Not your grandfather's Zoom conference: #LFFD20

Artboard 4

The realities of the COVID-19 pandemic required Atlas Network to pivot to a suite of virtual Regional Liberty Forums in 2020, but nothing compared to the most-attended Atlas Network event of the year—the 2020 Liberty Forum & Freedom Dinner online—which brought together think tank leaders, supporters, and academics from around the world for two days of engaging programming and community-building. Our data team is still crunching the numbers of attendees, but we are happy to report that over 1,000 people registered to attend the event.

Videos of each session will be added to this YouTube playlist. Without further ado, let’s jump to the highlights!

Cornerstone Talks

Hosted by Dr. Tom G. Palmer, we started Liberty Forum with six eight-minute Cornerstone Talks on important topics for the future of freedom. These provided foundations for subsequent discussions throughout the two-day conference.

Johan Norberg speaks during the Cornerstone Talks.

Acclaimed author and economist Johan Norberg (Sweden) spoke about the need to promote a culture of openness, “You can only fight restricted speech with better speech, bad platforms with better platforms, closed-mindedness with open-mindedness. The solution is a cultural openness.”

New York Times-bestselling author Amity Shlaes’ (United States) Cornerstone Talk focused on what the post-COVID 2020's can learn from the post-Flu 1920s, “The 1920s indeed suggest that prosperity is a good healer, we need vaccines, but we need prosperity just as much.”

Aleś Alachnovič of CASE Belarus spoke about the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Belarus, “Despite all of these [challenges], the Belarussians want to be free and will fight for their freedom as long as it is needed.”

Amidst these challenging times filled with suffering and uncertainty, Elise Westhoff of Philanthropy Roundtable (United States) challenged fellow lovers of liberty to approach each situation with compassion and profound faith in the human spirit.

Which Way for the USA

It appears Joe Biden will win the Presidency and the American people will wind up with a divided federal government. What comes next? In the first mainstage session, John Tillman, director of Atlas Network’s Center for US and Canada, discussed what to expect following one of the most divisive election seasons in recent memory. “The country remains deeply divided, and there is difficulty ahead. But the question is ‘can we come together?’”

John Tillman hosts the Which Way for the USA session.

Panelists Robert A. George of Bloomberg (United States), Emily Ekins of the Cato Institute (United States), and Lindsay Young Craig of the National Review Institute (United States), further discussed what the liberty movement can learn from this election, and what it means for freedom going forward. They also examined what it means to live in such a divided country, what we can do to heal, and how the pollsters were wrong for the second straight general election.

Dignity Unbound

For the past four years, Atlas Network has worked with think tanks around the world to remove government-imposed barriers to enterprise and economic freedom. This strategy—leveraging the expertise of local civil society leaders to increase economic freedom—is an exciting alternative to government-to-government aid (which can breed corruption and dependency) and technocratic interventions led by outside agencies (which often fail to account for local conditions).

Atlas Network partners have improved access to property rights in the Philippines, Ivory Coast, and Ukraine. They have simplified and reduced the costs of entering the formal economy in Honduras, Burundi, and India. They have reduced the tax burden in Sri Lanka, Argentina, and Peru.

AJ Skiera leads the Dignity Unbound session with Randy Hicks and Arpita Nepal.

In the Dignity Unbound session at Liberty Forum, Atlas Network's AJ Skiera led a conversation about the important role human dignity plays in this work moving forward with Randy Hicks of the Georgia Center for Opportunity (United States) and Arpita Nepal of the Samriddhi Foundation (Nepal), who shared the latest innovations and successes they have had in serving their communities. Dignity Unbound offers the important opportunity to promote a synthesis of economic freedom and local institutions, and the many success stories it has shared already bring that value proposition to life.

Stay tuned for the announcement of the next exclusive short film premiere for Dignity Unbound in mid-December!

8th Annual Liggio Lecture

Professor David Schmidtz delivers the 8th Annual Liggio Lecture.

In his Liggio Lecture, Professor David Schmidtz (United States) critiqued how moral philosophy lost its way in the 20th century by removing itself from practical problems that can be evaluated in light of empirical evidence. He called for a return to lessons learned in the Enlightenment that, at its best, philosophy engages the practical challenge of discovering norms and rules that allow people to live together in peace.

Following the Liggio Lecture was the announcement of the winner of the 2020 Smith Student Outreach Award: the Afghanistan Economic and Legal Studies Organization for their academy to educate youth in the country about the principles of liberalism.

Conversations with Dr. William Easterly and Jimmy Lai

“My own character, my own way of thinking is that my life isn’t about myself,” said pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai (Hong Kong) in a surprise interview with Atlas Network CEO Brad Lips. “My life is about something more than myself. And fighting for it makes my life so much more meaningful.”

Jimmy Lai speaks with Brad Lips at Liberty Forum & Freedom Dinner.

Lai spoke about the transformation Hong Kong has undergone during his lifetime, told the story of escaping mainland China and witnessing the erosion of civil liberties in Hong Kong firsthand, and discussed his ongoing legal challenges with the Chinese Communist Party and why he has remained so devoted to the cause of liberty despite relentless attacks from government authorities.

“There is no rule of law,” Lai said. “There is only rule of men.”

Lai was arrested at his home on August 10, 2020, for alleged collusion with foreign forces.

“In Hong Kong, I really appreciate the freedom,” Lai continued. “Because this freedom has given us all that we have. The good business, the hope, and aspirations...and this is so precious, it is so precious that we have to protect it. It is sacred. And it is just my instinct, or my gratitude, that I think it is my duty to do whatever I can to fight for freedom and keep the rule of law here.”

Professor William Easterly speaks with Dr. Tom G. Palmer at Liberty Forum & Freedom Dinner.

Another high-profile interview at #LFFD20 was Dr. Tom G. Palmer’s interview with Dr. William Easterly (United States). They discussed the unintended consequences of the top-down foreign aid model practiced by the United States and Europe. Easterly highlighted the ineffectiveness of the aid industry by presenting real examples of development projects that have done more harm than good.

“I encourage the local advocates for freedom to believe in themselves,” said Easterly. “They know much better than I do or any American or European expert coming in with a ‘brilliant plan’ what the solutions for their own society are, for greater freedom and greater prosperity.”

Lights, Camera, Liberty Film Festival

Free the People CEO Terry Kibbe accepts the 2020 Lights, Camera, Liberty Film Festival Award.

Property foreclosures, restorative justice, right to work, and entrepreneurship are at the core of five films that were recognized at this year’s Lights, Camera, Liberty Film Festival. Free the People’s How to Love Your Enemy: A Restorative Justice Story won the $10,000 prize, and the four other finalists were Seize This House, by U.S.-based Pacific Legal Foundation; Right to Work, by Serbia’s Center for Anti-Authoritarian Studies; Fables for Liberty, by Argentina’s Fundación Libertad y Progreso; and Motorbike License, by Nepal’s Bikalpa—An Alternative.

Lights, Camera, Liberty is an annual film workshop that helps Atlas Network partners transform the way they market their messages through online video. Video projects created by Lights, Camera, Liberty participants are eligible for the festival.

Think Tank Shark Tank competition

A proud tradition at Liberty Forum & Freedom Dinner each year is the Think Tank Shark Tank competition (generously sponsored by the Smith Family Foundation), where three think tank leaders compete for $25,000 in project seed funding. This year’s contestants were Linda Kavuka of African Students for Liberty (Kenya), Greg Brooks of Better Cities Project (United States), and Roxana Nicula of Fundación para el Avance de la Libertad (Fundalib, Spain).

Roxana Nicula delivers her winning pitch at the 2020 Think Tank Shark Tank competition.

Roxana Nicula was chosen as the winner of this year’s competition by our esteemed panel of judges: Fred Young, Heather Rae Johnson, and Montgomery Brown. You can read more about each of the three finalists’ projects here.

John Blundell Elevator Pitch Competition

The audience was the judge for our annual John Blundell Elevator Pitch competition, where eight alumni of our prestigious Leader Lab program each had just sixty seconds to persuade the global crowd of the importance of their work to promote liberty. Natalie Dowzicky of the Cato Institute (United States) won first place and a $1,500 grant for her organization.

Natalie Dowzicky delivers her winning pitch in the John Blundell Elevator Pitch competition at #LFFD20.

Devin Scanlon of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University (United States) took second ($1,000), and Graeme Taylor of Texas Public Policy Foundation (United States) took third ($500).

Launch of the Global Index of Economic Mentality

Along with Professor Carlos Newland (Argentina) and Pál Czeglédi (Hungary), Atlas Network CEO Brad Lips unveiled a new study that illuminates whether the Overton Window is moving toward, or away from, free-market policy solutions. The Global Index of Economic Mentality (GIEM) is a cross-country study that measures popular support for economic freedom, using data collected via the World Values Survey. Where GIEM scores are high, people do not expect government to play a major role in directing or regulating economic activity, or in redistributing income. The populations of these countries largely favor an institutional framework that prioritizes private initiative, free competition, and personal responsibility.

Among the 74 countries for which survey data is available, the top scoring countries are New Zealand, Czech Republic, Sweden, United States, and Denmark. The lowest scoring countries were Bosnia, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Montenegro, and Azerbaijan.

Lips commented, “It’s now well-established that economic freedom is associated with low poverty and other desirable social outcomes. The GIEM looks at whether economic freedom has popular support in given countries. We are excited to learn whether these measures prove useful in identifying where institutions of economic freedom may be at risk, because of declining support, and where popular support could enable greater free-market reforms.”

The findings of the GIEM have already been written about in Capital Matters for National Review by renowned economist, Dr. Steve Hanke: Economic Freedom—Hot or Not: A League Table.

Breakout Sessions and Regional Roundtables

Jesús Gerena, CEO of Family Independence Initiative (United States), joined Atlas Network President Matt Warner and Will Dowell, director of the poverty initiative at Stand Together (United States), in a breakout discussion entitled A Better Way: Disruption in the Welfare Market. Gerena left listeners with these words of advice: "What homegrown solutions are happening in a given region? Those are the ones that will have the quickest and longest-lasting impact.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused national governments to expand exponentially all over the world. What originally could be seen as a well-intended desire to “slow the spread,” has devolved into an international network of arbitrary restrictions and regulations, picking and choosing which jobs are “essential,” and destroying the progress we’ve made towards poverty alleviation. Mark Littlewood of the Institute of Economic Affairs (United Kingdom) led a conversation with Guillermo Peña Panting of Fundación Eléutera (Honduras), Jennifer Stefano of the Commonwealth Foundation (United States), and Alexander Skouras of KEFiM (Greece) where they highlighted some of the most egregious policies enacted, while also conveying optimism that global citizens are beginning to get fed up with this overreach.

Atlas Network partners from Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America participated in roundtable discussions to highlight the state of freedom in their particular region.

Asia Roundtable: Toward Better Institutions for Economic Opportunity

Luis Miranda led a discussion with Calixto Chikiamco of Foundation of Economic Freedom (Philippines), Tricia Yeoh of IDEAS (Malaysia), and Dinh Tuanminh of the Market Solutions Research Center for Social and Economic Issues (Vietnam), on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the liberty movement in Asia, and what to expect in the year ahead.

Africa Roundtable: Can the Cheetah Generation Lead Authentic Change?

Big Daddy Liberty (South Africa) and Ibrahim Anoba (Nigeria) sat down for an impassioned discussion about how the Cheetah Generation is bringing about change on the African continent.

“I can’t be prescriptive, because Africa is a massive continent,” explained Big Daddy Liberty, “but I’ll offer the following: Here in South Africa, there is a desperately needed drive for young African minds to start doing the groundwork to win the battle of ideas.”

Europe Roundtable: Restoring Essential Freedoms in 2021

Bureaucrats in Brussels may have earned their reputation for being out of touch with Europe's citizens, but the political response to the pandemic in various countries is putting essential freedoms at risk. How can our liberal movement safeguard the free movement of goods, people, services, and capital across European borders? What will it take to revive the free press and rule of law in those countries where it seems under attack? Roxana Nicula of Fundalib (Spain), Nils Karlson of the Ratio Institute (Sweden), and Stefan Kolev of the Network for Constitutional Economics and Social Philosophy (Germany) dive into these important questions, and touch on how the European freedom movement will be effective in 2021.

Latin America Roundtable: Overcoming Statist Headwinds in 2021

Latin American governments have seized extraordinary power since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. Dr. Roberto Salinas-León and Gonzalo Schwarz of Atlas Network’s Center for Latin America, along with Dr. Juan José Daboub (El Salvador), discuss how the pandemic has contributed to “statist headwinds” throughout the region. Dr. Daboub offers advice and optimism, pointing to a new and passionate generation of liberty-loving Latin Americans, and reminding viewers “si se puede.”

Freedom Dinner: Sir Antony Fisher Achievement Award

Australian businessman and free-market advocate Ron Manners, who was recently honored by Queen Elizabeth II as an Officer of the Order of Australia for his services to the mining industry and to young people via his extensive philanthropic contributions to education, was recognized as the second recipient of Atlas Network’s annual Sir Antony Fisher Achievement Award at Freedom Dinner.

“Ron Manners’ extraordinary commitment to liberty has helped thousands of people improve their understanding of the benefits of a free society,” said Brad Lips, CEO of Atlas Network. “While his focus through Mannkal has been educating young people in his beloved home country of Australia, his tireless dedication to creating a prosperous and peaceful world has inspired people of all ages around the globe.”

Ron Manners accepts the 2020 Sir Antony Fisher Achievement Award.

As one of the key elder statesmen of Australia’s liberty movement and the author of 5 books, including his most recent memoir The Lonely Libertarian, Manners’ knowledge and experience has been shaped by his natural curiosity and his belief that individualism and personal responsibility are powerful drivers of change. “I believe that economic literacy, and an appreciation of free markets and small government is of the utmost importance to the next generation of business leaders,” said Manners in the Spring 2020 issue of Atlas Network’s Freedom’s Champion magazine, “so that they can more adequately combat overbearing government regulations and increasing tax burdens.”

The presentation of the 2020 Templeton Freedom Award was full of suspense in spite of the virtual format.

Announcement of the Winner of the 2020 Templeton Freedom Award

Center for Indonesian Policy Studies was announced as the winner of the 2020 Templeton Freedom Award for its work to liberalize the food trade in Indonesia. CIPS Executive Director Rainer Heufers accepted the award.

CIPS Executive Director Rainer Heufers accepts the 2020 Templeton Freedom Award.

Since gaining independence in 1945, Indonesia’s government has pursued a harmful policy of food self-sufficiency that imposes severe import restrictions, tariffs, price controls, monopolies by state-owned enterprises, and barriers to entry—all in the name of independence. These laws increase the cost of food, resulting in widespread malnutrition among Indonesia’s low-income population. Focusing its efforts on making nutritious food widely available for the poor, Center for Indonesian Policy Studies’ Hak MakMur campaign contributed to the reduction of import restrictions on beef, corn, rice, and other food products, resulting in an estimated savings of US$1.9 billion for Indonesian households between 2016 and 2019.

In a paradigm shift, government leaders now acknowledge that protectionism makes food less affordable, and they are more likely to liberalize trade in order to achieve food security. The Affordable Food for the Poor project has not only increased access to food in Indonesia, it has laid the intellectual groundwork for a drastic reduction in poverty in the coming decades.

Read more about their inspiring project here.

While virtual, Freedom Dinner was a lively affair, with friends tuning in from around the world.

The team at Universidad Francisco Marroquín called in from Guatemala.

Ron Manners hosted a lively gathering in Perth.

Jon Caldara hosted a watch party from the office of Independence Institute in Colorado.

After a virtual year, we look forward to our suite of Regional Liberty Forums and our usual Liberty Forum & Freedom Dinner in 2021.