Unbeknownst to the political world, the former manager of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, Leonard Edward Read, was laboring in Irvington-on-Hudson to rally the remnants of old-fashioned liberalism and prepare for an intellectual counteroffensive. Read was an entrepreneur par excellence, confident, ambitious, and courageous, who could have launched any enterprise to which he had set his mind. But he chose to enter the world of thought and ideas, of ideologies and philosophies, and create the Foundation for Economic Education.
Leonard's passion had not always been for ideas and ideologies. For much of his adult life (1928-1945) he had been a business and trade association executive, a vocal Chamber of Commerce spokesman who faithfully defended the official Chamber position, which at that time was sympathetic to Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal and his attempts to pull the economy out of depression by organizing business, regulating prices, and stimulating bank credit through monetary inflation.
His moment of reformation and conversion came in the fall of 1933 when, after hearing that a prominent California executive had been criticizing the Chamber, he arranged a visit to set the businessman "straight." The businessman was W.C. Mullendore, an official of Southern California Edison Company. Having made the Chamber of Commerce pitch, he was then obliged to listen to Bill Mullendore patiently explaining individual liberty and the private property order and refuting the New Deal contentions. Until his dying days Leonard swore this explanation had been his best lesson ever—it had removed the blinders from his eyes.
For the founder of the Foundation for Economic Education, the meaning of educatoin was of crucial concern and occupied his mind from FEE's beginning. In The Coming Aristrocracy (1969) he stated his concern in simple terms: "Intentionally working on others takes the effort away from self. It has no effect on others, unless adversely; and the unevolving self is always the devolving self. The net result is social decadence—and has to be. The corrective for this is to rid ourselves of the notion that Joe Doakes must stand helpless unless he be made the object of our attention. Joe will do all right—and the same can be said for you and me if we'll just mind our own business, the biggest and most important project any human being can ever undertake!"
—excerpted from "Leonard Read, the Founder and Builder" by Mary Sennholz, The Freeman, May 1996
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8 May 2009