Exploring Liberty…and the Super Bowl

I’ll be glad to be through with this hellish week of school, as this weekend lines up to be a pretty good one for yours truly. Saturday, I’m performing at a Haiti benefit party with a few friends (I’ll be the one telling the bad jokes and playing the bad songs); and on Sunday, I’m hosting a Super Bowl party at my house that should hopefully be pretty awesome.

It’s crazy to think that, just two weeks ago, I spent my entire weekend with a group of people who were more interested in talking Keynes and Mill than Brees and Manning.

You see, two weeks ago Duquesne played host to a weekend-long Institute for Humane Studies seminar, entitled “Exploring Liberty.” As an economics major here at DU, I, like my colleagues in the program, was invited, nay, demanded to attend the seminar by our very libertarian professor, Dr. Antony Davies. (I believe his exact quote in November was “You are all invitied….well, actually, you’re more than invited. If you’re not there, I will be very concerned, considering what major you are all in.”)

Even as an economics major who gets along with most of the people in the program, this was a whole different ballgame for me. My regular group of friends is full of plenty of smart people, but our primary sources of conversation stem from football, The Office, Sporkle web quizzes, and video games. We saw this type of discussion about philosophy and economics as good for academia, so good that it should stay with academia. Now, by going to a seminar full of students who talk about philosophy, human rights, and economics as part of their entertainment, I was drifting into uncharted waters.

The seminar began Friday afternoon with some opening remarks from Dr. Davies, then two presentations on values and rights presented by Dr. Howard Baetjer and Dr. Aeon Skoble. Dr. Baetjer spoke about how we reassign our values depending on the issue at hand, such as pollution or crime. Dr. Skoble spoke on positive and negative rights–negative being rights we are born with, and positive being rights that others are obligated to fulfill for us.
Saturday’s marathon of lectures included two on America’s founding by Prof. Robert McDonald, more from Baetjer and Skoble, and a particularly entertaining lecture/exercise from Dr. Davies that I’ve been part of before, but never get tired of.  In the activity, Davies assigns some people to be firms and others to be laborers, and then sets us off on a frenzy of buying and selling labor at various prices for our own benefit

Labor Supply and Demand.

That’s yours truly in the row second furthest from the back in the teal t-shirt. Sadly (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), my buddy Brandon’s hand is blocking my face. I was one of the firms, wheeling and dealing while trying to figure out which ratio of skilled and unskilled workers would give me the most profit.  Brandon, one of the workers, is displaying the price (wage) he’s willing to sell an hour of his labor for.

Things were fine and dandy–the firms were making profit, the laborers were making decent money and selling all their labor.  But when Davies instituted a minimum wage, there was a very different result.

You see this, folks?  This is what we in the biz like to call a “labor surplus.” This is where all the workers have labor to sell, but no one’s buying because it’s so expensive.  (Due to my poor vision, I did get duped a few times by people on the opposite side of the room from me. I would think I saw $6 and point to them to buy their labor, only to have them tell me they were actually holding an $8. Curse you, eyes)
The whole point of the exercise was to show that the minimum wage hurts more than it helps.  Davies talked more about examples of data contradicting conventional wisdom, and if you’re intrigued at all, you can check out more of his stuff here-http://www.antolin-davies.com/antony/index_files/Page853.htm

At the end of each day, there were “breakout” group discussions followed by a social.  The group discussions were held in groups of about eight students, each mediated by one professor.  And incredibly, even after a full day of nothing but debate over rights and liberty, students were still ready to go at each other’s throats over certain issues.  It was incredible.  This was like my philosophy/current events club in high school, except if the meeting lasted for 25 hours.  Personally, I loved it.  I love debate in general, and this was a forum to express my views like few I’ve seen.  You had people from all different faiths and political mindsets, making the arguments very spirited.  But at the end, it was like two tennis players going at it, then shaking hands at the end and going, “Great match, man. Let’s go get a beer!”

And we did.  After the evening breakout discussion, there was a social every night.  A chance for the economists, philosophers, and historians to unwind a little?  Au contraire!  Here, the students and staff tossed out political and economic theories and applied them to everyday life–every so often was an entertaining non-sequitur about the student’s classes or the professor’s kids, and plenty of career advice from the professors to the students.

Here’s a good example: my friend Giuseppe talking with one of the staff members over a Blue Moon.  That’s what kind of environment this was: very laid back and informal.  You didn’t have to force students to be comfortable and keep telling them, “I know that we’re professors, but we’re really like your friends!” or some nonsense like that.  It was so comfortable already that all that wasn’t necessary.  (Of course, they carded at these events, so no underage drinking for the economists)

On Sunday, we wrapped things up with a few free books (I’m a fan of anything with the word “free” in front of it) and some closing comments from the professors where we asked them a couple more questions about libertarianism, human rights, and the free market.  To the right are the key speakers. From left to right: Prof. McDonald, Dr. Skoble, Dr. Davies, and Dr. Baetjer.

The weekend accomplished a few things for me.  It really forced me to think, it got me to see seemingly one-sided issues from plenty of different perspectives, and it was a great way to get to know the people in my major even better.

But there was one other benefit to this weekend.  Despite how much fun I had and how enlightening the entire weekend was, it also made me very happy to go home and talk about football again for a few hours while watching the Saints-Vikings game.  Sometimes, absence makes the heart grow fonder; there were maybe two or three people at this event willing to talk sports for an extended period of time, unless it was about how the revenue-sharing salary cap in the NFL was akin to socialism.

So let’s end this on a lighthearted note–I’ve got Saints 37, Colts 35.  And if you want my full breakdown of the game, here it is in this week’s “Duke Debates” portion of the Duquesne Duke. http://tinyurl.com/yezosd7

Peace, everyone.

-Matt

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