I'm really happy with the conference on "Freedom, Commerce, and Peace: A Regional Agenda." We had Georgians and Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians, Armenians and Azeris, Iranians and Iraqis, Romanians and Moldovans, and on and on...28 nations in all.
The first discussion of the last day of the conference was of a high order, with Robert Lawson speaking on the Economic Freedom of the World Report and Cato's new Senior Fellow Andrei Illarionov offering a high-level critique of methodology and suggestions for improvements. The discussion was very scientific and really focused attention on the issues of explaining the relationship between liberty and well being. Ricardo Martinez Rico, former Deputy Minister for the Budget of Spain, gave a fascinating and practical guide to how Spain managed to get its state budget under control, along with concrete proposals for the assembled reformers from Eurasia.
The three workshops (organizing a think-tank, involving free media in public information campaigns, and using the economic freedom of the world data to promote reform) went well, as did Johan Norberg's presentation on the environmental case for property rights, which moved participants to avoid environmental disasters by promoting transferrable rights in fisheries, forests, and other natural resources. Some other highlights were former Croatian Justice Minister Vesna Skare-Ozbolt's presentation on "Improving the Rule of Law" and the presentation and discussion of Warren Coats's paper on "Creating Monetary Stability and Financial Sector Freedom." (Ok, the others were good, too, notably the energetic presentation by my friend from Belarus, Jaroslav Romanchuk, on how to convince the public of the benefits of liberty.)
The papers will be collected and edited over the coming months; my plan is to publish them in English and in Russian editions.
Finally, the concluding banquet address by former Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar was outstanding — the perfect rousing and inspiring conclusion to the conference.
I'm confident that this conference will go a long way toward creating and strengthening a network of classical liberal reformers throughout Eurasia, all armed with practical information and advice on how to promote the rule of law, individual liberty, and peace. And I'm so, so, so happy about it — especially now that the work's over.
I took the day off on Sunday and took a long trip with other foreign participants to Kakheti to visit ancient Georgian churches, see the countryside, and taste the local wines. The churches were remarkable, the countryside showed how important economic growth is and how much (it's currently running about 11%) will be necessary to overcome the legacy of Soviet poverty (as shown by the ruined churches we visited). But the process is clearly underway, as evidenced by the rationalization of and improvements to the wine industry. In addition to the natural beauty and the remarkably hospitable people, the wine and food in Kakheti were excellent. (I'm a big fan of Georgian wines. They're excellent. If you have a chance to try them, ask for the dry wines of Mukuzani or Sapaveri.)