Well, it’s that time again! School is back and the new semester is here! For all students, specifically freshman, here is your chance to drop the plethora of economic knowledge you have been accumulating this summer. It is now the time to shine and bring the discussion of free markets into largely interventionist-orientated classes. We have all been there: staying up to 3am reading some economics book from Hayek, Mises, or starting with Hazlitt, Bastiat, or Paul. You read the book and understand the material, even remembering specific quotes that hammer the beauty of free markets in one concise line. The next day you walk into economics 101 with Professor Keynesian and get the classic tax-and-spend line. Your eyes light up as you know it’s time to stand tall as a free-market philosopher in a barren land of interventionists. It is time to show why the professor has the story wrong and why your fellow classmates should listen to you. It is time to begin paving your own path on the road to the market! Here are some tips for effectively debating for markets in economics, politics, and other classes.
1. Speak Your Mind
Questioning a professor and having a back-and-forth dialogue on certain issues is extremely beneficial to personal growth. Nothing helps a student realize whether he or she know a topic better than trying to defend it. Students should challenge themselves to step outside their comfort zone and defend the free markets when their professors spew interventionist rhetoric onto unassuming students. College should be all about questioning intellectual authority, coming to one’s own opinions, and finding a personal track. It is a brave and just thing to speak your mind and contrast the professor’s viewpoints. Are you nervous about being questioned and put on the spot? Merely ask strategic questions in an inquisitive manner. If the professor is talking about Keynes’ contributions to economic thought, remark that you’ve heard he was contrasted by “some guy named Hayek.” You don’t need to provide the Hayek lesson; just provide the spark and the match for the professor to light. Put the professor on their toes to bring up libertarians and market solutions.
2. Discover the Professor’s Approach
Many students are fearful of taking on the professor because they think the difference in opinion will be reflected in their grades. The best way to avoid this is asking past students who took that professor. Word of mouth regarding reputation or RateMyProfessor.com does a great job in filtering out who will be responsive to debate and who will not appreciate new opinions. Always do your homework on your professors.
3. Students on Economic Freedom
Once one student speaks up to support economic freedom, other students in the class will do the same. This domino effect will result in the students having the confidence to defend their personal philosophies and hopefully a more open, liberty-leaning class. Numerous students remain quiet because they are fearful people will judge them, criticize them or ostracize them for their opinions. Once one student makes it clear the class is open to a range of opinions, other students will begin to participate.
4. The Game Against You
From my experience, free-market students have nothing to lose when talking about markets in their economic classes. If a professor is not pro-liberty, then the game is already stacked against the student. Because the professor is an intellectual authority figure, a student of free-markets can have the most airtight argument possible and, even if the student wins on the issue, the majority of apathetic student will align with the professor. It’s natural. Professors should know more than students and therefore they are given the benefit of the doubt. This occurs a lot more in general courses where students are forced to take a political science or economics introductory course. But, don’t feel bad when you don’t get a round of applause from your fellow students. If you are stuck in a general course with apathetic students just looking to regurgitate professor’s notes and get an A, then don’t feel bad if you don’t find support in the class. When there is nothing to lose, there is no reason not to stand up for what you believe.
5. Expand the Club
One of the best ways to bring new members to club meetings is finding pro-liberty students in classes. By talking about libertarian ideas in economics or political science classes, the student interested in libertarianism, free-markets, or natural rights hears another student with similar views. Once this bond is created, students with similar ideas will gravitate towards each other. If you notice a libertarian-leaning student in a class, talk to them after the class and discuss the pro-liberty group on campus. Now there will be backup for support of free-markets in class and a new member at meetings!
6. Remain Respectful
While you may disagree with the professor, it is of the utmost importance to show respect. Debating or discussing with a professor is a lot different from arguing. Despite intellectual differences, the professor must be respected. If the discussion seems to be getting heated, just respectfully state you disagree and would be interested in coming in to discuss the issue during office hours. Nobody likes a student who takes class time debating a professor with snarky comments and snide remarks. Keep it classy and keep it respectful.
7. Change the Dialogue
Professors will change the tone of their lectures when they understand students in the class react to certain people or ideas. If a professor understands a student has a keen interest in markets or certain libertarian thinkers, they will gear the material to that specific audience. A class can severely shift it’s normal discussions as long as the pro-liberty students show they are visible and participate in classes.
8. Office Hours
If debating isn’t your thing, emailing the professor or visiting them during office hours works great too. While you lose the chance to persuade others, you can get on the good side of the professor and work on personal debates without the fear of being in front of others. Also, it is always a positive to develop a relationship with professors.
The importance of the free-market debate lies with those students who are uncomfortable speaking up. It’s for the student in the back who has read articles about unrestricted markets or the student who doesn’t understand why government feels they can fix everything. It is for the student questioning government interference in the markets but hasn’t heard the arguments against it. These are the students you are trying to appeal to when you talk about liberty in class. I have gained tremendous experience from taking on professors. If a professor is open-minded and loves to see students grow in their intellectual journey they will immensely respect a student who tries to debate or question them. From political science to sociology, it is fun, helpful, and exciting to debate professors. These tips are great for students in classes with professors that are not explicitly pro-liberty. If a professor is really open to the ideas of liberty, though, request free books through SFL and ask to hand them out in the class. With these tips, students will be better qualified to use their newly found economic knowledge and debate professors and students effectively in class. Now, go out and become a trail blazer in the economic conversation in your classes!