Report on FreedomFest
To the right is an image of Doug French sitting outdoors in a French cafe. Sitting across from him, it took me a few minutes to fully realize that this was not a French cafe and it was not outdoors. It is indoors at the Paris hotel in Las Vegas, a town that provides many such illusions and where you constantly have to remind yourself that you are not in fact where you think you are but rather you are in a place that was once a barren desert.
The forces of capitalism that made this place have managed to fix everything except the weather. It was 112 degrees yesterday. But no one knew it or cared since the whole ethos of living here is all about staying inside as much as possible: you drive out of parking garages into other parking garages, getting out and going on elevators to heavily air conditioned places that look and feel like other places. In so many ways, Vegas is a marvel of capitalist ingenuity.
I thought I would balk at the cultural feel of the place but there is something charming about the ashamed consumerism here that so unapologetically thrives off pleasing people. The phrase “the consumer is king” is not just a slogan; it is really true that anyone arriving at the airport and staying at any hotel is treated like royalty. And this merely reflects reality. The consumer is the engine that makes the whole place work.
The hours of operation here are very odd. I woke this morning and headed downstairs to get some coffee and found myself back in the casino, with music playing, lights flashing, and people were playing poker and all the things they do, and it took me a moment to realize that this was only “morning” by standards of the clock; for everyone here, it was the last hours of the night. Stunning.
Now to FreedomFest. No question that this massive event has filled a market niche. The only comparable thing I’ve attended in the libertarian world is the LP national meeting, and this is way above that organizationally and intellectually. The talks have been interesting, entertaining, and informative. There are many events taking place simultaneously, so there would be no way to go to everything. Every important institution in the libertarian world has a booth here, which is very helpful. They offer a great way to meet people and get a sense of how these organizations work from the inside. Many are impressive; others, not so much. In any case, just walking around the exhibitors hall is an education in itself.
Not all events are about politics. Yesterday there was a very interesting debate, set up in the form of a mock trial, about religion: whether religion is a menace or friend to society and freedom. Dinish D’Souza did a fantastic job leading the pro-religion side. The opposition was led by Steven Landsburg but the best presenter (in my view) was Doug Casey, who let loose on the longest and most extreme anti-religion tirade I’ve ever heard. I don’t know if he was just playing a role or speaking from the heart; it certainly sounded sincere. Speaking as a theist myself, this Casey presentation was worth the price of admission. In the end, however, the votes from both the “jury” and the entire audience overwhelmingly supported the pro-religion side.
The Mises Institute event takes place today. Many people have come here just for this. It has been gratifying to meet so many people who have been influenced by this website, and to see so many old friends and meet new ones. The main impression I have from the FreedomFest is a sense of fun and happiness. That is in short supply in times like ours when there is so much to be disgusted about. It’s nice to be able to put one’s disgust on hold for a few days and just enjoy the intellectual stimulation and meet and greet. And isn’t that why Vegas exists?