Antigua Forum by 8d4fP1



                                      Antigua Forum
                         By Dr. Bernardo M. Villegas, Ph.D. (Harvard)

     A week before world leaders met in the last days of January in Davos, Switzerland, I was

in the beautiful and historical city of Antigua in Guatemala, meeting a much smaller group of

influential thinkers and policy makers from different parts of the world. Last January 19 to 21,

the Antigua Forum was held for the first time, convoking some 30 individuals interested in

maximizing the freedom of individual economic initiative in all important sectors of economic

life. Experiences from about 20 countries coming from all the continents of the world were

shared in the most active and participative manner about the freedom of enterprise in such areas

as education, health, finance, telecom, ports, pensions, property titles, labor, family policies,

crime legislation, autonomous development zones, domestic and international trade. There were

Deputy Prime Ministers, past and present; top officials of nongovernmental organizations

involved in microcredit and other services addressed to the poorest of the poor; heads of think

tanks; university professors; members of parliament; ministers of finance, the economy, defense,

justice, and infrastructure; and a Nobel laureate in economics, Dr. Vernon Smith, who is a

pioneer in experimental economics.

     The Antigua Forum is a project undertaken by the Universidad Francisco Marroquin

located in the former capital of Guatemala, Antigua, in collaboration with John Templeton

Foundation and Earhart Foundation. The objective of this annual forum is to create a small

gathering of reformers from around the world who are committed to policies based on classical

liberal principles. As stated in the invitation letter of Giancarlo Ibarquen, President of the

Universidad Francisco Marroquin, "The idea is to create a unique learning environment for these

reformers, with the goal of improving the chances of success for market-liberal policies that

advance individual liberty and human well-being. We will examine specific questions, such as

why certain reforms worked and others failed, what we can learn from both types of experiences,

what conditions best facilitate reform, how objections and obstacles were overcome, and much


     Having attended numerous international conferences of policy makers, reformers and

academics in the past, I can truly say that the Antigua Forum exceeded my highest expectations.

From the very first night of the conference, maximum effectiveness of the two-day workshop

was guaranteed by the most creative approach followed by the facilitators of getting each

participant thoroughly acquainted with the backgrounds, experiences, expectations and possible

contributions of all the other participants. Each participant was able to hear from everyone of the

other participants address these three questions: 1) what have I done in the areas of policy

reforms?; 2) what do I expect to get out of this Forum?; and 3) what can I contribute to it? The

participants were then immediately distributed to small working groups addressing very practical

questions of policy reforms. There were no speeches nor academic papers presented. Maximum

use was made of the "post it" technology, with an ample supply of blackboards and post-it sheets

of paper on which the participants freely scribbled questions, answers, references, experiences,

and any relevant information that could enlighten the workshop discussions. Then there were

plenary sessions in which participants in the various workshops reported some of the main

findings and suggestions for the benefit of every one. There were, of course, clashes of opinions

but each one was focused on the main objective of the forum, which was to come out with

practical solutions to the problem of maximizing personal freedom and responsibility in

economic life.

     Participants were very conscious of the bad name that markets have acquired as a result of

the ongoing Great Recession. The discussions, however, did not get polarized in the way the last

Davos Forum got polarized. As reported in the International Herald Tribune (January 28-29,

2012), the benefits of globalization and trade were questioned by some participants in the Davos

Forum:    "...there was a wider recognition that the traditional Davos focus on the benefits of

globalisation and trade had a social cost. While it has been good for highly educated and mobile

executives, many of whom flock to the forum, the west's unskilled workers have suffered. The

flip side of people enjoying cheaper goods at home is loss of jobs at home. The flipside of

technology and productivity is tremendous job churn and insecurity (quotation from Lord

Mandelson)." There were the usual references to the tension between maximizing value for the

share holders and treating corporate social responsibility as core to the very business of every

enterprise. In fact, the ghost of Milton Friedman continued to hover over the Davos Forum when

a participant, Mr. Banerji, remarked: "Generally companies are poor instruments of social policy

and should stay away from that. Good companies raise capital from markets, allocate it to

projects and make profits along the way. If they did that well, there would be no problems."

     In contrast, participants in the Antigua Forum were freed from the usual terminology of

free markets and globalization. There was a clear realization that markets were only instruments

to allow the maximum freedom of enterprise and the exercise of the fundamental human right of

individual economic initiative which should be at the same level as the freedom to life, freedom

of religion, freedom of expression and other freedoms found in the U.N. Declaration of Human

Rights. No one denied that markets do not always guarantee this freedom of enterprise because

of the existence of cartels, monopolies and other practices--initiated by either the State or the

private sector--to curtail freedom of entry or exit. It was also recognized that markets--no matter

how free--fail in some instances to address the needs of the poorest of the poor, which instances

require the active intervention of either the State or civil society. The most important insight that

I got from my participation in the Antigua Forum was that the effort should focus away from the

fight for free markets towards freedom itself: "How do we make the fight for free markets more

about 'freedom' than 'markets.'" The various experiences shared and solutions proposed did

indeed focus not on free markets but on such freedoms as "freedom of entry", "freedom to fail",

"freedom of parents to educate their own children," "freedom to avail of credit even among the

poorest of the poor," etc. We came out from the Antigua Forum with very clear objectives to

promote the freedom of individual economic initiative in various sectors of the economy in our

own respective countries.

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