I don’t really know where to begin on this one, and I don’t think I have ever packed so much into one week ever. First out, I should explain… The Institute for Humane Studies [IHS] is a libertarian/free-market organization based in Washington, DC. If you don’t know what libertarianism is, then look it up. No, seriously, go on, I’ll wait. The institute is funded by donors. Rich people who want the political minds of tomorrow to know why libertarianism works. The seminars are therefore designed to get people involved in libertarian politics, to educate you about the principles behind and the benefits of free markets and small government. This particular seminar, at Towson University just outside of Baltimore, was funded by a single donor, and I should probably start by thanking him for paying such a vast sum of money so that I might enjoy a week of stimulating political debate with a bunch of intellectuals, because, thanks to him and his wallet, everything is free. And when I say everything, I mean everything. Food, travel, lodging… alcohol.
And that is where the fun began. After a day of lectures, discussions and enough food to feed a normal person for a week, we enter what is called the “social”. This begins at about 10:30pm, and involves getting all sixty of us into a conference room, introducing us to a bunch of bartenders they have hired specially for us, and telling us that the supply of beer is endless. I didn’t like beer half an hour ago. I do now (although, it’s American beer and tastes like water, which, I admit, probably doesn’t count). There are also free cookies.
Anyway, the official social goes on until midnight, when we traipse back to the dorm building en masse, locate another conference room and set it up for beer pong. The highlight of this (for me) is that we are using the legendary American RED CUPS that I have only ever seen in movies. My life just became that little bit more complete. Although the free beer was limited to the official social, we had all, naturally, been to the liquor store in our lunch hour (where 750ml of Smirnoff, available in infinite flavours, is the equivalent of £8), so all is not lost, and we can party on until we realise we have to be up for breakfast in 4 hours and prepare mind-blowing questions for a renowned economist shortly after. Sleep. Repeat X7.
Now, I know I’ve made it seem like it was all about the frivolity, but it wasn’t. I’ve learned more in this one week than I ever did in a whole semester at University. It’s been the most mentally stimulating experience of my life, being taught by people I could only dream of being taught by, challenging my thinking in ways it’s never been challenged before. I’ve made friends, good friends that I will stay in touch with, from all over the world, mingled with millionaires at the donor’s reception at the CATO institute (probably the swankiest think tank in DC), and been reprimanded by Baltimore Police Force for setting off illicit pyrotechnics. The campus at Towson was beautiful, the food was amazing, I had my first ever roommate experience (which was great fun for a week, and my roommate was great, but I will never understand how an American student can live in the same room as somebody else for their entire course). We spent our free day in Baltimore just chilling out, which was perfect (I will dedicate a post to this shortly), and then they went and gave us about £100 worth of textbooks (only downside of this being that I have to cart them across America for the next 2 weeks) and tell us that we will forever be part of the IHS alum, which will no doubt be beneficial to us in the future.
In a nutshell, I had a fucking epic time, and I do not want to leave. Thank you IHS.