Cato Institute Vice President of Defense and Foreign Policy Studies Christopher Preble presented on U.S. foreign policy on Thursday. He argued that the United States is in a good position to adopt a libertarian foreign policy—reducing defense spending and participating in fewer conflicts abroad. According to Preble, some misconceptions about American foreign policy are that counterterrorism requires nation building, most security threats are imminent, allies reduce the country’s defense burden, and the United States should maximize its relative military advantage over other countries. Preble said the country should only go to war when it has public support, a clearly defined and attainable mission, and if its national interest is at stake.
Cato Institute Director of Monetary and Financial Alternatives
George Selgin discussed the government monopoly of currency. A currency can emerge organically like cigarettes did in prisoners of war camps; the most successful currencies are durable, retain value, and are easy to carry. During the Appalachian and California gold rushes in the 19th century, American private companies competed for public acceptance with their various currencies. The highest-quality currency won out and equaled or exceeded that of the government. With the establishment of national banks in the United States, the government claimed a monopoly on currency. Selgin noted that with no more currency competition and the ability of the Federal Reserve to print large amounts of money, it has become difficult to hold the U.S. central bank accountable.
Atlas Network Co-Director of the Sound Money Project Judy Shelton lectured on the need for a reformed international monetary system, calling the current floating exchange rate system an “antisystem” governments can exploit by artificially setting its currency value. Shelton argued currency should be a reliable tool of measurement, not a policy instrument. She called for a return to the Bretton Woods system, in which currencies were backed by gold and fixed exchange rates. The 2008 crisis and subsequent Eurozone troubles signaled the need for a return to a coherent international monetary system.
That afternoon, Georgetown Law School Professor Randy Barnett lectured on the modesty of libertarianism. He identified three prominent political approaches: the social justice advocates, legal moralists, and libertarians. The first two approaches are problematic since advocates disagree on how much societal redistribution or moral reform is needed, require overly interventionist governments to achieve their goals, and violate private rights to achieve utopian goals. Libertarians call for a limited government that supports a national defense and the Lockean conception of property—the ability to do what you will with what is yours, provided you do not harm others. Barnett also highlighted their belief in the sovereignty of self.
During dinner, Cato Institute Executive Vice President David Boaz discussed libertarianism in the 21st century. He summarized the past successes of classical liberalism and libertarianism: the abolition of slavery, promotion of women’s rights, and codification of limited government and property rights protection in the U.S. Constitution and other documents around the world. Boaz highlighted the role of liberty in the 1989 European revolutions and the failed 1989 Tiananmen Square rebellion in Communist China. Because there is an increasing consensus on libertarian principles around the world and a new generation that is receptive to libertarian ideas, Boaz expressed hope for the future of liberty.