January 13, 2015 Print

Atlas Network Executive Vice President of International Programs Tom G. Palmer meets with liberty activists and think tank leaders in Athens, Greece.

The political climate in Greece has been troubled for years, with a growing government debt and regulatory crisis and the rise of radical collectivism — to the point that three representatives of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party were elected to the European Parliament in May. Atlas Network is active in Greece, however, successfully restarting a movement to promote the ideas of liberty and rebuild a free and prosperous society.

Tom G. Palmer, Atlas Network’s executive vice president of international programs, and Greek native Alexander Skouras, Atlas Network’s associate director of institute relations, spent a few days in Greece in early December speaking before hundreds of students, educators, intellectuals, journalists, and other attendees at events organized and sponsored by Liberty Forum of Greece (KEFIM), Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF), John Stuart Mill Research Group, Women for Liberty, and European Students for Liberty – Greece. Nikos Charalambous of KEFIM did much of the planning for this visit, and has been actively engaged in bringing Atlas Network in touch with the rest of the Greek classical liberal movement.

Palmer’s activities included interviews with Athens Voice, Greek Liberal Monitor, Market News, and In.gr, as well as coverage by Kathimerini. Skouras, who is leading Atlas Network’s Greek outreach project, was also interviewed by the Greek Liberal Monitor and featured at Protagon.

Greece is the cradle of democracy, and its philosophers have made inestimable contributions to our understanding of freedom, but for the past two decades classical liberal ideas have not been actively or systematically promoted in Greek society — to the point that Greece’s economic freedom ranking has fallen from 26th to 85th place worldwide since 1975. Skouras cites Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman’s observation that when a “crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around,” which is why it’s so important to revitalize the nation’s intellectual tradition of liberty.

Alexander Skouras, Atlas Network’s associate director of institute relations and head of the Greek outreach project, is interviewed by the Greek Liberal Monitor.

“When the Greek crisis started, the ideas that were floating around were the ideas of right wing and left wing collectivism, and that’s why we had the rise of radical extremism,” Skouras said. “Atlas and its partners are committed to ensuring that this won’t happen again in the future. Our goal is that, next time, we’ll be more prepared as classical liberals and have our ideas in place.”

Palmer meets with Nikos Rompapas, Greek translator of three Atlas Network essay collections edited by Palmer: Why Liberty; Peace, Love & Liberty; and The Morality of Capitalism.

The planning for this particular trip to Greece began last summer, when Greek translator Nikos Rompapas announced that he had completed a translation of Palmer’s collection of essays about freedom, Peace, Love & Liberty. Atlas Network suggested to other free-market organizations in Greece that several events could be planned in coordination with the book launch, resulting in a successful but hectic week promoting liberty.

Palmer presents “A Brief History of Liberty” before nearly 100 attendees at a lecture organized by the John Stuart Mill Research Group and Women for Liberty.

On Dec. 3, Palmer participated in a panel discussion and presented his keynote speech, “A Static Europe in a Progressive World: How Much Freedom Is Good for a Society?” before more than 80 people at the Amalia Hotel in Athens, in an event organized by KEFIM and FMF. Many Atlas Network books and FNF study translations were made available by volunteers. Palmer presented “A Brief History of Liberty” before nearly 100 attendees on Dec. 4 at the Institute for Diplomacy in Athens, an event organized by the John Stuart Mill Research Group and Women for Liberty.

Nikos Charalambous of KEFIM and Palmer display the new 2015 calendar by KEFIM and LearnLiberty.gr, featuring inspirational quotes about freedom by Lord Acton, Friedrich Hayek, John Stuart Mill, Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedman, and many more.

On Dec. 5, Palmer provided the keynote speech for the first national conference of European Students for Liberty for Greece, Skouras spoke about the genesis of the modern Greek liberty movement, and Zoltán Kész of the Free Market Foundation in Hungary spoke about his own nation’s experiences fighting radical collectivism. More than 170 students attended, despite leftist riots that closed parts of the city and the main universities. “This is an organization of students organizing for liberty who I am very proud to be associated with,” Palmer wrote. “Their conference was well attended and gives me hope for the future of free markets and liberty in Greece.”

Nikos Kostopoulos, the national coordinator for Greece of European Students for Liberty, did a tremendous amount of work in organizing this conference and bringing together such a large number of students during adverse city conditions. Young people are ready to flock to the ideas of liberty if they’re given voice.

“The most inspiring thing that I’ve seen over the last week, where we had the pleasure and honor to host Dr. Tom Palmer of the Atlas Network here in Athens, was the response of young people,” Skouras said in an interview with the Greek Liberal Monitor. “Young people are the ones that have been, if I may use the term, cheated by the system that was created over the past decades in this country, filled with cronyism, with nepotism, and with protectionism.”

After Palmer’s keynote speech at the first national conference of European Students for Liberty for Greece, more than 170 students listen to the event’s first panel discussion, “Greek Crisis: Myths and Lessons Learned.”

In his interview with the Greek Liberal Monitor, Palmer addressed the Greek economic crisis, and pointed out why people should avoid the common tendency to blame markets for the disastrous spending and regulatory overreach of government officials.

“Markets told us that there were fundamental problems at the base, and to blame markets for it is, in my opinion, absurd and ridiculous,” Palmer said. “It was the fundamentals that were out of whack, and markets were what alerted us to this problem. The fact of the matter is that, facilitated by state financial regulation, by Basel Accords, by pushing private credit markets out and replacing them with regulation and state determination, we generated a bankrupt state. … It’s not the fault of markets for ringing the bell to tell us that it’s a mistake. It’s like blaming fire alarms for fires.”

He went on to explain the importance of fostering an intellectual movement that advances the ideas of liberty in the face of widespread economic ignorance and radical collectivism. When a nation faces economic and political crisis, it’s more important than ever to focus on the proper role of government and to determine which state activities bring value and which detract from the social good.

“It tends to be that classical liberals, libertarians, focus on those questions,” Palmer said. “And one of the reasons why I think they make a very positive contribution to political discourse is they don’t believe in magic. Unlike many other people, they focus on institutions, rules, and processes that are likely to generate better outcomes by aligning incentives correctly. It means a more scientific approach, which is how I fundamentally understand classical liberalism. It’s the application of reason to human interaction, and trying to understand how societies produce social cooperation. What is the role of incentives? How do you get incentives aligned as opposed to being at cross purposes? That, to me, is a very positive contribution to a democratic culture, so I think libertarians are a very vital part of helping Greek people to rescue their own democracy and their own economic future.”