Happy 100th Birthday to George Shultz

Today is George Shultz’s 100th birthday. There were so many wonderful celebrations and tributes, and many more to come. My family—Allyn, John, Jennifer, Josh, Olivia, Andrew, Jack, and I—walked over to his house and sang Happy Birthday as loud as we could.  Many of the beautiful special tributes are summarized here  https://www.hoover.org/george-p-shultz-100-celebration  

At a Hoover Fellows Roundtable on economics and national security, I started by quoting something George Shultz said almost 50 years ago when he served as Secretary of the Treasury.

“Economists have a particular responsibility to relate policy decisions to the maintenance of freedom, so that when the combination of special interest groups, bureaucratic pressures, and congressional appetites, calls for still one more increment of government intervention, we can calculate the cost in these terms.”

George Shultz’s lessons resonate today, including in a recent book we wrote together called Choose Economic Freedom, stressing that research should focus on the theme that “Good economic policy works and excessive intervention in the economy causes problems.”

We need to do this more actively as government interventions are popping up all over the world, as we hear it loud and clear. In a way, COVID has given more attention to government solutions.

So how do we better relate decisions to the maintenance of economic freedom? I say follow the methods of George Shultz. Begin with data. Look more carefully at empirical measures of economic freedom whether at Heritage or Fraser or the Word Bank Doing Business. It is convincing that economic freedom leads to improved living standards.

Next communicate more about economic freedom—on Zoom or anywhere.  Deal with the digital divide by providing Broadband for All program. Free up the K-12 system and allow charter schools and school choice as in Tom Sowell’s new book Charter Schools and Their Enemies.

Telemedicine is also in the rise and helping people.  Facebook and Google are often criticized, but they are promising many new forms of communication, and we could all do more work in this area, as far as the eye can see.  As former Google CEO Eric Schmidt pointed out recently the past few months have “brought forth ten years of forward change. … all of a sudden, the Internet is no longer optional.” From my own experience teaching economics online, I heartily agree.  And there is the amazingly quick discovery of vaccines to deal with COVID-19. George Shultz would go on and on with many more examples

Most of all remain optimistic. We cannot be discouraged that some of this will take time, and we should remind ourselves of George Shultz’s warning that “An economist’s lag is a politician’s nightmare”

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