EXCLUSIVE AUDIO: Dr. Will Ruger on a Free Society




June 15, 2014



“The Free Society: Five Key Features and Benefits”


KEVIN GENTRY: So Dr. Hanson helped us understand the nature of the threats we face. So the next logical extension of that is to what is the vision for a better life. What is the alternative to that? (Inaudible) what that is. What does it look like? And so, Dr. Will Ruger, (inaudible) policy at the Charles Koch Institute, and he’s going to walk us through a little lesson that I think will be helpful to us all. Will, take it away.

WILL RUGER: Well, good afternoon and Happy Father’s Day. And as a former professor, I’m really excited to actually have a two-hour speaking block.


WILL RUGER: No, no, I won’t do that to you all. But I do want to take some time with you to talk — to talk about (inaudible) freedom.

Unfortunately, the U.S. is under siege, and this is why all of us courageously step up (inaudible) preservation. As Thomas Paine wrote early in the American Revolution, “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will during this crisis shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands by it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered. Yet we have the consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”

So what are we fighting for? What was it about this country, this ideal, that Paine and the Founding Fathers thought so worthy of fighting and dying for, and that people in this country generation after generation have sacrificed for? What is the free society (inaudible)? Well, it’s probably composed of economic freedom, but it’s also much more than that. A free society is not just about the one type of freedom. It’s about the freedom (inaudible). All types of freedom are honored (inaudible) flourishing life. Because of that (inaudible), let’s explore the features of this free society, and then the important benefits of mankind’s well-being that flow from it.

The first of these features is respect for the dignity of the individual. A free society is one where individuals are considered to have moral dignity that must be respected by other people and government. Individuals are more (inaudible) equal in the eyes of the law, and a just government does not make distinctions among people according to class, race, religion, and so many other things that make us different from one another (inaudible).

This adds up to an important emphasis in a free society on individual liberty. And a free society is one where individuals and families are the key building blocks of society and are ethically (inaudible). Individuals may not be sacrificed as they are in (inaudible) for the alleged good of the whole. And the (inaudible) over the state. But friends of liberty were (inaudible) that our lives are given meaning by the service we supply to the Nation.

Instead a free society is one which the most important things in life are meant to be realized by individuals in the private sphere through personal effort and voluntary cooperation: family life, providing value to others in business, the joint achievements of (inaudible) and voluntary associations, the cultivation of personal virtue, feeling satisfied about earned success, and a life well-lived. These are the important things, not what government decides (inaudible).

A second feature of a free society is that the role of government be limited. The state’s primary job is to protect people from the coercive acts of others, (inaudible) is one focused on protecting individual liberties, rather than achieving the grand designs — the grand collectivist designs of those who hold power, or the rule of the majority.

This means government should focus on upholding the law of equal freedom, mainly that people should be allowed to use their lives and property as they see fit (inaudible). State action is not designed to produce any particular outcome, but to allow individuals to pursue their own life projects as they want. Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to accept all of these as good, but it does mean (inaudible).

Government is thus limited to a small, but absolutely critical number of tasks, basically keeping our neighborhoods and cities safe from crime, defending our country from those who might violate our national territories, our commerce at sea, and providing justice in a fair and apolitical — political court system.

A free society must also be guided by the rule of law, and you’ve heard that already. It’s crucial. This means that government officials, like the President, cannot simply decide on their own when to obey the law and when to ignore it. The rule of law constrains our leaders and the corruptive nature of power. I tell you, a government that does not care about the rule of law is unlimited and despotic. And if we don’t constrain power through law, to paraphrase Thucydides, the strong will do what they will, and the meek will suffer what they must. That is not a good society. That is not a just society.

(Inaudible) tends to generate the third (inaudible), a free market economic order in which individuals freely and peacefully turn to each other to satisfy their mutual wants and needs. This market that Americans (inaudible) rational self-interest in mutually beneficial ways as freedom unleashes our national propensity to talk, barter, and trade. And it allows us to fulfill our desire to improve our (inaudible) and the conditions of our children and grandchildren.

Now let’s talk about (inaudible). Well, of course, freedom is valuable as an end in itself. But a free society is also valuable because of the great number of benefits (inaudible), okay, from respecting (inaudible) the individual from limited government, and from a free market order.

(Inaudible) likely obvious to you all (inaudible) frequently remember. (Inaudible) rising and broad prosperity. In 1776, at the same time (inaudible) the American Revolution, Adam Smith wrote that “Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice: all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things.”

Smith got it generally right, and mountains of research have supported that statement and shown how free institutions support rising living standards and greater material welfare. (Inaudible) that shows the relation to economic freedom and prosperity. It’s pretty remarkable how when freedom goes up, prosperity does, too. It’s pretty simple. It goes all the way back to 1776.

And we clearly see the difference between free societies and collectivist regimes in this night-time satellite image of the Korean peninsula, where the collectivist north is literally in the dark due to its poverty. This is what collectivism gives you. But just as important as overall wealth, a free society allows for greater prosperity for the least fortunate as goods and services become better and cheaper, and thus available to a greater number of people.

Here is a slide by Michael Cox of (inaudible). It graphs over time the percentage of households that have a number of products (inaudible) granted to them. What we see is a steady progress in the number of goods and services — of goods that were at first available only to the wealthy, but that are available to almost everyone today. And this is due not only to increases in individual and household wealth, but also to the dynamic power of markets to reduce the price and increase the quality of goods.

We should thank people in this group for doing that. Take cell phones, for example. Back in the 1980s when Gordon Gekko walked the beach in the movie Wall Street, cell phones cost $9,000 in current dollars, had 30 minutes of battery power, and weighed as much as a brick. Today phone companies practically give them away when you sign up for a plan, and they’re basically super computers that weigh a few ounces. And you can talk on it for about 10 hours before the battery runs out. But you didn’t build that, right?


WILL RUGER: A free society works with arts and culture, too. Just to take one example, in the United States orchestras employ 17,000 musicians and 11,000 administrative staff, and they give 27,000 performances annually for 33 million people. Technological advances and free markets have also brought art and culture to a wide audience, not just for the rich. Mozart played to small audiences of elitists, whereas today we have a whole range of music available to everyone at low cost on Amazon. In the 1760, two books cost two days’ worth of labor. Today now with paperbacks, books cost less than one hour’s work at minimum wage.

Free societies are also strong and resilient (inaudible). Free societies with capitalist economies are able to create strong militaries for defense against terrorists. And the government is not the creator of the wealth that it depends up to build these strong militaries. You are. The American society is. Admiral Mike Mullen, a recent chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, argued that “A strong economy and strong national security are inextricably linked.” He also noted that debt and deficits are national security threats because of the danger they (inaudible) for the military deficit.

One example that bears this out is how the United States was been able to bury the Soviets during the Cold War. The fundamental (inaudible) they showed in the economic system ultimately did them in. But the following is also true: during the entire Cold War period, the Soviet Union was forced to spend nearly twice as much and sometimes three times as much on defense as the U.S. did as a percentage of GDP. Why? Because their economy was much deeper than ours was, and this difference helped accelerate their collapse.

Free societies are also more resilient than others. Think about 9/11. Although it was a horrific loss of innocent life and caused (inaudible) economic (inaudible) in New York City, America as a whole was quite resilient in the (inaudible). The economy and civil society maintained their robustness despite the fact. And internationally when we think about national disasters, free societies with prosperous economies suffer far less harm than un-free countries.

In 2010 Haiti’s earthquake was one of the worst natural disasters in the modern age. It killed 316,000 people. The magnitude of that earthquake registered 7.0 on the Richter scale. Within a year, the much freer and more economically developed nation of Chile had a severe earthquake of 8.8 magnitude, but suffered only 532 deaths (inaudible). Free societies are robust ones.

Now another key (inaudible) of a free society is that it allows for people to realize true virtue, and true virtue is about choice. Sure, in a world without freedom, we could be prevented from (inaudible). But then any chance of actually doing it would be gone as well since real choice is a prerequisite of true virtue. (Inaudible) our common bonds without free will (inaudible). As conservative writer, Frank Meyer, said about men, “Unless men are free to be vicious, they cannot be virtuous.” No community can make them virtuous. The person is the one with the virtue. Unless (inaudible) he cannot be (inaudible).

And a free society actually incentivizes and conditions us to exercise true virtue. Freedom allows us to continually flex our moral muscles such that we do the right thing when (inaudible). However, in a less free world, our moral muscles get flabby and our moral strength becomes weak.

As Albert Jay Nock, the great old (inaudible), he said we need moral experience as a condition of wealth, and “Freedom is the only condition out of which any kind of substantial moral fiber can be developed.” And this is why (inaudible) to cultivate the bourgeois (inaudible) such as the ethic of hard work and perseverance as well as (inaudible) courage, prudence, hope, and so many others. Why? Because commerce as they say — as has been said (inaudible) tends to (inaudible) us all (inaudible). We are like coins with rougher edges. We are like coins with rougher — with rougher edges, that as commerce passes us from hand to hand, in the market we are worn down and smoothed. A polite society is created.

Another great thing about a free society is that it creates the stage for a robust civil society that claims personal responsibility and care for (inaudible). As Alexis de Tocqueville, the author of Democracy in America, put it, there’s (inaudible) everywhere in America doing everything, because in a free society we have needs (inaudible) voluntarily without the heavy hand of government.

To give you just one example of thousands, the Knights of Columbus. Most people don’t realize it, but The Knights of Columbus was created to help poor Irish immigrants, like the people shown here, who were met with (inaudible) and hostility when they first moved over to the United States. So the Knights provide insurance programs to assist widows and orphans. They also provided funds for members who couldn’t work through (inaudible). Clearly people can do great good, and will when given the choice.

And we’ve seen that the standard of the modern welfare state has tended to undermine and destroy that civil society, and it does separate (inaudible). A larger welfare state means less charitable giving. It crowds out the civil society that’s been a strength in our country.

Now, economic freedom in a free society is also (inaudible) the need for (inaudible) political freedom. This is borne out in cross-national studies that show that economic freedom leads to modernization, which leads to political freedom. Or consider it less abstractly. If we didn’t have economic freedom, who would decide who gets the (inaudible) newspaper? Who gets the (inaudible), and who decides on that? Who should get those things?

We all know from experience that if the government chooses who gets to have a voice, that that voice will not be as robust as it should be, and it will be politicized. Winston Churchill himself realized this when he was not allowed in the 30s to talk about the present danger they faced because of the government monopoly on the radio. It was deemed too controversial.

In a free society, we here can hold this private meeting without asking — having to ask government for permission to use this building. But if we didn’t have economic freedom (inaudible) politics (inaudible) markets, only those favored by government or those government officials themselves would have a strong voice. It would be much harder for us (inaudible) and others like us to get our voices (inaudible).

Now, free societies are also best at creating and protecting (inaudible) and diversity. When politics is a smaller part of life, minorities have less fear that they’ll be targeted or lose an unfair race. Just look at how religion has flourished in this country where there have been few barriers to religious observation. And now, that isn’t to say we haven’t had our problems in this country, but often times government itself has been the source of recrimination, and they’re not performing the proper function of protecting the weak from the coercion of the strong.

Now, a free society has also produced the situation where people can vote with their feet in the market and politics, too. As I’ve shown in my research on freedom in the 50 states, people do this all the time, opting for (inaudible) freer state from a less free one. So essentially in a free society we can maximize those preferences we have or develop. We’re free to choose the products we like or don’t like. We’re free to choose the ideas we like or don’t like, and even the local governments we like and don’t like. And the market satisfies those preferences, whether it is a desire to bring us television programming, old Apple computers, or listening in (inaudible) Indiana rather than (inaudible) Illinois. They can both (inaudible).

And let’s (inaudible) think about (inaudible) consumption. Free societies also allow us to develop our own niche in the world, where we model ourselves after others, whether it’s the self-sacrifice like Mother Teresa, the value created by someone like Carly Fiorina, specific (inaudible) of a basketball coach, or the carefree life of a hippy, though we are all free to reject that as well.

Well, a free society is also one where ideas and innovation flourish often in unimaginable ways as ideas link with each other. And this allows for all kinds of great, robust creations, some interesting things in art, in business, in science. And we see this flourish in the scientific research in the U.S. The United States dominates in terms of the number of patents issued every year, about half of them. More than one in every three Nobel Laureates is from the United States. So we have four percent of the world’s population and one-third of the world’s Nobel Laureates. And more than half of all Nobels come from three countries alone: the United States, Britain, and Germany.

Likewise, universities in this country, which this seminar supports, are the envy of the world. And while our universities are certainly a (inaudible) ideological and government subsidies (inaudible) free exchange of ideas. Now all of these (inaudible) together show that in a free society, one with economic and personal freedom, we get the opportunity to live authentic, fulfilling lives. Without asking for anyone’s permission, we get to be the authors of our own life progress.

The kind of satisfaction that flows from that is worth all the challenges and responsibilities of being free men and women. The rewards of living an authentic life, one of our own choosing, are (inaudible). Rather than constantly being guided by government agents, we choose to (inaudible) as individuals. We choose limited government. We choose markets.

And that means that we choose prosperity, not just for the few, but for the many. That means we choose the flourishing of the arts and culture, strength and resilience, (inaudible), political freedom, the proliferation of ideas and innovation, and the opportunity for a life well-lived. And it’s a society worth fighting for and a society worth dying for. We choose the free society. Thank you very much.


(End of session.)


2 thoughts on “EXCLUSIVE AUDIO: Dr. Will Ruger on a Free Society

  1. Most of this sounds good but the “choice” that he argues for usually ends up being the corporation’s choice over the consumer. Medicare part D forces consumers to buy expensive name-brand drugs over generic alternatives. Arbitration forces a consumer who gets screwed by an insurance company to argue their case in front of a company-chosen arbiter who acts as a judge rather than a real judge acting on behalf of the Unites States justice system. Corporations pay off politicians to strip regulaton or change it or add it to hurt their competition or make it easier for them to make more money off the cosumer at less expense with led regard to quality.

    I just feel like these guys are trying to do the right thing, but without the checks and balances of government, corporate “freedom” runs roughshod over the consumer and the employee and the job-seeker, and we’ve seen that since the 70’s with the stripping of protections from Big Corporation in bed with Chrony Capitalism. The median income has hardly gone up in relation to inflation or corporate profits, the latter of which has increased exponentially while wages have flatlined. It’s much harder for the average person to establish a good career and a family life and prosperity than it used to be, all because politicians have given corporations choice over the people.

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