FreedomFest is the great annual meeting of libertarians in Las Vegas organized by author, economist, and editor Mark Skousen. Held close to the 4th of July every year, it celebrates a diversity of opinions rarely found among the “conservatively correct” who rule the Republican Party and brook little dissent – for example, against more wars. Steve Forbes, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, and Fox Business Channel’s Judge Napolitano are always there.
Sen. Rand Paul was the keynote speaker at this year’s conference, which took place July 11-14. He said that there is “consensus” in Washington — for higher taxes, more regulations, and few reforms. He questioned Defense Department waste and demanded a first time audit of Pentagon spending. He said his proposed cuts of just 1 percent across the board for all government spending were opposed by most of Congress, even though such a real cut would in 10 years balance America’s budget.
Speakers included a veritable Who’s Who of libertarian intellectuals and independent conservatives. (See links to their biographies and to the program topics.) Some hundred subjects were covered in lectures or seminars with panels of experts, a gamut covering the American and world economies, finance, investment, geopolitics, philosophy, history, art, healthy living, science, and technology. John Mackey spoke on food, saying that he approved of the “paleo” diet, based upon what ancient humans ate, but adding that whole grains (unrefined flour) were healthy as well.
A newly expanded feature was Anthem: The Libertarian Film Festival, with some 20 films on issues such as jury nullification, Liberty in film, Ayn Rand, Detroit’s underground economy, climate change, and many libertarian themes.
TAC editor Daniel McCarthy, contributing editor Sheldon Richman (who edits the Foundation for Economic Education’s Freeman), and myself participated in a panel on “Liberty or Empire—Freedom and Unending Wars.” I focused on understanding Third World nations, why democracies can’t run empires, and why America is unable to win guerrilla wars. McCarthy spoke on the connection between war and revolution as forces that transform society – another reason Americans should not take lightly the consequences of unending wars. Sheldon Richman discussed the original Articles of Confederation of the 13 American colonies and how many of our Founders were concerned that too strong a central government be able to go to war like the old European kings. (Audio recordings of the sessions are available here.)
Editors Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch of Reason and Reason.tv hosted “How Pop Culture Frees the World.” They explained how communism was undermined by contraband VCR’s bringing American and European films into the Soviet Union. Most interesting was Gillespie and Welch’s showing of videos of India’s famous Bollywood movies – colorful, with immensely sensual music and dance, yet respectful of cultural values. They explained that the two top female and the single most popular male performers were Indian Muslims – their films are undermining Saudi and Pakistani purist, radical, ascetic Jihadists and Islamists by showing Muslims could have fun without dying first to find it in paradise.
I was also on a panel about suggesting amendments to the Constitution at a mock Constitutional Convention. It was chaired by David Boaz, executive VP of CATO. Proposals centered on the commerce clause and the clause to promote “the general welfare.” The two have been the basis for much of the vast expansion of government since Franklin Roosevelt (with a bow to Teddy Roosevelt and his imperialism). The general welfare clause was explained at the convention as self-limiting because otherwise there would have been no need for all the limitations put on government by the Constitution.
Another debate at the panel ensued about restricting voting to citizens who did not receive welfare payments from government. Then all sorts of questions came up — for example, what about farmers being paid not to grow crops, wasn’t that a form of welfare? Similarly, many seemingly simple subjects got very bogged down in trying to put them in specific writing.
Chris Preble, foreign policy director of the Cato Institute, and myself bought up the question of limiting presidential authority to start wars. I proposed the idea, recommended to me by constitutional scholar Bruce Fein, that the wording of Congress’s war powers include “starting a war” instead of just referring to the power “to declare war.” Also that the impeachment clause be expanded to allow for impeachment of any president who starts a war without a vote of Congress. Today it only allows impeachment for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” I also proposed that war spending, in the event that America was attacked, must be paid for in the current year’s budget: any borrowing to fight wars would only be permitted with a yearly 3/4ths vote of the Congress. (Audio tapes of all the sessions are available at http://miracleofamerica.com/)
Mark Skousen has never been intimidated: two years ago he even allowed a session with me debating George Gilder about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Our magazine, The American Conservative, is welcome there, and indeed is distributed to the more than 2,000 yearly attendees in their welcome packs.