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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

“Problem Solving 101” Equips Students for Liberty

In the “Problem Solving 101” seminar at the Colorado School of Mines in mid-July, FEE equipped nearly 50 college students with essential tools for economic thinking. Attendees hailed from various majors, including industrial design, marketing, psychology, computer science, foreign languages, history, and more.

These curious participants were treated to lectures by a star-studded faculty: Trevor Burrus, a research fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies; Michael Munger, director of the PPE Program at Duke University; Alexandre Padilla, associate professor of economics at the Metropolitan State University of Denver; and Denise Froning, an economics instructor at the Charles Koch Institute.

Together, the speakers guided students through processes of economic thinking and problem solving, borrowing from historical and contemporary influences. Munger invigorated the fundamentals of prices, human action, and politics from a historical standpoint, drawing from Hayek, Read, Madison, and Rousseau. Burrus discussed the government’s process of problem-solving and suggested that perhaps the government creates problems so that it can solve them. Froning taught students to recognize trade-offs and emergent orders in real life, and Padilla illustrated the influence of entrepreneurship and trade in the creation of wealth and the growth of markets.

One of the highlights of the seminar was the fifth installment in FEE’s Arena K.O. debate series, titled, “Is Legalizing Marijuana a Responsible Public Policy?” Judge James P. Gray (a 20-year veteran of the War on Drugs and a representative for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) and Kevin Sabet (director of the Institute on Drug Policy at the University of Florida) were formidable opponents. In addition to seminar participants and Livestream viewers, FEE welcomed 14 guests from the press and the public, bringing the debate’s total live audience to 419 people.

On the last day, students put their heads together in FEE’s “Find a Better Way” activity. This particular session is customary for FEE summer seminars, but felt tailor-made for “Problem Solving 101.” Students were assigned to the problems of providing safe and efficient airport security, preserving valuable natural and historic sites, and providing healthcare for the uninsured. Groups devised solutions and later presented them.

When not in sessions, students further expanded their horizons in Golden and its beautiful surrounding areas. The group enjoyed socials at popular local spots, including Old Capitol Grill, which was once the legislative building of the former capital city. Without any central planning, several students even hiked to the peaks of nearby mountains to watch Colorado sunrises before breakfast.

Before departing, students took a tour of the Coors Brewery, which is one of the largest single-site breweries in the world. Particularly relevant to the seminar was the lesson that the Coors Brewing Company solved problems of its own to stay afloat during Prohibition, producing malted milk and “near beer” while expanding into porcelain production.

In sessions, socials, and in spontaneous conversations, students from all over the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, Russia, Ecuador, and Canada shared experiences in their home countries. Comparing perspectives during a few days of thought and leisure helped students form lasting and meaningful friendships. We look forward to hearing about how these FEE alumni will solve problems in their home countries and beyond.