John Stossel

On Saturday, some 1,500 students from all over the world gathered to discuss freedom at the Students for Liberty Conference in Washington, D.C.

Economist Donald Boudreaux showed the students a department store catalog from 1958 to underscore how the free market, while contributing to income inequality, also dramatically improved the lives of the poor: "The typical American worker back then had to work 30 hours to buy this vacuum cleaner. Today, a worker has to work only six hours to buy a much better vacuum cleaner. And that's true for clothing, food, all sorts of things."

That's how free markets work: quietly, gradually improving things. That doesn't always appeal to impatient young people -- or to radical old people who fancy themselves social engineers who should shape the world.

Such social engineering is revered on campuses. A student from Quebec complained that economists about whom his fellow students learn are "Keynesians, who believe that breaking windows is good for the economy, or neoclassicals, who believe in unrealistic assumptions like perfect competition and perfect information."

If there were a part of America for which the American students at this conference felt a special pride, it was the Constitution. "The Constitution of the United States is a promise about how government power will be used," Timothy Sandefur, author of "The Conscience of the Constitution," told them. "A promise was left to us by a generation who lived under tyrannical government and decided they needed a framework that would preserve the blessings of liberty."

These students appreciated that inheritance, although they said the Constitution is rarely discussed at their schools. They surprised me by knowing the correct answer to my question: How often is the word "democracy" used in the Constitution?

Answer: never. The founders understood that democracy may bring mob rule -- tyranny of a majority. So the Constitution focuses on restricting government -- to secure individual liberty .

If anything, these students were stauncher in their defense of liberty than the Founders.

Kelly Kidwell, a sophomore from Tulane University, said, "Regardless of what its intent was, we still have the (big) government that we have now -- so the Constitution has either provided for that government, or failed to prevent it."


John Stossel

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at >johnstossel.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. ©Creators Syndicate