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Opinion

Freedom in a Small Package


  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • Jan. 25, 2022 - 4:51 PM

Freedom in a Small Package

Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education. His most recent book is “Was Jesus a Socialist?” He can be reached at lreed@fee.org.

Only one country in the entire world can boast of more cars than people within its borders — an astounding 25 percent more. Can you guess the country?

This fascinating enclave’s GDP per capita ranks among the highest on the planet, almost as high as that of the U.S. It is home to the oldest existing sovereign state as well as the oldest constitutional republic.

Reminiscent of the Roman Republic of more than two millennia ago, this country has not one but two heads of state. They are elected by the legislature and are subject to the strictest term limits in the world. Replacements are elected every six months!

The country to which I refer is … (drum roll) — San Marino! Its formal name is the Most Serene Republic of San Marino. It is composed of just 38 square miles and about 33,000 people. I drove through it some years ago in less than an hour, including a stop for coffee and a souvenir. Landlocked and surrounded by Italy, it is situated on the slopes of Monte Titano (Mount Titan) in the Apennine Mountains in the northeast section of the Italian Peninsula.

San Marino derives its name from a Christian stonemason named Marinus, born in Croatia in 275 A.D. While working in the Italian city of Rimini in his 20s, his occasional preaching drew fire from the pagan Roman authorities. He was forced to flee and sought refuge atop Mount Titan. While in hiding there, he built a monastery. The mountain at the time was privately owned (by a woman in nearby Rimini), who eventually gave it to Marinus as a gift. He declared it an independent state on Sept. 3, 301 A.D.

The famed English explorer, archeologist and historian James Theodore Bent wrote a book about San Marino in 1879 that carried the provocative title, A Freak of Freedom. He reveals that when Marinus and a friend settled on the mountain, “They planted a cross on the summit of the rock, on which was inscribed the sole word ‘liberty,’ and hewed themselves beds beneath it, which are to be seen even now behind the high altar of a small church devoted to the purpose of protecting them …”

A thousand years later, Pope Boniface VIII dispatched an emissary to learn more about this curious patch of territory. When the emissary asked what the San Marinese meant by the “liberty” they so proudly proclaimed, he was advised as follows: Men belong to themselves because they owe no homage to anyone amongst themselves, but only to the Master of all things.

San Marino deserves admiration as a haven for the oppressed. During World War II, it opened its doors to 100,000 refugees — a figure several times as large as its own population.

Today, the country’s corporate tax rate is below both Italy’s and the average across the EU, making it a favorite haven for European businesses. And it taxes capital gains at a mere five percent, a third of the U.S. rate. Freedom House ranks it the 12th freest country in the world.

Congratulations to little San Marino — an enduring free republic, a place where people live and let live. They’ve been doing that longer than any other nation on the planet.

Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education. His most recent book is “Was Jesus a Socialist?” He can be reached at lreed@fee.org.