The Foundation for Economic Education hosted their fifth summer seminar, Economics of the Real World, at Chapman University. Garnering the second-largest turnout of the summer, 87 students from across the country and beyond came together for four days to discuss current events from an economist’s perspective, explore free market solutions to modern problems, and have a lot of fun along the way.
Finding the Good Life
T.K. Coleman, an outspoken advocate for the free market and a self-made entrepreneur, started the conference off with an interactive lecture about self-interest and value creation. He began his lecture by asking students two questions. First, he asked students to write down what the good life meant to them. Then, he asked students to write down what was keeping them from their vision of the good life. Students shared their responses aloud and brainstormed positive steps they could take in order to take control of their lives and pursue their own self-interest.
Governance can exist outside of government.Discussion continued through dinner, the first round of discussion groups, over ice cream, and into the night, as students got to know one another.
The next morning, Dr. Michael Clark opened the day’s programming with a discussion titled, “How Economics Helps You Understand the World.” In this lecture, he made connections between seemingly complex economic concepts and familiar real-world occurrences. In one example, he explained how parking lots arrange in a spontaneous order, without central planning. He also walked students through a thought experiment in which students tried to manage a bacon business and respond to price signals.
Dr. Abby Blanco continued the discussion by outlining the role of institutions in society. In her lecture, she explained that there are both formal institutions and informal institutions, and that the glue that held all institutions together was private property rights. Dr. Blanco drew the conclusion, using many real world examples, that individuals treat property that they have a stake in with greater care than property that is shared among many. The example that seemed to drive her point home the most for students was the comparison she drew between public and private bathrooms. She concluded by stating that governance can exist outside of governments.
Action and Experience
Next, students participated in the Trading Game – a conference favorite. During this interactive activity, students received a paper bag containing a handful of items. Students rated their happiness on a scale of 1 to 5, according to how the items in the bag made them feel. During first round, students were not able to trade their items, but during each following round the pool of people they were allowed to trade with increased, until the final round where trading was completely unrestricted. By the end of the game, the happiness level of the room substantially increased, providing an excellent example of the success of the free market and open trade.
During lunch, students took advantage of the opportunity to discuss these ideas amongst conference attendees, and with the speakers and staff.
Human progress, value, and activism are made through self-interest.After lunch, students excitedly gathered again for T.K. Coleman’s next lecture, titled "How the Individual Runs the World." He began the lecture by citing Neil Degrasse Tyson, a famous black scientist who, through pursuing his own self-interest, created immense value for the world and furthered the civil rights movement. This self-interest, T.K, explained, is how human progress is made. Mr. Coleman then asked students to share their personal dreams aloud, and have a real discussion of how to make these aspirations a reality.
Dr. Abby Blanco then presented her second lecture in which she discussed some prominent issues in modern society, and explained how the need to do something sometimes brings about unintentional consequences that make society worse off. Some topics that Abby addressed included the gender wage gap, mandated maternity leave, and the minimum wage. She went through each issue, addressing the attitudes that popular culture generally takes and explaining why well-intentioned policies that manifest as a result of these attitudes often do more harm than good. Abby concluded her speech by explaining how freedom-minded individuals should go about marketing these ideas in conversation.
During free time students relaxed, socialized, discussed though provoking ideas, and regrouped before the afternoon’s activities and lectures.
After free time, Michael Clark presented his lecture called "The Economics of Politics," in which he explained to students how incredible the impact of the free market really is. He explained that the incentives in a free market lead to increased competition and a higher level of value creation, while the incentives within government lead to inefficiency and red tape. He followed this up with examples of products and services that have made a far greater impact than any government policy could have.
After dinner and discussion, students gathered in the courtyard for the first-ever Seminar Olympics Scavenger Hunt. Students spent the evening roaming Chapman University’s campus completing various tasks on their team lists, and earning points for their team. From taking funny group pictures with Chapman’s mascot to recording video of the group doing the robot dance, the scavenger hunt gave students the opportunity to get to know each other better through friendly competition and camaraderie.
On Sunday, students grabbed a quick breakfast and headed to the conference center for the last day of programming. The day started off with Dr. Blanco’s lecture on how to think like an economist entitled, “Good Intentions or Good Results?” She explained that economists look at an economic phenomenon and ask the question: Did the means accomplish the ends in this case? During this session, students looked at a variety of issues using this mental model, and got a better idea of what the role of an economist is.
Economists look at an economic phenomenon and ask, "Did the means accomplish the ends in this case?"After a short break, students participated in the Minimum Wage Game, which gave an overview of how the market works and how price controls, namely the minimum wage, have adverse effects on the market. The game is comprised of three different sessions. In each, students are tasked with finding “jobs” from employers with varying minimum wages. Session one includes a scenario with an unhampered labor market that provides efficient outcomes with few unemployment, but a potentially socially unacceptably low minimum wage. The second includes a mandated minimum wage, but with a high level of unemployment. The last includes higher levels of productivity and a higher average wage, with few unemployed. Overall, students learned that minimum wage is detrimental to the market.
Following the game, T.K. Coleman inspired the crowd again with his speech, “Entrepreneurship – Not Just for Rich Geniuses.” In this lecture, T.K. encouraged students to express an eccentric or uncommon interest or hobby. He explained that in each case, there was a market for each interest, stating that entrepreneurs simply have faith in their interests. He told many stories about common people with uncommon ambition and faith in their abilities, that have made it big.
Next, all of the faculty were brought back to the stage and gave their best pitch for the morality of markets. Each came with a unique perspective and included personal stories and empirical evidence to back their claim. Students then got to engage in dialogue with the speakers and ask them questions about markets.
After free time, students listened to Pari Schacht, a self-made entrepreneur. She explained how self-interest and the free market helped her form her successful business.
Lastly, students got the opportunity to ask the speakers questions directly during the Faculty Question and Answer session. This discussion carried on into the night.
As students began to make their way home, it was clear that these ideas would live on long after the seminar’s conclusion. These students were now equipped to advocate for the ideas of a free society and to see the world from a new perspective.