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Jewish World Review May 8, 2002 / 26 Iyar, 5762

Walter Williams

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Celebration of liberty | May 9 marks the 25th anniversary of the Washington, D.C., based Cato Institute. You say, "What's the Cato Institute?" Cato Institute is a freemarket/libertarian think tank directed by Ed Crane, one of its founders. The other founder is Charles Koch, CEO of Koch Industries in Wichita, Kan. Cato's scholars include the who's who of economics, political science and the law, such as William Niskanan, Richard Epstein, Deepack Lal and Henry Manne.

You say, "What's their agenda?" It's easy to discover and understand Cato's agenda. Just read the U.S. Constitution and anything written by Founders such as Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, Patrick Henry and Thomas Paine about liberty and its main ingredient -- limited government. In fact, Cato Institute takes its name from two Englishmen, John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, who concealed their identities with the honored ancient name Cato, as they wrote newspaper articles condemning tyranny, a generation before our Founders were born. Their condemnation of tyranny and writings on the principles of liberty immensely influenced the direction our nation would take.

This year's festivities not only celebrate the Cato Institute's 25th year of advancing liberty through its research and educational efforts, it will award its first $500,000 Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty. Professor and Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman has not only distinguished himself as an economic scholar, but also advocated ideas of economic liberty at a time, during the '40s, '50s and '60s, when our country was hell-bent for socialism -- unpopular ideas such as deregulation, educational vouchers, abolishing rent control and minimum wages.

The Milton Friedman Prize's first recipient is British economist Peter Bauer, who quite unfortunately died at the age of 86 on May 2 -- but he died knowing of the honor bestowed on him. Bauer was chosen by a distinguished international committee consisting of people such as Vaclav Klaus, president of the Czech Parliament; Margaret Thatcher, former British prime minister; Rose Friedman, economist; Antonio Martino, Italian defense minister; Hernando deSoto, author; and others of similar note.

Bauer was chosen because of his pioneering work in the area of development economics. Back in the '40s, when he first published his research on economic development, he stood alone and was vilified by many in the field of economic development. Why? Bauer was a staunch critic of state-led development policy, with its emphasis on central planning and massive foreign aid.

It has been only lately that some people are beginning to come around to the fact that foreign aid and central planning have not lived up to their promises, and in many places produced tyranny and disaster. If asked in 1960 which country would be richer 40 years later, Ghana or Hong Kong, any reasonable person would have said Ghana. But 40 years later, it's Hong Kong that's richer. Ahead of Hong Kong in 1960, Ghana went the way of central planning and reliance on development experts, whereas Hong Kong went for a practically completely deregulated free market.

Bauer also challenged the idea that poverty is self-perpetuating. He argued that poor countries are not immune to economic achievement and wealth accumulation. His vision stood in stark contrast to economic development "experts" at the U.N., World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the U.S. State Department who believed there was a "vicious cycle of poverty" where poor countries on their own were incapable of helping themselves.

Liberty-loving Americans ought to be proud of the work of the Cato Institute. I'm sure that when I get to Heaven and ask the Founders what organization they would join if they were to become mere mortals again, a chorus would rise -- "the Cato Institute!"

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate