Over 2,000 Look to Private Solutions at This Year’s “Greatest Libertarian Show on Earth”
By Mark Skousen
“This was my seventh FreedomFest, and the best ever. It’s turned into an annual reunion with old friends and new who come from all over the country and the world. There’s nothing like it.” –Gene Epstein, Economics Editor, Barron’s
Over 2,000 wealthy investors, concerned citizens, and freedom organizations participated into this year’s big show at Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas. They were anxious to find solutions to their financial and economic challenges without government involvement.
The buzz was palpable from the beginning of the opening cocktail party to the gala Saturday night banquet. “It was a WOW experience. I heard that from many attendees,” wrote a reporter. “To see Steve Forbes and John Mackey there all four days, that was something,” said an attendee.
A funny thing happened at this year’s FreedomFest. For the first time in eight years, not a single politician spoke. Our focus this year was on private solutions to the world’s problems. Instead of looking up to “Big Brother,” our experts offered real market answers to the hot issues of today — without turning to Washington to solve our problems.
Free-Market Alternatives That Really Work
One of the most popular speakers was Harris Rosen, CEO and founder of Rosen Resorts and Hotels in Central Florida. His hotel chain is so successful that he didn’t have to lay off a single worker during the 2008-09 Great Recession. He says he has a healthcare system that is far superior to ObamaCare, and cheaper. He provides clinics and first-class exercise rooms for his “team members” at every hotel, in addition to medical insurance.
Free-market think tanks and freedom organizations from around the country are spending much time, energy and treasure to repeal ObamaCare. But our business leaders at FreedomFest offered solutions whether ObamaCare continues or not.
Rosen also offers an anti-poverty program that really works. His college scholarship program has revitalized Tangelo Park in central Florida, and he is creating a similar economic community in Haiti.
One of the most popular films at the Anthem Film Festival this year dealt with the issue of market solutions to global poverty, and how foreign aid programs actually hurt private enterprises in Haiti and other countries receiving government and NGO aid. The film “Poverty, Inc.” produced by the Acton Institute, won the Grand Prize this year ($2,500 award).
Steve Forbes and John Mackey Win Awards
We had several top business leaders at the Fest, including both our co-ambassadors, Steve Forbes, and John Mackey, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market. Both Forbes and Mackey were awarded the Leonard E. Read Book Awards this year: Mr. Forbes for his new book, “Money: How the Destruction of the Dollar Threatens the Global Economy” and Mr. Mackey for his work, “Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business.”
Forbes interviewed Rosen, which was followed by a breakout session led by entrepreneur Marty Cummins. Marty has written a great little pamphlet, “The Adventures of the Free Marketeers.” You can read it here: www.FreeMarketeers.net.
John Mackey, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market and co-ambassador of FreedomFest, returned this year to talk about “Conscious Capitalism: How to Create Better Brand of Business.” Copies of his book sold out at the FreedomFest bookstore. Gene Epstein, economics editor at Barron’s, moderated a panel of friends and critics of his “stakeholder” philosophy.
Every year, John Mackey’s talk on healthy living has been so popular that we could never schedule a room big enough for him. So we put him in the Celebrity Ballroom, and over 1000 attended his talk about the “Whole Foods Wellness Program,” which has dramatically improved the health of Whole Foods team members. His program emphasizes regular exercise and eating whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables, and curtailing the use of processed foods, sugar, and meat.
Inequality and Minimum Wage Debates
FreedomFest is famous for its debates, and this year we provided ones on the unwritten British Constitution vs. the written US Constitution; anarchy vs. limited government (the minimalists won again!); caveman vs. vegan diets; bulls vs. the bears (the bears are better at making headlines, the bulls making money); the progressive vs. flat tax; and inequality and the minimum wage. Several experts suggested natural “non-government” ways to raise wages – through training and education, and increased profitability by firms (more profitable firms tend to pay higher wages).
Our mock trial on American foreign policy was especially contentious and at times entertaining. (You can see it on CSPAN Book TV here: http://www.booktv.org/Watch/15948/FreedomFest+2014+The+Big+Debate+Dinesh+DSouza+v+Dan+McCarthy+on+American+Foreign+Policy.aspx).
Kennedy, the co-host of “The Independents” on Fox Business, was the irreverent judge; Dinesh D’Souza defended the Bush doctrine and the Patriot Act, with Steve Forbes and Brig. General Michael Meese as star witnesses; Daniel McCarthy (American Conservative magazine) made the prosecution’s case, with star witnesses Grover Norquist and Doug Casey (Casey wasted no time insulting the military). The verdict was close, 7-5, in favor of the defendant. Dinesh was pleased, hopeful that this would be a positive omen for the next year, when he will receive his sentence in the federal case against him in New York for violating federal campaign laws. (He made the front page of the New York Times on July 25.)
One of the most popular debates was “Are We in Moral Progress or Decline?” with Michael Shermer (Scientific American columnist), historian H. W. Brands, Tim Nash (Northwood University), and Michael Medved (#1 radio host on cultural issues). In his forthcoming book “The Moral Arc,” Shermer made the case that humans are progressing rapidly in eliminating slavery and creating a more just society, but Medved questioned whether our culture has improved in the most recent generation. After the general session, the attendees begged for more – we may continue this debate next year.
Can Think Tanks Make a Difference?
FreedomFest has become THE annual gathering place for all the free-market think tanks and freedom organizations. The exhibit hall, “the Trade Show for Liberty,” was jammed with financial and political organizations, and buzzing with excitement throughout the conference. They were all represented — Cato, Heritage, Reason, Koch Institute, FEE, FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, Liberty Fund, Students for Liberty, Tea Party Patriots, FIRE, Heartland, Independent Women’s Forum, Mises Institute (Canada), Pacific Legal Foundation, Atlas Network, Free State Project, Friedman Foundation, Institute for Economic Affairs, Leadership Institute, Libertarian Party, Manhattan Institute, Republican Liberty Caucus, Tax Foundation, Young Americans for Liberty, Northwood Institute, Grantham University, and Universidad Francisco Marroquin, among others.
One of the most popular general sessions involved the presidents or representatives of five national think tanks – David Nott of Reason, John Allison of Cato, Becky Dunlop of Heritage, Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, and Mark Littlewood of Institute of Economic Affairs (in UK). They made the case that even though their budgets are tiny compared to the Federal government, they have been able to leverage their influence to stop bad legislation and sometimes even elect leaders (Reagan in the US, Thatcher in the UK). We also had a similar state think tank session, led by Joe Lehman, president of the Mackinac Center in Michigan.
We also had a variety of specialty events at FreedomFest, such as the “Escape from America” series….FEE Day…..the Global Financial Summit…ISIL Day….Hot Spots Around the Globe…Students for Liberty Day….Social Media….Reason Day….and the Anthem film festival.
Lots of Media Coverage: Fox News, C-SPAN, Radio Row
We had plenty of media at FreedomFest: John Stossel returned this year to interview our speakers, including Steve Forbes, Wayne Allyn Root, Matt Kibbe, Jenny Beth Martin, and other experts on the IRS, TSA, NSA, and other “Big Brother” abuses (the Stossel show premiered the following weekend on Fox Business and Fox News: http://www.foxbusiness.com/on-air/stossel/index.html)…C-SPAN covered six events on Friday, July 11….and we had a half dozen radio shows, including Kitco, Human Events, Michael Medved and John Ransom at Salem Communications, covering our conference.
Two Major Films Screened At FreedomFest
On opening night, as part of the Anthem Film Festival, over a thousand attendees got a sneak preview of “Atlas Shrugged: Who is John Galt?” the grand finale of Ayn Rand novel that finally made it to the silver screen. The event was hosted by John Stossel. Producer John Aglialoro announced that the film will hit the theaters September 12.
An equal number of viewers also watched Dinesh D’Souza’s latest film, “America: Imagine a World Without Her,” which became an overnight success after Costco censored the movie (and then quickly reversed itself after a public outcry).
The Anthem film festival attracted enthusiastic crowds this year. Our MC Chip Wood said, “In the past several years, many things have grown at FreedomFest, but very few have grown in size, significance and popularity nearly as much as the Anthem Film Festival. It began as an idea of Jo Ann Skousen four years ago with some small, interesting presentations; this year she had literally thousands of people watching some fascinating independent films.”
For a list of all the featured documentary and narratives, including the award winners, go to www.anthemfilmfestival.com.
New Speakers This Year
We had quite a few newcomers at this year’s conference, including Ken Elzinga, professor extraordinaire at University of Virginia, who saw numerous parallels of the Christian apologist and novelist C. S. Lewis with the father of market economics Adam Smith (Prof. Elzinga is coming out with a new murder mystery novel, “The Mystery of the Invisible Hand” in the fall)….David Brin, sci fi writer, astrophysicist, and futurist, on the future of technology and why dystopia is so popular in the writings of George Orwell, Orson Scott Card, and Ayn Rand; he stressed the overarching theme of competition as the key ingredient to finding the truth in science and philosophy….H. W. Brands, historian and author at the University of Texas at Austin, on “FDR vs. Reagan: Whose Ideology will Win the 21st Century?” He is writing a biography on the importance of Ronald Reagan and his philosophy of government…Radley Balko, Huffington Post columnist, on his book “The Rise of the Warrior Cop.” (SWAT teams are everyone.) And last but not least, libertarian humorist P. J. O’Rourke and #1 radio host on American culture, Michael Medved.
Saturday Night Banquet & Dance was a Blast
With Big Brother as our theme, what could be more appropriate for our Saturday night banquet than “Big Brother and the Holding Company” band? So after an exhilarating three days of non-stop feasting on ideas and debates, Saturday night Several hundred attendees dressed in Sixties attire and grooved along as “Janis Joplin” belted out some famous tunes (including the line “Freedom is just another word for nothing for nothing left to lose”).
The FreedomFest Players also returned to perform a “big brother” version of the musical “Camelot.” Attendees were treated to music, dance and action by King Arthur (Gary Alexander), Guinevere (Naomi Brockwell), Sir Lancelot (Alexander Green), the three knights of the round table (Grover Norquist, Matt Welch and Mark Skousen), and the star of the show, Merlin the wizard (Steve Forbes)….with funny lines about the TSA and ObamaCare. The show was written and directed by Jo Ann Skousen.
Afterwards, the Pink Flamingos gave a two-hour non-stop rock ‘n roll musical program that is hard to beat. Seeing Steve Forbes, George Gilder, and Matt Lott (one of the Stossel film producers) on the dance floor past 11 pm was a wonder to behold.
Lee Edwards, senior editor at the Heritage Foundation who comes every year, summarized it best when he said, “You libertarians know how to have a good time with dancing, skits, mock trials, magic acts, yoga, silver dollars, and fun debates, all in the world’s most laissez faire city. It was incredible.”
Find Out What You Missed Here
I’ve only scratched the surface of the events that went on at this year’s big show. With over 200 speakers addressing a wide variety of topics, FreedomFest is a different experience for each attendee. You can create your own FreedomFest even after the conference by buying individual recordings, and listening to them at your leisure.
The first thing I do at FreedomFest is order all the recordings.
Next Year’s “American Dream” Theme
Start to make your plans now to attend next year’s big show, where our theme will be “Is the American Dream Still Alive?” Let the debate begin!
Meanwhile, we’re already getting started by creating Dream Teams of philosophers, historians, political thinkers, scientists, economists, business leaders, professors, financial gurus, and healthy living experts — the best and the brightest coming together next year to bring the American Dream back to life.
Remember: FreedomFest is an open forum. If you or your organization would like to join us and recommend speakers, authors and topics, please let us know.
And don’t forget to check our website www.freedomfest.com, or better yet, the FreedomFest APP, which we will be updating on a regular basis with new speakers, sessions, panels, films, and debates.
Join us July 8-11, 2015, at Planet Hollywood. Just remember, 7-11 in Vegas! You can register at any time by calling Tami Holland, our conference coordinator, at 1-866-266-5101.
Fly there, drive there, bike there, be there!
Yours for peace, prosperity and liberty, AEIOU,
P. S. Please add to your calendar our next Global Financial Summit set for February 4-7, 2015, at the five-star Atlantis Hotel & Resort in Paradise Island, Nassau, the Bahamas. A great place to relax and get away from the cold while receiving valuable sound financial advice in their turbulent times. We’ll be announcing speakers shortly.