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.