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'Freedom Trending' in U.S.

Brian Calle
The Orange County Register
July 17, 2012

If there was one identifiable theme at FreedomFest, the annual conference on economics, free markets and libertarian politics held last week in Las Vegas, it was that the United States is at a crossroads and desperately needs a people-driven liberty movement to counter the rapid growth of Big Government. The conference, as to be expected, was brimming with skepticism about government's abilities and motivations, but not in a conspiratorial vein. Instead, speakers and other attendees debated and advanced rationales for a market-based society rather than one reliant on government command and control.

"Government is shortsighted, greedy and oppressive," the one-time presidential candidate Steve Forbes told the audience for his speech. He argued that government, by design, does not produce or add to productivity. It takes, but "[c]ommerce is about creating, not taking."

"Free markets are moral, big government is not," Mr. Forbes said.

Peter Schiff, CEO of Euro Capital Pacific, delivered a similar message: Public outrage over greed is misdirected to Wall Street and instead should be focused on those in power in the nation's capital because Washington is bankrupting average citizens. "The average American has a negative net worth when you think about his share of the national debt."

"Most of the people in Washington aren't there to help the country, Mr. Schiff said. "They're there to help themselves."

One highlight of the conference was a debate conducted as a mock prosecution, entitled "Wall Street On Trial" where "prosecutor' Robert Frank of the New York Times squared off against "defense attorney" Steve Moore of the Wall Street Journal. This debate, keeping with the theme of many of the conference's speeches, dealt with the ongoing national debate – perpetuated by President Barack Obama – that greedy corporations created the economic crisis and continue to hold back economic growth.

At one point in the mock trial Mr. Moore posed the question: "Is it a crime to get rich in this country?" In response, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey said, "It appears to be becoming so."

One challenge, of course, with conferences and idea exchanges, like FreedomFest, is how to force the issues into mainstream debate and public discourse – especially in a presidential election year. After all, it's no secret that the libertarian wing of the Republican Party has slowly declined in influence since the Reagan administration, if not outright disenfranchised during George W. Bush's presidency.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and the son of Ron Paul, the libertarian GOP Texas congressman and presidential candidate, spoke at FreedomFest, where he told us that libertarian ideas are regaining traction among Republicans in Congress.

That development complements the notion, as expressed at the conference by Matt Kibbe, president of the conservative nonprofit FreedomWorks, that "freedom is trending in this country."