When FEE released applications for “Free the World” this year, we encouraged high school students who were concerned about freedom in daily life to join us for three days of exploration. The result: more than 80 high school students from all over the world convened at Chapman University in sunny Orange, California, making “Free the World” our best-attended event this year and one of the largest we’ve ever hosted.
Professor Sherri Wall started the week with a big decision for her students, using Neo’s “blue pill or red pill” dilemma in The Matrix as an illustration. If students chose the “red pill” and embarked on a journey of economic thinking, they, like Neo, would experience an unalterable change in their worldview.
Students who may have remained skeptical of the red pill’s power were surely influenced by the hard evidence in Dr. Patrick McLaughlin’s first lecture, in which he demystified the Economic Freedom of the World Index. He identified several key statistics about investment rates, economic growth, income levels, reduction of poverty, and—most simply but perhaps most importantly—happiness. Takeaway: free countries are rich, happy, and virtuous.
Dr. McLaughlin followed up with a second lecture to discuss the compatibility (or incompatibility) of economic freedom and large governments. An expert in regulation, he walked students through several competing theories about optimal levels of taxation, government spending and debt, and even the optimal amount of government.
As the week progressed, students delved into the most fundamental ideas of economics with Dr. Antony Davies in lectures titled “Public Choice” and “Property Rights and Trade.” These compelling presentations, enhanced by hands-on experiments with the energetic group, left students with a deeply intuitive sense of the knowledge problem and the astounding benefits of trade.
After two days of contemplating the role of government in their lives, it was time for students to watch these ideas face off. Dr. Anne Bradley moderated a lively discussion between Dr. Davies and Dr. McLaughlin in FEE’s third “Arena K.O.” debate, titled “Government: What Is It Good For?” Dr. McLaughlin asserted that if “adequately constrained,” a government could enforce rights and address externalities. Dr. Davies, on the other hand, posited that because government does not exist in a state of nature, those who advocate for any government have the responsibility to prove exactly why this inherently “coercive” institution ought to exist.
Concluding the seminar on an optimistic note, Dr. Bradley emphasized that greed-driven profit is not the fuel on which free markets thrive. Instead, the market is driven by the profit motive, which leads to higher quality, lower prices, and more choices for actors in a free market. Because “creative, purposeful beings” are allowed stewardship of their talents and work under a free market system, we serve others by serving ourselves, if we do our jobs well.
Many of these budding advocates of freedom plan to enter college in the next few years. Keep an eye open for all that they will do on campus and beyond!