Exclusive Interviews
Mark Skousen on FreedomFest 2012: Finding Freedom in an Unfree World
By Anthony Wile - June 17, 2012

Introduction: Mark Skousen is the producer of FreedomFest, which will be held this year in Las Vegas from July 11th through 14th. Dr. Skousen has had a diverse career. He has taught at Columbia Business School, served as president of the Foundation of Economic Education (FEE), the first free-market think tank, and has had a business school named after him (Grantham University). He and his family have lived in Washington, the Bahamas, London, and New York. Since 1980, Dr. Skousen has been Editor in Chief of Forecasts & Strategies, a popular award-winning investment newsletter published by Eagle Publishing in Washington, D.C. He is also editor of his own website, www.mskousen.com, and editor of three trading services, Skousen Hedge Fund Trader, Skousen High Income Alert and Skousen Turnaround Trader. He earned his Ph.D in economics and monetary history from George Washington University in 1977. He also was an economic analyst for the CIA. Since then he has written over 25 books, including Economics on Trial (McGraw Hill, 1991), Puzzles and Paradoxes in Economics (Edward Elgar Publishers, 1997), and The Making of Modern Economics (M. E. Sharpe, 2001).

Daily Bell: Hello again. Thanks for sitting down with us. It's almost time for FreedomFest again this year. Why don't you fill our readers in on FreedomFest generally, the nuts and bolts of this year's event and why you believe this is the most important FreedomFest in the history of your conferences?

Mark Skousen: Thanks for contacting me again. Our political, financial and personal liberties are slowly but surely being squeezed, with dire consequences. Due to one series of government-induced crises after another, our world is facing more and more instability and controls, and losses of wealth and freedom. "Mandated" and "prohibited" are the two watchwords of today.

What to do? I've felt for some time the need for everyone in the freedom movement to gather together once a year (actually physically meeting in one location, not just emailing, texting, blogging or tweeting) to learn what's really going on in Washington and around the world, to network and create bridges with like-minded individuals, to develop ways to counter our losses, to rebuild our standard of living and finally, to celebrate our freedoms, or what is left of them – and maybe even turn the tide away from the growing welfare-warfare state.

FreedomFest is turning out to be THE place to meet – a focal point for libertarians and freedom lovers from around the world.

We've been putting together FreedomFest for several years now, and everyone seems to be catching the vision of what we are trying to do. All the major free-market think tanks and freedom organizations are coming (Cato, Reason, Heritage, FreedomWorks, Fox News, FEE, Americans for Prosperity, Red State, Newsmax, Human Events, Libertarian Party, etc.) … and so are all the best and the brightest thinkers.

FreedomFest is being called many things … the Trade Show for Liberty, the Live Wikipedia for freedom … the new Mecca for libertarians … and the Washington Post calls it "the greatest libertarian show in earth."

What better place to meet than in the world's most laissez faire city, Las Vegas? This year's conference is scheduled for July 11th through 14th at Bally's Events Center in Las Vegas. We are expecting over 2,000 to join us in a special emergency session on the latest threats to our liberties and our wealth.

FreedomFest is truly energizing, and that's why attendance and participation are growing by leaps and bounds.

Daily Bell: Any special guests you want to highlight?

Mark Skousen: We are adding new speakers every day and now have over 100 experts joining us in Las Vegas. We have a great lineup of keynote addresses, debates and panels. Steve Forbes and John Mackey (CEO, Whole Foods Market) are our co-ambassadors and will attend all three days. (Most of our speakers also attend all three days – it's that important to them.)

This year we also have Senator Rand Paul, Judge Andrew P. Napolitano from Fox News, Steve Moore of the Wall Street Journal, Charles Murray, talking about his new book, Coming Apart, George Gilder on updating his classic, Wealth and Poverty book, Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, on his book Hostile Takeover, Gov. Gary Johnson and Wayne Allyn Root of the Libertarian Party and Grover Norquist from Americans for Tax Reform (considered the most powerful man in Washington according to CNN and CBS "60 Minutes").

We also just confirmed Edward Klein, author of the #1 New York Times bestselling book The Amateur, an inside look at what President Obama is up to. This is a very scary book. According to the author, who interviewed over 200 insiders at the White House, President Obama is determined to leave America a European socialist state.

We also just confirmed G. Edward Griffin, the author of the classic history, The Creature of Jekyll Island, about the Federal Reserve. We have two inspirational speakers this year, Robert Kiyosaki (Rich Dad, Poor Dad) and Mark Victor Hansen (Chicken Soup for the Soul).

Freedom also means having the leisure time to do other things in your life besides making and spending money so FreedomFest is also about the latest ideas and debates in philosophy, science and technology, art and literature, music and dance – and healthy living. Our healthy living sessions are always packed, especially John Mackey's talk on the "Whole Foods Diet: How to Live to be 100 Without Getting Cancer, Heart Disease, Diabetes, and Stroke." FreedomFest is truly a Renaissance gathering of free thinkers. We even have a flourishing film festival called Anthem, run by my wife, Jo Ann. Dinesh D'Souza is coming this year to show his film, "America 2016: Obama's America."

Speakers and attendees come from around the world: Roberto Salinas from Mexico, Alexander Landia from London, Berlin and Moscow and Keith Fitz-Gerald from Japan.

Daily Bell: The Daily Bell recently highlighted your video, "2012 A World in Turmoil." How does it fit into the larger FreedomFest themes?

Mark Skousen: If your readers haven't already done so, I suggest they watch this powerful and haunting three-minute video that describes what this year's big show is all about. It describes the chaotic conditions we are facing due to the excesses of bad economic policies and why we are holding an emergency session at this year's conference.

FreedomFest is about every aspect of our liberties – political and economic for sure, but also financial and personal freedom. If you are financially broke, you don't have much freedom to do what you want. So we have organized a full three-day conference with the best investment writers and advisors around, such as Peter Schiff, Rick Rule, Bert Dohmen, Keith Fitz-Gerald, John Brown, Don Luskin, Alex Green and Don Smith (one of the most successful hedge fund managers in New York with a better record than Warren Buffett).

Daily Bell: Tell us a bit more about how FreedomFest got started and why it's such a big deal these days for the entire liberty movement?


Mark Skousen: I've always had this vision of walking into an exhibit hall one day and meeting all the movers and shakers in the freedom movement at once, a sort of "one-stop shopping for liberty" event. When I was president of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), the oldest free-market think tank and publisher of The Freeman, I came up with the idea of having a national convention of all the freedom organizations. There were skeptics who thought it wouldn't work because libertarians were famous for being herds of cats. But we tried it and held our "FEE-fest" in Las Vegas in 2002. It was a big success with 850 attendees. Many of the other free-market think tanks participated, such as Reason, Cato and Heritage, and Ben Stein was our keynote speaker.

After I left FEE I decided to keep it going under the name "FreedomFest," calling it "the world's largest gathering of free minds," and I bought the website, www.freedomfest.com. We've been growing ever since, filling a need for us to meet together once a year to learn, network and celebrate liberty – and to fight the evils of the welfare-warfare state. We are a big tent, and welcome conservatives, libertarians and anyone else who has an open mind. (Quite a few "social democrats" attend FreedomFest, and we've received lots of favorable letters from them.) I think everybody in the freedom movement is getting comfortable with the idea of getting together in a high-quality atmosphere, catching up with each other and making a difference in the world.

In 2005 I invited Milton Friedman, the grand old man of free-market economics, to join us. He was a big fan but unfortunately was too ill to attend. He did send us a nice letter saying, "FreedomFest is THE great place to talk, argue, listen, celebrate the triumphs of liberty, assess the dangers to liberty and provide that eternal vigilance that is the price of liberty."

I really don't see FreedomFest as "my" event. It is the conference for all freedom lovers – "our" conference if you will. For one thing, it's an "open forum." You don't have to wait to be invited to speak, like at other conferences. If you have written a book or have a certain area of expertise, write us and we'll consider you. This year we have over 100 speakers, over 100 exhibitors and thousands of attendees.

Daily Bell: What are some of your favorite highlights of past FreedomFests?

Mark Skousen: That's a hard one because there's so much to choose from. Most of the attendees gravitate toward concern about the economic, financial and political crises of the day. We have a series of sessions on the ongoing financial crises, the media, geo-politics and one of our most popular ones, "Escape from America."

We always have a half-dozen debates and a big mock trial as a way to discover the best arguments for liberty. Anarchy vs. Limited Government is a perennial favorite. So is the Bull vs. Bear debate on Wall Street and whether Ayn Rand's selfishness is a virtue. One of the best was between the avowed atheist Christopher Hitchens and Christian apologist Dinesh D'Souza. I was shocked that D'Souza won the debate, 55% to 45%.

Every year we end our conference with a gala Saturday banquet featuring humorous sketches, comedy and a big dance. Two years ago a group of us performed a version of the musical "1776" and we got Steve Forbes to appear as George Washington. We got a standing ovation. Another year we had a Beatles impersonation band and I rewrote the lines of "Imagine" to fit a more libertarian theme:

Imagine there's no taxation,

It's easy if you try

No IRS below us

Above us only sky

Imagine all the people

Living to be free.

Everybody sang along, including the band. This year we are bringing to the stage two top impersonators for the first presidential debate between Obama and Romney, followed by a Motown dance band.

Daily Bell: What are particular highlights of the events, from your point of view?

Mark Skousen: Since I am in the financial world 24/7, I like to attend the sessions on non-financial topics, such as philosophy, science and technology, history, healthy living, music and dance, art and literature (my wife, Jo Ann, is an English professor). When people ask me what FreedomFest is all about, I say, "Everything!" Last year we had Robert Greenberg, the #1 teacher in the Teaching Company for his 28 courses on classical music. This year we have Dr. Raymond Moody, MD, the author of the bestseller Life After Life, about near-death experiences. I can't wait to hear his updated reports on NDEs. We also have Marc Eliot, Hollywood's #1 biographer, who will speak on Steve McQueen and the Golden Age of Hollywood.

I like the debates, too. We occasionally invite big government statists, socialists and Marxists to FreedomFest to see what they are saying, but only in a debate format. Our luncheon speakers are always a treat, especially the irreverent investment guru, Doug Casey, who often offends the audience by lighting a cigarette or calling them "whipped dogs" for going along with all the rules and regulations in America. (He lives outside the US most of the time.) He speaks every year.

Daily Bell: What about the JOBS ACT at Freedom Fest?

Mark Skousen: I'm glad you brought that up. Congress recently passed and the President signed (on March 27) the "Jumpstart Our Business Startups" Act, or the JOBS Act. I don't know if it will create any jobs but it could be a goldmine for investors who have previously been locked out of the secretive world of "private placements," also known as "founders stocks" offered to company insiders and wealthy "accredited" millionaires.

I've invested in dozens of private placements over the years. These are investments in the early stages of a startup company that may be years away from going public. Like tax shelters, they are speculative, and most of the time I've lost money. But in a few cases, I've made out spectacularly well, making 20 or 30 times my money (what Peter Lynch calls a "ten bagger").

Daily Bell: We believe the JOBS ACT is a good idea for America. Why do you think Congress had a brief fit of common sense for a change?

Mark Skousen: It's one of the few positive actions by Congress and the President in years. In the past decade we've suffered from one regulatory setback after another, from Sarbanes-Oxley to Dodd-Frank. These regulatory laws have proven to be onerous for publicly traded companies and a drag on the economy and employment, leading to many companies going private, and IPOs drying up in the United States. So they passed the JOBS Act to undue some of the damage.

Daily Bell: What's going on with the OTC and Pink Sheet markets? They no longer seem to be generating jobs?

Mark Skousen: That could all change with the JOBS Act.

Daily Bell: Is it true that the JOBS Act is actually good news for startup and private company investors that will provide more liquidity, create an IPO boom and may be the beginning of a trend by Washington away from more regulatory and bureaucratic solutions?

Mark Skousen: The JOBS Act allows small investors to get a piece of the action previously restricted to wealthy investors. Under the new rules, private companies can even advertise online to potential investors. Private firms can avoid onerous regulations and registration requirements of the Securities and Exchange Commission until the number of shareholders reaches 2,000 (the previous limit was 500). And individual investors can invest up to $10,000 without proving they are "accredited" high net worth investors. So it should generate considerable activity for small cap stocks.

Daily Bell: There are larger opportunities, however, to create wealth, no matter how much turmoil there is in the world. Give us a summation on why you are focusing on the JOBS Act among other wealth generators.

Mark Skousen: Wall Street has gone practically nowhere for the past 12 years so one has to look for special situations to make money, individual stocks that can do well like tech or mining stocks. We are holding a top-notch, three-day financial freedom seminar and this year we are having several sessions on investing in private placements as one alternative opportunity.

We've brought to Las Vegas some of the world's experts on private placements, including Rick Rule, Lou Petrossi, Ralph Williams and Ron Holland, among others, who will spell out the spectacular opportunities and risks and some specific deals now available. (Full disclosure: I'm invested in one of them and it's still open to investors.)

Daily Bell: Let's review some other hot topics you'll be covering at FreedomFest …

Mark Skousen: We're having the first mock Constitutional Convention! Everyone who comes to this session will be a voting delegate. Conservatives and libertarians have talked for years about having a Constitutional Convention to fix the Constitution. Well, now's your chance!

We've appointed David Boaz, VP of Cato Institute, to be the president of the Convention, with leading spokespersons Jeffrey Hummel, Tom Palmer, Richard Rahn, Jon Utley, Richard Viguerie and Floyd Brown – a good combination of libertarians and conservatives. In the first hour they will debate the pros and cons of the Constitution, and in the second hour propose amendments. Two-thirds vote will be necessary to pass. Afterwards, David Boaz will reveal the results before the general session.

We're also having quite a few financial workshops on alternative investing, energy, tax shelters, income investing, etc.

We also have some important debates: "Inequality of Wealth" (Steve Moore of the Wall Street Journal and Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the Manhattan Institute will debate Robert Frank and Bob Hockett from Cornell University)….and "The Philosophical Debate of the Century: Is Man a Machine, an Animal, or Divinely Human?" (Michael Shermer of Scientific American vs. Harry Veryser, economist and devote Catholic). We are also doing a special session on "The Libertarian Streak in Steve Jobs" with Don Luskin and others.

I suggest all of your readers go to www.freedomfest.com and see the full agenda that we have now posted.

Daily Bell: "Wall Street on Trial" is your Big Debate this year in the traditional format of a mock trial. The mock trials are always one of the highlights of FreedomFest. Comment?

Mark Skousen: The mock trials are always well attended. The first one was in 2009 with Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman (a former lawyer for the Vegas mob!) as the judge in "Capitalism on Trial." The funniest part was when Mayor Goodman as the judge asked John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, "When are you going to open up a Whole Foods Market in downtown Las Vegas?" John quipped, "Sorry, Judge, we don't take bribes!"

We have a mock trial every year and C-SPAN covers it. We've had religion on trial, public unions on trial, and this year we will have "Wall Street on Trial." It will be Robert Frank, a fiery New York Times columnist, against Steve Moore, editorial board member of the Wall Street Journal. The Times vs. the Journal. We'll have star witnesses Steve Forbes and Peter Schiff for the defense and John Mackey for the prosecution (against Wall Street!), among others. I think this year the jury vote will be close.

Daily Bell: This being a presidential election year, and with Mitt Romney, a Mormon, the Republican candidate, you are having a unique debate, "Latter-Day Liberty: Should Mormons be Conservative, Libertarian or Social Democrats?" Comment?

Mark Skousen: Yes and it's going to be pretty interesting. We have three viewpoints being presented: Paul Mero, president of the Sutherland Institute, the premier free-market think tank in Utah, as the conservative; Connor Boyack, author of Latter Day Liberty, as the libertarian; and Rory Reid, former Clark County Commissioner in Nevada and son of Senator Harry Reid, as the social democrat. They will each try to make the case that Mormon doctrine favors their political perspective.

Daily Bell: Foreign policy is always a hot topic so tell us more about the "Sir Winston Churchill Debate: 20th Century's Greatest Statesman or a Warmonger?" Any comment?

Mark Skousen: I've been wanting to put together this debate for years. Libertarian historians have been critical of political heroes like Abe Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. We've had debates on Lincoln and Roosevelt and now we're going to debate Churchill, who is a little bit hard to pin down, as his political views evolved. Earlier in his career he was a socialist but later in life he opposed the socialists. A young libertarian, Anthony Gregory, research editor at the Independent Institute, will make the case against Churchill while John Browne, a former MP under Thatcher and who actually served as a body guard at Churchill's funeral, will defend him. It will be hard to resist Browne's mellifluous voice.

We have a film at the Anthem film festival called "Afghan Nightmare" followed by a panel of experts, "The Next Middle East Crisis: Are We Part of the Problem or the Solution?"

Daily Bell: In healthcare, one of the most controversial subjects is vaccines. Dr. Julian Whitaker of the Whitaker Wellness Center will debate Dr. Jonathan Baktar, president of the Vaccine Center in Nevada, on "Vaccines: Good or Bad?" Comment?

Mark Skousen: Healthcare is one of the hot topics every year. The number of mandated vaccines is rising rapidly in the United States and the debate is growing. Anthem is showing a film on the subject called "The Greater Good" and we're also having a debate between these two MDs on the subject. The sparks will fly.

Daily Bell: Let's go through the world's hot spots. Give us some feedback … Let's start with China and Asia?

Mark Skousen: China cannot be ignored and is a rising economic, political and military power. But it has an unstable political system based on communism, which cannot last. It's already starting to fight with its neighbors over control of the seas. As a follower of the Austrian theory of the business cycle, I'm deeply concerned about the unsustainable nature of their economic boom because it is built on easy money. We have three or four experts on China who will debate its future – Joel Stern, a brilliant economist who teaches finance in the US, South Africa and Singapore, Keith Fitz-Gerald from the US and Japan and Lou Petrossi, who lives in the US and China.

Asia in general is in far better shape than the West in terms of its financial and banking conditions. They haven't built up a welfare-warfare state like the United States and Europe have. They have rejected the excesses of Keynesian economics, and are still pro-saving, pro-enterpreneur.

Daily Bell: Europe?

Mark Skousen: Europe and the United States are in the same boat, suffering from the excesses of Keynesian economics, the underlining model for the welfare-warfare-consumer state. The government has overpromised and under-delivered and now must adopt austerity to survive. This is the reality. Europe is making every effort to support the euro and the eurozone but it can only work on condition of adopting austerity or in other words, fiscal responsibility and a return to the classical model of Adam Smith or its modern version, the Austrian school of economics.

The same principles apply to the United States. If they would follow the principles of economics as outlined in my free-market textbook, Economic Logic, they would not be facing these difficult challenges. There's no reason to have high unemployment and slow growth. Like Canada, who faced a similar crisis in 1995, or Estonia a few years ago, the United States could recover quickly if they adopt austerity, low taxes, smart deregulation and rebuilding of their infrastructure.

Daily Bell: All of the above sounds a bit grim. What is your view about the price and utility of owning more gold and silver over the next decade?

Mark Skousen: Actually, I'm quite optimistic. The writing is on the wall. The West must adopt austerity or collapse. We must return to sound classical economics: thrift, living within our means, sound money, limited government, free trade.

There's a good chance Obama will lose in November and ObamaCare will be overthrown. But whoever is elected President will face the difficult challenge of austerity. We have the right tools to set the country back on track but will we have the gutsy leadership to do it? That I don't know, and I have my doubts.

If we get control of our finances at home and reduce our entanglements abroad we could see the stock market soar and gold plummet. But there's many a slip twixt cup and lip.

Daily Bell: Any other points you want to make about FreedomFest?

Mark Skousen: Yes. First of all I'd like to be sure your readers know where to find all the information about FreedomFest. Our website is www.Freedomfest.com, laid out so that all the details, schedules, presenters' bios, etc. are easy to find. They can reach our conference coordinator, Tami Holland, at 866-266-5101 or by email to tami [at] freedomfest.com.

I'd like to make one last comment. Last year a reporter asked me, "You say that FreedomFest changes people's lives. Can you give any examples?" Since then, I've surveyed some of our attendees and I'm amazed at how FreedomFest has indeed touched their lives.

One couple told me how they had altered their estate and set up a "job-creating" foundation as a result of a session… a consultant landed a major contract with someone he met at our conference (he's done it two years in a row now)… investors bought a stock that doubled in a year… a man created a successful blog after following the advice of a speaker… a father brought his son, who converted to free-market economics (at the end of the show, he said, "Dad, promise me we'll come back next year")… a group of five students from South Africa (who called themselves the "Vegas Five") went home and created a whole new libertarian movement that has taken their country by storm (and they are returning this year!)… and one speaker (Dinesh D'Souza) made the cover of Forbes magazine because Steve Forbes heard him speak at a luncheon.

Anything is possible. We've even had a couple go on their honeymoon at FreedomFest. People are energized when they come to FreedomFest and realize there are thousands of citizens who feel the way they do.

No one is ever bored at FreedomFest. We have ten breakout sessions going on most of the day (except during the general sessions) so people have to choose what to attend. To avoid missing something, most people buy the audio recordings.

Once somebody comes to FreedomFest they tend to return. We have a very high return rate. As one lady told me last month, "Once you come to FreedomFest you'll always go back." It's that important in people's lives. One man told me he changed the date of his family reunion to make sure he could come to FreedomFest.

Daily Bell: Any resources that people can acquire after the fact?

Mark Skousen: Yes, we sell all our sessions on CDs or MP3s during and after the conference. We have so many breakout sessions that hundreds of attendees just buy the audio recordings. That's the first thing I do when I arrive!

Daily Bell: We would like to close with your insight and opinion on the recent endorsement of Romney by Rand Paul. This appears to be generating a massive backlash and infighting inside the liberty movement on the timing and political decision. We have tried to cover both sides in this growing controversy. What is your view?

Mark Skousen: Senator Rand Paul is a brilliant politician and has already gone farther politically than his father. He's made the decision, a wise one in my judgment, to stay within the Republican Party to achieve real success in government. That means endorsing the compromise candidate. His father, Ron Paul, set the stage by maintaining a strict dogma. Senator Paul will have to compromise to achieve success, but I think half success is better than no success at all. He may not banish the income tax but he will push for a flat tax. He may not eliminate the Fed but he will make it more accountable and less inflationary. He may not bring all our troops home from around the world but he will cut the military budget and minimize the blowback damage of the past. He may not end the TSA but he will help privatize it.

Senator Paul is a big fan of FreedomFest. He came last year and had so much fun that he's bringing his wife and staff with him, and hoping to be here most of the time. I think he's sending a message to all of us.

To quote Ben Franklin, "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately." Hope to see you all at FreedomFest. If not you, then who? If not now, then when?

Daily Bell: Thank you for your time today.

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