All Commentary
Sunday, November 1, 1987

Perspective: Give Thanks for Freedom

The Pilgrims are usually credited with having celebrated the first Thanksgiving in this hemisphere. and rightly so. However, the custom of giving thanks became nationwide only much later.

Our first President, George Washington, was grateful for the Constitution. In his view, it offered an opportunity for the new nation to start afresh. On October 3, 1789, he proclaimed one day nationwide, Thursday, November 26, for “acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.” In Washington’s view, the new Constitution limited the power of government, leaving the people free “to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually.” He gave special thanks also “for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed.”

Ever since Civil War time, beginning with Abraham Lincoln, our Presidents have issued a similar Proclamation each year, setting aside one special day for giving thanks. Thanksgiving Day has become a national holiday, celebrated by some in prayer, by some in sports and parades, and by others with feasts.

We in this country today enjoy economic prosperity on a scale unequaled in any other time or clime. We pride ourselves on our “American way of life.” We truly have a great deal to be thankful for. However, as we count our blessings this November, let us give some thought and thanks to the freedom on which these many blessings rest.

It is commonplace to say that the colonies were settled, the West explored, the nation developed, and the country populated by individualists who wanted to be independent. The tired, the poor, the huddled masses who yearned to be free came to our shores. They sought the opportunity to speak, to write, to work, to worship, and to live where and as they chose. The Statue of Liberty now symbolizes their desire to escape oppressive government and to seek opportunity in this land of the free.

We still pay lip service to freedom. But many have forgotten our ancestors’ fear of oppressive government. Many have come to rely on some government privilege or protection. We no longer understand how such piecemeal interventions, regulations, and controls can gradually erode our independence. We no longer realize what a big debt we owe to freedom and to the freedom of others.

Practically everything we have today has stemmed from the ideas, initiative, and efforts of free men and women, working and producing together. The food, clothing, shelter, and luxuries we now enjoy represent the output of men and women working, planning, and producing in voluntary cooperation with one another. Countless individuals have labored without being coaxed or coerced by government to till the soil, cultivate the fruits and vegetables, harvest the grains, herd the sheep and cattle, build the skyscrapers, erect the churches and synagogues, build the factories, manufacture the automobiles, trains, planes and buses, weave the textiles, invent the radio, moving pictures, television, computers, appliances, and other conveniences, produce the medicines, build the hospitals, write the books and stories, print the newspapers, compose the music, produce the plays and films, and so on, that all of us now use and enjoy. We are apt to forget that this entire process of voluntary social cooperation could disintegrate if government obstructions are permitted to expand and to proliferate.

Countless individuals, each with his or her own particular aptitudes, talents, and interests, have contributed to the good life we now enjoy. In giving thanks this year, therefore, let’s count our blessings. But let’s do more than that. Let’s not forget the debt we owe to free men and women everywhere, whose ideas, initiative, innovativeness, energy, and efforts contribute to our well- being. In all humility, therefore, let’s give thanks also to the freedom that makes our blessings possible.

Peru’s Informal Economy

Peru’s Institute for Liberty and Democracy (ILD) estimates that 40 per cent of the nation’s GNP is produced by the subterranean economy. “Informal” (unlicensed) entrepreneurs build houses, repair motor vehicles, and run their own small factories. In the capital of Lima, half the population lives in housing built by the informal sector, and informal entrepreneurs provide 95 per cent of public transportation.

Why are so many workers and entrepreneurs operating without licenses and other government permits? Red tape. Peru has more than 500,000 laws and executive orders. When ILD tested the bureaucratic waters by trying to open a small workshop with two sewing machines, it took 289 days to get the needed permits. It took a group of low-income families almost seven years to acquire a vacant lot to build a house. And it takes an average of two decades to obtain formal title to a home. When people are poor, they can’t afford the time and expense of dealing with an endless parade of bureaucrats.

But ILD cautions that the informal sector is far from an ideal business environment. There are no legally enforceable contracts, businesses can’t incorporate, capital is difficult to acquire, and entrepreneurs must self-insure. Still, for millions of people in Peru and other nations, the subterranean economy is the only hope for survival.