“Free people are not equal and equal people are not free.”
This was the first of seven principles Lawrence W. Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education, shared with the audience at Flathead Valley Community College during a talk last month. Reed delivers more than 70 lectures annually and the “Seven Principles of Sound Public Policy” is one of his more famous speeches. The crux of his message revolves around what a free society truly is and what the proper role of government should be in that society.
Reed, who resides in Newnan, Georgia, came to the Flathead Valley because of a request from Kalispell businesswoman Mary McCracken.
“I’ve been wanting to bring him here because he’s so worthwhile,” McCracken said. “I feel like people should be able to have the benefit of knowing and learning from someone like him and the Foundation for Economic Education. What we need now are role models, but more than that, we need those who give you a real hope to believe in yourself, because that’s the most important things you can have.”
One of the first things you notice about Reed is his gentleness. In the current climate of hot takes and shouting matches instead of genuine discourse, Reed is atypical in the extreme. He is soft-spoken, mild, even a little too quiet, and yet his logical reasoning carries a resonance. From the outset of his talk Reed let the audience know the principles he is sharing are not a unique set of principles that he is responsible for creating. The only credit he takes is for compiling them and adding his own anecdotes to the presentation.
Reed told the audience that in a lot of ways the seven pillars could really come down to just the seventh. “Character makes all the difference in the world,” said Reed. “You cannot expect good policy from men of bad character. Furthermore, no country has ever lost its character and kept its liberty. Liberty and character are two sides of the same coin, and they are what set America apart for so long.”
Reed defines character as the cluster of traits that everyone would like to see more of in the world. These include honesty, integrity (being a person of your word), intellectual humility (learning should be a life-long commitment), responsibility, courage (defined as putting the truth first and seeking to advance it because you know in your heart that it is right).
As a final point, Reed stressed the importance of optimism.
“If you’re pessimistic, meaning you’ve already given up, you won’t work as hard for what you believe is right,” he said. “Good things happen because of good people who refuse to give up.”
One of the people who attended the talk was Joe Coco of Coco Enterprises in Whitefish. “I have to say that I have a cult-like affinity for Larry Reed,” said Coco. “I’ve been following him for about two decades. When he speaks you can tell that economics informs his world view. I have that same world view.
“Larry Reed is not anti-government; he is simply asking the question, ‘Why use something less efficient when we have more efficient options available?’” Coco said.
“What strikes me is he’s not antagonistic, his message is gentle and persuasively powerful. This guy really takes the complex and makes it understandable in layman’s terms.”
This was the fourth time Coco has gone to hear Reed speak in Montana.
“He’s one of my economic heroes,” said Coco. “Most of us, even if we’re cynics, want to hang out with optimists. He throws out a light and the rest of us are moths.”
You can find many versions of Reed’s talk online including this one on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOtLFMr3LAQ&t=16s
Lawrence Reed is the author of “Excuse Me, Professor: Challenging the Myths of Progressivism” and “Real Heroes: Incredible True Stories of Courage, Character and Conviction.” He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics and a master’s degree in history and has written many newspaper, journal and magazine articles on political and economic issues.
Brenda Ahearn is a Daily Inter Lake photographer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.