Ideas matter, and who better to present the ideas of a free society than some of the most dynamic and influential thinkers and activists in the freedom movement? My think tank, the Montreal Economic Institute (MEI), is the driving force behind the Free Markets Series, produced in collaboration with The World Show, a syndicated program seen on PBS affiliates throughout North America. Season 1 featured thought-provoking in-depth interviews with such eminent guests as Steve Forbes, Tom Palmer, Richard Epstein, Lawrence Reed, and Michael Walker.
Now the series is back with four brand new Season 2 episodes, available free of charge at www.freemarketseries.com, a dedicated web library that is also home to all of the earlier episodes. The four guests this time around are Kris Mauren, executive director of the Acton Institute; Charles Murray, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute; Randy Barnett, professor of legal theory at Georgetown University; and Luis Henrique Ball, publisher of the PanAm Post.
The Kris Mauren interview includes some discussion of his co-founding of the Acton Institute in 1990, when the errors of rejecting markets were becoming undeniable given the fall of the Berlin Wall and of real communism. As Mauren says, the results of generations of socialist experimentation had become obvious for all to see, and the results were not good.
The mission of the Acton Institute is to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles. Last year, they took home the Atlas Network’s prestigious Templeton Freedom Award for the film Poverty, Inc., a full-length documentary about the fatally flawed poverty industry. The billions and billions of dollars of aid that have been spread around the globe over the years have not helped the poor, no matter how noble the intentions. What the rest of the world really needs in order to climb out of poverty are things like the rule of law, private property, and opportunities for entrepreneurship—the kinds of things we take for granted in the industrialized world.
Yet while we may be comparatively free in places like the United States and Canada, we face challenges of our own, including a heavy regulatory burden. The interview with Charles Murray, the controversial author of Losing Ground and The Bell Curve (co-authored with Richard J. Herrnstein), centers around a discussion of his most recent book, By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission. Murray argues that the only way governments can get away with micromanaging our lives with mountains of regulations ostensibly designed to protect us from harm is through our own massive voluntary compliance. His simple but powerful suggestion: We should stop being so compliant.
According to him, we have little chance of rolling back regulatory overreach through the system itself. What is needed instead is widespread civil disobedience, backed up by legal defense funds set up to challenge unnecessary and excessive regulations. This would impose costs on bureaucrats, forcing governments to at least give some thought to which regulations are actually worth enforcing. Ultimately, Murray wants to make it easier for people to live their lives as they see fit, as long as they aren’t harming other people—a sentiment I can definitely get behind.
The first part of Randy Barnett’s interview covers his experience within the U.S. court system. Unsurprisingly, he says that arguing before the Supreme Court is a tremendous amount of work. He himself lost a battle before that Court defending the use of medical marijuana, arguing that the U.S. Government did not have the constitutional authority to prevent such use. He was also involved in the Supreme Court challenge to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) on the grounds that the government could not force people to do business with a private insurance company. This challenge was actually successful, but the Act was modified so that it would technically respect the ruling. Still, Barnett thinks that this deprived Obamacare of legitimacy, and that this is one of the issues that will get a lot of airtime in this fall’s presidential election.
Beyond this, Barnett believes that services associated with the legal system can be provided competitively. Private arbitration, for instance, is less expensive and more effective than the public court system. While he doesn’t think the United States will turn to a fully polycentric legal system anytime soon, illustrating its virtues serves to ease concerns about moving in the general direction of more freedom. Restoring the U.S. Constitution, something he does hope will happen sooner than later, would be a good start.
Finally, there is Luis Henrique Ball, a Venezuelan dissident and successful businessman who launched the PanAm Post in 2013 to provide news and analysis throughout the American continent. His interview focuses on how an almost total lack of freedom has laid waste to Cuba and to his home country of Venezuela, both formerly wealthy places. Cuba, he reminds us, used to be the top sugar exporter in the world, but now has to import the sugar it needs to make the small amount of rum that it still produces. The Havana of Hemingway and Fred Astaire is no more, and Cuba is one of the poorest countries on Earth.
Cuba may be opening up for US travelers, but the Cuban regime itself has not changed, according to Ball: Vacationers are in for a shock when they realize that the cabarets and shops they visit are reserved for tourists, that the vast majority of Cubans are living in misery, and that the country remains as despotic as North Korea.
As for Venezuela, it is also in bad shape. As the head of a trade group there, Ball fought against the confiscation of property without compensation, among other unjust measures, even going so far as to organize a national strike to protest the Chavez regime’s policies. This eventually brought him into conflict with the regime, and he left Venezuela after having been falsely accused of civil rebellion and treason. But even after these charges were dropped, he decided to remain in the United States to raise his children in relative freedom.
I couldn’t be happier with these four new additions to the Free Markets Series. If you want to hear more about the ideas of freedom, as espoused by these distinguished thinkers and doers, please visit the dedicated series website.
Michel Kelly-Gagnon is President and CEO of the Montreal Economic Institute. The views reflected in this op-ed are his own.