2011 International Students for Liberty Conference: A Review

A few weekends ago I took the opportunity to travel to George Washington University with 7 fellow JMU students to attend the 2011 International Students for Liberty Conference (ISFLC). Students for Liberty (SFL), an organization founded just a few years ago to help organize and supply pro-liberty students across the world with books, resources, and internship opportunities, holds multiple conferences annually. I attended the Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference at Drexel University in Philadelphia last fall, and that convinced me to attend the largest gathering of pro-liberty students in the history of the movement this year at ISFLC. Over 500 students from all over the country (and the world) descended on Washington D.C. to network, hear from successful and talented speakers, and be a part of the John Stossel Show. This is my official review of the conference.

My first thoughts: Wow. The energy and enthusiasm at this gathering was off the charts! With all the apathy I see here at JMU, I was surprised to see there were so many other people out their that actually care about individual freedom and actively want to preserve it. The general aura of the students was impressive: they were all well-read, well-dressed, and ready to change the world. As I said earlier, everyone was just excited to be there. Here’s a shot of everyone right before they started taping the John Stossel Show. I’m over on the right with my fist raised in the air (I was pretty pumped).

The conference was organized into main events and then 6 “breakout sessions” where you could decide which lecture to attend. Friday evening consisted of a few main events worth mentioning. First, we watched a sneak preview of the new movie based on Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”. Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 will be released on April 15th (strategically placed on Tax Day) and it actually looks pretty awesome. It is being independently made with quite a small budget, but that isn’t stopping the producers from making a high quality film.

After the screening, SFL presented its annual awards for event of the year, student of the year, and group of the year. Congratulations to all the winners! They definitely deserved recognition. A lot of winners came from the west coast where the liberty movement seems to be exploding. That’s great news for a part of the country that is currently suffering from the effects of big government, high taxes, and massive deficits.

Here’s the 8 members of Madison Liberty that attended the conference at the social on Friday night:


Yes, it had finally arrived: the day we had all been waiting for. The events on Saturday went from 10am to 7:15pm, so we had quite a lot in front of us. Once everyone had a few cups of coffee, we were all excited to get on with the day. My favorite speaker was Dr. Chris Coyne. He is an economics professor at George Mason University and is a strong advocate for Austrian economics. I went to 2 of his lectures, speaking about Austrian business cycle theory as well as the faults of protectionism. He is very down-to-earth and knows exactly what he is talking about. I am continually impressed with Mason’s economics department.

Later in the evening, Gary Johnson spoke about his experiences as the former governor of New Mexico and how he ran the state like a business. Every decision was based on a cost-benefit analysis, and that caused Johnson to veto over 750+ appropriations bills while he was the chief executive of New Mexico. His presidential platform takes on many issues that many candidates as well as current leaders refuse to touch. Johnson wants to balance the budget by cutting the federal government by 46% and immediately start working on phasing out social security, medicare, and other welfare programs that are sucking our resources away. He is also a strong advocate of ending drug prohibition along with the multi-trillion dollar industry that is the “war on drugs.” I’m not sure if he will be electable as a president, but one can only hope.

After Gary Johnson spoke, David Boaz (VP of the Cato Institute) joined John Stossel on stage to film a new episode of The Stossel Show. The atmosphere was totally electric when the cameras started rolling, and students were invited to ask Stossel and Boaz questions during the show. The episode will air on Fox Business on March 31 at 8pm, so be sure to tune in then! I don’t get Fox Business on my current cable plan, so I will most likely be watching it online the day after.

I had the pleasure of meeting David Boaz later that evening at one of the socials in D.C.

The final keynote for the conference was Megan McArdle, D.C.-based blogger and writer for The Atlantic. SFL did a great job of selecting Megan to speak last because she was probably the most inspirational of all the speakers. As someone who constantly has to defend her viewpoints, McArdle pleaded with the audience to always practice intellectual honesty, because the only way Libertarians can eventually be effective in the pubic sphere is to be more intellectually honest than the other sides. The left and right have become almost exclusively driven by emotion in their responses, arguments, and reasons for their beliefs. She also said that everything really revolves around value judgments. People inherently have different value structures, and a lot of times, people with different ideologies and beliefs will never be able to completely reconcile with each other because of their diverse value structures.

Even though there are so many different value systems, I do believe there are “right” ways to go about things based on human action and the sciences. Economics is a science. It has natural laws that cannot be violated, because the basis of economics is human nature and human action. Science describes what is, not what we want it to be. Science does not deal with morality or what is “right” or how things “should be.” Unfortunately, we have politicians who violate the laws of economics and still expect their policies to work because that’s the way they believe things “should be.” These failed policies include: education for all, a “living” wage, free healthcare, etc. There are limited resources, and no legislation that violates the laws of economics will ever be successful.

Ludwig von Mises elaborates on that point in much more detail in Planned Chaos which I hope to write a few posts about in the near future. That was a little bit of a tangent, but McArdle’s point about value judgments reminded me of it. This conference provided me with an enormous amount of resources to continue to educate myself beyond the cookie-cutter structure of bullshit general education classes and single-minded, model-intensive Keynesian economics that my university will continue to shove down my throat. College no longer provides true education by itself. It provides individuals with the resources and the ability to educate themselves, but it is up to the individual to take the reigns and actually convert that ability into action.

Students for Liberty has created something amazing. The community of students, educators, and writers at the conference was astounding, and I plan on being more involved in SFL and pro-liberty organizations in the future (hopefully this summer if everything goes as planned!)

~ by rfreeland on March 8, 2011.

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