises
Thousands of FREEMAN readers have had little opportunity to learn about the journal’s publisher—the Foundation for Economic Education. So this month, in the space usually reserved for Charles Wolfe’s report of current “News From Irvington,” the folks at FEE will try to present a clear over-all picture of what they believe and what they do.
Everybody says he’s in favor of freedom. Even the leaders of communist Russia claim to be the only real defenders of true human freedom. Peace and freedom are their favorite words, just as the same words are used constantly by our own leaders. Yet, freedom of choice in the daily lives of the people is strait-jacketed in both the United States and Russia, and peace describes a period of armed truce between major wars.
Why? Apparently it’s because we don’t know what freedom is. We don’t understand the fact that small-scale compulsions within nations tend to grow into large-scale violence among nations. The person who desires to impose his will and viewpoint upon his neighbors in small ways “for their own good” is well on his way toward imposing his ideas upon all people in large ways, “for the good of mankind.”
This is not a new problem. Many civilizations in the past have perished because they didn’t understand the proper relationships of man to his fellow men and were thus unable to stop conflicts between persons and nations.
Search for Solution
Throughout history, persons in groups or alone have devoted their efforts to the search for a solution to this problem of the proper relationships among persons—and the part that should be played by the authority and force of government. Yet, few of the answers are generally known. If they were, conflict between persons and groups would soon become a minor problem.
There have been, and still are, many persons and groups in the United States devoting their full efforts to a study of this problem of freedom—the problem of individuality within society. Some specialize in one area of it, such as freedom of speech or freedom of the press or some other fraction of freedom.
In March of 1946, another such group was formed. It was called the Foundation for Economic Education because its founders then believed that the problem was simply a lack of understanding and appreciation of the infinite possibilities for peace and prosperity to be found in voluntary exchange in the market place. That’s why the solution was thought to be in economic education. But to many persons, the word economic is too narrowly concerned with material considerations to cover the gamut of human actions and reactions involved in the study of freedom.
The founder and president of the Foundation for Economic Education, Leonard E. Read, now believes that a more accurate and descriptive name for this organization would be the Foundation for the Study of Freedom. The purpose of the Foundation—the study of freedom—involves every contact of man with his fellow men. It demands inquiry into the nature and function of government and religion, and other factors which influence not only the economic behavior but also the whole life of man. Freedom is indivisible, and any effort to fragmentize it may be misleading, if not disastrous.
A key idea in the concept of this Foundation is that the “mass education and mass opinion,” about which there is so much concern, must follow the understanding which grows out of deeper study in the form of clear and simplified explanations. This basic research and a resulting literature are precisely what have been lacking. In one sense, it is something like the automobile; its mass ownership and use was attained only after the careful work of inventors and engineers and manufacturers made it possible. Almost anyone can now own and operate a machine about which he knows very little—except how to enjoy its use.
An All-Important Problem
Mr. Read and his associates do not in any sense claim that their studies and writings have revealed all the answers. They are well aware that in their lifetimes they can at best only scratch the surface of this perplexing and all-important subject. They propose only to continue an uncompromising search for truth and to make the results available in printed form to whoever wants them.
Since they are persuaded by their study and research that right and wrong cannot be determined by a show of hands, they do not and will not advocate basing such decisions upon the vote of the majority.
Since government ownership of the means of production is wrong in their judgment, they do not and will not advocate some “proper percentage” of government ownership.
Since they believe that a man’s religious faith, or the earning of his livelihood, or the management of his business, is his own personal responsibility, they do not and will not try to be “practical” or “politically expedient” by urging some measure of governmental aid or intervention in these matters.
They will always attempt to suggest means which are consistent with, rather than in contradiction of, those objectives which seem to them proper. They deal only in principles which, if correct, are eternal and timeless and independent of the particular stage of advancement of any given society. They leave compromise for those who believe that there may be a long-term advantage in a temporary deviation from what one believes to be right.
Many sincere friends of the Foundation have suggested that FEE’s work would be more effective if it accepted and worked with political action as it exists in practice. They have suggested, for example, that FEE should endorse the “moderate” or “limited” number” approach to the issue of government housing rather than to continue FEE’s “extreme and politically inexpedient” position of no government housing.
Under no circumstances will the Foundation for Economic Education ever adopt or endorse such a puerile philosophy of “compromise.” Does anyone suggest, for example, that German moralists should have concentrated their efforts on “the politically attainable goal” of influencing Hitler to use a more “humane and Christian method of exterminating Jews” rather than concentrating their efforts on “the politically inexpedient” idea that Jews should not be exterminated at all?
Grounds for Repudiation
If FEE ever compromises in this area of principle—whether it concerns housing, wheat, electricity, or human life—its present and future potentialities for good will be ended. If the Foundation ever begins to operate on the low level of political expediency, it should be—and doubtless will be—repudiated by all persons of good will.
The Foundation for Economic Education makes no pretense of “presenting both sides” of the socialist question. The staff members are opposed to socialism call it governmental intervention, fascism, communism, the welfare state, common ownership for the good of all the people, or whatever. Since they are convinced that socialism is evil, they themselves would necessarily become evil by their own standards if they repeated the fallacies and cliches offered by the socialists in defense of their position.
We’re Only Human
The Foundation would no more think of deliberately sponsoring socialist thought than would a minister think of sharing his pulpit with the devil in order that “the people may have the advantage of hearing both sides of the issue.” There is no moral obliga-tion—and there should be no legal obligation—upon any person to advance, present, or sponsor ideas which he considers false or evil. This, of course, doesn’t mean that FEE is always right and hasn’t made mistakes. Since we’re only human, we’ve naturally made our full share of mistakes in both policy and ideas! But when our readers point them out to us—as they frequently do—we admit them and continue our search for more understanding and better explanations.
The Foundation for Economic Education is housed in a rambling old country home at Irvington-on-Hudson, New York—about 20 miles north of New York City.
The Foundation staff is headed by Leonard E. Read, who had spent many years in Chamber of Commerce work and had served as executive vice-president of the National Industrial Conference Board. Among those assisting him are Drs. F. A. Harper and W. M. Curtiss, former professors of marketing at Cornell University; Dr. Ludwig von Mises, famed Austrian economist whose time is divided between the Foundation and his professorship at New York University; Dr. Paul Poirot, former business economist; Dr. Ivan Bierly, former businessman and professor; Thomas Shelly, veteran teacher of history and economics in high school; Miss Bettina Bien, with experience in foreign trade and editorial work; Frank Chodorov, well-known author and editor; Charles Hull Wolfe, former creative executive with a leading advertising agency; and Reverend Edmund A. Opitz. an ordained minister who has studied widely in economic and political science. The Foundation is further staffed by persons skilled in the handling of publications, mailings, library research, records and accounts, secretarial work, and other tasks vital to its operation. There are 50 full-time employees.
Needless to say, the Foundation staff has grown and there have been changes in personnel since 1946. Such change is not unusual, particularly within a group in search more of freedom and its opportunities than security and its betrayals. To help individuals discover their potentialities and then to release them to new and greater opportunities in industry, journalism, teaching, and other occupations is considered an important function of the Foundation.
The 37-man Board of Trustees is now headed by B. E. Hutchinson, former vice-president and chairman, Finance Committee, Chrysler Corporation. The Trustees are drawn from all sections of the nation. They are mostly leaders in industrial and academic work, with one or more representatives from the publishing and communication fields.
While the Trustees advise on general policies of operation, they do not sit as an editorial board. A list of Trustees is available.
The primary objective and leading activity of the Foundation is the compilation and publication of a literature on freedom—by current writers as well as the classical authorities.
During its early years of operation, FEE published well over 200 items on the problems and philosophy of freedom, ranging from single sheets to books. Single copies of each item were sent to any person who had asked to be on FEE’s mailing list. A descriptive list of publications is available.
The literature of freedom carries an appeal to almost every age and interest. A sample of the scope and quality of FEE’s work is well presented in two volumes of Essays On Liberty—collections in book form of previously published shorter articles.
The publication program of FEE was somewhat modified in mid-1954 with the acquisition of THE FREEMAN, a libertarian journal of opinion. Through 1955, this journal under Frank Chodorov’s editorial guidance was circulated on a subscription basis to an independent mailing list.
After 18 months, a decision was reached to use THE FREEMAN as the major carrier of FEE releases. This 64-page, digest-size monthly journal is now offered on a controlled circulation basis to anyone who wants it, the expectation being that most readers also will want to help pay for it. The first $5.00 of each annual contribution to FEE is regarded as payment for THE FREEMAN.
Contributions that exceed the cost of the literature received by donors enable the Foundation to offer its publications on request and without charge to students, teachers, ministers, and others who may wish them. Members of the Foundation staff believe that such friendly cooperation with educators and leaders of thought is essential to the success of their project—that a vital step toward better understanding is to gain the respect and active interest of thoughtful persons in educational centers.
Early in 1956, FEE plans a new service, offering editorial analyses of current issues from the free-market viewpoint to company publications, weekly newspapers, and radio and TV stations.
In addition to its publication program, the Foundation carries on many other activities. For example, while FEE is not a “speakers’ bureau,” the various staff members do fill many speaking engagements, lectures, conferences, and such. In any one year, there may be a hundred or more of these, involving extensive traveling all over the United States and into Canada and Mexico. These personal contacts serve to fulfill the demand and need for verbal presentation of the ideas on freedom. They also introduce FEE and its staff to an ever-widening audience and to ideas, questions, and issues most in need of consideration.
Schools and Colleges
A Foundation project of high importance is its work with students in colleges and high schools. Much care and effort is devoted to their letters. THE FREEMAN and other Foundation publications are offered without charge to students. In the spring of 1956, about 3,500 had requested and were receiving these materials. Quite a thorough job is done in assembling information on the yearly debate questions for both high schools and colleges; and a packet of appropriate Foundation and other literature, as well as an extensive bibliography, are offered on request. Each year hundreds of requests are filled, and the number increases steadily. Inquiry about debate packets may be addressed to Miss Bettina Bien.
The Foundation also offers study guides and bibliographies for the literature on freedom published by FEE or otherwise. The main purpose of this project is to adapt several of the Foundation’s releases to classroom use, though these study guides are also widely used by adult discussion groups. Some teachers especially in high schools—have found these aids most helpful. In line with Foundation policy, this service is offered only on request by the teacher. For further information about study aids, write to Mr. T. J. Shelly.
Each Foundation staff member carries on a large and ever-growing personal correspondence. The staff members feel strongly that much of FEE’s most effective work is done through careful consideration and response to specific questions asked by interested individuals. This highly desirable form of imparting ideas has an added advantage: The staff members learn at least as much as they teach.
A nationally publicized service offered by the Foundation is its College-Business Fellowship Program. This is designed to encourage business firms to offer summer fellowships to college professors. The professors are enabled to spend six weeks observing and participating in the problems and policies of the business firm. While the business firms pay the professors’ basic expenses, the fellowships are not intended to be “summer jobs.” They are offered to qualified professors who are willing to make some sacrifice to increase their knowledge and their teaching ability. Each year fellowships are arranged for more than 100 professors from almost as many different colleges and universities. Some business firms offer several fellowships each year. This is a most popular and ever-expanding project. The Foundation does not award the fellowships. It only serves as co-ordinator between professors and businessmen who are interested in working together. The current “announcement” of this program and its details is available on request.
Beginning in 1956, the Foundation plans to conduct three 2-week seminars each year—in June, July, and August—at Foundation headquarters in Irvington-on-Hud-son, New York. Following daily lectures by distinguished libertarians, participants take part in informal discussions with members of the Foundation staff. These seminars are open to college teachers. Write to Dr. W. M. Curtiss for further information about col-lege-business fellowships or summer seminars.
The Foundation for Economic Education tries to fill every request for the foregoing and other services, while at the same time it must finance its plant and expanding operations. As previously stared, anyone who indicates a sincere interest may, on request, be added to FEE’s mailing list for a copy of each new release and the announcements of its various programs. Obviously these things cost money. Where does it come from?
The method of obtaining financial support to carry on the work of the Foundation is highly unique. Individuals and organizations send annual donations on a strictly voluntary basis. These contributions are tax-exempt because of the educational nature of FEE’s work. The Foundation uses no pressure tactics and has no solicitor on the road to collect its funds. This is in sharp contrast with the common practice of spending much of an organization’s time, effort, and expense in collecting its operating funds. FEE is thus able to use nearly all of the donated money directly in the work for which it was intended—research and education in the problems and ideals of human liberty.
Though the Foundation has no reserve of endowed funds, they are invited nonetheless.
The Foundation’s nearest approach to solicitation is an occasional reminder to those on the mailing list:
1. That $5.00 a year covers the cost of a monthly copy of THE FREEMAN.
2. That costs of other Foundation activities and projects have averaged an additional $10.00 a year for each person on FEE’s mailing list.
3. That any expansion, and indeed, the continuation of FEE’s efforts to supply pub lications to the thousands of teachers, students, clergymen, and others who request and use our material but find it difficult to help FEE financially rests with those individuals, corporations, a n d trusts that can and will contribute from $20 to $10,000 annually.
A few persons worry that certain “big money” may dominate the Foundation’s finances and thus influence its work. Actually FEE receives no single contribution that amounts to as much as three per cent of the total annual budget. The Foundation is free to do its work according to the best judgments of the individual staff members. Their own consciences, not the influence of any concentrated support, guide their work. This, they feel, is important to the kind of job that needs doing.
If the publications and other works of the Foundation are unacceptable to any donor, large or small, he is free to discontinue his support. That is the way it should be. And not infrequently, FEE pays that price of discontinued support. That is the way it should tently honest in its work. Fortunately, the financial arrangement is such that no one donor is empowered to kill any project or to cripple seriously the Foundation’s work through the power of his contribution alone.
It is important to add that everyone’s ideas are always welcome, even if they differ from those expressed in a publication, and whether or not that person is a donor, large or small.
Perhaps above all else, the Foundation is noteworthy for its policy of living according to the theories it propounds—a voluntary society of independent, responsible persons. Individual responsibility and voluntary participation are about the only policies of operation it has. Its mailing list, its donations, its every phase of operation are based on the willingness of the participants and the rejection of the authoritarian approach.
Samples of publications or other information desired may be obtained by writing directly to the Foundation for Economic Education, Inc., Irvington-on-Hudson, New York.