Gaining Value from Conferences Beyond Education
This past weekend, approximately 650 people flocked to the Mises Institute “Circle” in Houston, Texas, and I was one of them. A further 1,200 watched online, to better understand the current economic crisis from an Austrian perspective.
The event included big names in Austrian economics, such as Joseph Salerno, Robert Murphy, Thomas Woods, Lew Rockwell, and Ron Paul—and I am willing to bet that Ron Paul drew a large portion of the audience. Their presentations focused on economic issues, often comparing and contrasting their views with Keynesian perspectives, as explained in this clip from Morning Joe.
Without doubt, most people at the event were already familiar with the case for free markets and had read books from the Austrian school. The people at the conference also have access to YouTube and can watch Ron Paul speeches and interviews. So, why did my friends and I drive 11 hours from El Paso, Texas, to attend the Mises Circle? What is the appeal of such an event?
I cannot speak for all the people at the conference, but I can share my own reasons for attending the event and those of the people traveling with me.
Ever since I attended the Young Americans for Liberty National Convention in Washington, D.C., in July of 2012, I have become an enthusiastic liberty networker. Libertarianism is on its way to becoming a mainstream ideology, but in the meantime there is nothing more exciting than meeting other libertarians. Who wouldn’t enjoy traveling to be surrounded with like-minded individuals?
Okay, maybe that’s just me—but let me attempt to persuade you. Imagine a scenario where you do not have to spend a large amount of time explaining how smaller government is ideal. Instead, you can spend time conversing the nuances of liberty face to face. It is a sobering experience. For instance, do public universities have the authority to ban co-ed dorms? Honestly, who cares?
But that’s the beauty of libertarian gatherings. You can care. You can discuss things you would never have the time or opportunity to discuss elsewhere, because you do not have to spend time explaining the basics. It may seem trivial but sometimes talking about the details helps us better understand the bigger picture. Anyway, it is this intellectual environment that draws me to travel miles and miles.
Many friendships developed from that first YAL National Convention, which opened up possibilities for further networking, internship, and job opportunities. Consider my two of my new friends, Noelle Mandell and Caitlyn Bates, both Texas state chairs and Students for Liberty campus coordinators. They strongly encouraged me to attend the Students for Liberty Austin Regional Conference in 2012 and offered free student lodging. This provided the YAL chapter at the University of Texas, El Paso, with an intellectual environment that replenished our enthusiasm—after a disheartening election cycle.
Soon afterwards, our chapter received an invitation to the Mises Circle in Houston. I did not have to ask fellow chapter members twice for this event, since Ron Paul—a hero to most 20-something libertarians—would be speaking at the event. We made preparations for the 11-hour drive, and the weekend in Houston proved to be a great time.
There was not too much networking during the Mises Circle proper, since the format lent itself to listening and partaking in the Q-and-A with the speakers. However, I did get my books signed by Lew Rockwell, Tom Woods, and Peter Klein. I also got to take a picture with Ron Paul, Tom Woods, and Bob Murphy.
The networking took place later, during the Freedom Forum, an open mic forum put together by Noelle Mandell (nominated for SFL Student of the Year). This event brought together the students from all across Texas to share experiences advancing liberty and to propose new projects. Afterwards, Houston’s Liberty on the Rocks hosted a social gathering which involved playing pool, enthusiastic karaoke singing, and conversations.
After all that, the best part about this particular trip was reconnecting with friends. My first libertarian convention was a bit nerve wrecking, because I did not know anyone who would be there, but the decision to fly out and make new friends was probably one of the best I have ever made. Starting conversations with complete strangers may have been difficult, but the advantage with such a libertarian gathering was that at least you knew you had shared goals and agreed about the scope of the federal government (with the exception of anarcho-capitalists).