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Liberty in Vegas

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FreedomFest is for everyone.

That's what Mark Skousen, economist, investment analyst, and founder of the conference told me when I asked him about it.

"There's a lot of variety," he said, when I asked him what I, as a first-time attendee of the Liberty-minded Las Vegas gathering, should expect when festivities kick off on July 13. He pointed, straight away, to the biggest room at the event, the exhibit hall.


"The exhibit hall is really a lot of fun," he said, before rattling off, offhand while traveling, some of his favorite organizations who set up booths. "I'm always amazed that people are even in the exhibit hall during the main speeches."

"The only exception," Skousen said, "was when Donald Trump spoke last year. Everybody left to hear him speak."

The conference, which was started in 2002 by Skousen during his time with the Foundation for Economic Education, has grown into an incredibly diverse gathering of people from different political and economic viewpoints. With a strong showing from the business and financial community, as well as an offshoot film festival, it's more than just another staid political conference.

"We do get a lot of film people there," Skousen said. "And because we attract the investment crowd, it's not all just libertarians and conservatives. We get some social democrats - and they have given very positive feedback!"

The gathering will feature ten debates, and not merely on ideas and policies that are internecine to the Liberty movement. John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods (and not exactly a movement libertarian himself), will be debating John Roemer, Yale professor of Marxist economics.


Skousen loves the diversity of ideas that he says will be on display. "Dinesh D'Souza is going to be debating Michael Shermer" - founder of the Skeptics Society - "on the bible. Global warming is going to be on trial - our mock trial, which is always one of our most popular. Michael Medved will be presiding."

"We're having a debate on the subject Trump: Pro or Con? Is Trump a professional? Or a con man?"

The keynote speaker, representing that the conference isn't merely a libertarian-political confab, is George Foreman, discussing investing and his business career. There will be a "bulls vs. bears" debate on the state of the stock market. And aspiring entrepreneurs will get the chance to have expert investors evaluate their ideas in what's being called "the pitch tank", with the winner eligible for up to $25,000 in an investment.

2016 electoral politics looms large as well. With many Republicans still skeptical about Donald Trump and the Republican Party's 2016 campaign, there will be major Republicans at the libertarian event. Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), some of Trump's sharpest critics in the Senate, will be there.

But the libertarian tent is large. "I will tell you that we do have a number of speakers who are there to try to convince the audience that Donald Trump is the real deal," Skousen says, "and we need to get behind him."


Of course, it's not all buttoned-up professionalism.

"You'll want to track down our resident libertarian magician," Skousen says. "Last year, we had an Elvis impersonator. We have fun events during the cocktail sessions, too."

Wait. What's the difference between a libertarian magician and, er, a regular magician?

"There's really no difference, except he makes jokes. Like that he can make money appear or disappear just like the Federal Reserve."

Kevin Glass is the Director of Policy and Outreach for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a nonprofit that publishes public-interest journalism at Watchdog.org.

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