Free Enterprise Speaker Series

Center for the Study of Free Enterprise - Enterprise Speaker Series


Held three times per semester, WCU’s Free Enterprise Speaker Series offers a forum for the campus and community to explore all points of view on important issues of the day, hear from renowned experts from a variety of fields, and understand multiple perspectives through civil, informed, and fruitful discourse.

The Series gives WCU students direct access to leading thinkers on the importance of liberty and entrepreneurship to human flourishing. The Series is free and open to the public and is publicized through WCU and regional media.

Fall 2017 Series

Can Businesses Choose Customers Based on Sexual Orientation? A Constitutional Dialogue
Tuesday, September 5, 5:00-6:15 pm in the U.C. Theater

Enterprise Speaker Series: Religious Freedom or Discrimination


The topic of this discussion will be the U.S. Supreme Court case (arguments to be heard this fall, ruling expected next summer) Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which a Colorado baker refused for religious reasons to create a wedding cake for a same-sex marriage. The Court will decide whether businesses can refuse customers based on religious and other freedoms, or if businesses are required under anti-discrimination laws to provide services to ceremonies without preference regarding sexual orientation.

A recent article in the New York Times provides additional background on this case. The main speaker is Robert A. Levy, a constitutional attorney and Chairman of the libertarian Cato Institute. The respondent is WCU’s own Todd Collins, professor of political science and Director of the Public Policy Institute. This is a very important topic, and our two speakers each have expert grasps of this issue. This should be very informative for the campus community. We look forward to seeing you there!

Read more about this event

Free Enterprise Speaker Robert A. Levy


Robert A. Levy is chairman of the board of directors at the Cato Institute. He also sits on boards of the Institute for Justice, the Federalist Society, and the George Mason law school.

He received his Ph.D. in business from the American University in 1966, then founded CDA Investment Technologies, a major provider of investment information and software. At age 50, after leaving CDA in 1991, Bob went to George Mason, where he was chief articles editor of the law review and class valedictorian. He received his JD degree in 1994. The next two years he clerked for Judge Royce Lamberth on the US District Court and Judge Douglas Ginsburg on the US Court of Appeals, both in Washington, DC.

For many years, Bob was an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University. His writing has appeared in the New York TimesWall Street JournalUSA TodayWashington PostNational Review, and many other publications. He has discussed public policy on national radio and TV programs, including ABC’s Nightline, Fox’s The O’Reilly Factor, PBS’s Newshour, and NBC’s Today Show. Bob’s latest book, co-authored with William Mellor and published in 2008, is The Dirty Dozen: How 12 Supreme Court Cases Radically Expanded Government and Eroded Freedom. Bob served as co-counsel in District of Columbia v. Heller, the successful Supreme Court challenge to D.C.’s gun ban.

Free Enterprise Speaker Dr. Todd Collins


Dr. Todd Collins is the Steed Distinguished Professor in Public Policy in the Department of Political Science and Public Affairs at Western Carolina University.

He earned a JD from UNC-Chapel Hill, a Ph.D. from the University of Georgia. Dr. Collins also serves as the director of the Public Policy Institute at WCU, a nonpartisan and independent research and outreach organization that works closely with community partners in the Western North Carolina region.

Dr. Collins’s research focuses on law and courts, constitutional law, and judicial behavior. Dr. Collins’s publications appear in numerous political science journals, law reviews, and media outlets.

How Legislation Affects Beer, Wine, and Distilled Spirits in North Carolina
To be Scheduled for the first week of November, details TBD.

Speaker Series Archive

Previous Speaker Series

Explore our previous speakers, their topics, and resources to continue on the discourse in the sections below. 


Thursday February 16, 6:30-8:00 p.m., Blue Ridge Conference Center

Michelle Albert Vachris, professor of economics at Christopher Newport University, will present a talk based on her recent co-authored book Pride and Profit: The Intersection of Jane Austen and Adam Smith. Adam Smith was a mid-18th-century philosopher who is best known as the founder of modern economics. His work on economics and trade policy was built on his earlier work on moral philosophy, namely his first book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

This book constructs a system for understanding how humans acquire and apply moral reasoning to daily life, in pursuit of a good life. A good life depends on developing habits of virtue and propriety that direct and controls one’s ambition, both in commercial and an ethical life. Writing a half-century after Smith, Jane Austen’s novels similarly provide timeless insight into the practice of virtues and vices. Austen presents themes of self-command, of being other-directed, and of cultivating prudence, benevolence, and justice against vanity, pride, and greed. Vachris has written about Austen’s novels as reflecting Smith’s ideas on self-command, prudence, benevolence, justice, impartiality, vanity, pride, and greed. Importantly, by channeling Adam Smith, Austen’s colorful stories and characters advance new insights into Smith, as they embellish, refine, and further explain his ideas.

About the Speaker: Michelle Albert Vachris is Professor of Economics at Christopher Newport University. She earned a B.A. in Economics from the College of William and Mary and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Economics from George Mason University. Before arriving at CNU, she was an economist with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in the International Price Program where she worked on export and import price indexes and purchasing power parities. She has since served as a consultant on international statistics for the BLS and the International Monetary Fund. Dr. Vachris is a past-president and Distinguished Fellow of the Virginia Association of Economists and co-editor of the Virginia Economic Journal. Her publications include articles and book chapters on public choice economics, teaching pedagogy and economics in literature. Her latest publication is Pride and Profit: the Intersection of Jane Austen and Adam Smith co-authored with Cecil E. Bohanon.


Monday February 20, 2017, 4:00-5:30 p.m

Co-hosted with the Department of Political Science / Public Affairs and the International Studies Program.

The international trafficking of heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana and other drugs, with the U.S. being a major distribution destination, is a highly lucrative criminal activity and focus of intense law enforcement intervention. The Drug Enforcement Administration cites recent investigations conducted with local, state, federal and international partners that have led to arrests of major international criminals, while the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports increasing health-related problems, including addiction, drugged driving, and infectious disease. The forum will grapple with these issues and provide viewpoints on possible solutions.

Presentations by:

  • Angela Dills, Gimelstob-Landry Distinguished Professor of Regional Economic Development, on “The Economics of Drug Prohibition.”
  • Kimberlee Hall, assistant professor in the Environmental Health Program, on “Drug Abuse and the Public Health Response.”
  • Al Kopak, assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice, on “The Limitations of Law Enforcement.”

A Conversation with Donald J. Boudreaux

Monday March 13, 2017

Donald J. Boudreaux is a Senior Fellow with the F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, a Mercatus Center Board Member, and a professor of economics and former economics-department chair at George Mason University. He holds the Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center. He specializes in globalization and trade, law and economics, and antitrust economics.

Boudreaux is committed to making economics more accessible to a wider audience, and he has lectured across the United States, Canada, Latin America, and Europe on a wide variety of topics, including antitrust law and international trade. He is the author of the books Hypocrites and Half-Wits: A Daily Dose of Sanity from Cafe Hayek and Globalization. His articles appear in such publications as the Wall Street Journal and US News & World Report as well as numerous scholarly journals. He writes a blog (with Russell Roberts) called Cafe Hayek and a regular column on economics for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Weekend Exploring Liberty: The Law and Economics of Crime, Vice, and Policing

Friday March 31 & Saturday April 1, WCU at Biltmore Park

WCU students will join students from universities across the Carolinas for this two-day installment.

Author Talk: Justice at a Distance: Extending Freedom Globally

Monday November 7, 2016

Philosopher Fernando Teson will present a talk based on his book, co-authored with Loren E. Lomasky (Cory Professor of Philosophy, University of Virginia), Justice at a Distance: Extending Freedom Globally.

The current global-justice literature starts from the premise that world poverty is the result of structural injustice mostly attributable to past and present actions of governments and citizens of rich countries. As a result, that literature recommends vast coercive transfers of wealth from rich to poor societies, alongside stronger national and international governance. Justice at a Distance, in contrast, argues that, with the exception of immigration restrictions, global injustice is largely home-grown by foreign leaders restricting their own people’s freedoms, and that these native restrictions to freedom lie at the root of poverty and stagnation. The book emphasizes free markets in goods, services, and labor as an ethical imperative, freeing people especially in impoverished countries to pursue their personal projects, and as the one institutional arrangement capable of alleviating poverty. Justice at a Distance is supported by a robust economic literature and covers poverty, trade, immigration (including the brain drain argument), the nature of states, war, and aid. The talk will focus mostly on the economic and moral argument for free trade and liberal immigration.

About the Speaker: Fernando Tesón, a native of Buenos Aires, is the Tobias Simon Eminent Scholar at Florida State University College of Law. He is known for his scholarship relating political philosophy to international law (in particular his defense of humanitarian intervention), political rhetoric, and global justice. He has authored Justice at a Distance: Extending Freedom Globally (Cambridge University Press, 2015) [with Loren Lomasky]; Rational Choice and Democratic Deliberation (Cambridge University Press 2006) [with Guido Pincione]; Humanitarian Intervention: An Inquiry into Law and Morality (3rd edition fully revised and updated, Transnational Publishers 2005); A Philosophy of International Law (Westview Press 1998); and dozens of articles in law, philosophy, and international relations journals and collections of essays. Before joining FSU in 2003 he taught for 17 years at Arizona State University. He has served as visiting professor at Cornell Law School, Indiana University School of Law, University of California Hastings College of Law, the Oxford-George Washington International Human Rights Program, and Universidad Torcuato Di Tella, Buenos Aires, Argentina. He has dual U.S. and Argentine citizenship.

A Conversation with Virginia Postrel on Creativity, Commerce, and Copyright

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Virginia Postrel has spent a career writing about the intersection of commerce, culture, and technology. Her books and columns explore issues of expressive consumerism, the art and science of persuasion, and interesting yet neglected topics like what really is Egyptian cotton and how group-think may threaten the adventure outfitter industry. In this talk, Virginia gives a 60-minute interview with WCU Professor of Economics Edward Lopez.

About the Speaker: Virginia Postrel is a professional writer and public speaker. She is a Bloomberg View columnist and has previously had columns at the Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and Forbes. Her books include The Future and its Enemies (1998), The Substance of Style (2003), and The Power of Glamour (2913). Virginia's work centers on issues in design and economic policy, how consumers and technology interact, how tastes and values change over time, how glamour and the nature of persuasion have changed with technology, and more. Writing in Vanity Fair, Sam Tanenhaus described her as "a master D.J. who sequences the latest riffs from the hard sciences, the social sciences, business, and technology, to name only a few sources."

Adam Smith's Invisible Hand: 21st Century Reasons for Optimism, and a Caution

Monday, October 5, 2016

According to Adam Smith, two major benefits flow from the operation of the "invisible hand." First, in the moral sphere, the invisible hand allows people to become moral beings. As they come to see themselves through the eyes of others in the "great school of self-command," they come to understand and act with propriety; they become people who are not only praised but praiseworthy. Second, the invisible hand operates in the sphere of day-to-day transactions, the economic sphere of trade and innovation. Together, these two spheres are largely responsible for the vast increase in human flourishing that we have enjoyed since Smith's time.
The key lesson for us today is a Smithian one — economics is about cooperation and the peaceful achievement of specialization that has brought about an enormous increase in our standard of living over the recent past. Like Smith, I am an optimist; I shall argue that we have much to be optimistic about today. However, Smith also foresaw a reason for caution: faction. I suggest that his notion of faction helps us understand crony capitalism, party politics, and the less savory side of cooperation today.

About the Speaker: Sandra J. Peart became the fourth dean of the Jepson School of Leadership Studies in August 2007. She obtained her doctorate in economics from the University of Toronto in 1989. She began her career as an assistant professor of economics at the College of William and Mary and then joined the faculty at Baldwin-Wallace University. She was a visiting scholar at the Center for Study of Public Choice at George Mason University in 2004–05, and the following year, she was a fellow of the American Council on Education. She is president of the International Adam Smith Society and a past president of the History of Economics Society, where she began the Young Scholars Program. Dr. Peart has published more than 60 refereed articles and another 50 chapters in books and encyclopedias in the areas of constitutional political economy, leadership in experimental settings, ethics and economics, and nineteenth and twentieth-century economic thought. She has written popular articles on leadership, ethics, higher education, and economic themes for the New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education¸ USA Today and the Washington Post. She is the author or editor of nine books, including most recently Escape from Democracy: The Rule of Experts and the Public in Economic Policy, forthcoming from Cambridge University Press.

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