Passing the Torch at CEI

Those of us who direct “free-market” groups should remember that our leadership is not given by birthright, but is a transfer of a precious inheritance. We would be wise to remember that when “torches are passed”, we inherit organizations that others have created and forged through great successes and necessary failures. But it’s more than just that. What we truly inherit are centuries of ideas about how individual and economic liberty improves human dignity (including the works of the Smith Brothers – Adam and Fred). My job, our job, is to continue experimenting, adapting and struggling to implement those ideas for our benefit and for future generations; ideally, to one day make our respective organizations actually unnecessary. And maybe in 29 more years we won’t need any more passing the torch parties.

Fred envisioned more than “just a think tank” – a place that combined rigorous policy work with an activist’s ability to market, cajole, and litigate its research findings and principles. CEI as a full-service research center is well positioned as we enter a dangerous stretch facing a second term president who seeks a lofty legacy but who faces a gridlocked Congress. Consequently, he will use his office and the regulatory process to push his unabashedly anti-free enterprise agenda. Think of the next four years as one long mega “midnight regulation” designed to cement his paternalistic vision of a pervasive nanny state. I take comfort that CEI is already home to some bright and creative people who are not only passionate about how and why economic liberty make us all better off, but love engaging, harassing, suing, building coalitions, filing FOIA requests, and broadcasting our message near and far. It is a good time to be here.

Lastly, on a more personal note, I have been asked on more than one occasion – ‘seriously, why are you doing this??’ The answer is actually quite simple. What CEI does, on a daily basis and at its core, is to celebrate and defend free enterprise. Free enterprise is just another phrase for what I call the ‘freedom to prosper’. But what does that mean? For some it’s the freedom to choose a hobby, to accumulate wealth through investing savings or rolling the dice on a new venture. But I think that definition is too narrow and needs something with greater vitality to put this “prosperity” thing in perspective. Adam Smith knew that material success is only a means to an end. The question is what end? Some pursue wealth to stockpile villas and private planes. Some start charities to fight sex trafficking and cure AIDS. Along the way one creates new jobs for thousands, another soothes shattered souls. The great thing is that we who defend economic liberty view these endeavors with a non-judgmental eye, recognizing them as the choices free individuals make to realize their dreams. We do it not just because we respect choices, but because we understand vast piles of money can constrict the heart or set it free. Promoting free enterprise, promoting the freedom to prosper is promoting a future without major disease, sunset walks with loved ones rather than holding down second jobs to pay rent, longer lives, cleaner air, and charitable giving that rivals the world. Pretty cool stuff to me.

Each of you is a CEI friend which means more to us than being just a Fred or Lawson friend. On behalf of CEI, I am grateful that you are here as we all celebrate the ideas that we all inherit and the chance we have to fight for them.