Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009 -- "Free Markets and Free Speech"

With Thanksgiving 2009 upon us, in the last several days I have been reflecting upon its meaning to me this year, and relating this meaning to the Free State Foundation's work, where we proclaim our mission to promote free market, limited government, and rule of law principles.

Of course, there are many ways we Americans think about Thanksgiving, including conjuring up our favorite cranberry sauce or stuffing, or deciding which team we're rooting for in the traditional Thanksgiving Day football games. Not to mention which Black Friday sales will draw us out of bed pre-dawn on Friday morning.

But I have no doubt that, aside from enjoying the turkey, the football games, and the shopping sprees, most Americans, and especially those who are more recent arrivals to our shores, marvel at the sheer abundance that prevails in America as we approach the end of 2009. And, even amidst the more difficult economic times, I have no doubt that, although not always consciously, and at times perhaps even grudgingly, most Americans recognize, and are thankful for, that abundance -- and for the success of the American experiment in democratic capitalism that has made such abundance possible.

The success of this experiment depends at its core on the protection of individual liberty – that is, the preservation of sufficient freedom from government interference and control that individuals and businesses can nurture the entrepreneurial spirit that fosters the drive for self-betterment, the willingness to take risks on new ideas and to innovate, and the willingness to invest capital in new businesses.

With the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall earlier this month, we were reminded, but perhaps not often enough, of President Reagan's famous June 1987 injunction: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" Later in his Berlin speech, President Reagan proclaimed: "This wall cannot withstand freedom."

On this Thanksgiving, Reagan's freedom cry in Berlin called to mind for me that part of his January 1989 Oval Office Farewell Address in which, for the last time, he invoked John Winthrop's "shining city upon the hill" image. Here is what Reagan said:

"And that's about all I have to say tonight. Except for one thing. The past few days when I've been at that window upstairs, I've thought a bit of the "shining city upon a hill." The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we'd call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free. I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still."

"An early Pilgrim. An early freedom man."

The Pilgrims didn't set sail seeking the prospect of more government control over the way they lived their lives, and practiced their beliefs. They were seeking less.

In that same farewell address, President Reagan also proclaimed:

"Countries across the globe are turning to free markets and free speech and turning away from the ideologies of the past. For them, the great rediscovery of the 1980s has been that, lo and behold, the moral way of government is the practical way of government: Democracy, the profoundly good, is also profoundly productive."

"Free markets and free speech."

This is not the time to rehearse the Free State Foundation's voluminous scholarly position papers, commentaries, blogs, event transcripts, and the like. They are available on the FSF website for the taking. But if America is to continue to be that "shining city on the hill," it is always a proper time – and, yes, Thanksgiving, is a particularly proper time – to reflect upon the importance of preserving free markets and free speech. For without free markets and free speech, America would not enjoy the abundance that we do today.

Much of the work we do at the Free State Foundation involves the ongoing fight to preserve free markets and free speech. It happens this is especially true with respect to our work in the communications law and policy realm, where, for example, new proposals for government regulation of the Internet threaten both. Indeed, as I have explained here, here, and here, proponents of the benign-sounding Internet regulatory regime called "net neutrality" turn the First Amendment on its head, arguing we have more to fear from private Internet providers censoring speech than from the government enforcing its own brand of content neutrality. History and our founding principles belie this notion. Our liberty is more secure when the promotion of "fairness" and "non-discrimination" in our media resides in the hands of citizens exercising choice in the competitive marketplace rather than in the hands of the government as enforcer.

For now, it is enough to reflect and be thankful. And I am especially grateful for the support of so many friends of FSF. There will be time enough to carry on the battles for free market, limited government, and rule of law principles.

In the meantime, and for now, Happy Thanksgiving to all!