One of the distinguishing features of the libertarian movement is its intellectuality. The discussion of issues and the analysis of ideas, sometimes in minute detail, are central elements in any libertarian gathering. It is natural that most libertarian gatherings are academic conferences of varying degrees of formality.
The "Future of Freedom Conference" at the University of Southern California during the last week of April attracted several hundred libertarians and students. One of the main features of the conference was a debate between David Friedman and Tom Hayden. The issue was "libertarianism versus socialism as the optimal means to achieve freedom;' Tom Hayden had been a well-publicized candidate for the U.S. Senate against John Tunney in the California Democratic primary election in 1976. David Friedman, author of The Machinery of Freedom, is one of the movement's most inventive anarchist theoreticians.
Exiled Soviet dissenter Pavel Litvinov addressed the conference on future developments in the Soviet Union. This was Litvinov's first major address on the west coast since leaving Russia in 1974 He is one of the most prominent figures in the human rights movement behind the iron curtain.
The conference included talks by popular figures and intellectuals such as John Hospers, Robert LeFevre, Poul Anderson, Nathaniel Branden, John Matonis, and others.
The Law and Liberty Project of the Institute for Humane Studies in Menlo Park, CA, is sponsoring a series of conferences on freedom of contract and the legal attacks against it. The initial exploratory conference was held last November in Los Angeles.
The problems which the conference examined included the issues of economic values vs. normative values—how relevant are the demonstrations of positive economics to the case for freedom of contract? What is a contract: property or promise? Part of the reason for the decline of the right to make and enforce contracts may be the deficient definition of a contract in the current legal system. And finally, the conference examined the social tendencies toward a new form of serfdom, in which an individual's legal rights are determined by social status and community relationships rather than by voluntary agreements and contracts.
The Association for Rational Environmental Alternatives sponsored a conference in Houston, TX, in May on "Recycling the City: The Entrepreneur as Hero!' Speakers included ex-city planner Dick Bjornseth; private redevelopers Jack Stewart, Steven J. Rudy, and Warren Bailey; apartment consultant Terry Parker [see Spotlight, this issue] and other professionals.
AREA is a national organization of professional persons concerned with environmental issues and the investigation of nongovernmental solutions to problems such as pollution and waste disposal, urban decay and recycling. For information contact AREA secretary Werner Kloetzli, Jr. (4006 Chatham Rd., Ellicott City, MD 21043).
Last October, AREA sponsored a conference in northern Pennsylvania in conjunction with Mansfield (PA) State College. Small towns across the nation are severely impacted by the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972, which requires municipalities to install or upgrade sewage disposal systems which often cost more than the total property value of the communities they serve. One reason for the expense is that regulatory agencies have not considered alternatives to the standard chemical/mechanical processing equipment which fits the "tried and true" mentality. The conference examined reprocessing and disposal systems ranging from single-household to regional service plans. The theme of the conference was "Sewage: Waste or Wealth?", which emphasized the production of by-products such as reclaimed land, recreational lakes, fertilizer, etc.
A very special conference was held in Miami last December by the Law and Economics Center of the University of Miami School of Law. Nineteen Federal judges from around the country participated in a three-week study course which included lectures by Professors Milton Friedman, Paul Samuelson, Martin Feldstein, Paul MacAvoy, and Henry Manne. Principal lecture responsibilities were carried by Professors Armen Alchian and Harold Demsetz. The textbooks by Alchian and Allen and by Paul Samuel-son were supplied to the judges, along with a collection of readings which included Yale Brozen's book, The Competitive Economy, the booklet by Demsetz, The Market Concentration Doctrine, and other items which supply documentation for the free market analysis of economic issues which frequently become causes of litigation.
Prof. F.A. Hayek observed, in his book, Law, Legislation and Liberty, that the economic illiteracy of lawyers and the teaching in law schools that some precedent-setting action which overturned pre-established property rights was "economically necessary," have done perhaps more harm than any other developments in modern history to set back the cause of liberty. The Law and Economics Center, simply by presenting a balanced introduction to economic theory to the very individuals who ultimately rule on the legitimacy of economic regulation, may reverse the course of recent steps toward economic fascism all by itself.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Frontlines".