March 8, 2016 Print

We live in a world shaped both by the dynamic growth of market activity and the crushing destruction of government oppression. Many young people today seem to believe that socialism is just another word for fairness and sharing, so it’s important to remind them of the devastating consequences that socialism has had on the world throughout the 20th century and into our present. During Atlas Network’s Student Impact Contest at the 2016 International Students for Liberty Conference (ISFLC), two students won $1,500 grants to fund their unique proposals on spreading the ideas of liberty.

University of Michigan student Kayla Garthus, who serves on the North American Executive Board of Atlas Network partner Students for Liberty (SFL), won for her proposal to build a “socialism wall” on her campus, with an unflinching look at facts about the atrocities of socialism. Socialism is characterized by government violence and oppression, Garthus pointed out, but many students seem to believe socialism describes the expansive welfare states of Scandinavian countries like Sweden and Denmark. By displaying and distributing images from real-world examples of socialist phenomena like food shortages and Cambodia’s killing fields, Garthus hopes to give students a desperately needed ideological reality check and start a dialogue on college campuses about why implementing state socialism in the United States would also lead to disaster.

Julio Guevara, a local coordinator for Estudantes por la Liberdad Honduras, also won for his pitch to record and distribute short videos explaining the dangers of totalitarianism, as well as host a small conference where people can ask questions and engage in dialogue about the ideas of liberty, which would be recorded as material for another set of informational videos. The two goals of his project, Guevara explained, would be to educate the people of Honduras about the benefits and importance of freedom, and to reach students in the 18 to 28 age range in order to increase the ranks of their student group and ultimately open a new chapter.

Other innovative project pitches included:

  • Louis Lo, the first SFL leader in Hong Kong, who proposed a new publication that would serve as a platform for student voices;
  • Stoyan Panchev, founder and chairman of the Bulgarian Libertarian Society and a member of the executive board of European Students for Liberty, who wants to organize a campus protest of communism and Karl Marx veneration;
  • Ilia Meshvildishvili, a local coordinator of European Students for Liberty in Georgia, who pitched a “freedom camping” program that would foster camaraderie and in-depth discussion of the ideas of liberty; and
  • Emily Reynolds, a campus coordinator for SFL at Florida Gulf Coast University, who wants to organize a conference series on free-market environmentalism to counter the government- and regulation-intensive environmental education so common in the area.

As in prior years, Atlas Network played a prominent role throughout the ISFLC proceedings, sponsoring other sessions and engaging with students who were eager to learn more about Atlas Network’s role in the worldwide freedom movement.

In a session titled “Why We Fight,” Dr. Tom G. Palmer, Atlas Network’s executive vice president for international programs, presented a history of libertarian student movements, including influential organizations in the 20th century and other protest movements dating back to the 1800s when abolitionist William Wilberforce began his lifelong — and ultimately successful — anti-slavery campaign when he was still a student and newly elected to the British parliament.

“It is sometimes a good idea to remind ourselves of why we get up in the morning and do what we do,” Palmer said during his presentation. “It’s not for the reasons that our critics normally advance. They say that if you believe in individual liberty you’re selfish and greedy, you only care about yourself. They say that if you care about free competition it’s because you think you’re going to get rich as a consequence. If you’re in favor of legalizing drugs, come on — you’re a stoner. You do drugs; that’s why you’re in favor of legalizing drugs. … That’s the only thing that could explain why you do these things. I’d suggest that that reflects a limited moral imagination on the part of non-libertarians. The question of who is, in fact, a selfish, greedy person — it might be the one who can’t imagine anyone doing anything for other than selfish reasons.”

Palmer continued, “We stand up against arbitrary power and for individual freedom. Why is that? It’s because we don’t want to exercise power over other people. We don’t want arbitrary power exercised over ourselves, but we also don’t want to exercise it over other people. We want to live our lives, but we want everyone to have that right. Why do we do it? Because we’re the kind of people who stand up for the rights of other people, as well as our own.”

Atlas Leadership Academy (ALA), Atlas Network’s think tank training program, held a campus event planning workshop with Admir Čavalić, founder of Atlas Network partner Multi, based in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Čavalić is also a senior local coordinator for European Students for Liberty and an assistant professor of economics at the University of Tuzla, with experience hosting liberty seminars that have attracted 1,500 students. The world is more connected than ever before, and bringing people together to share ideas and strategies for spreading the ideas of liberty in effective, well-managed events is a crucial skill for student leaders to develop.

Atlas Network’s Sound Money Project hosted a panel discussion featuring renowned economists Dr. Lawrence White, with George Mason University; Dr. Athanasios Orphanides, with the MIT Sloan School of Management; Dr. William Luther, with Kenyon College; and Dr. Thomas Hogan, chief economists for the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking. Moderated by Johannes Schmidt, Sound Money Project editor, the economists provided a range of perspectives about the importance of rules-based monetary reform in 2016 — explaining which changes would work best in an ideal world, as well as what existing institutions should do in second-best scenarios.

Although the U.S. Federal Reserve was ostensibly created to tame monetary fluctuations, White pointed out that the 21 percent rate of inflation before the Fed was established has been vastly exceeded in the intervening decades, and that this trend holds true for other countries that adopted fiat monetary systems. Under a gold or other stable commodity standard, it’s much easier to predict the value of currency decades in advance because that value isn’t subject to the arbitrary decisions of central bankers.

As long as we have central banks, Luther explained, we at least want them to provide as much monetary stability as possible by anchoring expectations in a way that allows people to make long-term financial plans, provide sufficient liquidity to maintain a stable price system, and prevent the distortions in production quantity that arise when prices don’t send accurate signals. If we can’t have a gold standard with free banking, Luther said, the second-best strategy for sound money would be for the Fed to maintain a strict nominal income level target tied to a price level that is, say, 2 percent above the current period. Although this kind of rule-based system would still include some targeting errors, it would move away from the instability of our current discretionary system.

One of the biggest sources of tension in the Federal Reserve system, Orphanides pointed out, is the fact that the Fed’s mandate includes objectives to and maximize employment, stabilize prices, and maintain moderate interest rates — and these are contradictory goals. Focusing on short-term employment gains is how we destroy growth in the long run, Orphanides explained, and as long as the Fed’s mandate contains this tension, monetary policy will be subject to populist calls for politicians to create jobs at the expense of efficiency and productivity.

Hogan pointed out that, no matter how difficult it is to reform institutions, change is possible — and it’s seen it in action. Congress recently passed a law that repealed a ban on exporting crude oil from the United States that had been in effect since the 1970s, a landmark repeal that Hogan thought he would never see during his lifetime. The fact that we’re even having these serious discussions about monetary policy is a major accomplishment, Hogan said, and encouraged students to become a part of the reform process. Only eight years ago, Hogan was reading economics blogs and decided to pursue an economics degree. Before long, he was writing academic papers on Fed policy, and now holds a prominent Senate position.

“If you want to be involved, if you want to be able to impact policy and make real change, you can do that,” Hogan said. “Sometimes, things that we might not think are possible might become possible in the near future.”