All Commentary
Monday, March 2, 2009

What We Believe

Believers in Freedom Must Not Take Liberty for Granted

The Foundation for Economic Education is in its seventh decade, and I am now in my eighth year as its president. As we expand the outreach of our programs and publications, now is a good time to remind our readers who we are and what we believe in.

FEE’s vision—the ideal we are striving to achieve—is a world where people flourish in a free and civil society. In such a world the individual’s creative, productive energies are unleashed; private property and the sanctity of contract are upheld; the use of force is confined to protecting the peace; competitive markets allocate scarce resources; and honesty is universally regarded as the best policy in both public and private affairs.

We believe a free society is not only possible; it is also imperative, because there is no acceptable alternative for a civilized people. Our hope is that through education, men and women will understand the moral, philosophic, and economic principles that undergird a free society; that they will appreciate the direct connection between those principles and their material and spiritual welfare; that they will strive to pass those principles on from one generation to the next.

The future we envision is one in which individual expression gives rise to great, even presently unimaginable achievements in culture, medicine, science, and education. Men and women will engage one another peacefully and voluntarily because they will respect one another’s uniqueness, rights, property, and aspirations. No one will be so lacking in humility and introspection as to fancy himself better equipped to plan the lives of others than they, individually, are able to plan for themselves, their families, and their businesses.

FEE aims to provide the best available instruction in the principles of a free society to individuals of all ages whose minds are open to freedom’s exciting challenge. Our organization seeks to be known as a beacon of a vibrant, growing, international movement to educate for liberty.

Our core values begin with the notion that ideas matter. Indeed, ours is a battle of ideas exclusively, not a battle of personalities. Ideas can and do change the world. Investing in them can ultimately reap the highest of returns. Principles, not pragmatism or expediency, define our work.

We are optimistic. Pessimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy. We are waging a battle of ideas to win, not to make a living, bide our time, or go down with the ship with a smile on our faces.

Politics is not our bailiwick. Indeed, we seek to de-politicize life. We want to enlighten public discussion by emphasizing that there is (and ought to be) much more to life in a free and civil society than the political apparatus. We do not advise politicians how to employ the use of force, but rather we make the case against the initiation of force, period.

Within a broadly “pro-liberty” framework, FEE is a “big tent” organization, meaning we encourage dialogue among friends of liberty who may differ with one another on such matters as the precise bounds of government or specific policy issues that are beyond FEE’s economic and philosophic focus. We seek to build bridges not burn them.

We are not religiously affiliated, but that does not mean we are unfriendly to people of faith. To paraphrase the title of a book by FEE’s late scholar Edmund Opitz, faith and a free economy can be “allies, not enemies.”

A free economy in the long run is unlikely if not impossible without the widespread practice of sturdy character—including such traits as humility, self-discipline, self-reliance, patience, and respect for others.

The economic theories of the Austrian school figure prominently in FEE’s approach, but we welcome the contributions of other schools of thought broadly sympathetic to us in their understanding of freedom and a free economy.

In material terms, free people are not equal and equal people are not free. Attempts through the use of government to create equality of income and wealth not only work against our natures as unique individuals, but also lead inevitably to force and conflict.

Private property is a human right first and foremost. Its protection is an indispensable foundation of economic activity in a free society.

Central planning is, as economist Ludwig von Mises stated, “planned chaos.” The spontaneous order of free markets, competition, incentive, entrepreneurship, profit and loss, and flexible prices is infinitely superior in both moral and economic terms.

Pioneering inventors, risk-taking wealth creators, and visionary organizers of people and tools are among society’s greatest heroes. Those whose business is the forcible redistribution of those heroes’ achievements are engaged in immoral, envious, demagogic, or otherwise anti-social behavior.

Government has nothing to give anybody except what it first takes from somebody, and a government that’s big enough to give us everything we want is big enough to take away everything we’ve got.

Taking the Message of Liberty to the World

Nothing about liberty guarantees its future. It is not in any way automatic. It can be lost just as surely and fully by our own choices and votes as it can be taken by a foreign invader. Those who believe in it can take nothing for granted. We must work hard to foster widespread understanding of it or lose it to those who value money and power more.

FEE seeks no resources or special favors from any political authority. We rely entirely on the voluntary support of those who share our perspective and support our mission. We treat the funds our supporters have entrusted to us as if we had earned them ourselves in the first place. We are “entitled” to nothing but the respect and support our work merits in the eyes and hearts of free men and women.

FEE thinks of itself not as a place the world must come to, but as an organization that takes its message to the world. Our seminars are not held in one place but in many. The website reaches millions around the world, with all content available for free. We are forging strategic partnerships with others who love liberty so that we may reach new audiences, especially the young, wherever eager ears desire to hear.

And in all matters we aim for the highest standards of ethical speech and conduct, sound internal management, continuous quality improvement, and customer service. We will never believe we’re so good at something that we can’t get better.

So there you have it. This is what we believe at FEE. I hope you find it inspiring and worth supporting.

  • Lawrence W. Reed is FEE's President Emeritus, having previously served for nearly 11 years as FEE’s president (2008-2019). He is also FEE's Humphreys Family Senior Fellow and Ron Manners Global Ambassador for Liberty. His Facebook page is here and his personal website is