By now, we hope you have heard about Ottawa University’s Angell Snyder Business School Symposium Thursday at our Ottawa campus. The theme, “Exploring Economic Freedom,” is a most timely one for all of us, especially in this election season, where it is at the heart of much that is debated.
Throughout the day-long symposium, several renowned speakers will explore issues surrounding the topic of economic freedom. Our own Dr. Russ McCullough, associate professor of economics, and Wayne D. Angell, distinguished chair of economics, will lead off with “A Philosophical and Historical Overview of Economic Freedom,” followed by Dr. Anne Rathbone Bradley, of the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics, who will give “A Biblical Defense of Income Inequality.”
Stavros Eminent Scholar Chair at Florida State University, Dr. James Gwartney, OU class of 1962, will then give a special luncheon presentation on “Economic Freedom: Why it is the Key to Growth and Prosperity.” The first afternoon session will feature Rick McNary, who founded Numana, Inc., and is titled “Government, University and Private Sector Liaison for Stop Hunger Now.” He will explore economic freedom as it relates to world hunger in his session “Changing the Way We Talk about Hunger.”
The symposium will wrap up with a panel discussion on “Economic Freedom and the Impact on Public Policy” with all speakers and school namesake Angell, OU class of 1952, who is a former member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and longtime OU Professor of Economics.
As is probably obvious from this range of topics, economic freedom means different things to different people, as their interpretation might suit their needs. But to me, economic freedom is central to the notion of freedom itself. In fact, I challenge the reader to find any nation or government where freedom of speech, freedom of religion, financial freedom, freedom of travel, or virtually any other personal freedoms exist when economic freedom also is not present. These freedoms, so prized by Americans and other democratically oriented nations, are closely allied to the basic idea that human beings should be encouraged and entitled to pursue their personal dreams and ambitions and to seek through vocation and investment to improve their station in life, that of their heirs, and that of their societal neighbors and institutions. Economic freedom, quite simply, is a core value and a core belief on which free societies everywhere are built.
Through the centuries, various thinkers and philosophers, as well as certain world leaders, have attempted to eviscerate the core premises of economic freedom by pointing out the unattractive consequences of unbridled avarice, the inequities so obvious in society, the excesses of greed and capitalism run amok. Indeed, we do live in a world where those to whom much has been given (or who have earned much) are expected to care about and support those who are suffering and who have so much less. And, to be sure, much of that world leaves much to be desired. It can be incredibly ugly and untidy, and we don’t have to go far to see and experience that downside. Most of us have little respect for those economically blessed individuals who behave selfishly with little care for those less fortunate or who turn a blind eye to the needy.
But here is where the argument about the limits of economic freedom cut most deeply. What are the limits of economic freedom? Should there be any? Who decides how much wealth is too much? Who decides the basis for wealth redistribution (a major objective of taxation)? What are the consequences of artificial barriers to wealth creation, intended or otherwise? What is the relationship of economic incentive (the core of economic freedom) to jobs, national security, personal safety, governmental effectiveness, or for that matter, the other personal freedoms we hold dear?
History shows that regardless of those apparently laudable motives undergirding socialist movements, attempts to abridge economic freedom and thus to subvert economic growth incentives are doomed to failure and the laws of unintended consequence. Look at the former Eastern Germany (which suffers still the hangover of that repressive regime) in contrast to what is now the rest of Germany. Look at our Cuban neighbor. Look at Venezuela or many other Latin American countries. Check out the emerging outcomes still unfolding in the Middle East and Africa as a consequence of the so-called Arab Spring. Everywhere, human beings yearn for opportunity to grow, to build, to be free to determine within their God-given capabilities the work they do, what they might do with the income generated from their labors and talents, how to build and care for their families and causes they hold dear.
Of course, there are those who would espouse economic freedom for their personal ambitions and purposes. But, friends, economic freedom is too big and too pervasive an idea to belong to any political party, any candidate, or any nation. No one has a lock on it for their selfish purposes. All of us should own it viscerally and intellectually. We need to be mightily concerned about how to protect and extend it, especially when there are forces at work that would seek to derail economic freedom and to diminish its power. As imperfect as America’s continuously evolving definition of economic freedom is, what we have left of it is certainly worth preserving and developing. And do not think for one second that the abridgment of economic freedom won’t lead to suppression of other freedoms. We have all of history to demonstrate what happens in its absence.
Come explore this extraordinary concept with us at Ottawa University. Develop your own ideas on the topic. Hear from others who have made careers out of answering questions like the ones raised above. The tuition for this symposium is free, but the education will hopefully last a lifetime. Register at www.ottawa.edu/angellsnyder
Kevin Eichner is president of Ottawa University. He invites your feedback to this column. E-mail him at email@example.com