Opinion

The libertarians are coming

LAS VEGAS—They came from Arizona and Australia, Boston and the Bahamas, South Carolina and South Africa to raise high the elixir of liberty in this, the most laissez-faire city in America.

More than 2,100 strong, they crowded the corridors of Bally’s Casino and Resort to attend FreedomFest 2010, the largest-ever “non-political” gathering of libertarians.

They booed the leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties as cynical apostles of Big Government. They shared horror stories about the impact of federal spending and debt on their portfolios, while lingering at exhibits touting gold as a solid investment.

They listened intently as publisher Steve Forbes and Whole Foods founder John Mackey disclosed some secrets of their success.

“A great leader challenges the conventional,” said Forbes, who advocated a flat tax while running for president and insists it’s still a good idea.

Because he never took a business course in college, Mackey said, he didn’t know what “couldn’t be done.” Take, for example, making money while behaving in an ethical way and providing healthy food.

Economist and investment analyst Mark Skousen, the genial chairman and founder of FreedomFest, made sure attendees got their money’s worth July 8-11. The agenda was crowded with 164 speakers and more than 100 talks, debates and breakout sessions.

Heritage Foundation fellow Brian Walsh, co-author of the new book “One Nation Under Arrest,” raised many an eyebrow when he reported that Americans are subject to more than 4,400 federal criminal statutes. And that’s not accounting for “regulatory crimes,” so plentiful that the Congressional Research Service admits it can’t calculate the total.

At a reverential luncheon, Nathaniel and Barbara Branden waxed rhapsodic about Ayn Rand, author of “Atlas Shrugged” and high priestess of Objectivism. Rand was, they agreed, generous, sensitive, an almost hypnotic speaker, infinitely patient with “eager, inquiring minds.”

The entranced faces of young female acolytes in the audience dimmed considerably, though, when the Brandens admitted that Rand taught that man is defined by his relationship to reality, woman by her relationship to man.

“None of us are perfect,” Barbara conceded.

Leon Louw, executive director of South Africa’s Free Market Foundation, stunned listeners when he asked them to name the world’s fastest-growing economy of the past 30 years, and then supplied the answer: Botswana.

Africa was an economic disaster, Louw said, but many of the continent’s nations have moved steadily toward economic freedom.

Memo to President Obama: The finance minister of South Africa, governed by the Marxist African National Congress, has called government bailouts “immoral.”