by Roger Koppl
Friends of liberty should be kinder and gentler toward the memory of Edward Kennedy. He was the poster boy for the American “liberalism” that exaggerates the power of government to act in socially beneficial ways. He has thus drawn acerbic commentary from some liberals in the old fashioned sense of free exchange and individual liberty. Some conservatives have been unkind as well. I suppose the conservatives have nothing to thank Kennedy for beyond being a convenient target of vituperation. But liberals in the good old fashioned sense have a few things to thank Kennedy for and they should therefore be kinder and gentler to his memory. I wouldn’t comment on Kennedy’s overall legacy, but I would like to point to some important ways in which he helped to increase liberty in America and the world.
As the David Henderson, Reason magazine’s Nick Gillespie, and the Wall Street Journal have all noted, Kennedy was the vital legislative force behind deregulation of trucking and the airline industry. The WSJ article quotes former aide Phil Bakes saying, “I don’t think airline deregulation had any chance around that period unless he took leadership as he did” and “He took a lot of flack and was way out in front of it.” Helping to kick off the global deregulation movement is a big deal and we who love liberty should thank him for it. As Nick Gillespie said Wednesday, “We are incalculably richer and better off because something like actual prices replaced regulatory fiat in trucking and flying. Because they do not fit the Ted Kennedy narrative preferred by his admirers and detractors alike, these accomplishments rarely get mentioned in stories about the late senator.”
Kennedy was also instrumental in passing two important pro-liberty measures in the 1960s. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended Jim Crow in the South. In the country as a whole it ended many forms of discrimination based on race and gender. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 abolished the national-origin quotas that had been in place in the United States since the Immigration Act of 1924. These were pro-liberty measures.
The United States was a freer place because of these legislative measures. In 1960 a woman often had no protected right to buy a house on her own. Black people in the South were forcibly segregated, black people in the rest of the country faced several forms of discrimination, including the laws against miscegenation in some states. Today women can buy homes and otherwise in legal equality with men. Many women live in terms of substantive equality as well. Today black people vote, sleep in the same hotels as whites, and otherwise live in legal equality with white people. Many black people live in terms of substantive equality as well. In 1960 our immigration policy was restrictive and favored Europeans over others. Today, the United States has seen a large influx of new immigrants from all parts of the world. Their relative freedom to gain entry to this country has helped them and their families. It has made the US a better and richer country. And it has encouraged other countries to treat their own people with greater justice and liberty. In 1960, deregulation was nowhere in sight. Today, airlines and trucking have been deregulated and the global deregulation movement has helped to make market forces stronger throughout the world. These are all important changes touching on fundamental freedoms. These increases in liberty owe much to Senator Kennedy. Whatever else he may have done to frustrate liberty, he also did important things to promote it and we who love liberty should thank him for it.