Freedom_in_Film

Freedom in Film: To Sir, with Love (1967)

With students everywhere heading to class, we hope you enjoy Part 1 of Cascade’s “virtual” back-to-school School Choice Film Fest.

Nearing the end of his patience, a first-year teacher challenges his scarcely literate students to think seriously about the lives ahead of them. What will happen after high school graduation? One academically indifferent girl supposes she’ll get married, giggling that “everybody gets married.”

Such comfortable assumptions have disappeared since 1967; much else about the lives and troubles of at-risk teenagers hasn’t.

To Sir, with Love stars Sidney Poitier as Mark Thackeray, an engineer who takes a temporary teaching job. The kids are rough, uninterested in school, and oblivious to the possibility that they could become more than they are. The gentlemanly Mr. Thackeray, called “Sir” by his students, is as much a culture shock to them as they are to him.

To Sir, with Love is like a time capsule of the late 1960s: Sentimental optimism contrasts with the grittiness of poverty, illiteracy, teenage rebellion, and rapid social change. There is a sense that Mr. Thackeray’s class is careening wildly toward dead-end or delinquent adulthoods, and he has a few short weeks to reach at least some of his students before they are lost. His greatest asset as a teacher, though, has nothing to do with cutting-edge curriculum or teaching “best practices.”

It is culture. “Sir” is a living example of another world which his students could choose to enter, if only they could see themselves in it. Through him they experience, for the first time, what it is to have dignity. As the teenagers begin to awaken to their own self-worth, they start to grasp why people have manners, respect others, and behave in ways that draw respect in turn. They take interest in the written word and the process of intellectual inquiry.

Education is more than transmission of facts; it’s an invitation to explore the world of the soul, of human creative capacity, and of the physical universe. When students get in touch with their own dignity as human beings, they grasp the meaning of learning. They no longer mark time until school is out; they transform as students and as people.

Great teachers help students discover the grandeur of human existence, potential, and achievement and that they are made for more than superficial pleasures and “easy outs.” To Sir, with Love shows what can happen when the right adult comes into a teenager’s life at the right time―and why that’s so important.

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The Everyday Heroes of 9/11, Remembered

“The greatest thing I ever did with my life.”

The largest sea evacuation in history took place on September 11, 2001, when nearly 500,000 civilians were rescued from Manhattan by boat in less than nine hours. By comparison, during World War II, the evacuation after the Battle of Dunkirk saved 339,000 British and French soldiers over the course of nine days.

Many of the rescue boats were private watercraft whose owners volunteered to ferry thousands to safety.

“No training, just people doing what they had to do that day,” said a man who worked on one of the boats.

“Average people, they stepped up when they needed to,” said another.

This video narrated by Tom Hanks tells their unforgettable, moving story.

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“The Best Earthly Inheritance” Our Founders Bequeathed

Every July much is said about the blessings of liberty, the meaning of the American Experiment, and the price of freedom. But this year we also mark the 240th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and, on August 10, of the arrival of the news of this world-altering decision in London.

Benjamin Franklin is said to have advised his fellow patriots of the potential consequences of challenging the British Empire and its king: “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” While each of the 56 British subjects who affixed their names to the Declaration risked life, fortune, and sacred honor, none may have risked as much as the delegate from Maryland, Charles Carroll of Carrollton.

At the time of the signing, Charles Carroll was the wealthiest man in the American colonies. The risk he took in siding with the cause of independence was acknowledged to be substantial, both in material terms and in his social standing as one of the most prominent citizens of Maryland. In his book, Charles Carroll of Carrollton: Faithful Revolutionary, biographer Scott McDermott recounts that when John Hancock asked Carroll to sign―and Carroll responded, “Most willingly”―a bystander commented, “There go a few millions.”

And just to make sure that everyone, including King George III, knew which of Maryland’s many Charles Carrolls was the signer, he proudly added the words “of Carrollton” (his Frederick County estate). Thus, history remembers him as “Charles Carroll of Carrollton.”

Carroll is unique among the signers for more than just his wealth. He was, in fact, ineligible to vote or to hold public office when he was chosen by the Maryland Convention as a delegate to Congress to approve the Declaration on its behalf. Maryland’s early Toleration Act granting religious freedom had been overturned in 1692, so Catholics could not vote, hold public office, worship in public, or freely educate their children in their faith.

Carroll’s participation in the War of Independence was motivated by his firm belief in natural law and rights, government by consent of the citizens, and freedom of religion. The Catholic minority in the British American colonies recognized in the cause of liberty the path to equality under law.

Carroll strongly supported and collaborated with George Washington during the war, influenced the crafting of the Maryland and the U.S. Constitutions, and served as the first senator from the new state of Maryland. His public life was long, and he was a giant figure through the early decades of the 19th century. Looked up to as an elder statesman and symbol of national unity, at his death in 1832, the Baltimore American called him “the last of the Romans”―a reference to the classical prototype of the generation who built the new but maturing Republic.

Charles Carroll’s brief testament to the America he would leave behind was written on a parchment copy of the Declaration, dated July 4, 1826. He wrote in the style of a man educated in the 18th century, but behind the formality is a stark humility and a simple message intended for today:

“Grateful to Almighty God for the blessing which, through Jesus Christ our Lord, he has conferred upon my beloved country, in her emancipation, and upon myself, in permitting me, under circumstances of mercy,…to survive the fiftieth year of American Independence, and certifying by my present signature my approbation of the Declaration of Independence adopted by Congress…, and of which I am now the last surviving signer, I do hereby recommend to the present and future generations the principles of that important document as the best earthly inheritance their ancestors could bequeath to them, and pray that the civil and religious liberties they have secured to my country may be perpetuated to the remotest posterity and extended to the whole family of man.”

As we celebrate many historic anniversaries of our freedom this year, and the legacy of each of America’s founders, let us also “remember Carroll’s sacred trust…and all [who slumber] with the just.”

Freedom_in_Film

Freedom in Fiction: Ida Elisabeth

Ida Elisabeth had every reason to leave her husband. He was foolish, immature, irresponsible, and unable to change. She couldn’t respect him. She had never really loved him. When he had an affair with another woman, it was her chance to leave and take the children―and no one blamed her.

Nobel Prize-winning novelist Sigrid Undset placed Ida Elisabeth in her own contemporary 1930s Norway, a period of escalating social change prior to the Second World War. People spoke skeptically of the beliefs and assumptions of previous generations, doubting that conventional ethics would outlast their lifetime. Socialist-type welfare policies were becoming popular in noncommunist Western countries. Democratic governments, responding to the demands of the electorate, promised citizens more and more―and supplanted many social roles formerly played by spouses, families, local communities, and private charities. The modern world was unfolding―uneasily.

In a key conversation, Ida’s older mentor muses about the rise of the modern welfare state and Norway’s path to unsustainable public debt:

“…[T]he qualities which put a man in power and those which make him feel responsibility are not necessarily associated, nor do they necessarily exclude each other,” [he said.] “…We had an institution here in Norway in the saga times which was called debt-servitude. When a man had incurred more debts than he was able to pay, he could hand over his children to his creditors, and they had to work as thralls until they had earned enough to cover their father’s indebtedness. I don’t believe children are told anything about this debt-servitude in the schools nowadays. But they’re destined to experience it.”

Ida Elisabeth nodded: “They won’t have a good time, those who come after us.”

“No. And…[w]ill those who come after us be content to bear all the burdens which we still feel it our duty to shoulder? To help all that neither can nor will help themselves?…Especially when the young are aware that the old have taken upon themselves to determine, that they should come into the world, and when they should come, and how many should be put into the world to take over the burdens when they themselves are no longer able to bear them.”

In Ida’s time, the modern welfare state was already detaching individuals from reliance on those around them. While the state-run systems―“almshouses,” etc.—seemed streamlined, efficient, and economical ways of relieving people of the need to personally care for others, the underlying philosophy of utility was already becoming disturbing.

Ida’s friend wonders what will obligate future generations to honor the debts of their forebears, if people no longer believe that other human beings―just like themselves―possess innate and inalienable value? In the modern world, no one needs to be bothered with others any more than they think is reasonable, children come into the world solely at the convenience of adults, and family bonds may be broken at will. Who will decide what price is too high to meet the needs of the elderly, the sick and disabled, and those who cannot “pull their full weight” in society? (By the end of the decade in which Ida Elisabeth was published, these questions had begun to bear bitter fruit in Germany. In the novel, these musings were still largely theoretical.)

As the novel plays out, “big government” (or the welfare state) appears to be a symptom (or symbol) of another, more subtle disease: the human decision to put one’s own needs and desires ahead of the call to serve others, relinquishing individual responsibility to a nameless, faceless state. The genius of Ida Elisabeth is the connection made on the level of the heart between decisions made within personal relationships and a philosophy of self-centeredness that paves the way for far-reaching social change and loss of respect for human beings.

But the novel isn’t about government. It’s a love story of a mother and her children, her husband, and the man “who should have been.” When Ida Elisabeth falls in love with a man who shares her wishes and desires, she is forced to confront a struggle of conscience that is hard for the postmodern reader to accept. Ida tries to reconcile her mind and conscience with cutting herself off forever from family members from whom it once seemed right to separate.

While she is not a religious person and does not base her decisions on what is left of Norway’s conventional morality, Ida cannot fully agree with her secular friends that it is best to abandon those who couldn’t possibly make her feel fulfilled. “We at any rate can’t watch people drowning because they can’t swim, and not care,” she says. Her fundamental choice is between a “happy ending” and the needs of her family. Her choice determines their futures, her character, and her understanding of the meaning of life.

One of the lessons Sigrid Undset teaches so adeptly in her fiction is the step-by-step nature of discernment: Decisions made today may need to be adjusted tomorrow, because mercy has claims as well as justice. Undset deprives the reader of an easy ending because real life is often difficult. Happiness does not always appear in the form for which we wish. Deep human longings, passions, hopes, and personal needs may clash with what we know in our hearts must be done. The mysteries of life can’t be shoehorned into simplistic answers to complex problems. Codependence is not a virtue; “tough love” is a necessary, difficult road. But once Ida Elisabeth decides not to abandon the source of her sorrows to the public almshouse (so to speak), the way begins to become clear―a road of thorns for her at first, but a path of light, understanding, reconciliation, and peace.

Ida Elisabeth is a novel to be pondered with an open mind and heart―and more than a few good tears.

Steve and Friedmans

Ten Years After Milton Friedman

One of the greatest minds of our era passed away in November 2006. This Sunday would have marked his 104th birthday. Milton Friedman won the Nobel Prize for Economics; but it was his ability to relate complex economic ideas in simple terms the average person could understand, and his devotion to liberty, that made him truly great.

Milton and his economist wife Rose spent literally decades researching, writing, speaking, and popularizing free-market economics and its connection to liberty and freedom. Rose actually grew up here in Portland, and it was my privilege to call her and Milton my friends.

This Friday, July 29th, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice will celebrate the 10th and final Friedman Legacy Day, which began after Dr. Friedman passed away. Rather than continue these annual celebrations, the foundation, created by and named after Milton and Rose Friedman, will move forward with a new name and a new strategic plan. Both will be announced on the foundation website, at www.edchoice.org.

Please join all of us at Cascade Policy Institute as we celebrate the lives and contributions of a great couple, and renew our commitment to promote their ideas and ideals, which include the goal of every child being able to attend the public, private, religious, or home school of their choice, with funding following the student.

Celebrating the “Christopher Columbus” of School Choice, Milton Friedman

School choice has entered a new world. Because Americans are increasingly vocal about providing parents with the ability to choose their children’s schools, states are adopting broad-based school choice initiatives. Those successes can be attributed to various individuals, groups, and campaigns nationwide. However, it is school choice’s “Christopher Columbus” who deserves recognition for starting this movement more than 60 years ago.

In 1955, the yet-to-be Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman introduced his vision of school choice as a way to improve the quality of American education. His idea was simple: Give parents access to their children’s public education funding, rather than require they attend the government (public) schools nearest their homes.

“Governments could require a minimum level of education which they could finance by giving parents vouchers redeemable for a specified maximum sum per child per year if spent on ‘approved’ educational services,” Friedman wrote in 1955. “Parents would then be free to spend this sum and any additional sum on purchasing educational services from an ‘approved’ institution of their own choice. The educational services could be rendered by private enterprises operated for profit, or by non-profit institutions of various kinds. The role of the government would be limited to assuring that the schools met certain minimum standards such as the inclusion of a minimum common content in their programs, much as it now inspects restaurants to assure that they maintain minimum sanitary standards.”

Because of vested interests in the education arena, including powerful public school teachers unions, Friedman’s suggestions were ignored. And, as a result, the cost of public education doubled while its academic performance stayed the same. As Friedman noted, that should come as no surprise because that’s exactly what monopolies do: They offer a product of similar, if not worse, value at a higher price than normally would be allowed if they had to compete in the free market.

But those days are over. Many states are broke, preventing them from dropping more money out of airplanes over public schools. And many parents are fed up, wondering why their kids are underperforming or unmotivated in K-12 schools and unprepared for their college courses and future careers.

Because of that sentiment and cash crunch, according to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, named after Milton and his wife Rose, we now see over half the states with one or more school choice programs, consisting of vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, individual tax credits and deductions, and Education Savings Accounts.

Oregon is behind the curve, with no significant private school choice programs―yet. But widening charter school and online school options hopefully will soon lead to more school choice for all Oregon children. The most promising possibility here involves an update of Friedman’s original voucher idea, now seen as the “rotary phone” of the school choice movement. The school choice “smart phone” is now Education Savings Accounts. ESAs give parents and students even more choices, while replacing the old “use it or lose it” funding mechanisms with a market system. This system allows parents to shop for educational services and use their savings toward future educational needs of their children.

Limited Education Savings Account programs now exist in several states, and Nevada is on the verge of implementing a near universal ESA program that soon could be available to all its K-12 students. If achieved, this will be seen as the realization of Milton Friedman’s 60-year-old vision of full school choice for every child, at least in one state with more to follow.

But Friedman’s vision was not for school choice to be just another government program. He wanted to see school choice fundamentally change the way public education operates from its current structure that supports government schools and the adults who work in them, to a better model that empowers parents. He argued that if both rich families and poor ones could receive government funding when their kids use public schools, then both rich and poor should be able to receive that same funding to make educational choices outside the government school system.

It took America more than 60 years to reach today’s environment in which parent empowerment in education is celebrated more than ridiculed. Moving forward, around the country and especially here in Oregon, we should celebrate the new world that the school choice movement’s “Christopher Columbus” opened up for us.

Milton Friedman died in 2006. For the ten years since, Cascade Policy Institute and more than one hundred other organizations around the world have celebrated what has become known as Friedman Legacy Day each year on or around his birthday, July 31. This year marks the last such formal celebration. The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, which has sponsored these events to honor and reflect on the life and legacy of its founder, has announced that on the day of this year’s final formal celebration, Friday, July 29, it will unveil its new name and new strategic plan designed to move Milton Friedman’s school choice vision even more effectively into the future. Please join us as we celebrate both the man and his vision, and as we look forward to many more children getting the quality educations they have been so long denied in our one-size-fits-all government school system.


A version of this Commentary first appeared in Cascade Business News on what would have been Milton Friedman’s 100th birthday, July 31, 2012. Steve Buckstein wrote about Friedman’s ties to Portland in The Oregonian the day after he died in 2006.

Freedom in Film: Follow That Dream (1962)

What may be the funniest movie about personal initiative and limited government? Look no further than Follow That Dream (1962), a rollicking pro-freedom comedy starring Arthur O’Connell and Elvis Presley.

Elvis plays Toby Kwimper, the young adult son in a family that gets just about every possible government entitlement benefit; and his dad (O’Connell) is proud of it. When overbearing bureaucrats make them angry, what does the Kwimper family do? They swear off their benefit checks, build a homestead on an empty beach in Florida, and start a small business. With several subplots, Follow That Dream shows off Elvis’s deadpan comic ability. He outwits the mafia, cunning social workers, and (most) adolescent girls with equal aplomb.

Suitable for family viewing, the movie delivers a victory for ordinary folks over the powers that be. It’s full of jokes about welfare-state attitudes, zoning laws, and government “looking out for you.” In the climactic courtroom scene, a judge praises the American spirit of enterprise, initiative, and voluntary community.

As Pop Kwimper puts it, sometimes there just gets to be too much government, and a person wants to move someplace without all those regulations. If you’ve ever felt that way after a frustrating encounter with bureaucracy, Follow That Dream will have you in stitches.

Freedom in Film: Ever After (1998)

If you are looking for an uplifting summer movie for the teenage girls in your life, Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998) provides a thought-provoking twist on the classic fairytale. While director Andy Tennant’s plot follows the traditional story, Ever After also explores themes of family loyalty, economic interdependence, social justice, and the rewards of hard work.

In a refreshing departure from predictable Hollywood storylines, Drew Barrymore’s tough and brave Cinderella (“Danielle”) combines a loving respect for her family’s heritage with a can-do approach to solving problems. A hard-working, educated girl―homeschooled by her father―she wants more than anything to restore the just order of her “economy” (in the ancient Greek sense of “managing the home”).

Orphaned young, Danielle does not dream of escaping work. Rather, she defines “happily ever after” as the restoration of her family’s estate to the prosperity it enjoyed under her parents. Like them, she takes pride in the farm and regrets it can’t reach its potential under her stepmother (Anjelica Huston), who has no interest in running what is essentially the family business. Danielle tries to be a good steward of the patrimony she should have inherited, even though her freedom to act independently is limited.

In Danielle’s world, the feudal agrarian society of the Middle Ages begins to meet the mercantile economy of the Renaissance. Forward-thinking Danielle masters the business acumen needed to keep the estate financially afloat; but her primary motivations are rooted in the medieval values of family loyalty, mutual obligation to others, and fulfilling one’s duty. Danielle considers “family” to include servants with multigenerational ties to the household. She wants to succeed for the sake of those whose livelihoods depend on her, as well as for herself.

An admirer of the English humanist Sir Thomas More, Danielle’s father bequeathed to her an inquiring mind and a social conscience. While Danielle’s Utopia-inspired prescriptions for the improvement of society have a fairytale simplicity, her instincts are basically good. She lives the Golden Rule with humility and charm. Her interactions with others show she believes in behaving with dignity and respect toward all whose various roles in society together make the world go ’round.

Of course, Ever After is a fairytale, so while it’s set in 16th-century France, the film isn’t without anachronisms and fictionalized historical events. (Obviously, the son of King Francis I didn’t marry a girl named Danielle, sorry to say.) But if you are looking for a delightful story about filial love, the blessing of honest work, and the ability of virtue to attract the right man, Ever After offers positive lessons, while entertaining the whole family.

“When in the Course of Human Events…”

—A Declaration That Never Goes out of Style

Two hundred and forty years ago this July 4, the world was gifted with one of the most significant political documents ever written. It began with these words:

“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…”

 Thomas Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence to set out the reasons for the American people to “dissolve the political bands which have connected them” with Great Britain.

The Declaration also boldly stated:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Before the Declaration, individuals accepted that Kings would run their lives. Afterward, they realized that they could run their own lives. As more people around the world discover this fact, thank Jefferson for inspiring mankind with the ideas and ideals they can use to take their lives back from Kings.

This year, for example, the people of Great Britain have just voted to “dissolve the political bands which have connected them” with the European Union in what became known as the Brexit election. While that vote is causing political and economic uncertainty in Europe and beyond, Jefferson and America’s founders would likely understand the “causes which impel them to the separation.

Jefferson also realized that government and society are not synonymous. He argued that government’s purpose is to protect the inalienable rights of the individuals that make up society. He understood that such rights are not granted by government; and that any rights government does claim to grant are really claims on someone else’s right to life, liberty, or property. What would he think of today’s politicians—and aspiring politicians—in Washington, D.C. and Salem, Oregon who propose law after law ordaining right after right?

Jefferson also understood that he wasn’t elected President in 1801 to “run the country.” He was elected President to run the executive branch of a limited, constitutional government that coincidently he helped to create.

As we consider candidates for state and federal executive offices this year, remember that Jefferson might tell us we aren’t voting for any of these men or women to “run the state of Oregon” or to “run the country.” We are voting for individuals to run the executive branches of limited, constitutional governments. Outside those governments’ limited responsibilities, we should be free to run our own lives.

To reinforce these concepts, why not read the Declaration again this Independence Day and consider the power it had—and still has—to change our world for the better.


Steve Buckstein is Founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. He was named the 2016 recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Award by the Taxpayer Association of Oregon and the Oregon Executive Club.

Freedom in Film: Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Have you taken your children to see Captain America: Civil War? There’s nothing like a summer superhero blockbuster to jumpstart a conversation about the meaning of freedom, the importance of personal responsibility, and how to know what’s right to do. The Acton Institute’s Jordan Ballor recently described Captain America’s themes of freedom and conscience this way:

The basic dynamic of the film focuses on conflict between authority and responsibility. The film could well be understood as an extended reflection on Edmund Burke’s observation: “Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without.”

[…]Captain America champions the rights of conscience and roots the legitimacy of the Avengers in their responsible autonomy.

In Civil War[…]we find an expression of the perennial conflict between individual conscience and communal coercion. Cap represents the best of the liberal tradition in his emphasis on virtue, responsibility, and well-formed moral action. By contrast, Stark represents the temptation to outsource moral government to others, effectively indenturing the Avengers in servitude to some impersonal, international governmental panel….

Captain America works from the assumption that such autonomy, once given up, is perhaps impossible to regain. In a display of incisive political insight, Cap also recognizes the public choice realities of all governmental regimes. The government “runs by people with agendas and agendas change.” He thus realizes the complexities of what might happen when partisans vie for power over the Avengers, and the dilemmas they would face when ordered to engage or to disengage when their own judgment would lead them to do otherwise. The truth that Captain America recognizes is that you can never really outsource the responsibility to obey your conscience. Or as the Dutch politician and theologian Abraham Kuyper put it toward the end of the nineteenth century, “The conscience marks a boundary that the state may never cross.”

(Jordan Ballor’s article “The Captain of Conscience” [spoiler alert] can be found here.)

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