Learning, Debating, Canoeing

Author: Rok Novak 

Date: September 5, 2013

The last week of August was a good week for liberty in Slovenia.

Out of more than 400 applicants, 28 participants from 17 different countries were selected and gathered at one of the prettier places in our country, Bled, for the sixth edition of the Liberty Seminars

Tanja Štumberger Porčnik, the president of the Slovenian think tank Svetilnik, which organises this event, likes to say that Liberty Seminars are something special, something different. And they are. The seminars provide a varied mix of topics and formats of learning. History, policy, economic theory, political science and philosophy — something for everyone.

These aren’t just standard lectures, though, as the formal part of most was kept quite short. Rather, the time was spent for speakers setting puzzles for the participants to solve, for discussion, for debate and for questions. This created an intellectually stimulating environment where it was easy to learn and challenge oneself to think about concepts in a new way.

The intense schedule was broken up by some less demanding activities as well. We watched a couple of documentaries — Overdose: The Next Financial Crisis is a must see if you haven’t already — and the third day even allowed for some sightseeing. We went to waterfall Savica and then boarded our canoes at Lake Bohinj. Some of us even ventured for a swim, although admittedly, it was slightly colder than would be ideal. As a Slovene I took the beautiful setting much more for granted than the other participants, but the one thing I could definitely not take for granted were the amazing faculty! Rockstar professors every single one of them.

Dan Mitchell discussed tax policy with us at length, both in the classroom and in the evening at the bar. Stephen Davies told us to throw our maps away because political borders have always been of secondary importance — what has mattered throughout history has been trade, and the routes it has taken. Mark Littlewood and Philip Booth challenged us to think about reforms, to understand them and to propose solutions for the economic problems currently stifling our economies and Tanja Kosi Antolič expanded on these questions by delving into labour market policy, competitiveness and productivity.

We used the tools gained on the penultimate day when each “national team” chose one representative to give a presentation on the state of liberty in their country and the ways in which it could be improved. Though I did the presentation for Slovenia, I suppose there’s more than enough material for another blog post there (one which I may well decide to write).

Having sharpened our arguments through discussions in class, the last day was time to (go to war) take our fellow participants on in the standard British debating format. Proposition of my team was, “A restaurant owner has a right to decide whether his establishment will have a smoking and a non-smoking area or not.” It was similar to the other two debates (one being the classic kidney debate and the other being about the right to homeschool) in that it presented a clash of libertarian and statist ideas. This round went to my team’s spin on statist fallacies…I’m sure Alex will avenge libertarian honor sometime in the future!

The afternoon after the debates was filled first by a “back to school” kind of atmosphere where David Greenwald’s workshops took us through the basics of money, banking and Austrian businesses cycles, and the seminars were finished off by Zoltan Kész’s lecture on extremism and authoritarianism in Hungary. If you ever need a reminder of what we as promoters of liberty are fighting against (and you have the stomach for it), a chilling video, which he showed us, is available online: Tell Your Children.

As always with such events, it’s not just about the knowledge gained in class. It’s about the new friendships formed, the new contacts made and, above all, the inspiration one can draw from such experiences. Inspiration for projects, events, essays and much more. And to ensure we had something to fall back on when the inspiration starts to fade each participant was given a pile of about 20 books or so. In fact, one of them is eyeing me right now, so I better get back to it. As for this post — I hope it inspires you to consider being part of the 2014 edition of Liberty Seminars. You won’t regret it.

(Because most libertarians I know appreciate reading material, I thought I’d share this year’s Liberty Seminars reading list)

Rok is an undergraduate student of English at University of Ljubljana, but is already taking courses at the Faculty of Economics as well, since he plans to continue his graduate studies there. This summer he became a local coordinator for European Students for Liberty.

This article was published by the European Students for Liberty on September 9, 2013.