Can veteran newsman John Stossel travel through time? Not as far as I know. But he did make a journey from being a correspondent for 20/20 and Good Morning America to 2019 where he is now a spokesman for liberty and free enterprise. In Atlanta, Georgia, on June 14, he spoke to attendees of FEEcon. The event, sponsored by the Foundation for Economic Education, helps students and young entrepreneurs jumpstart careers. This year’s conference, June 13-15, brought together hundreds of students, economists, innovators, educators, and artists to Atlanta for three days of intense learning and networking.
In the Beginning
Stossel became well known as a consumer advocate on ABC, spending 29 years exposing corrupt businesses, winning 19 Emmy awards along the way. Then he began noticing a different problem, government interference.
“Once I woke up to the truth and this was noticed by my colleagues,” he recalled, “they tried to tell me that free enterprise was fine for the simple things, but for complex problems you needed government experts. We are programmed to not trust ourselves but to trust the experts. How then do we get people to trust liberty?”
Stossel mentioned some of the problems. “Capitalism had brought us fresh food and longer lives, but Adam Smith looked like a fat cat and the invisible hand is, well, invisible.”
Gathering the Evidence
Stossel began doing stories about the good aspects of capitalism, such as how Hong Kong went from poverty to prosperity in less than 50 years because of its free market.
Another time he did a story about what creates wealth. “There are 7 billion people on earth. One billion live pretty good,” he said. “I asked an auditorium full of people in New Jersey why that was. Someone in the back of the room suggested, ‘We invented democracy.’ They apparently didn’t know about the Greeks. Someone else said it was because we had natural resources. India has democracy and natural resources, but they have poverty. Population density? The population density in parts of New Jersey is like India, yet New Jersey is better than India. Sort of.
“Eventually, ABC got sick of me constantly doing this type of story. We parted ways and I went to the Fox Business Network and I was able to put on Read.” Stossel was referencing Leonard Read, founder of FEE and author of the free-market classic, I, Pencil.
Missing the Target
On Fox, Stossel was able to argue for freedom. “It’s about the freedom to try stuff without permission,” he explained. “In Hong Kong I got permission to start a business in 24 hours for 25 dollars. To start a similar business in New York took six weeks. In India you never get permission. Your application sits on a shelf forever.”
But there was a problem with Fox, too. Stossel recalled, “After seven years on Fox, my son came to me and told me that kids are not going to believe me because I’m on Fox. He said that if I would go straight to the kids on social media, I could reach them.“
A New Strategy
Stossel explained, “We started making a video every week and they’d get a million views every week. And even better than on television, after people see the video there are discussions.”
One of the videos that became famous during this time was about the $2 Million Bathroom, linked below.
Stossel continued, “Besides making videos myself I’m training younger people to replace me. One of these is Gloria Alvarez. Her grandfather suffered under communism and she is translating and broadcasting out the message to Latin America.”
He continued, “Winning the minds of young people is important but I don’t think we’re winning. We have a lot of work to do.”
Part of that work is his project Stossel in the Classroom which provides resources for teachers.
“I am heartened,” he said, “by the millions of views our videos are getting. I have the advantage that because of my years at 20/20 that people will talk to me.”
He concluded, addressing the audience, “Thank you, for fighting for freedom.”
More information about future FEE activities can be found on their website.