All Commentary
Wednesday, June 1, 1988

Perspective: The Way of Freedom

The human spirit seeks full and free expression in every department of life: in the spoken and written word; in music, sculpture and architecture; in sport and play. And also in work.

Man’s work, when people are free, takes form as the market economy; and the free economy generates the material support the human spirit needs for its intellectural and esthetic fulfillment.

Economic liberty makes for a broadly shared prosperity which provides the wealth a people need to build schools, churches and factories; hospitals and laboratories; theaters, concert halls, art galleries and museums; gardens, playing fields, and stadiums.

These cultural artifacts reflect the several facets of human nature striving for full and harmonious realization; they are the fruits of freedom. Only tend to the roots, and these miracles—and more—are possible.

—Edmund A. Opitz

Age-21 Drinking Laws

“[T]he enactment of minimum [drinking] age laws around the country has led to an increase in illegal drinking by those under 21.

“Just as those under 21 are not stopped by law from acquiring drugs, so too do those under 21 acquire alcoholic beverages. And instead of paying higher prices in taverns, they now buy more for the same dollar in unsupervised offpremise outlets. That increase in illegal drinking may be the cause of the increase in deaths of 15-to-19-year-old drivers and passengers.

“In fact, recent data from the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration show that the number of alcohol-related deaths of 15-to-19-year-olds increased from 3,115 to 3,540 between 1985 and 1986. In the prior years, before the very wide enactment of the 21-year-old minimum age laws, alcohol- related deaths of 15-to-19-year-olds had decreased from 4,135 to 3,115 from 1982 to 1985. In 1986, there was, therefore, a sharp reversal of the trend, possibly because of the enactment of minimum-age-21 laws and despite the continuing campaign against drunken driving.

“Those who have sought to reduce the number of fatalities by enacting laws that lead teenagers to drink more illegally on campus and off campus have created the opposite result of what they intended. More youths are dying because of a foolishly enacted law.

“As things stand now, those ardent advocates of the minimum 21-year-old law must now explain why alcohol-related deaths of teenagers and those from even a lower age group increased in 1986 after they had declined consistently for a number of years.”

—Jerry Steinman,

publisher of Alcohol Issues Insights,

in a letter to The New York Times

(November 27, 1987)

Push the Button

Should the welfare state be eliminated all at once or phased out over time? Some of the most committed freedom devotees waffle when it comes to that question. They maintain that the immediate elimination of the welfare system would be unfair or harmful to those who benefit from the welfare apparatus.

We must never lose sight of the fact that the welfare state is founded on an immoral principle. The political process is used to coercively take the wealth and income of some and transfer it to others. The person whose property is plundered is denied the basic right to dispose of his property in the manner he chooses.

We must also take care not to doubt the efficacy of freedom and the market process. When people are unable to turn to the political system for sustenance and support, and instead must rely upon their own efforts and the voluntary efforts of others, the resulting economic vitality benefits everyone.

In Germany after World War II, Ludwig Er-hard one day surprised everyone by lifting the extensive economic controls which the Allies had imposed on the German people. Despite all the dire predictions of the harmful effects Er-hard’s action would have on the Germaneconomy, the result was the beginning of the German economic miracle.

In the 1930s, serious doubts began to be raised about the effectiveness of the National Industrial Recovery Act, the pervasive economic controls which regulated American businesses. Many argued that the regulations would have to be removed gradually, rather than all at once, because so many people had become dependent on them. One day the Supreme Court declared the Act unconstitutional and immediately the American economy began to revitalize.

Perhaps the best example of a sudden removal of a welfare system took place when Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox. Prior to the Civil War, blacks in the South were provided their food, housing, employment, and other necessities of life. There were those who argued that the slaves were too dependent on the system to be immediately permitted their freedom. Nevertheless, the newly freed blacks rapidly adjusted to their new lives of liberty and self-reliance.

To eliminate the welfare state, the “button” should be pushed. Why? Because to argue for the continuation of an immoral action, even for a short period of time, is itself immoral. Furthermore, freedom works: the creative abilities of human beings enable them to respond quickly to the market process.


Arthur Shenfield at FEE

We are pleased to announce that Arthur Shenfield, eminent British economist and barrister, will be Visiting Scholar at FEE for the month of June. He will devote his time to writing and lecturing.

Dr. Shenfield has been economic director of the Confederation of British Industry, director of the International Institute for Economic Research and president of the Mont Pelerin Society. He has held visiting professorships at a number of U.S. colleges and universities, including the University of Chicago, Temple University, University of Dallas, University of San Diego, and Rockford College. This past year he was the Ludwig von Mises Distinguished Visiting Professor of Economics at Hillsdale College.

  • The Rev. Edmund A. Opitz (1914-2006) was a Congregationalist minister, a FEE staff member, who for decades championed the cause of a free society and the need to anchor that society in a transcendent morality. A man of wide reading and high culture, Opitz was for many years on the staff of the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington-on-Hudson, New York. He was one of the few voices in the 1950s through the 1990s calling for an integrated understanding between economic liberty and religious sensibility. He was the founder and coordinator of the Remnant, a fellowship of conservative and libertarian ministers.