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Thorner: Stossel tells students to “Leave People Alone” for American prosperity



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By Nancy Thorner - 

The Northwestern University College Republicans and the Young America's Foundation co-sponsored an event featuring author John Stossel on Tuesday, May 24, at 8:00 p.m. at the Leverone Auditorium in Evanston, IL.  The topic of Stossel's speech, "Freedom and Its Enemies."  In keeping with Stossel's professed political affiliation, a sizable number of Libertarian college students were in attendance at the free event.

John Stossel, a graduate of Princeton University, with a B.A. in psychology, joined Fox Business Network (FBN) in 2009. He is the host of "Stossel", a weekly program highlighting current consumer issues with a Libertarian viewpoint.  (See here for an overall view of what the Libertarian Party stands for.)  

Included in its platform is support for drug legalization, free trade, and free-market health care, plus the elimination of campaign finance, gun control laws, the Internal Revenue Service, Social Security and income taxes. Libertarians also espouse a non-interventionist foreign policy.

(As an aside:  As a Libertarian Stossel will now have a candidate to vote for in November, having admitted early on in his address that he disliked both Hillary and Trump.  Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson won the Libertarian nomination for president at its party's convention Sunday, May 29, 2016.  Although Gary Johnson may get a boost in the 2016 race, a new poll out shows that Johnson looks to be drawing more support from Democrat voters than Republican.)

Stossel has received 19 Emmy Awards and has been honored five times for excellence in consumer reporting by the National Press Club. Earlier in his career, Stossel served as consumer editor for "Good Morning America" and as a reporter at WCBS-TV in New York City. His first job in journalism was as a researcher for KGW-TV (NBC) in Portland, Oregon.  Stossel’s economic programs have been adapted into teaching kits by a non-profit organization, "Stossel in the Classroom.

John Stossel Introduced by Northwestern University Republican Club President 

Appearing thinner and with a slightly altered speaking voice in the aftermath of his hospitalization and successful treatment for throat cancer in April of this year, Stossel confessed that his academic experience was not all that noteworthy. Stossel used to tell young people they should attend college, but he no longer does, questioning whether Northwestern students were getting something from their steep financial outlays.

In speaking about his own college experience, Stossel told students that those who did the best in college were the ones who didn't know what they wanted to do upon graduation. As a psychology major at Princeton, when Stossel graduated from college he  took every job that came his way. Having never taken a journalism course, Stossel's work in a newsroom led him to a TV gig delivering the news.  Not only did Stossel look like a 12 year old when delivering the news, he also had a stuttering problem. It took Stossel years to completely conquer his stuttering, but he did in time through professional help.

Stossel's early thinking about how government involvement was necessary for the good of the people grew out of Johnson's War on Poverty , observed while a student at Princeton.  Stossel's professors told him the problems didn't need to be solved, but instead to create programs to take care of the problems.  The need for government protection was likewise popular concept by the media.

Stossel's Consumer Reports Win Notice

It was Stossel's Consumer reports that brought him media attention and for which he won 19 Emmy awards. The public loved them; they were hits. Stossel recounted one early consumer report in which he advocated the licensing of all TV repair shops.  It seemed the right thing to do at the time. Why wouldn't it be a good idea to license all TV repair shops? until Stossel perceived how problems weren't being solved even after licensing. The consumer wasn't being helped.  Furthermore, there were the same number of complaints.  One thing was certain, it cost a fortune in time and money when filling out the licensing forms, which goes to show that rules cause people to do stupid things. Stossel's explanation of why the economy didn't perk up after the last depression was based on the massive number of laws and regulations which stifled this nation's economic growth.

Stossel visited various countries to find out how difficult it would be to start a new business.  In 1999 he went to Hong Kong and in one day, with one form, he got legal permission to open a shop, "Stossel Enterprises", selling ABC trinkets. Contrast this to "Stossel's Lemonade – 50 cents" business enterprise in New York City which never did get off the ground because of all the regulatory requirements that had to be met.  Even after 60 days Stossel couldn't get a permit to operate his lemonade stand.  He could sell the lemonade to patrons, but they weren't allowed to drink it, and the money had to be returned.

Stossel on Competition and Free Markets

Stossel's world vision of government to make life better, Princeton instilled, was gradually replaced by watching how the markets worked over the years. As an illustration Stossel spoke about the Trabant car made in GDR (German Democrat Republic), for which there was a five-year waiting period.  GDR's best car, the Wartburg, couldn't compete with the most mediocre of cars made in America.  Good companies will survive.  Competition makes things better and cheaper.  This is why free markets can also work for medicine.  Competition brings prices down and also allow the market to police itself.

OSHA was used by Stossel to show how government laws and regulations often make little difference in the long run.  Although work place injuries did drop after OSHA, in reviewing work place injuries before OSCA, it was found that the situation was improving before OSHA.  For as this nation became wealthier, she cared more about work place safety.  Similarly, free markets handle safety issues better than state controlled entities, which is why in a free society things often get better on their own.

From his initial belief in Johnson's War on Poverty, Stossel came to realize that Johnson's policies created a situation where a woman no longer needed to have a man in the house to be taken care of.  As such an underclass of people was created.   Things, however, did improve for 7 years before all went south.  $22 trillion has been spent so far to reduce poverty, but the results are dismal.  Even before the War of Poverty things were getting better on their own.

Blunt Assessment:  Expect no Social Security

John Stossel had these blunt remarks to share with Northwestern students.  In pegging unsustainable the amount of government spending per person in this nation, Stossel discounted any expectation that students might have of receiving Social Security benefits upon retirement.  Students were reminded that when Social Security was first established by FDR most people didn't live until age 65.  It was meant for a minority of the American people.  There was never a trust fund with a person's name on it.  Instead, the money paid in by workers for future Social Security benefits was spent by greedy politicians to cover government expenses.  Now the American people further expect Medicare to be there in their senior years, notwithstanding its exorbitant cost to government.  Your futures are being robbed through today's out-of-control spending.

Why life in America is pretty good? 

Despite a massive debt and spending that continues to increase, especially in the last decade, Stossel recounted answers given him by New Jersey high school students when confronted with this question: "Why is life in America pretty good in contrast to other places on Earth with its seven billion inhabitants?"

Answers shared:

  • Because we have a democracy.
  • Because we are a young country.
  • Because we have natural resources.

Stossel then related how he has traveled to other countries to look at poverty.  Keeping in mind the suggested student criteria, Stossel challenged the students as to why India doesn't offers a reasonably good life for its citizens.  It is a democracy and it has resources.  Hong Kong, a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China, was then considered:  Here is a place without a democracy and having no natural resources, yet Hong Kong went from 3rd world poverty status to a place of great wealth.

For Stossel the answer was obvious.  The Rule of Law is necessary, but it was because government left free people alone in Hong Kong, that people could make themselves rich. This is the ingredient of prosperity.  Government control takes away opportunities for people to succeed and prosper on their own.

Anger Toward Stossel in Defense of Free Markets over Government Regulations

It was after Stossel make the tie between big government and its drawbacks in creating a prosperous and free society that Stossel's Emmy awards for consumer reporting became a thing of the past.  Instead of praise, anger erupted over Stossel's decision to defend free markets over government regulations.  John Stossel's third book, "No, they Can't: Why government fails but individuals succeed”, published in 2012, explores the virtues of the free market system vs that of big government.  Unlike when government is in control, businesses must please customers with their goods or services as a requisite to remaining in business.  Such competition fosters better service and lower costs, unheard of when government controls and dictates.   

Stossel, musing how up to now he had spoken mostly about economic freedom, went on to explain the importance of individual freedom.  How so?  When government gets bigger, we get smaller.  Before President Johnson's Great Society Program in the 1960's, there were 14,000 mutual aid societies that helped the needy.  These societies understood the needs of the people better than the one-size-fits-all government approach which crowds out good voluntary efforts.  

Even so, continued Stossel, the ingenuity of the American people and business competition have made life better even for poor Americans, in contrast to a government that can't even count votes correctly!  The American people take supermarkets selling a variety of food at good prices for granted. Likewise taken for granted is cash coming out of ATM machines.  Our plastic cards are used to make all kinds of purchases, but many individual contributed to the development of this convenience which is widely used.  It was the freedom to realize dreams, despite massive increases in government rules and regulations, that has enabled all we take for granted in this nation today to exist.  Such individual freedom has resulted in creating a quality of life that other countries could only dream of having experiencing.  Even among the poorest of the poor there are flush toilets.  

Stossel challenged students by wondering out loud what it was like for them to live in Illinois?, which he called a "model for failure."

Question and Answer Time:  

In a question addressing Stossel's views on climate change:  Stossel believes that man is causing climate change, but that it would be far better to address the issue when harm to man becomes obvious, rather than spending money now to curtail climate change by building wind turbine and putting up solar panels which depend largely on government subsidies and which require backup power when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow.  

Political Correctness Prevail 

In a display of political correctness, before introducing John Stossel the president of the Northwestern Republican Club made this disclaimer, that the views of John Stossel were his alone and were not endorsed by Northwestern University.  Furthermore, since John Stossel was invited to visit the Northwestern campus, he had the right to be heard and to be respected. 

The same night Stossel spoke at Northwestern, a speaker enlisted by DePaul, Milo Yiannopoulos, had been shut down when a group of activists stormed the stage and allegedly threatened to punch Yiannopoulos in the face.  Outrageous tactics by DePaul University to shut down conservative speech are not limited to DePaul.    

Recent Stossel Commentary, May 25, 2016

Published the day after Stossel spoke at Northwestern University, this commentary, "Private Is Better", dovetails with  Stossel's Northwestern address which touted free markets and competition over government control.      


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