The Heartland Institute was honored on July 18 to host a stop in Arlington Heights, Illinois on the 10th Annual Free Market Road Show (FMRS), which toured several capitals of Europe this spring. The FMRS is organized by the AEC Austrian Economic Center in cooperation with more than 100 leading think tanks and universities, as well as international partners such as the Liberty Fund, Global Philanthropic Trust, European Students for Liberty, Ruefa, and the F.A. v. Hayek Institute.
The program began in 2008 with the plan to export the ideas of Austrian economics and the success stories of Austrian reforms in the early 21st century throughout the region.
The 2017 FMRS brought together leading business people, outstanding scholars, and policy experts to discuss the aftermath of two historic events: Great Britain’s “Brexit” decision to leave the European Union. and the election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States. Europe’s political elite as a whole was convinced that Brexit could not happen. In Brussels, most people mocked Brexit supporters and portrayed them as being on the political fringe.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Pond in the United States, Donald Trump’s victory in the Presidential election was also an unpredictable ‘black swan’ event with key parallels in terms of the political context and media response to his candidacy. Deemed to be impossible until the very day of the election, some people now see President Trump’s victory as a further step towards a global populist uprising against the elites.
The speakers at Heartland’s event were: Stephen Hicks, professor of philosophy at Rockford University in Illinois; Matt Kibbe, president and chief community organizer at Free the People, an educational organization turning Millennials on to the values of liberty; and Barbara Kolm, founding director of the Austrian Economics Center and president of the Friedrich A. v. Hayek Institute (a think tank based in Vienna, Austria).
Heartland’s Donny Kendal served as moderator of the event, and announced a special event on September 9, 2017 which will be a formal public introduction to the public of The Heartland Institute’s new president, former Kansas “Tea Party” Congressman Tim Huelskamp.
Stephen Hicks began the program with the admission that he was the only Libertarian professor at Rockford College, which has 200 professors. Hicks focused on the concept of the American Dream, and that the idea was not present in any other nation before it resonated with the American people. They knew what it stood for, and it was this very same American Dream that had attracted people to our shores since its founding: Opportunity, and the capacity to pursue whatever you wanted to do, and to do it in freedom.
Although Hicks admitted that the American Dream was under assault, there were signs of optimism. Religion is alive and well; mobility exists; there is prosperity even at economic growth of only 2%; technology abounds to improve life; and artistic endeavors can be customized to individual tastes. On the other hand, though the United States is the largest nation in the world, both economically and politically, there has been a morally corrupting culture shift. Many of our elected politicians are nothing but corrupt figureheads.
Regarding the state of Illinois and its corruption index: Illinois is the third-worst state for corruption after New York and California. Four of the last eight Illinois governors have gone to prison! Transparency International’s rating of the most-corrupt nations, the USA ranked No. 8 in the 20th century. However, since the start of the 21st century, the U.S. is no longer in the top 10 percent, but now rates 20th overall. A pressing problem for Hicks is the growth in sweeping regulations initiated by un-elected politicians who are insulated from public opinion. For every deregulation, 15 new regulations are put in place.
The election of Trump and Brexit were explained in terms of a generational shift, Hicks said. As for those who voted for Trump, many who voted for Brexit likewise didn’t have a set of unifying principles. Instead, the British voters expressed a healthy backlash against government and the elected politicians.
[NOTE: I disagree that most Trump voters didn’t know what Trump stood for when voting for him. In his many pre-election rallies, Trump outlined exactly what he stood for and what he wanted to do. If some some people didn’t believe the promises Trump made, they only have themselves to blame. I never wavered in my support of Trump.]
Despite political problems, Hicks believes the biggest challenge is what is going on in our universities. Our campus culture had embraced speech codes, the banning of speakers, and even students carrying baseball bats to oppose thoughts they don’t like – which explains how Humanities has been taught in college to the last few generations. Hicks labeled the country’s Humanity Departments as “intellectual sewers.”
Hicks believes the battle can be won, and offered these three solutions:
1. Support younger professors for tenure who are more moderate.
2. Have people outside university (for instance, people who work at think tanks) work with students in universities.
3. Employ new method of teaching using technology and the Internet to instruct K-12 students, like the Kahn Academy.
Matt Kibbe’s Presentation
As a professed Libertarian, Mike Kibbe offered a different prospective from that of Hicks by touching on what he called “the dark depths of politics.”
Kibbe, a supporter of Rand Paul in the 2016 Republican primary, noted that not just declared libertarians were receptive to his candidacy. Early polls in Iowa had Paul at 22 percent. It was assumed the Paul had a chance to win the Iowa Caucuses, but that idea fell apart as the Republican coalition split in half between those who wanted liberty, and those who wanted to burn it all down. Kibbe’s conjecture was that Paul was too rational in his ideas to win. The young people who had supported his famous libertarian father, Ron Paul, caucused with Bernie Sanders in 2016.
What was going on in the political landscape was described as having its roots in the not-to-be-forgotten scream of Howard Dean – who was the beneficiary of the first significant political phenomena driven by social media in the Democratic primaries of 2004. Likewise, both Trump and Sanders were not supported by their political parties and gained traction through social media. Both also raged against the establishment (the political machine).
Just as Trump was not given any chance to win by most individuals in America, the same was said of Brexit in Great Britain. But the Trump and Brexit movements happened at around the same time, across the Atlantic, as people began to realize that their presumed leaders were not as awesome as once perceived. This led to political structures in both countries collapsing from the top down. Similar movements across the globe include the Five Star movement in Italy; the Pirate Party in Iceland; and a Libertarian mayor who won office in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Kibbe offered these thoughts to the young people of today: Every young person has the opportunity to get something better than what is being offered by the current structure, whether news, music, or politics. Young people were given basically two choices in 2017, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and they didn’t like either of them. Kibbe hopes that the Libertarian Party gains traction in the popular and political culture because it will offer young people a philosophy that meets their world view which can’t be found in either the Republican or Democratic parties.
Barbara Kolm’s Presentation
Barbara Kolm’s opening remarks were very prophetic: “This is a time of disruption on both sides of the pond in Europe and the U.S. … You have your American Dream. What was once the European Dream is no more.”
The European Dream was based on two concepts which failed because the two ideas don’t blend together, Kolm said: (1) Classical Libertarian free movement of people, labor, and the exchange of goods to create a continent where people could live together peacefully; and (2) socialist top-down central planning for all nations.
Kolm cited three crises that are holding back liberty and free-market solutions in Europe: (1) the financial crisis, exemplified by the collapse and bailout of Greece, which is still an unproductive nation and a burden to the rest of the European Union; (2) security issues tied to Ukraine; and (3) the migration crisis, which is the most-dangerous of all.
Now in its fourth year of the flood, the Middle East migration issue has been downplayed by European politicians for years, but the reasonable people on the street are not detached from reality and understand the problem. It’s those who work at the EU in Brussels who exist in a bubble, neglecting reality. They would rather view migrants as voters. Yet they don’t pay taxes, nor is their way of life like those who live in the rest of Europe.
Kolm noted that in a span of 48 just hours two summers ago, 12,000 migrants landed on 22 different Italian shores. Of the many million who came then, only 12 percent were refugees of the Syrian Civil War; the remaining 82 percent were welfare tourists who were not legitimate war refugees. There are some 65 million Africans who are moving north, which puts Italy in even greater danger. Although Europe is well meaning in wanting to help people, it must first make sure that its economy is flourishing, instead of inviting migrants to a place where there isn’t room for them.
Regarding Brexit, it is a deal that is done, no matter what the elites in Europe say. It is what the man and woman on the street wants. Brussels is detached from reality.
Kolm said that Continental Europe is still too proud and arrogant to know what is at stake, even though their dream fell apart a long time ago. It is the Left who is now fighting against the political elite. Rules no longer apply. This confusion plays into the hands of those who believe in Austrian economics, and libertarians must take advantage of it. New politicians must be elected who believe in libertarian philosophy to promote free-market solutions.
During the Q&A, I did get Kohm to admit that any optimism she had for the survival of the European Union was extremely dim, given the mass number of Muslims migrants who will over time change the demographics of Europe to one that will represent a Muslim culture.
[Originally Published at Illinois Review]