After three days of socializing and watching lectures, I must say that FEE and CISC's Communicating Capitalism seminar was a resounding success. Attracting students and young adults from Nepal, Ecuador, Brasil, India, Turkey, China, and Russia, the seminar hosted speakers Mark Lebar, Andrew Cohen, C. Bradley Thompson, Andrew Bernstein, and Lawrence Reed to speak on the moral basis for capitalism/free markets. From learning to networking with professors and fellow students, the experience was worthwhile and memorable.
After plenty of flying and jet-lag, I finally have found the time to write about my experience in general. Here it is:
Lebar and Cohen are both from Florida State University, but only Lebar came to give actual lectures. His presentations covered classical liberal thought and the various schools of ethics that can provide a defense for capitalism. It was really interesting and educational to hear a presentation that put Locke, Adam Smith, and J.S. Mill side by side to compare and contrast their classical liberal philosophies. I also have to give him props for covering so many different schools of moral philosophy while also discussing the ethical basis for capitalism.
C. Bradley Thompson is a professor of political science at Clemson University and is also the president of the Clemson Institute for Studying Capitalism (CISC), a think tank focused on exploring/explaining the moral basis for Capitalism. His first lecture focused entirely on the argument that defending capitalism must transcend a simple economic calculus. Thompson believes that proponents of open markets must clearly communicate the moral foundations for an open market in addition to its efficiency, which inevitably results in defending the idea of self interest. Professor Thompson, and everyone else speaking at the conference, made a good point on how economists have 'taken over' the debate for capitalism. I think I am guilty of falling into his category of those 'economists', and have increasingly relied on 'efficiency' arguments to justify markets.
However, as I left Clemson University, it was professor Thompson's next lecture on abolition that I ended up loving the most. Without going into too much detail, Clemson used the Abolitionist movement prior to the Civil War as an example of the conflict between pragmatism and idealism when arguing for some ideology/ideal. The lecture's appeal came from the skillful combination of information and passion in professor Thompson's presentation, and it exposed the serious philosophical dilemmas behind such serious issues in history. In the end, professor Bradley, and I would like to believe everyone there, came on the side of the radical abolitionists.
Let me make this clear: I am not a follower of Ayn Rand's Objectivism, and I honestly did not believe I would be enjoy, let alone be interested, in any serious lectures on the topic. Luckily for me, and several students sharing that view, Mr. Craig Biddle was an extremely well spoken individual who edits the Objectivist Standard, a magazine that analyzes politics and culture through the lens of Objectivism. Most surprising was his theory for (what was basically) a voluntary government, a concept that I thought was an extremely engaging and divergent from other streams in neoclassical theory.
Another great lecture provided by Biddle was during the breakout sessions. During this period, FEE/CISC allowed students to choose between watching a lecture on public speaking or writing, each taught by professor Bernstein and Mr. Biddle respectively. Mr. Biddle's lecture on general writing tips was fantastic and I (hope!) to implement them into my own writing.
Andrew Bernstein is a lovable goofball from New York City, and teaches at several colleges in the area. A prominent defender of Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy, his lectures covered a historical review of capitalism in England and the issue of government schools. While engaging, I feel professor Bernstein read a little too much from his own books/writing for my liking. He was a great partner in conversation, however, and I managed to speak with him on topics completely disconnected from the seminar. At one point, we were discussing Sartrean existentialism, something I did not expect to come up while at this conference.
Finally, and typically the last to speak each evening, was Lawrence Reed, the president of FEE. The embodiment of what every advocate for free markets should be, Mr. Reed typically discussed what it takes character-wise to become (and be) a defender of liberty. His speeches managed to cover very general topics while also touching upon very deep and serious issues, often with him throwing anecdotal experience from his time in the Eastern Block nations during the Cold War.
Overall, the experience at Clemson University was fantastic, something not surprising for a seminar hosted by FEE/CISC. I might write some stuff related to the topics covered in the seminar in greater focus, but until then, I have to get ready for my flight out to D.C. this weekend and finish some other articles I have begun. Till then-