FreedomFest 2011

Jon and I have been libertarians forever, but we didn't really know what to call it until we found and bought a copy of Liberty magazine at Barnes & Noble many years ago. Well, Jon was an anarchist in high school, and he still sometimes borders on that; I think I've always been a libertarian. Liberty became the only magazine we subscribed to without interruption, until they stopped making the print edition a year or so ago. There were times when that magazine was like a cozy, cuddly blanket for me, even though much of what appeared in it was argumentative, sarcastic, sometimes pessimistic. Even our friend Brian, who is not known for his sunniness, found Liberty too caustic when we tried to indoctrinate him with it. But I loved it. So did Jon. We still read it online, but I do miss the print version.

Anyway, my point is that many times over the years, Jon and I saw ads for various libertarian conferences and one of us would always say, "We should go to that someday." Well, someday finally came: we went to FreedomFest in Las Vegas last week. Their tagline is "The world's largest gathering of free minds." FreedomFest has been going on every year since 2002 and is organized by Mark Skousen, with significant help from his wife Jo Ann Skousen, who organized the first-time libertarian film festival Anthem this year. (Jo Ann is the entertainment editor of Liberty and Mark is a frequent contributor.) We didn't know what to expect, but it turned out to be interesting, inspiring, and thought-provoking, as well as full of useful and practical information that we'll be using in our home school, finances, and other areas of our lives.

I'm used to being alone in my political beliefs. Most of my friends and family are conservatives, with a healthy dose of liberals among them. Very few identify themselves as libertarians. Of course, there are other things about Jon and me that are "weird"--the home schooling, for example. So it was different and fun to be around so many like-minded people at FreedomFest. I think there were plenty of libertarian-leaning conservatives around, but what a trip to be hanging out with a couple of thousand straight-up libertarians. Here are some of the well-known people we heard speak:

Rand Paul, new Senator from Kentucky and son of Ron Paul. He was delightful every time he spoke. Funny, articulate, principled in his politics (though more open to compromise than his father). I hope he gets a chance to do some good things in the Senate.

Judge Andrew Napolitano. I know he's famous because he's on Fox News, but I never watch TV news, so I'd never heard him speak. Unfortunately, I missed the speech (Jon said it was great), but I heard the Q&A that followed, and he was fantastic. One great thing he said (not quotes, because I'm going from memory here): There's just one party in this country: the big government party. It has a Republican wing and a Democratic wing.

John Mackey, CEO and founder of Whole Foods Market. It's great to have a pro-free market "tree hugger" (his words, and others') running a successful company like Whole Foods. I was really impressed by him, his efforts to re-brand capitalism, and the innovative incentives to live a healthy life he has introduced to his employees and that will soon be introduced to customers. Too bad the closest Whole Foods to us is in Salt Lake.

Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin. The highlights of this session by some entertaining impersonators were Benjamin Franklin hitting on all the women who asked questions and Thomas Jefferson breaking the audience down into voting persons according to 1786 standards. I'd say 5% of the audience was eligible.

Peter Schiff, CEO of Euro Pacific Capital and doom and gloom finance guy who frequently appears on TV to argue with people. He's a great speaker and very compelling. But when Jon and I talked to him briefly, he was kind of a jerk. Maybe he was having a bad day, or maybe Jon touched a nerve when he mentioned Schiff's unsuccessful campaign for a Connecticut Senate seat last year. In any case, he is super sharp and fun to listen to (from a distance).

Herman Cain and Gary Johnson, candidates for the Republican presidential nomination. I didn't actually hear Herman Cain, but Jon did and enjoyed hearing him speak, though he was much more conservative than libertarian. Gary Johnson was governor of New Mexico a while back and did some impressive stuff there, cutting taxes and vetoing like crazy.

There were others, too, some from TV, some from the more narrow libertarian world. I wish I'd heard more from Mark Skousen, but I did hear him moderate debates, and he was very entertaining as his 8th great-grandfather Benjamin Franklin. I came away from the conference even more impressed with the Skousens than I already was. Jo Ann Skousen did a session on Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities that was very good and reminded me that I used to want to be a teacher. I think I'll start pursuing that again by teaching a literature course to my oldest boys and inviting other home schooled families in the valley. I do have a degree in Comparative Literature, so I guess I ought to use it. (Some people think that because I home school, I must be teaching my kids, but they really learn most stuff on their own with a little guidance from me.)

One of the Skousen daughters, Valerie, did a session about funding the arts in a libertarian way, something I think about pretty often (with no great ideas yet). Their oldest son, Tim, had an excellent film shown at the film festival (but not eligible for awards, for obvious reasons): Zero Percent, about a successful college education program in Sing Sing prison.

And if you need more proof that the Skousens are cool, here's a great advertisement parody they made for "ObamaCare" (and by laughing with this I don't mean to imply that I think the status quo in health care is fine and dandy):

I wish I'd had more time to take in festival films, but we did see a couple in addition to Zero Percent: Final Census, a dark and hilarious 10-minute short, and The Cartel, a documentary about how more money doesn't seem to be helping public schools, especially in New Jersey. There was a lot of good information in it, but it went on a bit long. Worth watching, though.

I read a blog post about FreedomFest on the Ludwig von Mises Institute website that claimed that the sessions at FreedomFest were of two kinds (and I'm paraphrasing here). One kind was about trying to "take back the country" through political lobbying, money, etc. The other kind explored alternative ways of living "outside" the state. I hadn't thought of this distinction while I was there, but it resonated with me. I'm not the kind of person who tries to change the school system so it will better serve my children; I'm the kind of person who keeps the kids home from school. In fact, I think there should have been a session or two on home schooling to complement the sessions/debates on school choice. I'm glad there are people who are trying to change the status quo in government, school, etc., like the tea parties. But I'm also glad there are people trying to live differently and with as much freedom as possible. It was fantastic to be around many of both types last week. I hope Jon and I will continue to attend.

A word about Las Vegas. Walking through the casino at Bally's every morning and evening was a weird contrast to the conference we were attending. I don't get the attraction of the slot machines, especially. Nobody at those machines looks like they're having fun. However, we ended up moving to a delightful hotel room after one night in a crappy room next to the loud elevators. The second room had a bank of windows across the outside wall that looked out on the Paris pool, Eiffel Tower, and the strip. One night we heard the live, muffled-by-the-windows Ben Folds concert that was going on across the street, complete with video being broadcast on one of those huge, Times Square-like video screens. Our room had a Jacuzzi centered on a marble dais kind of thing. I guess that's the benefit of getting the last non-smoking room next to the elevators the first night. I have been known to kind of freak out in the past when we've stayed in Las Vegas because I don't like it. I get all tense and unpleasant. But I think I did okay this time. I was able to observe the gambling, drinking, guys handing out pornographic cards/flyers on the corners, and the young kids out on the strip with their families at 11:00 pm without taking it all personally and feeling threatened or something. It was the best time I've ever had in Las Vegas.


  1. Thanks for the recap on your experiences Erin. That's awesome that you and Jon could finally go together. I think it would be wonderful for you to teach literature! Way to luck out on seeing/hearing the Ben Folds concert too.

  2. If we could have opened the windows, it would have been awesome!

  3. Have you guys read Ursula Le Guin's "The Dispossessed"? It's a great portrait for how an anarchist society might work.

  4. [null comment, please ignore]

  5. Jason: No, we haven't read it. You've recommended it before and I need to do it!


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