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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Students Explore How to Evaluate Good Intentions vs. Good Results in Grand Rapids

To conclude FEE’s Summer Seminar series of 2014, 59 college students from around the globe traveled to the charming campus of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for “Good Intentions or Good Results?” Participants engaged five economists from across the country on how free markets and entrepreneurship may provide a better alternative to alleviate suffering in the world than aid programs.

Speakers included Dr. Christopher Coyne, economist and author of Doing Bad by Doing Good: Why Humanitarian Action Fails, and Dr. Scott Beaulier, director of Troy University's Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy.

Dr. Lauren Heller of Berry College and Dr. Joshua Hall of West Virginia University introduced essentials of economic thinking. Dr. Heller described the shortcomings of the labor theory of value, while Dr. Hall presented economic concepts such as opportunity cost and spontaneous order using examples from The Simpsons.

Dr. Heller returned to explain property rights by having the students pretend to fish in a common pond as well as by showing Eusebio’s Dream, the compelling story of a Peruvian farmer and his pursuit to own the land he works.

After the first set of lectures, participants had the unique opportunity to tour the Haworth manufacturing facility at its pristine headquarters in Holland, Michigan. Participants gained an insider’s view of the 1.5 million square foot manufacturing space of the global company, which is the third-largest manufacturer of office furniture in the world.

After the tour, participants were able to hear from Dr. Hall again on “Markets, Morals and Money,” followed by Dr. Beaulier on “Politics without Romance.” Dr. Beaulier explained Public Choice theory and government failure. Many of the participants heard for the first time why self-interest, rational ignorance, and concentrated benefits paired with dispersed costs often obstruct governments from behaving in a manner conducive to a flourishing population.

In a trio of Saturday lectures, Dr. Coyne explained how good intentions often produce less-than-desirable results, citing the costly failures of NGOs in their mission to assist Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, which affected millions. Dr. Coyne also emphasized the importance of entrepreneurship and its role in helping lift people out of poverty.

To close the seminar, Dr. Benjamin Powell, director of the Free Market Institute at Texas Tech University, and Dr. Beaulier faced off for the final Arena K.O. Debate of summer, “Should We Restrict Immigration or Let the Free Market in Labor Work?” where Beaulier played devil’s advocate against the resolution, “A free market in labor makes both the native population richer and reduces poverty worldwide.”

Powell presented several strong justifications of the affirmative, including, “Right now, immigration restrictions prevent capitalist actions between consenting adults.”

In addition to the lectures, discussion groups and socials were hosted by friends of FEE at the Acton Institute in downtown Grand Rapids, where participants had the pleasure of meeting with Acton staff and interns as well as visiting their new office.

“Good Intentions or Good Results?” was the perfect way to conclude FEE’s 2014 Summer Seminars series. Over 600 students from as far away as India, Poland, and Nigeria attended the 10 seminars for high school and college students, and all are now invited to join the FEE Alumni Network.