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A Review of ISFLC 2016

Another year and another International Students For Liberty Conference. The conference bringing libertarians from around the world to Washington, D.C. for a great opportunity to network, party, learn, party, get exposed, party, sit in on a taping of John Stossel, party, geek out over meeting your favorite economist, party, and hangout with Vermin Supreme. It’s the ultimate event which shows the liberty movement for what it is: A place for energetic minds who want more freedom in the world, to go out and advocate for freedom. From the guys completing their second PhD, to the college dropout entrepreneurs (hey, that’s me) to the guys high on something, the future leaders, and most active members of the liberty movement, can be found there. It’s a great opportunity to see the liberty movement past the socially awkward 9/11 truthers holding a loaded gun to their heads in their mother’s basements over Rand Paul dropping out. With that, here’s a short review of the conference as I saw it.

I’d like to briefly touch on an experience I had while leaving the conference.

Charles and Vermin Supreme

The author and presidential candidate Vermin Supreme at ISFLC 2016.

My friend Kenny Tan invited me to take a private plane ride from Long Island to go attend the conference and fly back later that night. He described it as a small four man puddle jumper plane which he was practicing in while getting his pilot’s license. In my life, I’ve probably been in a plane roughly 80+ times and done the trip from St. Maarten to St. Bart’s going in a small plane about a dozen times. With that said, I’ve never done anything this small before and wanted to make an experience of it all for the bucket list. Yet what really was the magic of the experience for me was the flight back. I, having gone 20+ hours without sleep, was heading back to New York in the pitch black night, but all I could see was a series of lights on the ground below me with Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Atlantic City and finally New York.

These lights weren’t still, though. They were blinking, moving, going on and off, all of this carried in no organized order, but it carried this incredible beauty. It was sort of a perfect peace, but a peace created from the progress of humanity. It was interesting to think that before humans, someone flying above this land in the dark wouldn’t see a thing. They’d just be met with empty land, animals, trees and water. With the rise of humans, that changed forever. Yet what’s even more interesting is how humans, despite being around for hundreds of thousands of years, only have lights such as this as a new thing. Going back 150 years ago, the most a person would see would perhaps be some candle lights and fires in that darkness. Light is a new thing. The correlation is the rise of liberty and the rise of capitalism. I had the opportunity to close the weekend and the conference off realizing and witnessing in greater form what it means to fight for liberty. It means to fight for being able to literally create light.

Going back into the actual conference though, let’s get back into the specifics of what I witnessed while there.

The biggest event for me was the taping of Stossel. Or, well, the mad rush for people to run to the mic and get to ask a question on TV. It opened with a debate between two people: One saying the government stops economic progress and the other being your typical Occupy nonsense person. Following that was an interesting discussion on privacy with the rise of the Internet. For that one, it wasn’t completely clear if that was a libertarian talk or a pro-privacy talk examining how half of the conversation wasn’t so much about the government in the way of Internet privacy, but the right of companies such as Google to sell searches to private companies. There was a terrible “Tea Party” advocate there to defend Donald Trump. He thankfully was met with booing and people calling him out for his blatantly false attacks on the immigrant population in regards to the economy. Why illegal immigrants cause unemployment despite Texas, California, and Arizona all having better unemployment rates to low immigration states such as New York, Michigan, and Wisconsin, I’ll never know.

It closed with some great words on the welfare state, with the sad reality the liberty movement needs to focus more on the regulatory state over the welfare state to grow an economy. At the end, John Stossel asked everyone to begin raising hands to see where they stood in 2016. 90% of the room seemed to completely write off support for anyone in the GOP currently. Donald Trump didn’t get a single hand raised for him and Rubio and Cruz seemed to have a few hands in the event. Sanders was the DNC nominee. For the libertarian race, I was happy to see about 95% of the hands in the room went up for Gary Johnson as their choice candidate in 2016. Austin Peterson and John McAfee both seemed to get maybe a dozen or two dozen hands, but despite no one being against them, the audience and Stossel both seemed to praise the Johnson resume. Overall, it just isn’t ISFLC without Stossel, and this was a lot of fun.

For other speakers and panelists who were great to have around, I’d say the most popular one was Lyn Ulbricht, who spoke about her son and what exactly his trial meant. This was a room where many people like myself have never partaken in drug use, but the sympathy was incredible where many people viewed Ross as an innovator creating far more safety in the drug trade over what the Drug Enforcement Administration has ever done.

Antony Davies, who is an economist, was a great person to speak with. Something about a tall, well-standing economist with a cool beard and curly hair talking to everyone in the room about economics, can always be a good guest to have. Congressman Thomas Massie was fun to see at this type of event where it can visibly be seen that he’s much happier dealing with a crowd of young libertarians, over his typical crowd in Congress. To note on why I find Massie so cool, I enjoyed being probably the only other guy at the convention besides him to have a patent. I also told him to run for president, to which he gave a laugh and said he thinks he will pass.

Across the board, there was a very happy trail of speakers from the academia and the media. But the most memorable? None else than the man who I wish could give Donald Trump the boot: Vermin Supreme. Vermin, while I don’t think has my vote anytime soon, was the lively and out there type of guy which just proves libertarianism can have color to it. He packed the room with one liners and it seemed everyone just loved the guy. Also, I can at least say his ties were much nicer made over than the Donald Trump brand ties.

What’s more important over the speakers and special guests? The actual attendees. I decided to go to ISFLC instead of CPAC this year ( they are one week apart, and I didn’t want to go to D.C. two weekends in a row). Yet from having gone to CPAC several times, here’s a review of the people you can normally find there: Overly dressed in a suit, managing to be young people that look like old, depressed types, and normally just carrying this vibe that they hope Jeb Bush will one day employ them.

At ISFLC, it is a serious crowd. Many people there have worked on startups, are pursuing PhDs, are in top Ivy League schools, traveled across the world to attend and are just intelligent people who, for fun, will read books on economics, policy, law, or history. That said, they can also do other things. Where the CPAC crowd tends to consist of political junkies who are desparate for lobbyist jobs, the ISFLC crowd, while maybe not being the coolest bunch, is at least more diverse and more open. It is a room where someone can see the PhDs of the world breaking bread with the guy who outwardly appears to be on some kind of drug. It’s also not such a pro-America event or even a political one, but as opposed to discussing the vanities of how a congressman combs their hair (okay, maybe Rand Paul and Thomas Massie need to enter that discussion), it’s about policy. The people there actually are passionate about what changes the world. They want to see a world where taxes and regulations are at all-time lows, in order to have economic growth. They want to see a world where America doesn’t have over a million people in jail for victimless crimes. They don’t want to see a world where war happens and is expected. The ISFLC people are universally respectable, fun and extremely well informed. Even the neckbeards…

I feel the greatest way to sum up ISFLC comes from one of my final conversations while there. I was speaking to a friend of mine about the taping of the Stossel show, and he made a great point. He mentioned how Stossel wants to show the liberty movement as it really is, and what people don’t think it is. It’s not freaks on the Internet who live in their mothers’ basements afraid to breathe in the chemtrails (well, most of the time). It’s not overweight hillbillies who do crystal meth and talk about how God gave them the AK-47 to fight Obama (again, most of the time). It’s not some Alex Jones viewers wondering when the Zionists will come after them (you get the point). It’s a movement that can be communicated best via the Judd Weiss photos. For those who don’t know Judd, he is an extremely talented photographer who, for years now, has gone to various libertarian-type events and covered the photography work for them. His photos are to the liberty movement what having a customer of the month card at Chipotle is to a Bernie Sanders supporter. It’s just something awesome to have. Yet what makes his photos awesome is how it presents the liberty movement as this young, fairly eccentric movement, still not completely formed yet, but filled with cool and rationally minded people. This is what the Judd Weiss photos show, what Stossel sees the movement as, and what this conference best presents the movement as.

I want to thank Alexander McCobin and the large (happily, growing larger) team at SLF for setting this up. I remember the first conference I attended from them in 2012 which was me as a senior in high school there to help coordinate for the Seasteading Institute. Students For Liberty, in every single way, has always been a fun and vibrant group which focuses on policy over politics and with that, I look forward to next year!

One final thanks to all the friends I enjoyed the conference with. Kenny Tan, Alexander Cohen, Mike Avi, Neil McGettigan, and many, many others. Our movement grows and I am glad our friendships get to grow with it.

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