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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Function of The Freeman

Editor’s Note: The Freeman began publication before it became part of the Foundation for Economic Education in 1956. Its first issue was published in 1950, with Henry Hazlitt, author of Economics in One Lesson, as an editor and FEE founder Leonard E. Read a member of the board of directors. What follows was originally part of a first-anniversary (1951) editorial in which Hazlitt explained the role of The Freeman in the freedom movement. It is still relevant today.

In our first issue, on October 2, 1950, we published an editorial called “The Faith of the Freeman,” in which we outlined our fundamental economic, political and moral philosophy. In the fifteen months since then our articles and editorials, we trust, have made that basic philosophy and its practical application increasingly clear.

Now, at the completion of our first full calendar year of existence, we think it appropriate to say something about our function. That function is in one respect obvious. It is to propagate our announced philosophy, and to apply it, as we have been doing, to current issues as they arise. On the constructive and positive side, in other words, our function is to expound and apply the principles of traditional liberalism and individual freedom. On the negative side, it is to expose the errors of collectivism of all shades—of statism, “planning,” controllism, socialism, fascism and communism. One of our central aims is, on the one hand, to hearten and strengthen those who already accept most of the philosophy of individual freedom and to help them to clarify their own thinking; and, on the other hand, to convert open-minded collectivists to the philosophy of freedom.

The mere announcement of such an aim is likely to be followed by immediate expressions of skepticism or incredulity. Some of our correspondents tell us, for example, that a magazine like The Freeman is read only by those who already believe in its aims, and therefore we are doing nothing more than “talking to ourselves.” But even if this were true, which we do not believe, we would still be performing a very important function. It is imperative that those who already believe in a market economy, limited government and individual freedom should have the constant encouragement of knowing that they do not stand alone, that there is high hope for their cause. It is imperative that all such people keep abreast of current developments and know their correct interpretation, and that, through constant restatement and mutual criticism of each other’s ideas; they continue to clarify, improve, and perfect their understanding. Only if they do this can they be counted upon to remain true to a libertarian philosophy, and be proof against collectivist fallacies. Only if those on “our side” do this can we even hope to hold our ranks together and cease constantly to lose converts, as in the past, to collectivism.

But the function of a journal of opinion like The Freeman only begins here; it does not stop here. It is necessary for the believers in a free system to do far more than hold their present thin ranks together. If they hope to see their ideas triumph, it is imperative that they make converts themselves from the philosophy of collectivism, “security” and serfdom that dominates the world today.

They can do this only if they themselves have a deeper understanding than the collectivists, and are able not only to recognize the collectivist errors, but to refute them in such a way that the more intelligent and well-meaning collectivists themselves will recognize, acknowledge and renounce them as errors. And those on “our side” cannot do this, cannot live up to their responsibilities, unless they have troubled to keep themselves informed to make their ideas clearer and their understanding deeper than those of the collectivists. For our side can hope to grow only if it attracts and keeps adherents who in turn will become, not blind or one-eyed partisans, but enlightened and able expositors, teachers, disseminators, proselytizers.

To make this possible, it is essential that there should exist a prospering periodical with the aims of The Freeman.

* * *

Children’s books about the environment are so dull and devoid of active people that Andrew Morriss hopes kids are playing video games rather than reading that stuff.

A report claiming that the tax burden is the lightest since the Truman administration gave Progressive talk-show hosts something to beat the tax-cutters over the head with—until the report was debunked. As D. W. MacKenzie points out, it’s easy to make the tax burden look small if you don’t count all the taxes.

Government schooling has been subjected to all kinds of criticisms. Michael Bors shows that Public Choice arguments shed further light on why the schools are bad and don’t improve.

This sounds like a bad dream, but people inside and outside of government are actually proposing that the failing newspaper business be bailed out by the taxpayers. Edward López shows why that’s a terrible idea.

The Glass-Steagall Act was the major banking regulation of the New Deal. In 1999 a key part was repealed. Was that repeal responsible for the recent financial debacle? Warren Gibson and Jeffrey Rogers Hummel have the skinny.

The welfare state isn’t just wasteful and larcenous. It’s morally corrupting. Richard Fulmer tells why.

Police departments have ways to keep abusive officers’ names out of the papers. Wendy McElroy says that denies citizens one of their greatest protections against police misconduct.

Contrary to Lord Keynes’s maxim that in the long run we’re all dead, his spirit is alive and well more than 64 years after his death. Richard McKenzie looks into this curiosity.

Our columnists have plenty to talk about: Lawrence Reed reveals his sympathies for Marxism. Thomas Szasz scrutinizes the medicalization of suicide. Burton Folsom has a few choice words about Theodore Roosevelt. John Stossel catalogues attacks on our freedom. Walter Williams exposes some Washington lies. And Mark Skousen, hearing for the nth time that consumer spending drives the economy, objects, “It Just Ain’t So!”

Our reviewers dissect books on the financial mess, British libertarian Arthur Seldon, antipsychiatry, and public schooling.

—Sheldon Richman
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  • Henry Hazlitt (1894-1993) was the great economic journalist of the 20th century. He is the author of Economics in One Lesson among 20 other books. See his complete bibliography. He was chief editorial writer for the New York Times, and wrote weekly for Newsweek. He served in an editorial capacity at The Freeman and was a board member of the Foundation for Economic Education. 

  • Sheldon Richman is the former editor of The Freeman and a contributor to The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. He is the author of Separating School and State: How to Liberate America's Families and thousands of articles.