All Commentary
Monday, October 1, 2001

FEE’s Goal: From Candlestick to Lighthouse

A Message from FEE's New President


“Those of us interested in an improved perception, awareness, consciousness of the freedom philosophy on the part of others have only to increase our own candle power.” — Leonard E. Read 1

Becoming the president of the Foundation for Economic Education fulfills a lifelong desire of mine to excise bad thinking from the public arena and promote the principles of liberty and sound economics. As a youth in the 1960s I read The Freeman (now Ideas on Liberty) and was introduced to the brilliant ideas of Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, and Henry Hazlitt. Even while in high school I had no problem deciding what my college major would be: economics. From the moment I took my first economics class, I was disturbed by the degree of misconception and ignorance on the subject. As Hazlitt stated, “Economics is haunted by more fallacies than any other study known to man.”2

In my odyssey to find truth and dispel error, I went on to obtain a bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate in economics. Under the personal encouragement of Murray N. Rothbard and Milton Friedman, I wrote my dissertation at George Washington University on sound money, specifically, the 100 percent gold standard (later to be published by FEE under the title Economics of a Pure Gold Standard).

I made my first visit to the 34-room mansion in Irvington, which serves as FEE headquarters, in 1974, and later met FEE’s founder and president, Leonard Read, at a reception in Washington, D.C., where I was working as editor of Personal Finance newsletter. Although I never met Mises, I interviewed Hayek in 1986. In researching my economic books, I have read the writings of and worked with top economists of the Austrian, Chicago, Supply Side, New Classical, and Public Choice traditions. In my many travels over the past 30 years I’ve become familiar with the great free-market think tanks, such as the Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation, and the Institute of Economic Affairs. For the past eight years, at the invitation of former president Hans Sennholz, I have written a column for this magazine titled “Economics on Trial.”

After my election as president on August 20, I took the time to review some of Read’s writings, as well as Mary Sennholz’s insightful biography, Leonard E. Read: Philosopher of Freedom, published by FEE in 1993. Read’s most famous book is Anything That’s Peaceful, published in 1964 and recently reprinted. I highly recommend it (to order a copy, call Laissez Faire Books at 800-326-0996 and tell them you are a FEE customer).

Chapter 11 contains Read’s essay “I, Pencil,” which Milton Friedman popularized with his book and television program, Free to Choose. Read tells the story of how an ordinary pencil is made, describing the behind-the-scenes cooperative efforts of millions of workers, landowners, capitalists, and entrepreneurs. Read comes to this startling conclusion: “There isn’t a person on earth who knows how to make even so simple a thing as a pencil.”3 He confirms the “invisible hand” doctrine espoused by Adam Smith, that the profit-seeking actions of independent self-interested individuals coordinate the activities of millions of people in such a way as to make everyone better off.

Our Mission: It’s FEE Simple

The genius of Leonard Read was his ability to take simple everyday examples and use them to illustrate powerful economic doctrines that the common citizen can easily understand and then apply in ordinary life as worker, businessman, citizen, and voter.

There are many simple but powerful principles—incentives, freedom of choice, thrift—that everyday citizens can use to improve their lives and their government.4

Read taught that every organization should have a “strong clear purpose.” I agree. FEE’s mission is to accelerate—and I do mean accelerate—Read’s vision of expounding free-market economics for everyman through our monthly magazine, seminars, and special events. We’ll leave the erudite high theory, advanced mathematics, and in-depth empirical studies to other scholars. Our goal is to advance the basic concepts of the free market to the general public.

We have a lot of work to do. FEE is not as well known as it should be. But that is about to change. As your new president I will do everything in my power to make FEE a household name like the AARP or NRA. To accomplish this task we need your help. If Leonard Read were alive today he would not mince words: “Spread the word. . . . Increase your own candle power. . . . Be enthusiastic supporters of the freedom movement.”

There are an almost unlimited number of “good causes” you can support today. FEE was the first free-market organization, but it now competes with hundreds of think tanks, lobbying groups, and political action committees. Read didn’t believe in political lobbying, or endorsing legislation or political candidates, and here’s why. He knew that that you don’t change the politicians until you change the people who elect them.

No educational foundation is better equipped to teach basic economics to the world than FEE. Now is the time to jump aboard. With your generous assistance we will make a huge difference. We are considering many new ideas, such as mailing to millions a four-color illustrated magazine highlighting the best articles from Ideas on Liberty (something you can give to your friends); developing a first-class interactive fee.org Web site; sending well-known speakers to college campuses; starting a Web site that ranks the top economics textbooks; holding our first FEE national convention; and linking up with investment conferences and similar events. All this takes money. I urge you to donate whatever you can give for this great cause. A $100 contribution makes you a “Friend of FEE.”

I have personally committed my time and financial resources to this cause. Won’t you join me? To quote Leonard Read’s favorite scripture: “Ye are the light of the world. . . . Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works” (Matthew 5:14–15). FEE has been a burning candle for many years. Now let’s magnify its light as a beacon on a lighthouse.


Notes

  1. Leonard E. Read, Then Truth Will Out (Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Foundation for Economic Education, 1971), p. 130.
  2. Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson, 2nd ed. (New York: Arlington House, 1979), p. 15.
  3. Leonard E. Read, Anything That’s Peaceful, 2nd ed. (Irvington-on-Hudson N.Y.: Foundation for Economic Education, 1998 [1964]), p. 135.
  4. I once put them all together on one page. See The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty, January 1997, pp. 50–51. Reprinted at www.mskousen.com.

  • Mark Skousen is a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University, editor of Forecasts & Strategies, and author of over 25 books. He is the former president of FEE and now produces FreedomFest, billed as the world's largest gathering of free minds. Based on his work “The Structure of Production” (NYU Press, 1990), the federal government now publishes a broader, more accurate measure of the economy, Gross Output (GO), every quarter along with GDP.