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The Free Market Party

The Texas chapter of Americans for Prosperity celebrates Milton Friedman's 99th birthday.
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Milton Friedman may have died in 2006, but don’t tell that to the economic conservatives at the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity. To celebrate the father of free-market Reaganomics, the group joined others around the nation to mark what would have been the Nobel Laureate’s 99th birthday on July 31.

The meeting place, Zax Restaurant & Bar in Austin, hardly felt like the best location for a gathering of a group closely aligned with the Tea Party. It seemed more like a place for yuppies seeking salmon salad and Pinot Grigio. About 30 celebrators milled around the restaurant, taking advantage of free drink tickets and a table full of bar food. There was no birthday cake.

It was the group’s second “tweet-up,” aimed at bringing online conservative activists together in person. “The last one was younger,” said Brittany Eck, a legislative staffer who frequently attends the group’s events. “It wasn’t Milton Friedman [-themed].”

No one spent much time talking about Friedman’s policies, though. Instead, the group’s director, Peggy Venable, transitioned quickly from a personal remembrance of Friedman’s 2003 visit to the Texas Legislature to the inefficiencies in Texas education.

Americans for Prosperity—with the like-minded groups EmpowerTexans and Texas Public Policy Foundation—successfully pressured Republican legislators this session to slash billions from education and health and human services budgets rather than use money from the state’s piggy bank, the Rainy Day Fund. But even after a win—the state cut almost $5 billion from education alone—AFP is hardly slowing down. “We don’t have unlimited resources,” Venable said after her talk. “We can’t sustain the spending that we’ve been doing” in education.

Attendees were offered big yellow stickers proclaiming “More Education for our Dollars BEFORE more Dollars for Education.” Venable yielded the floor to Chris Covo, a new graduate heading Americans for Prosperity’s group for young people, America’s Next Impact. The group is focused on cutting costs in higher education to reduce the burden on students. Covo told the crowd about his own struggles with student debt and pushed for reform. Covo later explained that he is planning a tour of Texas cities to produce “Generation Debt Happy Hours.”

“A toast to our outstanding payments,” he calls it.

Covo was a hit with the Friedman-loving attendees. But few probably heard his confession: He told me he’s never finished one of the economist’s books. He owns four or five, but he’s never made it past the first 20 pages.