Libertas Scholars Work and Play the Summer Away

It meant getting up in the wee hours on a July morning when most students were sleeping in, and taking a bumpy van ride to LAX for a long flight to hot and muggy St. Louis, but for five Providence Libertas Scholars, a three-day seminar on Leadership and Economics sponsored by the Foundation for Economic Education was a big mid-summer vacation hit. Sophomores Christine Venzor, Olivia Bates, Belen Cruz, and Joshua Frankenfield and senior Pedro Cruz joined 70 students from around the country at Lindenwood University to hear talks, do trading experiments, prepare presentations on solving social problems, embark on a scavenger hunt, play in a trading game, and make connections with students from all over the country—all with the goal of learning about both economics and leadership.

Mr. Rottman chaperoned and spoke three times, along with Professor Antony Davies (who has spoken twice at Providence and employs simulations to explain how well markets work) and entrepreneur TK Coleman, who inspired students with compelling stories and analysis on how to use persuasion and passion to improve society. “Being a leader,” he noted, “forever ruins your world with responsibility.”

Olivia shooting the breeze with friends.
Josh increases his happiness with some fellow traders.

What were the students’ reactions? Christine “enjoyed meeting new people,” and learning how to change the world by doing what you are interested in—“not asking what the world needs, but what makes you come alive because that is what the world needs—people who have come alive.”

Pedro noted that he discovered how government’s efforts to protect people sometimes accomplish the opposite of what their intentions were.

At the City Museum, Josh works on his shooting abilities,
…while Olivia, Christine, and Belen hide out.

Earlier in June, five different Providence students (juniors Emma Gobbell, Chloe Norton, Frankie Harman, Bella Madrigal, and Hanna Garza) flew to Vanderbilt University in Nashville to a different FEE seminar on “Economics in the Real World.”

Frankie noted connections between how economics reveals truth, and truth is essential to the real world, which reminded her of class discussions on Speaker for the Dead. She noted the importance and benefit of applying basic economic principles to your everyday life, such as “the benefit behind looking at the opportunity costs behind everyday decisions or the unseen consequences of a seemingly good decision in the moment.” In bringing up the idea of sunk costs, Chloe said that the seminar was an amazing experience that taught her to apply economic principles to everyday life.

Providence Libertas scholars attend a variety of seminars not only during the summer, but during the school year as well, as part of the Libertas Scholar Program requirements. This summer, half of our 20 Libertas Scholars went to FEE seminars.

He Was a President Who Understood Principle

He Was a President Who Understood Principle

Coolidge was the rare sort of politician who stuck by his principles of fiscal responsibility and governmental restraint.
Jake Yonally

by  Jake Yonally

In his veto of a congressional salary increase, our 30th president, Calvin Coolidge, told Congress that, “No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.” This statement truly characterizes Coolidge for who he was as a man.

Not only was he deeply concerned with tax reduction and the federal budget, he was also highly dedicated to the serving of both his neighbor and nation. Coolidge had a special understanding of public service and never swayed from his foundational beliefs. These qualities made him the beloved man that he was. Calvin Coolidge —although soft-spoken— showed immense amounts of courage in serving his nation and staying true to his fundamental convictions.
Economic Responsibility
His principled fiscal stewardship caused many poor Americans to succeed in achieving a better life. 

An important way in which Calvin Coolidge showed this courage was in his approach to public service. Prior to his term as Commander-in-Chief, the government had grown unchecked for years under the Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson administrations. Wealth redistribution, government regulation, and the strength of unions were on the rise in America during this era of progressivism. Soon after stepping into the Oval Office, Coolidge promptly went on a budget- and tax-cutting spree to abolish what he referred to as “Despotic Exactions.”

Although scoffed at by many, this decrease in taxation and government spending saved the average American over $200 per year (about $1,500 today). Coolidge wanted to help the poor, and he saw that this was the only way to enact true, long-term change toward raising the American standard of living. He and his Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew Mellon, referred to this policy as “Scientific Taxation.” Coolidge once said, “Collecting more taxes than is absolutely necessary is legalized robbery.” This informed approach was his creative service to the least of these. 
It took an immense amount of courage on Coolidge’s part to abandon previous methods and take a new approach to public service. This new approach was both utilitarian and grounded in a strong respect for people’s basic human rights. Though unorthodox, his principled fiscal stewardship caused many poor Americans to succeed in achieving a better life. With the national debt being cut almost in half, the 17.5 percent increase in the nation’s wealth, and illiteracy being cut in half as well, his presidential term was a success by any standard.
Strong Principles
Inaction can benefit a nation more than action, as demonstrated by his numerous vetoed bills. 

Although seemingly reserved, Coolidge was a man of strong principles. He called his fellow citizens to return to the proven principles of the American political tradition and encouraged them to examine their own beliefs in light of these principles. He believed strongly in the limits of social engineering, the nature of wealth, individual responsibility, and society’s dependence on moral and religious values. His ability to stand by these fundamental convictions in the face of adversity is rare among men.

In her book entitled Coolidge, Amity Shlaes refers to President Coolidge as our “Great Refrainer.” She suggests that inaction can benefit a nation more than action, as demonstrated by his numerous vetoed bills. “This was the boy with his finger in the dike, stopping a great progressive tide,” she accurately states. Throughout his life, Calvin Coolidge rejected what Bastiat called “legal plunder” and worked toward the creation not only of wealth but of beauty.
Calvin Coolidge’s messages regarding public service and his fundamental convictions have held true for almost a century. These firm principles were the groundwork for his ability to enact change for the better in America through public service. The way he thought determined the way he lived; his form followed his function. Calvin Coolidge lived by the principles that defined him. His belief system never aged. Even in the culturally diverse, globalized world we live in where people are desperate for new answers, ideas, and solutions, the simple social and moral code by which he lived remains as relevant as ever.

Happiness and Liberty in San Diego

Happiness and Liberty in San Diego

On a sunny Saturday in mid November, eight Libertas Scholars traveled to the University of San Diego to hear professors of philosophy, political economy, economics, and business talk about happiness. Sophomores Emma Gobbell and Chloe Herdrich, juniors Jake Yonally, Josh Guinto, Evan Kilpper, Pedro Cruz, and Maggie Coffin, and senior Evan Boger, joined over 100 college students (the Providence students were the only high school students attending) to explore connections between markets, philosophy (particularly Aristotle) and eudaimonism…or, happiness.

Dr. Derek Yonai explained how business education focuses too much on techniques and tools and too little on the soul of business, which is one of the reasons why public perceptions of business people are so negative. (According to TV shows, you are 21 times more likely to be killed by a businessman than the mob). Dr. Yonai showed how having high levels of economic freedom correlates to greater levels of well-being, as people use their creativity and talents to improve the lives of others. 

Students explored the connections between Happiness, Freedom, and Virtue from an Aristotelian and Kantian perspective from Westmont grad Dr. Mark LeBar, who teaches philosophy at Florida State University. Virtue, LeBar explained, doesn’t just happen; it’s a matter of character, formed by good moral education and good habits, and expands when each of us has equal, voluntary obligations to each other—in other words, when we are free.

Dr. Dan Haybron, from Saint Louis University, talked about nudges, soft paternalism, and what he called a proper “Lifestyle Infrastructure” that, even unconsciously, helps us be less anxious and happier. He encouraged policies that suit, rather than undermine, citizens’ values rather than ones that manage specific behaviors, such as taxes on soda.

Students particularly enjoyed the keynote address from Professor Diedre McCloskey, whose talk, “Liberty Makes Us Very Rich, and Pretty Good” was captivating. McCloskey’s 1300 page trilogy on bourgeois virtues (she’s written 30 books) was just finished, and she walked students through her major themes: that the world’s “Great Enrichment” came largely from treating people equally, which led to what Adam Smith called “The Liberal Plan” of social equality, economic liberty, and the rule of law. She reminded us that “policy” and “police” share the same root. Professor McCloskey also chatted to the students about a host of subjects during the concluding social hour, and cheered on the fact that they were going to a private school and reading challenging works as part of their curriculum.

The conference was hosted by the Institute for Humane Studies, and the organizers were thrilled that Providence students were there and plan to connect with us in the future.

The Rat Pack and Equality of Opportunity in America

This piece was composed by junior Libertas Scholar Jake Yonally.

The Rat Pack and Equality of Opportunity in America:

          It was a warm summer evening in 1965 and the stage was set at the Kiel Opera House in St. Louis, Missouri. The lights dimmed and the crowd waited in anticipation.  Suddenly, five men coolly took the stage: a Jew, an Englishman, an African-American with one eye, and two Italian-Americans. As the crowd erupted, the men were smiling at each other —  mesmerizing the audience with a style and glamour that overwhelmed. Everyone knew they were in for an electric evening of laughter, song, and overall charming artistry that was unknown just a handful of years earlier. The men were Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop: The Rat Pack.
          Sinatra, one of the most influential artists of the 20th century and leader of The Rat Pack, was born to two Italian immigrants in a small town in New Jersey. His family was extremely poor and from a very young age he found himself singing at local bars and begging for meals and cigarettes. 
          Dean Martin, nicknamed “the King of Cool,” was said to be one of the best overall entertainers of the mid-20th century. He was born in a small town in Ohio to Italian parents; his father was a poor barber. Young Martin dropped out of high school to help provide an income for his family by bootlegging liquor, working in a steel mill, working as a blackjack dealer, and prizefighting. 
          Sammy Davis Jr. grew up in Harlem, street performing at age 7, which kick started his musical career.
          Peter Lawford grew up in a very wealthy household as the only child of Lieutenant General Sir Sydney Turing who had strong connections to the English aristocracy. Young Lawford was rejected by the British military after suffering an arm injury while on vacation in the south of France.
          Joey Bishop was born in The Bronx to two Polish-Jewish immigrants. He grew up doing stand-up comedy with his older brother on the streets of South Philadelphia. After being discovered, he appeared on the Ed Sullivan show in 1950 which launched his career as an entertainer.
          Though these men clearly came from a wide array of upbringings, they were somehow able to reach the pinnacle of world entertainment in a very short time. Their rapid rise to fame showed that it was a time when there was opportunity for all to realize their dreams.  America was relatively free during the rise of The Rat Pack, and although the implementation of Keynesian principles was just beginning to occur, it was too early in the process to restrain market forces. The government was not yet as interested in top-down central planning — an economic system rooted in what F.A. Hayek would describe as “a pretense to knowledge.” Flawed government programs concerning low-income areas were still in their experimental phases and were much less prevalent than they are today.
         The government was also absorbed by the war against communism in Vietnam, and by the mid-60’s, a mass movement promoting free thought and questioning of authority was on the rise in America. People had the ability to exchange goods, services, and ideas in an open market, and artists enjoyed the freedom to innovate and work toward the creation of wealth while pursuing their passions.
         Sammy Davis Jr. explained their success very simply by saying, “The success of the Rat Pack was due to the camaraderie, the five guys who work together and kid each other and love each other.”  His words captured the essence of the moment: Only in a free society are people able to climb life’s ladder of success so quickly, simply by doing what they love. They may not have recognized the timeless, universal truths behind their journey, but their accomplishments clearly demonstrate the anarchic beauty of markets.
         The Rat Pack truly lived the American Dream. They showed that markets treat all equally, no matter their race, income, or nationality, all while working toward the creation not only of wealth, but of beauty. As stated by Leonard E. Read, “The free market ignores the poor just as it does not recognize the wealthy.” All that is needed is sheer hard work, enjoyment of what one does, and the freedom to charge a wage for one’s service in the open marketplace. The Rat Pack’s freedom, grit, perseverance, and ability to entertain, coupled with hands-off government policy, allowed these men to reap the full benefits that came to mark their success on a level no one had expected from the new age in which they were living.
          In the early 1960s, Americans caught a glimpse of the possibilities of a free society. The Rat Pack enjoyed the new level of social and ideological freedom of the day, and also held a similar level of economic freedom to the 1950s. This wider boom of creativity in the early 1960s is another perfect example of how the dreams and plans of individuals and their personal initiative create wealth far more effectively than top-down central planning.
          While presenting his plan to eradicate poverty and racial injustice through bigger government, President Lyndon B. Johnson said that as a result, “We will have an opportunity to move not only toward a rich society, or a powerful society, but a great society.” Though this rhetoric sounds promising, these social programs did quite the opposite of what the president predicted. The government programs that were just being introduced at the time have grown unchecked since the mid 1960’s. This growth has rapidly diminished the equality of opportunity that made The Rat Pack great. Occasionally, extraordinary individuals manage to break free of this government tyranny and change the world through innovation. As described by Ayn Rand, they are “the men who take first steps, down new roads, armed with nothing but their own vision.”
          The Rat Pack, on that magical summer evening in 1965, embodied the immense freedom and possibility available in the America of the time.
          Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop all lived freely; they entertained for their own pleasure and gain, and also brought immense joy to those around them: and, maybe not so surprisingly, they still do.

Teaching Students What to Think

Teaching Students What to Think

By Bruce Rottman, Libertas Scholars Program Coordinator

I’ve often heard people say that teachers should “teach students how to think, not what to think.”

That claim is neither possible nor virtuous. Instead, teachers need to think about how to teach students what to think.

Let’s assume I am investigating the KKK’s influence in the US in the 1920s, and, for simplicity’s sake, there are two perspectives. One is the KKK’s world view: all races are not created equal, some (or one) should rightfully dominate, and some random acts of violence are acceptable if the inferior race doesn’t accept this vision. The second: all races are endowed by God with rights, which requires us to treat all individuals with dignity and respect.

To never inject “what to think” would imply that a teacher dispassionately present both of these views as acceptable. I see two problems with this approach:

1—I doubt that many teachers either explicitly or implicitly do this. I certainly would not.

2—Even if my teaching avoids any implicit or explicit judgments, I am then implicitly teaching students that all views are acceptable. And that is teaching them a way of thinking that is presumably preferable. I am teaching students what to think after all.

When people say critical thinking is teaching students only “how to think,” perhaps what they mean is that teachers shouldn’t “indoctrinate.” But what does that mean? Therein lies the rub.

Excellent teachers necessarily have passionate views about the world, and how to make it better. Their teaching will reflect their views. Instead of feigning neutral world views, perhaps teachers should do the following:

==Be honest about their world view.

==Be fair in hearing out alternative, competing world views in class, though “fair” doesn’t mean that the teacher says the alt-right neo-Nazi skinhead’s views are morally acceptable; it means, I will allow you to speak, and listen to your view and your defense of it.

==Think about how far one goes in “promoting” one’s world view. Does a master teacher promote specific policies? Candidates? I’m careful to not get too specific in my classroom, but more importantly, I’m exceptionally careful to introduce competing views, to be open minded about how I present them, and, of course, not to have the grades of students with opposing views suffer—which is harder than it sounds. It’s easy, and sometimes correct, to think, “This student isn’t getting my perspective on issue X; she deserves a ‘C.’” I might be right, or I might be letting my own prejudices cloud my evaluation of the student’s work.

We live in a time in which the world is changing rapidly (even that statement reflects my values), and changing in unsettling and even objectionable ways. Unless I am an amoral robot who cares little about the world or their students, my teaching will reflect my personal values. I’d much rather be open about that, stop saying that I only teach students “how to think,” and focus instead on teaching honestly, modeling and teaching students civility, and approaching all things with good humor.

Providence Students Study Entrepreneurship in St. Louis

In  mid-July, six Libertas Scholars (sophomores Cameron Bleecker, Chloe Herdrich, Emma Gobbell, Alena Zeni, Erik Smith, and senior Evan Boger), along with Providence sophomores Hannah Garza, Madison Malone, and Chloe Norton–joined by Emma’s sister, Margaret, headed out in the wee morning hours in the Providence van to LAX, en route to an “Economics of Entrepreneurship” conference at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO.

Evan Boger, Madison Malone, Alena Zeni, Eric Smith, Cameron Bleecker, Chloe Herdrich, Margaret Gobbell, Chloe Norton, Emma Gobbell, and Hannah Garza

They spent 2 1/2 days learning about what makes entrepreneurs tick, how they help society, and how the free market system works. About 75 students listened to the four speakers, including two professors, one young entrepreneur, and Mr. Rottman.

Eric, Cameron, and Alena in the “Trading Game”

It’s all about the attitude….

The students had an amazing time; one student stated that “the lessons made sense and explained why the world can’t be perfect. I honestly wish the lectures were longer.” Another highlight: meeting “other young adults who share similar interests and ideas that I do…I made some friendships that I think will last for a long time.” “The speakers,” said another student, “taught us how to think well, take chances, and persist through tough situations.”

One highlight of the conference was hearing from Derek Magill, a multi-talented 23-year-old entrepreneur who told his story and encouraged students to not let their young age stop them from making themselves valuable to employers. He told students to try out many different options in life, and rather than focusing on money, to accumulate experiences instead. After hearing Magill, one Providence student commented that now she realized she “didn’t have to wait until I’m older to start a business.”

Students also competed in a Shark Tank activity (Evan Boger’s “ArmChair-preneur” team took second place with an innovative backpack idea), a scavenger hunt, tortilla tosses, and hands-free Oreo eating, just to show that learning about economics is fun as well as stimulating. They slept in cool dorm rooms, which was a respite from the 98 degree heat and humidity of the Midwest.

Since the students’ flights back to LAX departed eight hours after the conference ended, they had time to Uber to downtown St. Louis to check out the zany City Museum, where they explored an array of nooks and crannies and practiced their tunnel crawling skills in a discombobulated ten-story building with a junkyard ambiance (it has a bus peering off of the rooftop). According to Emma Gobbell, our visit there “was a completely different experience that was so awesome and fun I can’t even describe it.”

Hannah embarks on a muggy outside ride
Evan and Alena climb from one plane to…another plane
You’d think the Gateway Arch would be easy to find. Think again.

The FEE staff came up to Mr. Rottman more than once and told him how impressive the Providence students were. We think they’ll accept more of our students in 2018!

Economists Speak with Providence Students

Researched and Written by Sophomore Libertas Scholars

Earlier this month, Providence was honored to hear a presentation from Dr. James R. Harrigan. Dr. Harrigan is a senior research fellow at Strata, in Logan, UT, and is an accomplished columnist who has written for the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, US News and World Report, and many other platforms, along with presenting at high schools all over the US.

Before hearing his presentation at Christ Presbyterian Church the Libertas Scholars were able to have an elegant lunch with Dr. Harrigan and his colleague Dr. Antony Davies at the Santa Barbara Club.