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Monday, June 22, 2015

The Economics of Political Power Seminar

A smashing success for summer seminars

FEE started the month of June off with a bang at the “Economics of Political Power” seminar in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Fifty-seven students from numerous countries gathered at Calvin College for three days to investigate ways that economics can illuminate the political system.

Dan D’Amico, the William Barnett Assistant Professor of Economics at Loyola University in New Orleans opened the seminar by giving an overview of economic thought. After just the first hour, participants buzzing over dinner conversation about the new perspective Dan presented to them, which was very different from the mainstream ideas taught at their universities.

Abby Hall, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Tampa, gave a compelling lecture on Public Choice and the Military. Many students were shocked to learn about the realities of drone usage by the United States military and how pervasive inefficiency exists in the program. 

Jason Brennan of Georgetown University opened the final day with a talk titled “Capitalism, Socialism, and the Moral High Ground” where he detailed the virtues and fairness of a free market economy. 

Jeff Frazee, a political activist and the Executive Director of Young Americans for Liberty, later followed up with a discussion on ways to enact change in our society advocating for students to get involved in the political process.

Together these talks provided a great fodder for rational debate and inspired conversations between students that challenged them to think in new ways. The seminar attracted students from a variety of academic backgrounds and beliefs, but the high quality and thought provoking content was a common compliment of participants.

The “Find a Better Way” activity was also very popular among students. In this entrepreneurial thought exercise, participants formed groups to brainstorm alternatives to political solutions for problems in society.

Equipped with knowledge from the lectures, one group tackled the problem of ineffective airport security. The consensus was that, due to constraints such as the knowledge problem, airport security would be better left to private industry since business leaders have the specialized knowledge to efficiently tackle this need, while voters, politicians, and bureaucrats don’t.

Before the seminar ended, a vigorous debate between D’Amico and Frazee explored varying methods of promoting liberty. D’Amico made a memorable comment that a Starbucks barista has the ability to reach just as wide an audience as a politician. Frazee disagreed, advocating the necessity of supporting liberty-minded politicians who can have a direct, immediate impact on government.

With attendees from so many diverse backgrounds, this debate helped inspire students to strive to promote liberty in whatever career they may end up in.

Overall, the three days were a huge success; students from varied backgrounds, both academically and culturally, came together to learn and share ideas. Guided by gifted speakers and faculty, students contributed their unique experiences to the discussion and were able form new viewpoints on the legitimate role of government in society.

Participants also departed with a collection of meaningful relationships, important social connections, and new friends who share a common appreciation for the virtue of a free society.