Another Shot At Free Market Advocacy

Bruce Majors Freelance Writer
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For people wanting a vacation from non-stop election coverage, one advocacy group is inviting people to organize their own happy hour to escape it.

I, Whiskey,” is a short film that takes you to a cocktail hour at an upscale whiskey bar, Jack Rose, in the District of Columbia’s hipster Adams Morgan neighborhood.  Produced on an $80,000 budget crowd funded from 107 donors, the short has high production values, and looks like either an unusually long high-end whiskey commercial, or like several scenes from a sexy Hollywood drama set in a beautiful venue with shelves of hundreds of brands of whiskey climbing up exposed brick walls to a 20 foot ceiling. The venue, Jack Rose Dining Saloon, hosts a variety of creative events, including Buzzfeed’s annual White House Correspondent’s Dinner after-party.

A variety of happy customers and bartenders are interviewed about what whiskey means to them,  along with interviews with specialty producers like Rick Wasmund, whose Copper Fox Distillery makes an applewood aged whiskey in rural Virginia, and with Garret Peck, a historian whose recent book includes “Prohibition in Washington, D.C.” and “The Prohibition Hangover.”  Bill Thomas, the owner of Jack Rose, loves the film: “Amazing what they could capture in 8 minutes.  It’s a good balance of the history of whiskey making and of the modern whiskey drinker – they just captured the energy of whiskey culture.”  Asked if he thinks the short might lead film industry location scouts to consider the saloon for feature films, Thomas, who appears in the short, answered “I feel like I’ve already been in a major film.”

The film is a subtle celebration of the creativity and diversity of small start up businesses, like micro-breweries and small distillers – and of free market economies that allow them to flourish.

Producer Amanda France, of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free market advocacy group, is following up on a 2012 animated short she produced that has received 500,000 views.  “This is the second installment in CEI’s acclaimed I, Pencil film series.  I, Whiskey is the story of freedom and how the human spirit thrives when it has the freedom to connect, create, and innovate.”  Wasmund, one of the whiskey entrepreneurs featured in the film – who met his wife when she asked him what he was drinking and he answered “a whiskey I make” – was interviewed this weekend on RealClearRadio, an interview and news broadcast Ms. France also produces, aired on the IHeart radio app, and 13 terrestrial radio stations around the country.  Wasmund’s Copper Fox Distillery now has two plants and employs his mom and several other family members.

France, whose group produced the film with Passing Lane Films, says she hopes to get “a quarter of a million views in the first two months.”   Though she thinks the political philosophy of the film, which is so subtle some viewers may miss it, will appeal to the growing ranks of libertarian sympathizers who made Congressman Ron Paul and then Governor Gary Johnson household names and regular TV presences, she says the film has a broader appeal because it is “fun.  At CEI we like to work hard and play hard.  And I think this film will reach people who like to have fun beyond our usual work with policy studies and legal briefs.”

CEI founder Fred Smith appears as a bar patron in the film.  When he retired as the group’s head in 2013, he told the Washington Post: “I recognized that intellectuals were dour, and that the war was going to be a long one.  In warfare, you need R&R; in our world, that means having fun while you fight. And we do have fun.”

Garrett Peck, author of several history books on and also a tour guide on the history of the Prohibition era, says I, Whiskey “shows how much innovation and how much community – Americans tend to be social drinkers, drinking whiskey – or wine or beer – around a table.  Americans innovated when they started using corn, which is what they had, instead of the barley Scots used, creating the foundation for bourbon.”  When asked if he thinks the film is so subtle – and so beautiful – that viewers won’t get that it is trying to educate them, Peck answers: “I think the ideas are there – especially about innovation.”

The earlier short “I, Pencil,” was based on an influential 1958 essay by popular economics writer and educator Leonard Read, was a first person narrative, from a pencil’s point of view, of how it was made without any central planning, from wood, graphite, rubber, and clay transported from many different continents.  Thousands of students read the short essay in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.  Milton Friedman based an episode of his “Free to Choose” PBS series on it, and more recently it was the basis for an episode of NPR’s popular “Freakonomics” broadcast.

“I, Pencil,” along with a longer 70s film, “The Incredible Bread Machine,” were popular educational media for high school and junior high school students learning basic economics.  (A pre-political Ronald Reagan read the story Bread Machine was based upon on one of his broadcasts.)  France says people as far away as middle school teachers in Africa have asked her for transcripts of the “I, Pencil” film, and even though “I, Whiskey” has only been live on-line since midnight Tuesday, she’s already had a request from college professors for transcripts they can use in classrooms.  France says she’s “bracing,” in today’s climate, for someone to eventually complain that the film triggers people or promotes drinking, though no one has done so so far.

The film’s producers held a premier Wednesday at Jack Rose Saloon, as part of the whiskey Wednesday popular with whiskey aficionados – though the guests in attendance were heavy with D.C. policy wonks and lobbyists, like Grover Norquist – a frequent guest on The Daily Show and Real Time with Bill Maher – and his wife Samah.  But CEI is inviting people – some of whom might have been students who read “I, Pencil” – to contact them for the video and information and to hold their own viewing party next “whiskey” Wednesday, October 19.

Bruce Majors is a Fellow at the American Media Institute.