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Friday, June 12, 2015

Communicating Liberty in a Statist World: FEE’s Advanced Training Seminar

How do you show people a world without the all-pervasive state?

To kick off June, young leaders from across the United States and eleven different countries gathered to deliberate on the best practices for communicating liberty and to present projects designed to reveal a specific economic concept to usersThe groups convened at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to listen to an exceptional lineup of speakers and to compete for the best project.

Jeffrey Tucker opened the conference with a discussion of the essence of classical liberalism. After dinner, students returned to hear Brandon Loran Maxwell, a freelance journalist and prize-winning essayist, examine “How to Speak to Your Audience.”

Students and speakers congregated at the end of the first day for an exhilarating social at Brann’s Steakhouse to get to know each other and discuss the ideas presented thus far.


The next day commenced with Maxwell explaining how he became an effective communicator. He talked about his journey from finishing high school, to writing about the Hill, to now writing for unconventional audiences like Salon and hip-hop music magazines where he subtly conveys libertarian themes to non-libertarian audiences.

Trevor Burrus, a research fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies, continued with “Conversation Skills 101.” The students then broke off into groups to discuss the best practices for communication.

Students recounted their stories of successes and failures in trying to explain to their peers the importance and value of liberty. Students from other countries spoke of the difficulties and small triumphs in conveying these ideas in hostile environments. They talked about the joy when a previously unsympathetic colleague understood a critical idea or concept.

Before we gathered at Calvin College, each group was assigned one aspect of Bryan Caplan’s work on economic biases: Make-Work Bias, Anti-Foreign Bias, Pessimistic Bias, and Anti-Market Bias. They were tasked to form a product prototype to explain and combat this bias among 18-26-year-olds.

The projects varied widely but had an overarching theme of reaching audiences through social media tactics. Projects ranged from a Facebook page with clever memes that highlighted free market concepts in a comical way to a smartphone app that linked users to FEE content and resources.

The winning group sought to combat the Pessimistic Bias by creating a “gratitude journal.” Each page lists a new fact testifying to the societal progress made possible by free markets while providing space to record what the writer is grateful for that dayThe judges loved the uniqueness and immediate feasibility of the product. 

Sunday morning, students were given the option to attend a workshop on either writing or public speaking.

In the writing workshop, Maxwell led the discussion on the process of getting published and his journey with writing. In Burrus’s public speaking group, students presented elevator pitches to the group and were given feedback for improvement.

In Maxwell’s group, students shared their aspirations to be published writers and elevator pitches with Burrus ranged from women’s rights in India to whether or not there should be a market for organs.

In one of the final talks, Burrus coined the phrase “the statrix,” drawing from the film The Matrix, to describe the world in which we currently live. The idea conveys the point that most of society can’t yet imagine what the world would look like without the state changing and distorting markets. It’s our job to show people a world without it.

The conference drew to a close as everyone headed to the last social to debate the night away. FEE looks forward to alumni effectively communicating the ideas they learned over these few days to spread the message of liberty for all people.

  • Emily is attending Florida State University in the fall to study Economics and Political Science with a minor in Environmental Studies.