Free trade and free will? Erasmus, Luther and current economic challenges

Free will and free trade? It seems to me that Erasmus’ faith in free will, and thus people’s own responsibility, works through for the better in concrete decisions and actions of those people. And so the conception of free will must also have an influence on the fair design of the economy and the wise handling of free trade. Hence, on Friday, November 11, I got on my bicycle to the International Martin Luther Conference 2022 in Rotterdam co-organized by Erasmus University.

A beautiful program with distinguished speakers from a variety of scientific and social backgrounds. It would have deserved a larger audience than the hundred or so in attendance! But it proved difficult to translate general concepts into practice. And unfortunately, the harvest of the afternoon and evening regarding free will and free trade remained mostly at an abstract level: Erasmus and Luther were both great thinkers; wisdom, trust and freedom are very important; let us realize that we do not live in heaven but on earth; too many rules inhibit good intentions, …

As far as I am concerned, the panel discussion in particular could have been a lot more spontaneous. The overly thorough preparation also limited the enthusiasm of the audience to ask questions to only one – also prepared – question: “Erasmus thought it was important to exercise people and especially leaders to keep exercising responsibility. He criticized the situation in his time, but what is the situation today when it comes to talking about responsibility, for example, in economics lectures at the EUR or in political debates?”, which gave rise to more spontaneity and comments about the role of economists (serving people) and the function of enterprises (not only financial, but also social).

In the evening, the importance for Europe of shared values came up, with the addition that values need a story. And in my opinion, Erasmus and free will can serve perfectly well as the starting point of such a story.

On my return trip Saturday morning, I also cycled past the Erasmus Monument on Grotekerkplein on the spot where his birthplace would have stood.

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