You may know AIER as a source of free market content — research and articles both large and small that stress the importance of markets and individual liberty. Some of our most important advocacy of these principles is being done on the ground through our Bastiat Society program. The society’s local chapters, 27 and counting, host lectures, discussions, seminars, workshops, and conferences, creating a vibrant community of businesspeople supporting free market ideals.
This work takes on a whole-different level of urgency and importance for the Bastiat Society’s Venezuela chapter. Many readers, well aware of that nation’s tragic descent into socialism and economic chaos, might be surprised that a chapter even exists. But in May 2015, a team that included current co-managing directors Leonardo Brito and Luis Lopez took the bold step of forming a chapter to advocate economic liberty in some of the world’s most hostile environments to those ideas.
I recently spoke with Brito and was amazed to hear the number and breadth of events across Venezuela offered by the chapter. In addition to discussions of big-picture policy regarding how to put Venezuela on a better course, Bastiat Venezuela has an educational mission to restore what one might call the human infrastructure of a market economy. As Brito said, “Our goal is to educate people but also to create a community of the next principled leaders of the free Venezuela, a place where they meet each, gather, share with each other and also where they have an open mic to talk.”
In America and other countries with market-driven economies, our debates often focus on moving our economies closer to truly free markets and away from government intervention. We participate in the marketplace of ideas by talking about how less state control could lead to better outcomes for everyone — the kind of content posted every day at AIER and spoken about at Bastiat chapters here in the States.
Since 2002, the regimes of Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro have all but forced free markets underground in their country. The results have been disastrous not only in terms of human suffering, but also the intellectual capital needed to one day run a free country. Simply put, market economies need entrepreneurs, and after a generation of socialism young people lack the economic and cultural understanding to form this future backbone of a free Venezuelan economy.
Enter Brito, Lopez, and their organization. They hold a minimum of two events per month, and often many more. Some focus on big-picture policy issues, such as a conference they hosted in November called “Geography, Free Markets and Development: Prospective Vision for Venezuela.” But Brito believes that lasting change will happen from the bottom up by instilling entrepreneurial knowledge in and encouraging networking among young Venezuelans poised to become the businesspeople of the future.
Brito and his associates have created an Entrepreneur’s Club, combining talks from businesspeople with games such as Cashflow. The young people also learn about Bitcoin and other online business opportunities, giving them the opportunities to provide much-needed extra income for their families. Finally, the club hands out books by acclaimed free market thinkers like Bastiat and Hayek. The club members are learning both the practical skills and intellectual foundation necessary to become business leaders on the long hoped-for day when socialism falls.
Bravery and Optimism
While American free market advocates often strive for a positive message rather than simply criticizing their opponents, the Bastiat Society’s Venezuela chapter has no choice but to stay positive. Brito believes that the group would be far more likely to attract attention and persecution from the government if it directly criticized the current Maduro regime. Instead, it is able to fly under the radar, as socialist authorities are slow to see the true meaning behind some conferences and games about markets.
Brito stresses both patience and optimism: “Right now we're just in that part of the history when you plant the seed, put water on it and have faith that the sun will come, freedom is a beautiful thing to live your life for and I believe God a change is gonna come.” When that change does come, the nation will have its chapter of the Bastiat Society to thank for growing and maintaining the bottom-up foundation of a free market economy.