Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Liberty with a side of sauerkraut - Part 1

The Libertarian "big tent..."
It didn't rain! For the first time in its 12 year history, the rain held off, in fact the weather was spectacular during the Liberty Summer Seminar (LSS) at the Jaworski Estate in Orono Ontario last weekend.

This annual two day seminar is one of the largest gatherings of libertarians of all stripes in Canada. Stripes of libertarians? Absolutely, if you thought libertarians came in only one flavour, this seminar would have been an eyeopener. I'll say more about that later in Part 2.

I'm always impressed with the selection of speakers at LSS, this year was no different. For me each speaker was a highlight, so let me select for you what it was I learned from them.

Fred McMahon of the Fraser Institute was first up on Saturday talking about economic freedom and how it relates to other freedoms. Fred pointed out that economic freedom is the fundamental freedom on which all the others are built. Historically the first European nations that were free, were market oriented. Freedom, he said, is often confused with democracy, and has little to do with it. In fact, to be economically free means being liberated from dependence on government, something that most democracies today, do their best to thwart.

The Fraser Institute produces much of its research based on econometrics, which most Austro-libertarians dismiss because human action, they say, is impossible to model through laboratory experiments as other sciences are. That didn't stop Fred from displaying slide after slide demonstrating the positive relationship based on econometrics, of economic freedom to wealth and happiness.

Next up was Cindy Cerquitella of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation. Cindy's topic was Freedom Champions: Stories from the field. For those who are unaware of Atlas (not named after Atlas Shrugged) its mission: "is to discover, develop and support Intellectual Entrepreneurs worldwide who advance the Atlas vision of a society of free and responsible individuals. Achieving Atlas’s vision of a “peaceful and prosperous society of free and responsible individuals” requires respect for the foundations of a free society: individual liberty, property rights, limited government under the rule of law, and the market order. To move public policy debates toward these classical liberal ideas...." In other words, an organization after my own heart.

Cindy spoke about think tanks around the world, and demonstrated a positively encyclopedic knowledge about them. After speaking of a few interesting groups that Atlas supports in some countries, the audience was invited to shout out a country, to which she named the think tank and some of its members, for country after country, no notes, very impressive. And I was buoyed by how many countries there were that had liberty oriented think tanks.

Our next speaker was Victoria Henderson speaking about Advancing Liberty in the Americas (Latin America). Victoria was part of a panel on drug policy that I attended last January, though drugs are not her field of study. Her field is Latin American Studies and Geography, and she is the Managing Director at the Institute for Social and Economic Analysis (ISEA).

Victoria used two terms with which I was not familiar: Epistemic Communities - voluntary groups held together by ideas, and Epistemic Landscapes for which she gave an interesting example: in her class of 174 at Queen's University, students were shown pictures of Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Karl Marx and then, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Milton Friedman. Ninety percent of the class knew the first trio, only one person knew all of the second. That is the "landscape" we are up against, an educational apparatus in Canada that is geared to teaching about collectivist thinkers and thinking.

One fact that Victoria mentioned, a surprise to me, was that the Austrian School had a precursor in 16th Century Spain. Further investigation suggests there was no direct influence, but the School of Salamanca was in many ways so similar to the Austrian School that Murray Rothbard referred to them as proto-Austrians.

Another surprise to me, was Victoria's mention of the Universidad Francisco MarroquĂ­n (UFM) - The Free Market University in Guatemala! Who knew? A university that teaches about Mises, Hayek, Friedman etc. In fact there is a library named after Mises: La Biblioteca Ludwig von Mises. UFM is 41 years old, and on its a 40th anniversary last year it wrote "if Guatemala were to enjoy prosperity, it would be necessary for a group of influential people to understand, very clearly, the ethical, legal and economic aspects of a society of free and responsible persons," that is a worthy and wonderful mission.

Stay tuned for Part 2, BTW, I love sauerkraut.

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