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José Piñera Inspires Students to Defeat Poverty with Liberty During Neal B. Freeman Lecture

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TFAS students are armed with the ideas of liberty and ready to take on poverty following Dr. José Piñera’s Neal B. Freeman Lecture on June 25 at George Mason University.

The audience of more than 300 TFAS students listen to Piñera’s story of conquering poverty with liberty in Chile.

“It’s not vague, well-intentioned ideas that change the world,” Pinera told students. “You have to study hard, you have to be rigorous. You have to understand economics, and you have to understand society and political forces. And, you have to use poetry to inspire the people and introduce these concepts.”

By the end of his talk, students were ready to answer his challenge as they rushed the stage to shake his hand and ask more questions.

It’s not vague, well-intentioned ideas that change the world. You have to study hard, you have to be rigorous. You have to understand economics, and you have to understand society and political forces. And, you have to use poetry to inspire the people and introduce these concepts.” – Dr. José Piñera

Piñera, a Chilean economist and one of the nation’s famous “Chicago Boys” who were influenced by Milton Friedman and others at the University of Chicago, captivated the audience of more than 300 students as he shared how his study of free-market economics and America’s founding principles taught him the secret to ending poverty and bringing prosperity to Chile and the world.

Piñera shares a map showcasing the dramatic economic boom in Chile following the country’s free-market reforms.

“I decided to study economics because I had this dream that [Chile] could overcome this situation in which 50% of Chileans couldn’t sleep at night because they were hungry, they were poor … I studied economics to understand how you can defeat poverty,” said Piñera.

In the 1970s, Piñera studied at Harvard University where he earned both master’s and doctorate degrees in economics. But economics wasn’t all that Piñera studied. He told students, “I spent much of my time at Harvard trying to understand the secret of America – how could this nation be so successful, so free? I discovered that one of the main reasons was, of course, the Founding Fathers and the way they designed the institutions of this country.”

Changing a country, defeating poverty and lifting people out of poverty is the most beautiful thing. I dedicate my life now to share this experience around the world because I do believe these are universal ideas … People want to be free. People can be lifted from poverty with freedom.” – Dr. José Piñera

Following his remarks, TFAS students ask Dr. Piñera their questions.

After earning his Ph.D., Piñera felt a moral duty to go back to Chile and help his country. He made it his mission to combine “Chicago Boy” free-market economics with the Founding Father’s wisdom to create a republic and establish rule of law. He began to speak on television, explaining how with reforms, Chile could double its rate of growth and defeat poverty. His words caught the attention of the Chilean president and Piñera was soon appointed the minister of labor and social security when he was only 29 years old.

“I saw this as an opportunity to convert my dreams into a reality,” he told students. Piñera began what he called a “radical program” of implementing reforms and introducing liberty to Chile with a focus on eliminating poverty. The changes created an economic surge, quadrupling Chile’s economic output in 40 years and reducing the poverty rate from 50% to only 8%.

“Those numbers mean saving lives,” Piñera told students. “It means liberating people from the silent desperation of misery, of children dying and health problems.”

Students continue the conversation with Piñera long after the lecture concludes.

Piñera told students that contrary to supporters of socialism and others who accuse the free market of creating inequality, it is the best system for lifting up all people and creates social mobility. Using Venezuela as an example, Piñera demonstrated to students how Chile’s free-market economy and liberty-focused policies have made the country a magnet for hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans fleeing the socialist policies that have destroyed their country.

“Changing a country, defeating poverty and lifting people out of poverty is the most beautiful thing,” said Piñera. “I dedicate my life now to share this experience around the world because I do believe these are universal ideas … People want to be free. People can be lifted from poverty with freedom.”

TFAS student David Smith ’19 called Piñera’s talk the highlight of his TFAS experience.

“My own career goals are very ambitious and sometimes they can feel very unrealistic for a college student,” said Smith. However, Piñera’s talk motivated him to work hard so that he too can impact change.

“To see that [Piñera] was able to come to the United States, get an education – at Harvard no less – understand economics and politics, and then go back to his home country, fix it, and later make it his life’s work to implement this successful system in other countries is just absolutely, mind-bogglingly amazing.”

Later in the week, Piñera addressed attendees of the TFAS Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., where he imagined what lessons the Founding Fathers would share with today’s world leaders and continued telling his story as a world ambassador for American principles of liberty and free markets.

The annual Neal B. Freeman Lecture was established by generous TFAS supporter, businessman and political writer Neal Freeman. The goal of the lecture is to bring effective and engaging speakers to talk to TFAS students on the principles of a free society, free markets, personal responsibility and virtue. Past speakers include Lawrence Reed, John Stossel, George Will and Judge Andrew Napolitano.

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