Birthday Cheers for Steve Forbes

Bob Barr
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Posted: Jul 26, 2017 12:01 AM
Birthday Cheers for Steve Forbes

The vast army of pundits, influencers, and lobbyists inhabiting the corridors of Washington, D.C. and New York City is populated largely by two categories of people: the far larger group is those who seek power for their own glorification, and the much smaller assemblage is those who seek to effect genuine change around them. Steve Forbes is a shining light in the latter group.

To celebrate his 70th birthday last week, Forbes was honored at a banquet during Mark Skousen’s annual FreedomFest gathering in Las Vegas.  Mr. Forbes delivered a stirring speech emphasizing the moral and practical impetus for returning the GOP’s intellectual roots to the free market, and, more specifically to that principle fueling free markets -- capitalism. It was a classic Forbes moment; one that reminded those in attendance, like myself, of how key has been the role played by this titan of freedom in keeping America’s core values of personal liberty and entrepreneurship alive.  His leadership continues to be pivotal, considering how fierce are the attacks regularly launched against economic freedom by politicians, the media, and academia.

It is only a slight over-statement to suggest that Forbes’ work over the years in publishing and politics has virtually single-handedly kept the principle of capitalism alive and well in America. He is an unashamed champion of capitalism, at a time when many view it as outdated at best, and destructive at worst. Even among Republicans, Forbes is a rarity in this respect; he does not consider his wealth and success to be an embarrassment or something from which to hide. To Forbes, like any true capitalist, wealth and success deriving from hard work and risk-taking, are intrinsically American values, attainable by any individual with the drive and determination to make it happen; and, as he also points out, so long as government does not stand in the way.

The moral and economic defenses of capitalism are not ideas that come naturally to most people; especially baby boomers educated at universities whose economics departments worship at the feet of John Kenneth Galbraith and Paul Samuelson.

Fortunately, Steve Forbes has a phenomenal ability to take complex financial and economic concepts and make them understandable to the average person. Consider, for instance, the oppressive immensity of the American tax code. “The Declaration of Independence, the words that launched our nation—1,300 words,” Forbes once quipped. “The Bible, the word of God—773,000 words. The Tax Code, the words of politicians—7,000,000 words—and growing.” Suddenly, tax law, for most an unfathomable political concept, has relevance; and, with relevance, it becomes, to Forbes and those willing to listen to him, a flashpoint for action.

One such action was bringing the concept of a flat tax into the national discussion, where otherwise it would have existed merely as an esoteric parlor discussion among policy wonks. “You have a low [tax] rate, generous deductions for adults and for children, and you can literally do your tax return on a single sheet of paper,” Forbes remarked of the flat tax in 2011. A single piece of paper, rather than page after page of forms that you either do yourself, or more likely pay an accountant to complete? Americans could get behind that—and they have. In 2014, Reason magazine released a poll finding 62 percent of Americans supporting a flat tax. And, in the 2016 presidential primary, several Republican presidential candidates, including Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, vocally adopted the flat tax – the same platform Forbes ran on nearly two decades before – as their preferred alternative to the graduated income tax. 

Forbes also has not been shy about tackling other complicated economic issues, like the gold standard and the Federal Reserve. “Just as scales measure weight, money should measure value and it does that best when it has a fixed value,” Forbes stated in a 2014 interview (and reiterated in his speech last week at FreedomFest). This has been a constant theme for the Princeton-educated Forbes, “[that] in an ideal world the head of the Federal Reserve would be no more important than the director of the Office of Weights and Measures inside the Department of Commerce.”  Forbes is right here, too.

So, thank you again, Steve, as you celebrate the start of your seventh decade, for keeping America heading in the direction of prosperity and freedom, using your business acumen and keen communication skills to articulate and defend the true American way of life. We could not have got this far without you. Sláinte!