The title of the panel said it all: Crisis in America! Big Brother out of control! The exclamation points are mine, for use in place of the red font screaming from within the program for FreedomFest 2012.
The panel promised a discussion of the Transportation Security Administration and domestic surveillance. The convention room at Bally’s filled to capacity, and extra attendees filled the margins.
Of course, you should know better than to expect predictability at a libertarian convention, especially on a panel helmed by two self-described anarcho-capitalists. Both of them made money as investors and entrepreneurs. The two speakers, Doug Casey and Jeff Berwick, didn’t analyze the rise of government surveillance — they glanced off it, right into a discussion on the importance of second passports and international travel.
Berwick, a native of Canada, lives in Mexico. Apparently, the country is too bogged down with narco-traffickers to bother with an annoying gringo like him. In his libertarian paradise, Berwick occasionally rides his scooter drunk, without a license or a helmet and through traffic lights.
FreedomFest was founded in 2002 by Mark Skousen, an economist who has written for Reason, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal. The four-day festival featured a mock debate and dozens of panels. The event incorporates literature, as in “The libertarian chronicles of Ray Bradbury,” and philosophy, represented in “Is man a machine, an animal or divinely human?” But most of the panels covered investing, government and geopolitics, from a libertarian perspective.
Most of it is not exactly the kind of ennobling stuff you’d read about in an Ayn Rand potboiler. As it turns out, some libertarians at FreedomFest aren’t that interested in becoming John Galt. They just want to drive drunk and get on a plane without someone touching their junk. And they’re a bit hysterical about freedom.
“How many of you are worried that you could lose your freedom in less than 24 hours?” Berwick asked.
A number of hands shot up. Berwick and Casey offered an unusual, even counterintuitive solution to this worry: Move to global backwater, the more corrupt and militaristic the better.
“I really urge all of you people to go to a Third World country,” Casey said. “Make the chicken run.”
Casey said he recently urged a retired mercenary to open a strip club in Rangoon, Myanmar. Apparently the country is so boring. Reformers who concentrated on fixing its political system and restoring civil liberties clearly forgot to address the lack of live nude entertainment. Thank God the libertarians are there to fill the cultural void. In the developing world, they can do it without the bother of red tape and regulations. All you need is a bundle of cash and a well-placed general. Ayn Rand would be proud.
If you can’t get in to Myanmar, then Casey and Berwick suggested Laos, Cambodia, Chile, Argentina and Columbia. Many of these countries have leaders who lean far more socialist than President Obama. But it’s okay to temporarily live in an oppressive country as long as you’re privileged enough to do your own thing, the speakers said.
Here’s something else I learned at FreedomFest. It’s one thing to believe in the power of free markets, and quite another to know how to use the free market to make money. Almost half of the panels involved investment ideas. The exhibit hall fairly seethed with currency dealers and crisis investments:
Losing your hair? Private equity opportunities in hair restoration therapy.
The world’s most private investments: rare coins and collectibles.
Precious metals Q&A rap session — WHY to own them and WHERE to store them.
Of course, it wasn’t all get-rich-quick. How could it be, with Taxmageddon lurking ominously in the background? A couple of veterans of the Reagan administration had a panel on that very subject.
Steve Moore of the Wall Street Journal and Club for Growth appeared alongside Bill Beach of the Heritage Foundation. When it came to taxes, the two agreed wholeheartedly: They’re evil! But they disagreed on whether the impending tax hikes — coming in January of next year — represent a crisis or an opportunity.
Beach went first, unspooling predictions of doom, gloom and European-style austerity.
“Medicare, Social Security, disability and pensions — they’re all bankrupt,” he said. “Our public sector is literally sucking the life out of our private sector.”
On the other end, Moore said the Taxmageddon could be an opportunity for Reagan-like reinvention, even if he expressed skepticism in Mitt Romney’s ability to emulate the Gipper.
“There are two people running for captain of the ship who don’t know where the engine room is,” he said. “I think it’s time for us to take the country back.”
Of course, domestic political issues only matter so much to people who plan to relocate to Third World countries. Which may be what brings them back to Nevada every year. They’ve been holding FreedomFest in the Silver State since 2002, but the organizers haven’t learned much about our state or its problems. Moore used two examples — California and Texas — to demonstrate how high taxes damage economies. He forgot to mention Nevada, the low-tax state with high unemployment. Maybe the libertarians like it because it’s so similar to a Third World country. But I wouldn’t suggest opening a strip club. The market here is pretty saturated.