Successful ESFL Regional Meeting in Iceland

Dr. Palmer speaking.

The regional conference of the ESFL, European Students for Liberty, in Iceland Saturday 8 October 2016 was very successful, not least because of the three distinguished speakers who made the effort to travel all the way to Iceland and to participate in the conference. Dr. Nigel Ashford of the Institute for Humane Studies discussed five schools of classical liberal and libertarian/conservative thought: the Austrian economists, Mises and Hayek, the Chicago economists, Friedman and Becker, the Public Choice school led by James M. Buchanan, the Natural Rights theorists such as Robert Nozick and Ayn Rand, and the anarcho-capitalists, Murray Rothbard and David Friedman. The anarcho-capitalists have often pointed to the Icelandic Commonwealth of 930-1262 as an example of a society ruled by law, but  not by government.

Dr. Barbara Kolm of the Austrian Economics Center presented a liberal view of the European Union, emphasising that there was a conflict between free immigration and welfare provisions for all regardless of contribution. Kolm recalled that the original purpose of the European Union was to defend the four freedoms, but that it had now turned into something less attractive. Dr. Tom Palmer of Atlas Network and Cato Institute argued that liberty was not only about the pursuit of material gains, but that it was rather the precondition for taking responsibility for one’s life and spontaneously developing one’s individual abilities. He spoke on some of the themes of his recent book, Self-Control or State-Control: You Decide.

Two young politicians, Aslaug Arna Sigurbjornsdottir from the Independence Party and Pawel Bartoszek from Vidreisn, discussed current affairs. Investor Heidar Gudjonsson offered some concluding remarks about the future which he considered to be bright. After the conference, RNH Chairman of the Board Gisli Hauksson of Gamma invited all participants (which were around 120) to a reception at the headquarters of his asset management company Gamma. RNH’s participation in the conference formed a part of the joint project with AECR on “Europe, Iceland and the Future of Capitalism”.

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Interesting Conference Saturday

European Students for Liberty, ESFL, holds a regional conference in Reykjavik Saturday 8 October 2016. Three distinguished foreign speakers give lectures: Dr. Tom Palmer of Atlas Network and Cato Institue in Washington DC presents the case for liberty; Tom recently published Self-Control or State-Control: You Decide. Dr. of the Institute for Humane Studies in Arlington, Virginia, describes the main libertarian schools (the Austrian economists, Mises and Hayek, the Chicago economists, Friedman and Becker, the Public Choice school led by James M. Buchanan, the Natural Rights theorists such as Robert Nozick and Ayn Rand, and the anarcho-capitalists, Murry Rothbard and David Friedman). Dr. Barbara Kolm of the Austrian Economics Centre in Vienna provides a libertarian/classical liberal analysis of the European Union.

A Panel Discussion will also take place between two young candidates in the forthcoming parliamentary elections, Aslaug Arna Sigurbjornsdottir of the Independence Party and Pawel Bartoszek, of Vidreisn. They will debate which party is the most liberal in Icelandic politics. Registration starts at 11 at the University of Reykjavik, and the programme starts at 11.30 and ends at 16. The financial company Gamma hosts a reception for the conference 18.30 at its headquarters in Gardastraeti 37.

The Public Book Club (Almenna bokafelagid) offers conference attendees some of its publications at a hefty discount. Heimur batnandi fer (The Rational Optimist) by Matt Ridley; the novels Undirstadan (Atlas Shrugged), Uppsprettan (The Fountainhead) and Kira Argunova (We the Living) by Ayn Rand; paperbacks by journalists on current affairs, Icesave-samningarnir: afleikur aldarinnar? (The Icesave-Deals: The Blunder of the Century?) by Sigurdur Mar Jonsson, Bushaldabyltingin: sjalfsprottin eda skipulogd? (The Pots-and-Pans Revolution: Spontaneous or Planned?) by Stefan Gunnar Sveinsson, Andersen-skjolin: rannsoknir eda ofsoknir (The Andersen Documents: Investigations or Persecutions) by Eggert Skulason; reprints of anti-totalitarian literature, published both online and on paper, Greinar um kommunisma (Articles on Communism) by Bertrand Russell;  Konur i þraelakistum Stalins (Women in Stalin’s Prison Camps) by Elinor Lipper and Aino Kuusinen, Ur alogum (Out of the Night) by Jan Valtin (aka Richard Krebs), Leyniraedan um Stalin (Secret Speech on Stalin) by Nikita Khruschev, Orlaganott yfir Eystrasaltslondum (Baltic Eclipse) by Ants Oras and Eistland. Smathjod undir oki erlends valds (Estonia: A Study in Imperialism) by Andres Küng. The participation of RNH in the conference forms a part of a project with AECR, the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists, on “Europe, Iceland, and the Future of Capitalism”.

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Liberty, Religion and Atheism

Yaron Brook speaking. Panelists from left: Father Sirico, Dr. Gregg and Professor Gissurarson.

Classical liberals or libertarians can both be religious and atheists, according to RNH Academic Director Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson who was a commentator in a session on the moral foundations of the free society at the 2016 general meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society in Miami 18–23 September. The speakers in the session were Dr. Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute who argued that people of reason had to reject religion and Dr. Samuel Gregg from the Acton Institute who maintained that Christianity was compatible with both liberty and reason. Father Robert Sirico was in the chair.

MPS founder F. A. Hayek

Professor Gissurarson pointed out that some more or less pagan societies seemed to have had a firm moral basis, such as the ancient Romans and the Japanese. Undeniably, however, the only real resistance put up against 20th Century European totalitarianism had been by the Christian churches. Christianity presupposed that all men were subject to Natural Law, including those holding power. Christianity implied universalism: In the eyes of God everyone was equal, rich and poor, man and woman, black and white. Totalitarianism on the other hand was extreme rationalism, the attempt by human beings to play god. Unlike some other religious groups Christians wanted to render unto Ceasar what was Ceaser’s and to render unto God what was God’s. In other words, Christianity implied the separation of spiritual and secular powers alien to some other religions. Christ had not been a soldier on horseback wielding a sword, like Muhammad. The ten commandments did not have the logical structure of commands, despite their name, but rather that of prohibitions which made them more freedom-preserving than direct order to behave in a certain way.

Professor Gissurarson offered his own interpretation of two well-known Christian parables. The parable of the Good Samaritan was really about 1) the dangers of highwaymen from the mountain, and consequently the need for strong police and defence forces; 2) the treason of the clerks, namely that of the priest and the Levite who passed the victim of the robbers without helping him; 3) the need for men of means who could afford to help victims; 4) the good deed done with the Good Samaritan’s own money. Professor Gissurarson submitted that the eleventh commandment should really be: “Thou shalt not do good with other people’s money.” In the second placem when John the Baptist had said that a man with two shirts should give one of them to his neighbour having no shirt, he had identified the problem of shirtlessness, but not called for an enforced redistribution of income. The problem of shirtlessness could be solved by enabling people to sew their own shirts, providing opportunities to them. The main objective should be flourishing, moderately-taxed shirt factories in full operation.

Professor Gissurarson said that Ayn Rand had been a powerful and underestimated thinker, even if he could not personally endorse her militant atheism. Her distinction between creators and parasites was still valid. Rich people should not be ashamed of their wealth, if honestly acquired. Instead, they should be proud of it. Justified pride in one’s own achievements was not the same as arrogance. Entrepreneurs and capitalists performed important and necessary roles in a growing economy. Both religious people and atheists could belong to the Mont Pelerin Society. Professor Gissurarson’s participation in the conference formed a part of the joint project by RNH and AECR, the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists, on “Europe, Iceland, and the Future of Capitalism”.

Sir Roger Douglas and Professor Gissurarson.

Speakers at the conference included British historian Niall Ferguson, American sociologist Charles Murray, Chilean economist José Piñera, and some well-known American economists such as Nobel Laureate Edward C. Prescott, Professor John Taylor and Diana Furchgott-Roth. Professor Peter Boettke from the US took over as President of the MPS from Spanish Professor Pedro Schwartz. The general meeting was well-attended and well-organised, and regarded by most attendees as having been quite successful. The next regional meeting of the MPS will be in Seoul 7–10 May 2017 and in Gran Canaria 30 September–6 October 2018. After the MPS meeting, Professor Gissurarson attended the Atlas Network Liberty Forum. The Atlas Network is an umbrella organisation for research institutes looking for spontaneous and voluntary solutions instead of coercive government interventions, and seeking to use price rather than force as a lodestar in human interactions. Sir Roger Douglas, New Zealand Finance Minister in 1984–88, and Ruth Richardson, Finance Minister in 1990–93, described the radical and successful economic reforms in their country in the mid-1980s and early 1990s. The American television reporter John Stossel chaired a meeting about how freedom could be promoted by other means than books alone, such as by story-telling and documentaries and even by dramatic films. Linda Whetstone took over as Chairman of the Board of Atlas Network from Daniel Grossman. Linda is the daughter of Atlas Network founder Sir Antony Fisher.

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Icelandic Fisheries Policy as a Model?

Professor Gissurarson gives his talk. Diego Zuluaga is in the chair.

In the United Kingdom, considerable interest in the Icelandic system of managing the fisheries can be found, now when the country is leaving the EU and will not be subject to the failed CFP, Common Fisheries Policy. This became clear at a conference on private governance organised by the IEA, Institute of Economic Affairs, in London and Epicenter, a coalition of major European think tanks, in Florence 7–9 September 2016. RNH Academic Director Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson discussed the general common pool problem which is essentially that under open access to natural resources, utilisation of those resources will increase to the point where all possible profit will be dissipated in excessive effort. Common utilisation implies over-utilisation. The solution is often to develop exclusive use rights to the resources—to enclose the commons in one way or another. Professor Gissurarson described some such solutions developed in Iceland over the centuries: Grazing rights in the mountain pastures common to each farming community were allocated to individual farms; in the numerous salmon rivers each riparian farmer holds a right to a certain part of the total effort allowed in the river; and, most importantly, in the offshore fisheries individual transferable quotas, ITQs, amounting to a right to harvest a given proportion of the total allowable catch, have been allocated. Professor Gissurarson said that the ITQ system worked quite well, as was demonstrated by the fact that the chief complaint in Iceland was that the fishing firms were very profitable whereas in most other countries they were operated at huge losses.

Other speakers included German economist Guido Hülsmann who discussed central banks, Brazilian economist Diogo Costa who analysed the share economy, and Chemistry Professor Terence Kealey from England who pointed out the lack of evidence for any positive impact on economic growth from public investment in scientific research, whereas private investment clearly had such an impact. Another topic taken up at the conference was whether the EU could and would develop in a more liberal direction. Professor Gissurarson’s participation in the conference formed a part of the joint project by RNH and AECR, the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists, on “Europe, Iceland, and the Future of Capitalism”. Professor Gissurarson used the opportunity in Florence to undertake some research on the life and works of Niccolò Machiavelli. After his stay in Florence Professor Gissurarson went to Rome to meet with Professor Antonio Martino, Italy’s former Foreign Minister and Defence Minister, and a former President of the Mont Pelerin Society, an international academy of liberal scholars. Martino, who was also long Professor of Monetary Theory, is an adviser of RNH.

Gissurarson Slides in Florence 8 September 2016

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Quota Auction not advisable

Gary Libecap gives his lecture.

Auctioning off catch quotas in the Icelandic fisheries is both unnecessary and ill-advised, as the Icelanders have already developed an efficient system there. Two international experts on natural resources and auctions agreed on this at an international conference on rights allocation in the fisheries, organised by the Economics Faculty of the University of Iceland, RNH and RSE 29 August 2016. Professor Gary Libecap of the University of California at Santa Barbara, author of many books on resource management, described the tragedy of the commons in the fisheries: Open access led to increased fishing effort, until all profit had been dissipated. It was necessary to limit access, and the most natural way of doing it was to allocate fishing rights to those who were already harvesting fish, on the basis of catch history (grandfathering). Then the necessary change from an open-access regime to a system of exclusive rights takes place in a peaceful and gradual manner. The Icelandic system of individual transferable quotas, ITQs, was a market solution, whereas public auctions of fishing rights had not been successful in the few places where they had been tried. In the panel discussion, Professor Charles Plott of the California Institute of Technology, a renowned specialist on auctions, pointed out that in Iceland an efficient system of harvesting fish was already in place, the system of individual, transferable quotas, and that therefore it was not necessary to change it. Sometimes auctions of scarce goods made sense, but not in this example.

In his lecture, Ragnar Arnason, Professor of Fisheries Economics at the University of Iceland, argued against three common misconceptions of the fisheries: 1) that the fisheries profit (or resource rent) was derived from the resource alone, and not created in any way by the fishing firms; 2) that the holders of catch quotas were the only ones who profited from the system of exclusive rights; and 3) that a resource tax, imposed directly or indirectly on the fisheries, would not reduce the total fisheries profit. In addition to Professor Plott, the panelists discussing the papers were Dr. Tryggvi Thor Herbertsson, economist and former Member of Parliament, Helgi A. Gretarsson, Associated Professor of Resource Law in the Faculty of Law, and Hannes H. Gissurarson, Professor of Political Theory in the Faculty of Politics, and the author of a recent book brought out by the University of Iceland Press, The Icelandic Fisheries: Sustainable and Profitable, also available on the Internet.

The conference was well-attended and well-reported in the Icelandic press. Morgunbladid published 30 August an account of the lectures given by Gary Libecap and Ragnar Arnason, and 15 September an interview with Charles Plott. “I do not understand why people would try to meddle with a successful industry,” Plott said. “Auctions would be very disruptive for the fishing sector. They would reduce the incentives to harvest fish efficiently; they would harm the institutions in the fisheries. Ef you can buy and sell quotas in an open market, then things will take their normal course and quotas will be transferred from the less efficient to the more efficient.” Plott also discussed examples where auctions would make sense. The participation by RNH in the conference formed a part of the joint project with AECR, the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists, on “Europe, Iceland and the Future of Capitalism”.

Slides Gary Libecap

Slides Ragnar Arnason

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Keeping the Flame of Freedom Burning

Oddsson gives his address.

During the Russian occupation of the Baltic countries, the main role of Iceland and other Western democracies was to help keeping the flame of freedom burning there, editor David Oddsson said at a meeting organised by the Public Book Club, Almenna bokafelagid, and the honorary consuls of the three Baltic states in Reykjavik 26 August 2016. This was precisely 25 years after Iceland became the first state to resume diplomatic relations with the Baltic countries, at the time the Soviet Union was collapsing in 1991. Oddsson was Prime Minister at the time. On this occasion, the Public Book Club published two books which came out in Iceland about the struggle for freedom in the Baltic countries, Baltic Eclipse 1955 by Estonian Literature Professor Ants Oras and Estonia: A Study in Imperialism 1973 by Estonian-Swedish journalist Andres Küng, translated by David Oddsson, then a young student of law. Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson wrote prefaces and notes to both books which are also available online.

Kelam speaks to Morgunbladid journalist Stefan Gunnar Sveinsson.

EMP Tunne Kelam, one of the leaders of the Estonian struggle for freedom, also gave a talk at the meeting. According to him, the moral support of the West was crucial during the long and dark period of Soviet occupation. It was inevitable, Kelam submitted, to re-examine the sad history of the Soviet Union. The meeting was well-attended, and guests in good spirits. Morgunbladid published an account of the meeting 27 August and an interview with Kelam 15 September. There he recalled that Hitler and Stalin decided in the secret part of their August 1939 Non-Aggression Pact that the Baltic countries and Finland would fall under Stalin’s control whereas Hitler would seize the Western part of Poland. When Hitler subsequently attacked Poland, the Second World War broke out. Kelam said that Putin’s Russia was now behaving aggressively and that Western democracies had to unite in preserving the independence of the Baltic countries which were an integral part of the West.

The Public Book Club has, in cooperation with RNH, republished seven books in Icelandic, both on paper and online, which came out in the fight against totalitarianism. In addition to the two books on the Baltic countries, they are Articles on Communism by Bertrand Russell, Women in Stalin’s Labour Camps by Elinor Lipper and Aino Kuusinen, Out of the Night by Jan Valtin (aka Richard Krebs), Khruschev’s Secret Speech on Stalin and El campesino by Valentín González and Julián Gorkin. RNH is a member of the Platform of European Memory and Conscience which seeks to keep alive the memory of the victims of totalitarianism in Europe. Kelam has been active in the Platform. The participation by RNH in the meeting and publication of the books formed a part of the joint project with AECR, Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists, on “Europe of the Victims”.

Director of Public Book Club Jonas Sigurgeirsson shows some anti-totalitarian books to Einar Gudfinnsson, Speaker of the Icelandic Parliament.

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