Introduction: Mark Skousen is the producer of FreedomFest, which will be held again this year in Las Vegas from July 10th through 13th. Dr. Skousen has had a diverse career. He has taught at Columbia Business School, served as president of the Foundation of Economic Education (FEE), the first free-market think tank, and has had a business school named after him (Grantham University). He and his family have lived in Washington, the Bahamas, London and New York. Mark Skousen publishes a free weekly e-letter called "Skousen's CAFÉ" that can be subscribed to at www.markskousen.com. Since 1980, Dr. Skousen has been Editor in Chief of Forecasts & Strategies, a popular, award-winning investment newsletter published by Eagle Publishing in Washington, DC. He is also editor of three trading services, Skousen Hedge Fund Trader, Skousen High Income Alert and Skousen Turnaround Trader. He earned his Ph.D. in economics and monetary history from George Washington University in 1977 and was an economic analyst for the CIA. Since then he has written over 25 books, including the forthcoming A Viennese Waltz Down Wall Street (Laissez Faire Books, 2013).
Daily Bell: We last sat down with you to discuss FreedomFest 2012 in July. How is FreedomFest 2013 shaping up?
Mark Skousen: It's like a growth stock and we expect a record crowd of over 2,000 people in July (10-13) in Vegas. So far over 1600 people have signed up, and our room block at Caesars Palace is completely sold out. But we can still take more registrations, and there are plenty of hotels surrounding Caesars Palace for $60 a night or less, so if your readers want to join us, please sign up at www.freedomfest.com.
And don't forget, if you drive to FreedomFest, parking is FREE at Caesars Palace and our hotels in Vegas.
Daily Bell: It's become THE place to meet – a focal point for libertarians and freedom lovers from around the world. What makes it so compelling?
Mark Skousen: The idea behind FreedomFest is to create a "world convention" of freedom lovers. It's never been done before, and it's exciting. We're all individualists going on own way, but we're all social animals and love to get together to learn, network, socialize and celebrate liberty. So we meet once a year in the laissez faire city of Las Vegas, and bring an intellectual feast to the entertainment capital of the word. All the freedom organizations and think tanks are coming this year – Cato, Heritage, Reason, FEE, FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, Heartland, Hillsdale and for the first time Fox News! The Washington Post calls us "the greatest libertarian show on Earth." We even have a film festival called Anthem.
There are two ways FreedomFest is distinct from other conferences: First, there's something for everyone – we have over 100 speakers, panels and debates on every subject imaginable: history, science & technology, geo-politics, economics, finance (a 3-day investment conference), healthy living (always popular), philosophy, music and dance, law and religion, films, you name it. No one is ever bored at FreedomFest. You create your own 3-day conference and choose between 10 different breakout sessions every hour! After 3 days, you are ready to take a break and get out on the dance floor at our gala Saturday night banquet and break loose!
Second, FreedomFest is an open forum. We encourage new writers, professors and experts to contact us to speak on a new book or a new idea, and if we have room, we put you on the program after a background check. You don't have to wait to be invited.
Daily Bell: Remind us what took place last year.
Mark Skousen: It was "wall to wall excitement," as I heard one attendee call it in the hallways…from yoga at 7 in the morning until the last Anthem film at 10 pm. We had over 2,000 attendees who heard over 150 speakers, including Senator Rand Paul, Judge Andrew P. Napolitano, Steve Forbes, John Mackey, Peter Schiff, Robert Kiyosaki ("Rich Dad, Poor Dad") and a host of financial gurus, authors and think tank experts. Steve Moore of the Wall Street Journal said that the Supreme Court's upholding of ObamaCare was "the most important and worst decision in the last 40 years." An SRO crowd heard Dinesh D'Souza talking about his film "2016: Obama's America," based on his bestselling book "The Roots of Obama's Rage." He warned that America could be facing another four years of a stagnating economy and further loss of liberty after Obama's re-election. Senator Rand Paul detailed his encounters with the TSA, and reported on his efforts to privatize and rein in the second most hated agency of the US government (behind the IRS). The irreverent anarcho-capitalist Doug Casey defied the establishment and the "anti-smoking Nazis" by lighting up a Cuban cigar in the Bally's Events Center during a panel discussion on the financial crisis. In the mock trial on Friday evening, "Wall Street on Trial," Steve Moore and his Wall Street star witnesses were found not guilty, 12-0, of malfeasance of the public trust! And at the Anthem film festival, "The Afghan Nightmare," produced and directed by Norwegian documentarian Klaus Erik Okstad, won the FreedomFest Grand Prize. Okstad came all the way from Norway to receive the award. In fact, we had attendees from all over the world, including South Africa, Australia, Argentina and The Netherlands, among other countries.
Plus we had our first wedding at FreedomFest! Brian and Valerie June tied the knot at our gala Saturday banquet. "We love FreedomFest and thought this would be the best place to get married – among the friends of liberty!" stated Brian.
Daily Bell: Any special guests you want to highlight? Steve Forbes and John Mackey (CEO, Whole Foods Market) were co-ambassadors last year. How about this year? Tell us about John Stossel.
Mark Skousen: Both Steve Forbes and John Mackey attend all three days, as do most of our speakers. It's that good. You won't see many conferences where the big-name speakers mingle with the attendees, but that's the advantage of FreedomFest. John loves it, especially the debates, and the exhibit hall, which he calls "the trade show for liberty." He gives a talk each year that is SRO: "The Whole Foods Diet: How to Live to be 100 Without Getting Cancer, Heart Disease, Diabetes, or a Stroke." This year one of his favorite authors is coming: T. Colin Campbell, Ph. D., America's #1 nutritional scientist and author of The China Study, will be speaking on "Why the Government, Science, and Big Pharma Aren't Telling you The Whole Truth." Our healthy living sessions are always popular.
Daily Bell: "2012 A World in Turmoil" was last year's theme. This year?
We're moving over to Caesars Palace, so we thought a good topic for this year would be "Are We Rome?" We have over a dozen experts and historians who will make comparisons between ancient Rome and the West, and whether we are going down the same road of inflation, taxation, regulation, war, free bread and circuses and cultural decay. Steve Forbes will start us off in our opening ceremonies at 5 pm on Wednesday, July 10, speaking on "Power Ambition Glory: The Stunning Parallels between the Ancient World and Today." Larry Reed, president of FEE, will speak on "The Fall of Rome and Modern Parallels." My wife Jo Ann, an English professor, will have a session on Greek and Roman mythology, and Valerie Durham will perform dances from that era. And we have Prof. Carl Richard, the nation's top expert on Greece and Rome, speaking on "How the Founders Were Influenced by Cicero, Cato and Roman Law." FreedomFest is taking a college history course in three days! Our closing panel on Saturday, July 13 will address the all important question, "Are We Rome? The Future of the West," with Senator Rand Paul, Jim Rogerx, Steve Forbes, Jenny Beth Martin and Wayne Root. And our gala Saturday night banquet and dance will be a lot of fun with the rock band and entertainers, "The Gladiators"!
Daily Bell: Remind us of how FreedomFest got started and how your participation evolved.
Mark Skousen: I first came up with the idea of a national convention for freedom lovers when I was president of FEE (Foundation for Economic Education), the oldest free-market think tank. No one had ever had a national convention before, and I thought it was time that we all came together. All the libertarian think tanks and organizations were going their separate ways, like a herd of cats, and meanwhile, we seemed to be losing the battle for little. As Ben Franklin warned, "Either we all hang together or we shall surely hang separately."
I also wanted to create a conference I wanted to attend, which means non-stop action, lots of debates, creative panels, on a variety of subjects, with lots of choices throughout the day. I always hate conferences where there's only one speaker going on and on about something I wasn't interested in. At FreedomFest, nobody is ever bored. There's always plenty of things to do. We even offer a "white mates in two" chess challenge every day. The first one to solve it wins an American eagle silver dollar (our symbol at FreedomFest).
Daily Bell: Highlights from past events? What debate is scheduled?
Mark Skousen: We have a dozen or so debates scheduled every year – we've debated evolution, religion, anarchy, immigration, capital punishment, etc. This year we have debates on "Tax havens, good or bad?"…. "Can you really beat the market?"…. "Violence in America" (gun control)…. "Did Christianity cause the fall of Rome?"…. "Climate change: Real threat or monumental hoax?"… and I will be debating Yaron Brook on "Altruism vs. Selfishness: What is the Ideal in Life and Business?" That should be a high-energy fight.
Our mock trial this year will be "The Republican Party on Trial," with Judge "Kennedy" (ReasonTV), prosecuting attorney Steve Moore, defending attorney Dinesh D'Souza and star witnesses Senator Rand Paul, Steve Forbes, Grover Norquist and Matt Kibbe. (Rumor has it that former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld might show up as a star witness for the Bush Doctrine – if he dares!)
Daily Bell: What are some of the serious issues to be discussed?
Mark Skousen: Besides the ones above, I'm excited to have Dr. Colin Campbell talking about his new book Whole: The Science of Nutrition, about how the medical establishment and big pharma are killing us through bad medicine, diet, unnecessary surgery, etc. He will be controversial.
We are also having an exciting panel called "Radical New Ways to Educate," with Daniel Greenberg, founder of the revolutionary Sudbury schools (look, kids, no classes!); Lori Bossy, president of the top Montessori school in Nevada; and Jo Thoburn, president of the Fairfax Christian School, the #1 Christian school in the country.
We also have a panel of "Safe Places to Live and Invest in a Dangerous World," with Doug Casey, Jack Reed (#1 real estate writer in the country) and Bobby Casey discussing their favorite places to hide.
Daily Bell: What is your take on the stock market generally these days? It's up a lot.
Mark Skousen: Wall Street could stand a correction, that's for sure. The Fed's easy money policies have played out for the past five years, and we've taken full advantage in my newsletter, "Forecasts & Strategies." But I think we're moving into stage two, with inflation and interest rates rising. But I don't think the bull market will end until we enter the third phrase, a credit crunch and an inverted yield curve, which caused a recession and bear market.
Daily Bell: What kind of financial workshops might take place at FreedomFest?
Mark Skousen: We offer a full 3-day investment seminar at FreedomFest, with top experts covering all aspects of investing. We even have a debate on "Best Asset Class: Stocks, Bonds, Gold/Commodities, or Real Estate?" with representatives of each. This year's experts include Alex Green (investment director extraordinaire at the Oxford Club), Bert Dohmen (Wellington Letter), Adrian Day (money manager with a great track record), Jack Reed (# 1 in real estate), John Browne (EuroPacific Capital) … and a new panel on "Austrian Economics for Investors," with money managers who use the Austrian business cycle theory to invest. We will also have experts on taxes, estate planning and offshore investing.
My new book, A Viennese Waltz Down Wall Street: Austrian Economics for Investors, published by Laissez Faire Books, will be out by then, and I will be speaking on my book at this year's big show.
But the highlight will be our "Billionaire Hedge Fund Panel," with commodity guru Jim Rogers (former partner with George Soros), supply side guru Art Laffer and Don Smith, one of the best hedge fund managers in the country (his fund was up 37% last year).
Daily Bell: Any focus on the EU or the euro? Do you have any general comments?
Mark Skousen: Yes, absolutely. We have several experts on Europe at FreedomFest, including John Golding (UK), Barbara Kohn (Austria) and Alexander Landia (Germany and Russia). I see the dollar rally continuing against the euro and the yen. Europe has yet to solve its problems and most countries have failed to adopt real austerity.
Daily Bell: Last year you focused on the election. What is your take on the Obama victory?
Mark Skousen: America has sold itself short. If the Republicans had put up a stronger candidate, the US would be on its way to higher growth and fewer fiscal problems. But now we're stuck with ObamaCare, etc.
Daily Bell: Any freedom-oriented films being focused on?
Mark Skousen: Yes, indeed. Last year the Anthem film festival room was packed. This year the judges have selected another group of fascinating documentaries and narratives: "Act of Terror," how civil liberties are being destroyed in England as a result of the 2005 terrorist attack in London… "Exiled in Vanderbilt," where the university has banned religious groups from campus… "The Last Week," the story of how abusive lawsuits have doomed the company that makes the red plastic gas containers in America… "America's Longest War," the war on drugs… and "Sick and Sicker," the story of the Canadian healthcare system and what it may mean for Americans under ObamaCare.
Daily Bell: Speaking of healthcare and Obamacare, do you have any comment?
Mark Skousen: Already private companies are switching from full-time employees to part-time workers to avoid the heavy costs of ObamaCare. Premiums are rising. Taxes are going up. It's a disaster. The only silver lining is that big companies are now imposing penalties on employees to encourage them to lose weight, go on a diet and be more healthy so the medical costs can be reduced.
Daily Bell: Last year you gave us some feedback on world hot spots. Let's try again: China and Asia? China is trying to inject even more freedom into its economy. How will that work out?
Mark Skousen: I don't think China can keep growing at lightning speed. The slowdown is expected. There could be social unrest. Every bull market has a correction from time to time. Like the US capitalist system, there are elements of genuine prosperity (technology, high saving rates) and artificial prosperity (easy money inflation) in China. That means a boom-bust cycle. We may be entering the bust phase soon.
Daily Bell: South America?
Mark Skousen: I'm demur to our experts who are doing a panel at FreedomFest on "Chavismo and Peronism: The Future of Latin America," with Jose Cordeiro, Roberto Salinas and Mark Klugmann.
Daily Bell: Is Mexico going to recover from these terrible drug wars?
Mark Skousen: A few months ago I met former Colombia president Uribe on how he ended the drug war in Colombia and he said it was by cracking down on the kingpins. Personally, I favor decriminalization of drugs in Mexico as the solution but I don't think that's on the table right now. Until the war on drugs ends, I wouldn't be traveling to Mexico.
Daily Bell: What's your perspective on a North American Union? Just conspiracy theory?
Mark Skousen: I don't think there should be an artificial border between Canada and the United States. What a waste of resources. Do you know it costs two to three times more to send a Fedex package to Toronto compared to Detroit? It's ridiculous. And isn't it time border guards on both sides stop harassing business travelers? Our culture is so similar, it's unnecessary and counterproductive.
Daily Bell: Can you ever envision Canada, Mexico and the US combined into one aggregate community? Would it be a good idea?
Mark Skousen: The sooner the better. But I'm not holding my breath, and I'm not running for office to make it happen.
Daily Bell: How's Canada's economy these days? Is it beginning to slow down? We've read it is.
Mark Skousen: Well, certainly commodity prices are weak, and to the extent that Canada depends on commodities, that might be the case.
Daily Bell: What about the US? Is this recovery real? It doesn't feel especially real. What about housing? Are we entering another bubble?
Mark Skousen: The US is largely experiencing an artificial recovery due to the Federal Reserve's easy money policies. I am impressed with how private corporations have cut costs, rebuilt their balance sheets and are in a strong cash position to weather the next downturn.
Daily Bell: How is Ben Bernanke, or his successor, going to deal with tightening after so much easing?
Mark Skousen: Phrase 2 (rising interest rates and inflation) and phrase 3 (credit crunch) are more difficult to deal with than phase 1 (recovery).
Daily Bell: What is the state of free-market Austrian economics these days? As a thought leader, are you satisfied?
Mark Skousen: Overall, I'm pretty pleased. The Austrians are no longer being ignored by the Keynesians, and are actually viewed as their primary opponent, calling them "Austerians," those who favor government retrenchment. In the popular rap songs produced by Russ Roberts at GMU, the debate is between Keynes and Hayek – not Friedman. It's quite an advance.
The Austrians are the only school that has a theory of asset bubbles and structural imbalances that have macroeconomic consequences. And Say's law (the supply side of macroeconomics) is getting more play. So it's all good. I'd like to see the textbooks adopt my Austrian macroeconomic statistic, Gross Domestic Expenditures (GDE), that I have developed in my textbook Economic Logic, which demonstrates that production and supply side technology and entrepreneurship are far more relevant than consumer demand and government spending.
I'm hoping George Gilder's new book Knowledge and Power, published by Regnery in late June, will become a bestseller. He focuses on these issues. He will be speaking on his new book at FreedomFest.
Daily Bell: Give us some investment insights. What is going on in the gold and silver markets? Are physical and paper gold diverging?
Mark Skousen: I gave a sell signal in late 2011, especially when I saw gold bugs predicting $2,500 or more for gold. I thought that gold and silver had moved up too far, too fast and were being overly promoted by new precious metals firms on TV. Now I think gold and silver are more reasonably priced, although they may still struggle in the face of higher interest rates.
Daily Bell: Mining stocks? They are down but will they rise again and if so when?
Mark Skousen: I think mining stocks look much more attractive, selling at low multiplies, and high dividend yields.
Daily Bell: Is gold finished for the next few years or should people still be buying physical gold and silver? How about the US stock market? Will the climb continue? Should people get in, stay out? Buy? Sell?
Mark Skousen: I'm 100 percent invested in a diversified portfolio of dividend-paying stocks and mutual funds, with very little gold or silver exposure at the present time. I see corrections along the way, but as the old saying goes on Wall Street, "bull markets climb a wall of worry."
Daily Bell: Let's return to Europe for a minute. Can Brussels persist or will the EU face a crack up?
Mark Skousen: I believe the EU leaders will do everything they can to keep the European Union and the euro going, and not allow any country to leave if they can help it.
Daily Bell: What about the financial tax? Will they impose it?
Mark Skousen: I thought they already did in France. How's that working out?
Daily Bell: Where does the euro go from here?
Mark Skousen: If rates keep going up in the US, I see the dollar strengthening and the euro weakening.
Daily Bell: Will Greece and the PIGS recover soon? If not, why not?
Mark Skousen: I don't think they will, as they have not really started to take their medicine, although some of the Spanish banks stocks do look enticing.
Daily Bell: Will Germany try to leave the EU?
Mark Skousen: Are you kidding? They are the EU.
Daily Bell: You told us last year that Europe and the US were suffering from an overload of Keynesian economics. Compare the two regions today, please.
Mark Skousen: Nothing has changed in that respect.
Daily Bell: Europe is backing away from austerity. Is that a good idea?
Mark Skousen: Did they ever really try it? From what I can see with IMF statistics, government spending as a percentage of GDP is still rising in European countries, except maybe some Eastern European countries like Estonia.
Daily Bell: How about the US?
Mark Skousen: The sequester only reduced the growth of government. States have adopted austerity, and the federal deficit is declining, largely due to new taxes coming in. I think that will last because the Republicans control the House and austerity is the name of the game.
Daily Bell: Does Obama have any idea of what he is doing?
Mark Skousen: Yes, of course. ObamaCare will be imposed, and can't be repealed. But Obama won't see any more reforms unless he works with the Republicans in the House.
Daily Bell: Compare Bush and Obama. Either better than the other?
Mark Skousen: The growth of government spending has actually been less under Obama! Bush was a disaster in almost every way – the wars, the deficits, federal education, welfare, etc.
Daily Bell: Would Romney have been better?
Mark Skousen: Romney has always been a winner in life, except for politics, so I'm not sure how well he would have done. Maybe the US is ungovernable now, and we are like Rome, on our way down.
Daily Bell: What is the state of politics in the US today? Good … bad … abysmal?
Mark Skousen: On the state level, it's doing much better. The Republicans controlling the House have kept the federal government from doing more harm. The scandals of the Obama administration are keeping his administration from pushing more radical measures. The biggest danger is the new statist federal judges he's appointing.
Daily Bell: Why is Congress so helpless? Or is its obstructionism actually a benefit?
Mark Skousen: Yes, most studies show that political gridlock is good.
Daily Bell: Does the Washington establishment have the will or competence to address the US's real issues? Is the dollar dead? Is the petrodollar dying due to shale oil? Will we have a global currency in the next few years or decades? Will it be a basket? Will it include gold?
Mark Skousen: No, the dollar is rallying – but mainly because things are worse in Europe, and Japan is deliberating inflating. There is no replacement for the dollar. Those who have been predicting the collapse of the dollar have been discredited. "Bears make headlines; bulls make money."
Daily Bell: Does the dollar have to weaken considerably for that to happen? How about the US's military might? Is the US weakening? How about the military-industrial complex? Too many wars? Will it eventually subside at least for the time being?
Mark Skousen: Yes, too many wars and excessive defense budget. Ben Franklin said it best: "The system of America [should be] commerce with all; war with none."
Daily Bell: Is the US really getting out of Afghanistan? What about the trend toward using mercenaries. Does it remind you of Rome in some sense, when the emperors began to employ extra curricular forces?
Mark Skousen: Yes, good comparison. But they are removing troops, which is good.
Daily Bell: Give us your take on the IRS scandal? Were you surprised?
Mark Skousen: Not at all. The IRS is the most feared and arrogant agency in the US, with the possible exception of the EPA, TSA and SEC. I know friends like Wayne Allyn Root, who has been harassed constantly by these bad guys.
Daily Bell: What kind of tax reform is necessary? Why so many scandals now?
Mark Skousen: We need to adopt Steve Forbes's flat tax plan; that would eliminate the abusive IRS, etc.
Daily Bell: Rand Paul appeared at the past FreedomFest. How is Rand doing politically? Can he address some of these issues?
Mark Skousen: Senator Rand Paul loves FreedomFest, and will be coming for the third year in a row. He brings his wife and staff. Yes, he will address these issues. We're hoping he will dress up in a toga, and come into the Augustus Ballroom in a chariot whipping four TSA agents! (But he has not yet confirmed!)
We are also having a panel on "The War Clause and the Constitution" and it might be interesting to get Senator Paul's take on the US war policy.
Daily Bell: Some final points about FreedomFest and where people can find info.
Mark Skousen: We have just posted our full program of speakers, panels and debates online under "agenda" at www.freedomfest.com.
FreedomFest is making history, and I encourage all your readers to join us. The idea of creating a freedom festival so big that we can't be ignored is thrilling. But it can only happen if everyone reading this acts, and stops making excuses for not coming. We even had a man postpone his family reunion so that he and his family could come to FreedomFest.
And please follow us on Facebook by going to our website. I post something new every day about FreedomFest – including this interview when it comes out. I'm a big fan of The Daily Bell!
Daily Bell: Any resources that people can acquire after the fact, like CDs or mp3s?
Mark Skousen: Yes, we will have CDs and mp3s of all the general and breakout sessions. Details can be found by going to the website.
Daily Bell: Any final points about your own activities or publications?
Mark Skousen: As you can tell, my staff and I have put in hundreds of hours to make this 3-day event the highlight of the year. In addition, I'm finishing up the 4th edition of my free-market textbook, Economic Logic, wrote an introduction to a new edition of Hayek's Prices and Production (go to www.lfb.org for more information) and, as noted above, just finished my latest book, A Viennese Waltz Down Wall Street. I also now offer a free weekly e-letter called "Investor's CAFÉ" that can be subscribed to at www.markskousen.com.
Daily Bell: Thanks for sitting down with us again.
Mark Skousen: Thank you. I enjoyed it. And see you at FreedomFest. Fly there, drive there, bike there, be there!
Mark Skousen is a busy fellow, but we are glad he took time out to speak to us about FreedomFest, which sounds like it will be as good this year as in past years – and even better in some regards, as he is expecting a record turnout of over 2,000.
With FreedomFest upcoming, a textbook on economic logic in its fourth edition and a new book in the works, A Viennese Waltz Down Wall Street, he obviously doesn't have much time to chat except on topics with which he is deeply engaged. FreedomFest has obviously benefited from Dr. Skousen's engagement.
While Dr. Skousen is occasionally controversial, he ought to be proud of FreedomFest, which has grown into a preeminent gathering of like-thinkers celebrating the concentrated knowledge of liberty.
It's a great achievement that is only getting better with time and repetition. We wish him the best with his many endeavors and hope this year's festival achieves the same level of success and satisfaction in the past.
We look forward to reading his new book, as well.