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The Institute of Economic Affairs and its support for Liberty League Freedom Forum 2014

One of the most encouraging things happening to the British pro-free-market and libertarian movement is the outreach work being done by the Institute of Economic Affairs, to students at British universities and in British schools. In this IEATV video Steven Davies and Christiana Hambro describe what they have been getting up to in this area. They are a bit stilted in their delivery and demeanour. Steve Davies in particular is a rather more relaxed, animated and persuasive public performer than this short video makes him seem. I get the feeling that there were retakes, as they negotiated car doors and seatbelts when on camera. But if any of this inclines you to be put off, don’t be, because the process these two excellent people are talking about in this video is definitely the genuine article.

They mention the Freedom Forum. This has, says Davies “rapidly become the biggest gathering of pro-liberty students and young people in the UK”. The latest iteration of this, Liberty League Freedom Forum 2014, is happening next weekend and its detailed timetable has just been announced. If this get-together was just a one-off annual event with nothing else related to it happening, that would definitely still be something, although I do agree with those who say that the title of these things is a bit of a mouthful. But LLFF2014 is a great deal more than just an annual event, being but the London manifestation of a much bigger program of intellectual and ideological outreach to universities and to schools throughout the UK.

Recently I dropped in at the IEA, where Christiana Hambro and her IEA colleague Grant Tucker made time to tell me in person about what they have been doing. I also picked their about people who might be good to invite to talk at my last-Friday-of-the-month meetings. For me, the most interesting thing that they said to me was in answer to my question concerning to what extent their outreach activities were piggy-backing on the earlier efforts of the Adam Smith Institute, efforts which have been going on for many years, under the leadership of ASI President Madsen Pirie. What Christiana Hambro and Grant Tucker said was that when it came to outreach to universities, then yes, their work does depend on earlier ASI efforts. University economics departments are tough nuts to crack open with contrary ideas, and the best way to get to universities is by working with free market and libertarian student societies, rather than relying on the intellectual hospitality of academics. The ASI has done a huge amount to encourage such groups over the years, and without such groups what the IEA is now doing in universities would have been harder to accomplish.

But in schools, it has been a very different story. The ASI has done plenty of work in schools as well over the years, but what Christiana Hambro and Grant Tucker said to me was that basically, in schools, the IEA’s outreach operation is basically operating in virgin territory, with economics pupils all of whom have heard of Keynes, for instance, but none of whom have ever heard of Hayek. Another way of putting that might be to say that when it comes to preaching free market economics to British schools, this is a town that is plenty big enough for the both of them.

Schools are also different from universities in often being much more open to different ideas than universities are. Universities are dominated by people who take ideas seriously, but this can have the paradoxical result that many universities and university departments become bastions of bias and groupthink, all about deciding what is true and then defending it against all heretical comers. Schools, on the other hand, some at least, are more concerned to persuade their often indifferent pupils to care, at all, about ideas of any kind, which, again rather paradoxically, makes many such schools far more open to unfamiliar ideas than many universities. A teacher may be a devout Keynesian, even a Marxist. But if these IEA people from London can help him stir up his pupils’ minds by showing economics to be an arena of urgent and contemporary intellectual and ideological conflict rather than merely a huge stack of dull facts mostly about the past, then he is liable to be very grateful to these intruders, even if he flatly disagrees with their particular way of thinking.

Present at this Liberty League Freedom Forum that is coming up next weekend, which I will be attending (just as I attended LLFF2013 last year), will be some of the products of all this outreach. Someone like me has heard most of the featured speakers before, some of them many times. But many of the people at LLFF2014 will be hearing talks from people only a very few of whom they have ever encountered before. Here are some of the topics which they may find themselves learning about: Public Speaking and Networking, Doing Virtuous Business, How To Be A Journalist, and (my personal favourite) Setting Up A Society (i.e. a school or university pro-liberty society).

As for me, no matter how many times I hear Steve Davies speak, I am always keen to hear what he has to say about something new, and this year, I am particularly looking forward to him answering the question: “But who will build the roads?” In my opinion, when Libertaria finally gets going, somewhere on this planet, defence policy (often regarded as a big headache) will be very simple. Just allow the citizens of Libertaria to arm themselves. But, building “infrastructure”, while nevertheless taking property rights seriously (instead of merely taking seriously the idea of taking people’s property from them to make infrastructure) will, I think, be much more tricky. I look forward very much to hearing what Davies has to say about this.

Too bad that his talk clashes with the one about Setting Up A Society. I’d love to sit in at the back of that one also, and maybe I will pick that one on the day. That such clashes will happen is my one regret about this event. But you can see why they want to do things this way. As well as big gatherings, they also want small ones, in which new talent feels more comfortable about expressing itself, and flagging itself up as worth networking with, by other talent.

I recall writing a blog posting here a while back, in which I described a talk I heard the IEA’s then newly appointed Director Mark Littlewood about his plans for the IEA. Right near the end of that piece, which I think still stands up very well, I wrote that: “there is now considerable reason to be optimistic about the future of the Institute of Economic Affairs”.

There still is, and even more so.

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8 comments to The Institute of Economic Affairs and its support for Liberty League Freedom Forum 2014

  • Paul Marks

    Who will build the roads?

    If roads are needed in the future they will be built as they were in the past (the 18th and early 19th century)- by commercial operations, or charitable trusts (or by estate developers trying to attract people to their estate).

    The modern practice of just shoving a “housing estate” into some fields and then (wink-wink nudge-nudge) trusting local government (and so on) to maintain the roads, drains (and so on) is disguised CORPORTATE WELFARE.

    “Liberty League” is a good name – it reminds me of the anti Franklin Roosevelt organisation from the 1930s. But it is not good enough.

    The word “property” should be in the title – in order to avoid confusion (and guard against take overs – any oraganisation tends to be taken over by the left eventually unless it is SPECIFICALLY anti leftist).

    Still it is not my business, after all sitting and listening to other people without the right to answer back (even when directly threatened with physical violence) was torment when I was 18.

    As for just sitting like a lemon (and not responding to attack) when I am nearly 50.

    Well stuff that for a game for a soldiers.

  • Mr Ed

    A teacher may be a devout Keynesian, even a Marxist. But if these IEA people from London can help him stir up his pupils’ minds by showing economics to be an arena of urgent and contemporary intellectual and ideological conflict rather than merely a huge stack of dull facts mostly about the past, then he is liable to be very grateful to these intruders

    I venture that Marxists like huge stacks of dull ‘facts’ but mostly about the mythical future, and surely the ability to sit through a 4 hour speech like those by Castro is the very first baby step to becoming a fully-fledged deranged Marxist lunatic.

    Gratitude from a Marxist? Did not Stalin reputedly say that gratitude was a sickness suffered by dogs?

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    I am very encouraged by the spread of these groups and the energy that they seem to give off. The libertarian movement in the UK is a midget compared with that in the US, and has had its shares of ups and downs, but I am mightily encouraged by this.

    The word “libertarian” covers a big tent, as it should. As Paul Marks says, a distinguishing characteristic, which must not be messed with, is a thorough and consistent defence of, and belief in, private property rights.

  • Paul Marks

    Quite so J.P. – and large scale private property in the “means of production, distribution and exchange” most importantly.

    And NOT “as long as it can be shown to help the people” – for that is the doctrine of the French Revolution (not the American one).

    If a rich person (or private group) has to “justify” their wealth those filled with envy are going to prove very hard to convince.

    Consequencalism has bad consequences.

    Some of those who stress utility understand this very well.

    That is why they stress “rule utility” not “act utility”.

    One (according to them)should act in accordance with general rules – not try and calculate (or let political types calculate) the particular utility of a certain action – such as taking an estate from a “lazy” or “incompetent” landowner and “redistributing” it.

  • Andrew Porter

    Sometimes I think all the talk is like p#ss#ng in the wind! Indifference by the majority,lazy thinking(someone else should pay for what I want) politicians promising to do that and the media hostility to any libertarian thought,I.e. John Snow interviewing Tom Hanks and asking him to agree with the statement that the tea party were a bunch of nutters. I don’t think he did?

  • Paul Marks

    Andrew – Tom Hanks donates money to Al F. (U.S.Senator Minnesota) I have assumed that this told me all I needed to know about Mr Hanks.

    Am I mistaken? Is there another side to Tom Hanks?

  • Alex

    I think Andrew Porter is referring to this interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tV8rFQ_StwM

  • Hayek1337

    It’s worth noting that Liberty League is ultimately run by Anton Howes, James Lawson, and Will Hamilton – who I’ve considered great friends since their first conference (and the 80s dance floor in some dingy Birmingham club).

    Their contribution in the silent background is huge, even if largely ignored. They had the entrepreneurial drive,and they’re the ones who make sure the conference actually has worthwhile speakers,and young people filling the rooms. They do it on the side, Anton’s a full time PHD student for example, but often has a bigger impact than a lot of these full time think tankers. They don’t make a penny from their efforts, it all goes to the conference and supporting student societies. There’s also whole Liberty League team around them, promoting Liberty across all corners of the UK at student societies.

    Obviously the IEA is a big backer,and it’s got a hell of a lot of financial muscle, but Liberty League is very close to others in the Free Market movement, and isn’t an IEA project. I’ve seen those three at every Adam Smith Institute Next Generation since time began, and I met two of them at Freedom Week, back when it was set up by JP Floru of the ASI. So, you’ve got to look at return on investment, and those in the background. People like Madsen Pirie of the ASI, and Donal Blaney in the more Conservative movement have played a key role here – identifying and developing entrepreneurs in the battle of ideas, or as Atlas calls them, “multipliers for liberty”.

    I guess it’s a case of the more multipliers for liberty the merrier…