Melanie Strum: Freedom conference touts free markets |

Melanie Strum: Freedom conference touts free markets

Amid global and domestic turmoil and a pervasive feeling that America is on the wrong track, a sell-out crowd in search of an American rebound gathered on Aug. 22 and 23 for the sixth annual Steamboat Institute Freedom Conference.

The all-star lineup of presenters percolated remedies for the ills plaguing Americans, problems including: economic insecurity, a declining middle-class standard of living, privacy invasions, resurgent terrorism, and historically high under-employment, poverty and government dependency.

Despite these concerns, woven throughout the conference was an innate confidence in the free market — discarded of late in favor of federal government planning and spending — to spur the innovation and economic dynamism on which widespread prosperity and opportunity depend. Restoring the free market was at the core of former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore's plan for American recovery.

The conference headliner and likely 2016 presidential prospect — pediatric neurosurgeon and up-from-nothing African-American political idol Ben Carson — reassured the crowd with his common-sense solutions and faith in the American people and system.

The guiding principles that made America the freest, most prosperous and decent society in human history — free enterprise, peace through strength, rule of law, fiscal prudence, constitutional adherence — are among the keys, Carson said, to America's recovery.

"It's a matter of finding and acting with courage," he stressed, particularly in the face of political correctness which stymies the open and free exchange of ideas and beliefs on which civil society depends.

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Born in a land of opportunity, and cultivated morally by religion, intellectually by a solid public education and behaviorally by a wise though functionally illiterate mother, who never made excuses (nor allowed him to), he reached the pinnacle of success.

Fearing America won't bequeath the same opportunistic society to future generations, Carson entreats Americans to "set aside political correctness … apply logic to solving our problems and add the Godly principles of loving our fellow man, caring about our neighbors and developing our God-given talents." 

This will assure America remains "a pinnacle nation," he said, "'one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.'"

Emphasizing the inherent morality of the free market that Carson champions was the Rev. Robert Sirico, of the Acton Institute and author of "The Free and Virtuous Society."

Economically freer countries enjoy greater growth, opportunity, civil rights and health, Sirico pointed out, as evident in the yawning gap between North and South Korea, and in Asia where hundreds of millions have escaped grinding poverty.

That so many Americans have fallen behind is appalling and avoidable, and a reflection of America's deteriorating economic freedoms. Formerly second in the Wall Street Journal/Heritage Index of Economic Freedom behind Hong Kong, America is now 12th, below Estonia.

Fortunately, as Steve Moore, author of "The Nature and Causes of the Wealth of States," explained, there is one economic sector that is keeping the American economy in its modest growth mode: the oil and gas sector.

Thanks to American ingenuity, technological breakthroughs have made the United States the most energy-endowed nation in the world, capable of independence from the volatile Middle East and producing energy so cheap it could offset China's low-cost labor advantage.

Currently stymied, allowing the responsible development of our resources would generate a manufacturing renaissance and millions of jobs while turbo-charging the economy and revitalizing distressed communities.

The inescapable conclusion from the Freedom Conference is that bequeathing our children an economically stagnant and insecure America is a choice, not a destiny. Now informed and inspired, conference attendees understand that our challenge is to restore the growth that creates jobs, opportunity, and social mobility — and out of economic security will come greater national security.

Melanie Sturm lives in Aspen. She welcomes comments at

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