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Remembering a Big Mind and the Fight for Smaller Government

Were he alive today, Milton Friedman, Nobel Laureate economist and founder of the national school choice movement, may have written a list of grievances in response to the many outrageous actions taken by our government lately.

Friedman is best known as the 20th century’s father of free market economics, and his philosophy is behind the modern movement toward individual liberty. His principles of cutting government and taxes are likely closely aligned with the Tea Party movement and likely what ignited much of the outrage when Washington imposed a $787 billion bailout last year.

It was Friedman who advised and inspired Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher to slash the size of their governments in the 1980s, resulting in economic prosperity for both nations. Today, as we celebrate what would have been Friedman’s 98th birthday, we unfortunately have government on steroids. With $14 trillion debt and a spending spigot that won’t shut off, Friedman certainly would have predicted the loss of our economic liberty and individual liberty without radical change now.

What we see emerging against this tide of debt and sweeping socialism is a perfect storm of populist uprising –- a tea party if you like. Americans refuse to have their economic freedom destroyed because of bone-headed decisions by the political class.

All of Friedman’s predictions, from “Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program” to “The government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem,” are now crystal clear to many Americans. Something has to give.

Like the patriots seeking independence from King George, I envision if Friedman were alive today, he would list these grievances to those in power. He might say:

• Government has taken control of private companies and is threatening not to give them back to the investors who own them. Case in point: General Motors and Chrysler.

• Government routinely forces children to attend poorly performing schools. This is arbitrary and capricious and thwarts the free movement of parents from one school to another. Examples: Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Detroit.

• Government has created “temporary” programs during these economic hard times that will never disappear. As a result, government expands while liberty contracts. A multitude of new bureaucratic officers have been added to the public payroll that will harass us and deplete more of our paychecks. The new federal health bill, for example, created 159 boards, agencies, commissions, departments and bureaus alone.

• Government routinely violates the public trust by allowing political cronyism and earmarks to exist. This risks the collapse of our economic system while protecting the “iron triangle,” as Friedman called it, of politicians, bureaucrats and lobbyists. The “bridge to nowhere,” for example, served a special constituency instead of the public at large.

• Government has thwarted the hard work of individuals and devalued personal productivity. With the reversal of the welfare reform and the unlimited expansion of unemployment benefits, the federal government devalued hard work and elevated collectivism to increase the power of government.

Ultimately, Friedman’s biggest grievance was a lack of educational freedom in America. He believed the quality of a child’s education should not be tied to the value of their parent’s home. It was fairer and more equitable to separate the government financing of education from the government running of schools. Friedman understood, like our Founding Fathers, that democracy demanded an educated citizenry.

Thankfully, this breakthrough in educational freedom is on the near horizon. And it just might be brought to us courtesy of a Tea Party Movement seeking to unlock all government bondage, particularly spending and regulation that has endangered the freedom of generations to come.

At the end of their personal statement, a book entitled “Free to Choose,” Milton and Rose Friedman said, “Fortunately we as a people are still free to choose which way to go –- whether to continue along the road we have been following to even bigger government, or to call a halt and change direction.”

I call halt.

Enlow is President and CEO of the Foundation for Educational Choice, the school choice legacy foundation of Milton and Rose Friedman.

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Robert Enlow is president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the legacy foundation of Nobel laureate Milton Friedman and his wife Rose.