I have always been fascinated by the idea of the Peace Corps. Several friends of mine have served and really enjoyed their experiences. It seems to me that a free-market or libertarian peace corps-type organization would be very effective both for participants as well as for the image of the libertarian/classical liberal/free-market “movement” in general.
Individual participants would benefit by expanding their worldview through real-word experience. Instead of, Hayek says this or we can see that individuals respond to market prices in this way, an person could say, I spent two years living in a small village in Sub-Saharan Africa working on a private microfinance project or helping to eradicate Malaria. Many libertarians are quite intelligent and have all the book-learnin’ necessary to defend their policy positions, but can’t really point to personal experiences to back up their thinking. Too, libertarian academics, think tanks, etc. can give a budding classical liberal all the intellectual ammunition (books, studies, etc.) to build a coherent theory of individual liberty, but not make the case from the heart, from a short one or two-year stint spent applying free-market policy prescriptions in another state or, better, another country.
Some may object that this type of organization would be conceding too much. That we don’t want to make emotional arguments or become “missionaries” for laissez-faire capitalism. It seems to me that exactly the opposite is true. Like my old boss, Fred Smith, always used to tell me, “No one cares what you know, until they know you care.” I think that a lot of us are content to know we’re right, rather than reaching out to folks around the world in ways that might not be comfortable for us.
This suggestion is not meant to downplay the work that is already being done by organizations like the Mercatus Center’s excellent EnterpriseAfrica! or other efforts to influence government policy to alleviate poverty and end suffering. This work is important and ought to be carried out. I just worry that it’s still a bit too academic for most folks. There seems to be room for a free-market peace corps where volunteers of any age or occupation could live for one to two years helping to build microfinance centers, teach school or even build basic infrastructure like wells, roads, etc. Such a group of volunteers could be incorporated into the more academic development programs in some places and exist independently in others.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this for the past week or so, and I’m probably not the first one to come up with something like this. Still, I thought that I’d throw it out there and see what kind of response this idea would bring. So, thoughts, criticisms, etc.?