Last month, as a senior student at the Hawaii Pacific University, I had the opportunity to participate in a seminar held by the Independent Institute in California called “The Challenge of Liberty”.

As the name suggests, the seminar mainly concentrated on exploring ideas and topics such as individual freedom, free enterprise, market oriented economy as well as the government’s role in today’s society and the often detrimental impact of its policies on the welfare of the whole nation.

I was nominated to attend this seminar by Mr. K. Schoolland, professor of economics at HPU and member of the board of scholars at the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, which funded my attendance to this five day seminar. I have always been interested in politics and economics and how they influence each other, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to further my education and expand my knowledge in these subjects.

To my surprise, the size of the class was much smaller than I expected. There were only about ten of us, mostly high school students. The majority of them came from nearby towns in northern California and even one from Portland, Maine. Included in the group were two graduate students of economics from San Jose University who were a great addition to our group and who, with their advanced knowledge, contributed a great deal to our lively discussions and lectures throughout the whole program.

The seminar mainly focused on examining and challenging some of the traditionally accepted conventional truths and misconceptions about the highly praised Keynesian’s economic theory, and the idea of the necessity of government intervention in the economy.

We explored the concepts of laissez-faire government approach as an alternative to the long lasting system and were shown through many specific examples why it makes more sense and it makes us better off to adopt the concept of a free market oriented economy. The focal point throughout the seminar was on individual freedom and the ability for people to make their own choices at any given time.

The leader of the seminar, Brian Gothberg, instructor of History of Western Civilization at Academy of Art University in San Francisco, provided us not only with a wealth of knowledge and relevant historical background on the subject, but his sense of humor made the seminar’s atmosphere very relaxed and enjoyable. In addition, we had the chance to meet several well-known and reputable professors of philosophy, economics and history from several renowned universities in California.

The speaker that I found most engaging was Jose Yulo, who teaches philosophy at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. In a very meaningful way, he led the class to question our basic concepts of freedom and liberty. This was a great approach to later understand how government policies and activities may not only hinder but actually go against the very principles it purports to defend.

A challenge to widely held notions regarding the conflict between free market economy and a sustainable environment was presented by Mr. Fred Foldvary, when he exposed us to the idea that a healthy environment and business prosperity can go indeed hand in hand, by pointing out that emerging technologies coupled with progressive thinking could be the answer to finding a balance between environmental protection and economic growth.

Other topics including the Great Depression, national defense, inflation, and unemployment, presented by Carl Close and Anthony Gregory from the Independent Institute, complemented the discussions held during the week long seminar, giving us a broad overview of the challenges that freedom and liberty face in America today. This seminar provided me with the opportunity to be exposed to concepts that challenge general ideas regarding freedom, liberty, and the role of government in economics, and stimulated my already existing curiosity and interest in these subjects.

In addition, the Independent institute provided us with numerous literary and internet resources which I believe will not only further enhance and develop my ability to think critically and evaluate the public policies currently in place but simultaneously they will enable me to detect their unintended long term consequences and their impact on the individual and society as a whole.

Even though the subjects presented in the seminar focus on liberty and freedom as they relate to economics, I truly believe that attendance to this seminar is a valuable opportunity for young people to open their minds to new ideas that challenge conventional wisdom and main stream philosophies. It is never too early to teach young minds to be skeptical and look deeper in what is taught to them. Although I am sure I still have a lot to learn, I can say with certainty that this seminar exposed me to resources that
I am fairly sure would have escaped me otherwise.

”’Katarina Koncokova is a student at the Hawaii Pacific University. This column, which is for students of all ages, was facilitated by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.”’

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