City-hopping between trail runs

April 27, 2020

CHRISTOPHER LINGLE – TALKS WITH PETRI

Christopher Lingle talks about his long experience of working around the world without a permanent place of residence. We also cover economics, monetary policy, human liberty, trail running and where to find good coffee.

City-hopping between trail runs

Bio

Christopher Lingle earned a doctorate in economics from the University of Georgia in 1977 and has been employed at universities in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America & USA.

He is a passionate supporter of human creativity and volunteer actions that lead to social harmony. To this end, he travels relentlessly to anywhere in the globe to discuss the impact of institutions and public policy on human liberty and dignity.

Currently, he is Visiting Professor of Economics in the Escuela de Negocios at Universidad Francisco Marroquín in Guatemala (since 1998), Adjunct Scholar at the Centre for Independent Studies (Sydney), Research Scholar at the Centre for Civil Society (New Delhi), International Political Economic Advisor for the Asian Institute for Diplomacy and International Affairs (Kathmandu) and Research Fellow at Advocata (Colombo, Sri Lanka).

Transcript

(NOTE: The text may contain errors, misconceptions and even comical unintended contexts. Please use it only as a reference to the actual audio conversation from where it has been transcribed.)

Petri: Hey Cris, how are you doing?

Christopher: Great. Good to hear from you.

Petri: What’s happening? Which spot of the world are you at this point?

Christopher: I’m in Thailand on the island of Phuket, in the midst of a lockdown where I’m not allowed to leave the general vicinity of Kamala, which is a beach area. And, I’m just sort of, I’m waiting for things to loosen up.  Hopefully, by the end of this month of April, things might go back to something like normalcy.

Petri: I understand you’ve been traveling quite a bit. Maybe we could even say that you would like a digital nomad, and not just for the last few years but you’ve been doing that for decades even decades.

Christopher: I’ve been doing it since before the idea was even discussed almost by accident. In 1997 I decided to take a year off to write another book and, I moved out to Asia trying to find a place to arrange myself and I started in Hong Kong, but the cost of living there was so high. Especially not living generally, but housing in particular.

And after a few months, I decided I’d just take a break and I went back to Bali where I visited maybe 10 years before. And I found it quite comfortable, quite cheap, a good place to be, to set about writing.  While I was in Hong Kong, I made a lot of contacts and I picked up arrangements to be a weekly columnist in a newspaper there.

And then two or three other English language newspapers around Asia made the similar offer. And so all of a sudden I found myself writing op-eds. I would start three or four a week and finish three or four the next week. And I was sending these out to all the different newspapers.  I realized that with the cost of living on Bali at that time being so low that was just after the so-called Asian crisis…

That even though my income was substantially less than it was as a full-time professor my expenses were so much lower than that the net result was that I was saving money. So, all these op-eds distracted me from writing the book and I never did finish it. But for probably five years my primary source of income was from writing op-eds and living in warm places year round.

I would move to the according to the seasons or places that had no season and were always warm. That were warm, cheap, had interesting people, had an internet connection and espresso. Those were my five categories that I was looking for: it had to be warm, relatively cheap to live, interesting people around,  a good wifi connection. Back then it was dial-up, of espresso.

You’d be surprised. After a few years on Bali, I decided, well, I’ve been there a long time, I felt I would look around. I traveled around, Southeast Asia and South Asia in search of another place.

And, one or the other of those five things was often missing. Either the internet connection, usually, sometimes a lack of interesting people, and sometimes an inability to get a good espresso. So I’ve been doing that and then as newspapers went from print to online, the willingness to pay for content, evaporated.

And I just didn’t basically develop another business model. So since then, I’ve primarily been involved with lecturing at universities on invitation or giving conferences or attending international events of some sort. I travel, I reach elite status on the airline most years because I fly so much, or in the past, I flew so much.

And, that’s what I’ve been doing. My intellectual and spiritual home is in Guatemala at the Universidad Francisco Marroquin which is the only university in the world that has a classical liberal mission statement.  There’s quite a congenial place to be. So I’m there for two months of the year, a bit more than two months of the year.

And happily have had a very, nice connection with those people since roughly 1999 I’ve been going down there. Then the last 10 years I’ve been lecturing in China in the summer for maybe I would be in China for three or four weeks. There was a week-long summer camp, and then we would follow that up with some events in Beijing. And, let’s say all these things seem to be, I’ll be speaking more of that being my past rather than my future, because the future for all of the sort of, international connections I’ve had are, are looking rather much more, uncertain.

Petri: Have you already seen that some of these institutions, universities, places you’ve been lecturing and being associated with they already are jumping to the new bandwagon if there’re any of these things already? Meaning starting to have a digital lecturing and inventing new ways of delivering the services they’re providing.

Christopher: Yes, indeed. In fact, at this moment, I would have been with the Free Market Road Show. I think, I was scheduled to be with them next week in Tirana, but instead of this being an event. Last year I was in over 14 day period I was in 12 cities in 10 countries. Moving around virtually daily to give presentations in person before a live audience.

This year they’re doing it all online. I’ve just realized I haven’t contacted me whether the event that I was scheduled to participate in will be done online, or whether they’re arranging something else. I’m not sure. But, my university in Guatemala has really been at the forefront of all kinds of technical innovations and in education, not only technical but also a pedagogical innovation zone.

We moved in the last years towards what they refer to as a Socratic method of teaching, where it’s more interactive and less lecture-based. We’ve had a very active online presence. The  Escuela de Negocios Graduate Business Faculty had been, engaging in, online courses for quite a while.

And now, they made a transition for the entire university for the moment in any case to have distance learning, I suppose you would call it. So, a lot of changes, and I’m waiting to find out whether our annual event in, Shenyang at Northeastern University in China will go forward in July or August as it normally is. We haven’t heard yet. And even that might go on, but it may be online, which of course means that it’ll be even easier for the authorities in Beijing to monitor us. But that’s also okay.

Petri: What are the aspects of teaching you like the most when you are in the campus and what are the things you just don’t enjoy too much and you think would also benefit a bit more the students if we do things remotely? How the teaching methods you think will change in the future if you cannot see the students in real life?

Christopher: I think I have a comparative advantage in making a presentation before students because I really make contact with students and that way I found my attempt to do online. I just didn’t feel as effective because I’m sort of, as we say in English, I’m an old dog.

And it’s hard for me to learn new tricks. Maybe with practice I would improve my online presentation but standing before an audience and gauging their reactions whether they’re distracted looking at their laptops or their phones in the present day or whatever, sleeping in the old days.

It’s a better technique for me. I think I have a comparative advantage in that. Maybe I’m going to be like in the case of the newspapers where unless I change with the times, I’m sort of history rather than the future.

I really do like the interaction with students because you can see in the audience who’s alert, and you can in some cases, prompt those individuals to ask a question. You can see them on the verge sometimes, especially in a smaller group that are eager to speak. But I do think I like the idea of this distance learning. it’s probably the most sensible way of conducting, education in the future because of the reduce costs and the extended reach of it all. So, I like the idea. I also liked the idea of the Socratic method of getting students to be more engaged in the actual learning process rather than being lectured to primarily.

I think teaching is what I call a horse to water problem. That is you can lead a horse to the water, but you can’t force him to drink. And I think for me, teaching was always about encouraging them to want to drink by an enthusiasm for the subject that I think I pour into my lectures and my discussions with them.

Petri: You mentioned you were supposed to be city-hopping as we speak, almost one country per day?

Christopher: Yeah.

Petri: What are the things you enjoy in traveling? What are the things you could give some tips and hints on what not to do?

Christopher: Well, I get, you know. I really enjoy traveling to new places and discovering. Several things are important to me when I travel. I want to try the local cuisine and whatever is involved, whether wine or some other sort of beverages that might be unique to the places I go to.

The other thing that interests me is the architecture. And the historical setting of it all. One of the great joys of being with the Free Market Road Show over the last few years… Just to inform your audience, what the Free Market Road Show briefly is. There has been an annual event where speakers would be sent to, I think one year, I think there were 35 cities in 30 countries over roughly 30 day period.

And so they would be a team of three or four often professors or think tank individuals that would be sent to a city with a local partner who would arrange a venue and an audience and perhaps local speakers as well to discuss a general topic. Could be the one that we’re discussing, they will be discussing now is the future of Liberty in Europe after the Coronavirus episode here. There’s a general theme and it’s often shaped by what the local audiences want to hear. One of the great joys of being part of that is that they sent me to primarily to Central and Eastern Europe and to many countries in that part of the world that I had not visited before.

And, I develop lots of very nice, good contacts and, And, wonderful experiences. We would have these discussions during the day and then these wonderful evenings of continued discussions over good food and good drink. And, it’s hard to imagine a better life than that.

Petri: What are the places still to go? I bet there’re some corners of the world you haven’t appeared yet and you would like to discover and you know that you probably may have even friends step if you haven’t had a chance to visit them? What are those not so obvious places as well? 

Christopher: in the last few years I’ve been going to Mongolia. I hope that I can keep that up. I normally would go there either before or after I went to mine summer camping in China.

When Mongolia after the retreat of Soviet communism from them. They were basically a satellite satellite under the Soviet. There was a moment of wild west capitalism there, that generated a great deal a great deal of wealth and improvement and the wellbeing of the people. So it’s a very interesting place, and there’s some highly spirited liberal or libertarians there that I made contact with. I enjoy going to Mongolia, and I hope I go back.

Latin America, Brazil is perhaps one of the most fertile places for expanding the global human liberty movement.

I think of all the places I’ve been, I’ve been going there for the last couple of years. There’s really a large group of very solid intellectuals and scholars and students that are embracing the ideas of human liberty. Bolsonaro has his problems, but,  I think Brazil is a very hopeful place of all of Latin America.

I haven’t been to Chile. There’s a lot of Latin America that I haven’t been  to. I make the joke that I’m a missionary for liberty, for human liberty. That I will go anywhere and as long as someone will usually pay my way, at least to get me there, I go.

Recently I even paid my own way just because someone said they would put up an audience of people eager to hear ideas about why their country would be better off with an expansion of human liberties and, open and free markets. I think what I finally decided is that I may not even require that I’d be paid.

So, what’s happened over time and, I’m revealing a secret that might come back to haunt but I have zero opportunity cost which means that most of the things that I’ve been doing for the last years, with the exception of lecturing in Guatemala, where I was a full-time professor there, I have no earnings from it.

At at most, they would pay my airfare and local expenses. I think people either discovered or assumed that I have zero opportunity costs ’cause I do most of what I do now for without any compensation. The good part of that is I don’t attract any income tax liability. I I suppose that’s one, one way to look at it. I hate paying taxes.

Petri: Do you think your way of working. Lecturing around the world, traveling pretty much the whole year around different places, maybe even staying for months in someplace, and then moving to another one. Do you think that’s coming more frequent and do you see fellow professors may be in a different line of teaching where they do the same they’re doing the same?

Christopher: I hope not. I don’t want the competition. I was able to develop comparative advantage for a while. Virtually all the English language newspapers around Asia were interested in publishing my articles because there was nobody else doing it. I had a great deal of difficulty being published in Europe or North America because there were lots of economists, that would comment on public policy or whatever.

I had a unique advantage. And I was happy that I didn’t have the competition at that time. So maybe in the same way what I’ve been able to do, perhaps I had a unique offering of skills and background to be available. So in a way, like I said, I hope other people don’t do it, but I think on the other hand, it’s as of just in the last month, I wonder what are the prospects for the future for this?

All of the things that I’ve done in the past require long-distance travel. Last year I flew from Istanbul to Sydney for a conference, there for five days. Went from there to Kirgistan, from there to Ulaan Baatar from there to god knows where, Armenia. So, those kind of possibilities I think, are going to become more and more difficult.

For example, with the bankruptcy of airlines there may be fewer connections or maybe it’ll just be consolidation in the airline industry. So, I’m really unsure about how it’s going to work out and, even if people did try to approach life in the same way that I have it. They might find it more difficult.

It may have been just a golden moment that I had. First during the late 1990s and early 2000 with the income flow from newspapers, print newspapers then. That was something that worked very well and then disappeared. And then this travel worked very well and it may well disappear. We’ll see.

Petri: Where is the place or what is the place you call  home?

Christopher: Wherever I am.

Petri: Do you have a base? I mean that you have a bit more stuff or is everything in the suitcases when you travel around the world?

Christopher: My base is wherever I am and that right now that’s in the Regent Kamala, Phuket, Thailand. I do occasionally pass through the United States where I’m lucky enough to have a wonderful sister and brother-in-law where I leave a few clothes. And, I may change out of some and then take some other new ones or whatever, but I’m not in the US any more than maybe a few weeks over the entire year, usually on my way to or from somewhere. So, I really don’t have a base site. I use their mailing address if I ever need anything sent to me like a driving license. I keep a driving license in the state of Georgia and I have a US passport. But other than that I have very little connection with the US. I’ve been going to Bali since 1990.

Well, 1992 but regularly since 1997-98 and it’s become the place now where I probably spend more time. I’m there for two or three or four months every year, but that’s primarily for running. I go there to run on jungle trails. With some running groups and I’ve been associated with in the last roughly 20 years.

I used to do that a lot in Bangkok, but I stopped going to Bangkok as much because most of the running there has been more on hard surfaces. And, I do trail running and trail marathon rather than regular marathons in cities and so on. In fact, while I’ve been here I go out every morning at just after dawn to go up into the hills.

I go out for two or three or four hours, or 10 or 20 kilometers in the hills running or hiking, or just wandering around in the hills to get some exercise and to enjoy the nature here. The beaches are close.

I used to run on the beach here but that’s no longer possible. That attracts me. My arrangement is on Bali or Thailand, I wind up running much less because if I’m in Europe, I tend to be in more urban areas. And the running is not as inviting because there’s harder to find forests or certainly not jungle there. Or I’m just there so temporarily and I don’t even get unpack my running shoes. Running it is a big distraction for me besides promoting human liberty. I guess those are my two big interests.

Petri: Do you combine them ever?

Christopher: Actually, no, interesting question. I wouldn’t say so. Although I often have run with fellow libertarians . It’s good you brought that up. I’ll see if I can think of something.

Petri: I already came up with an idea: Run for liberty. And that’s your campaign. You could practically run around the world. I leave it up to you how many kilometers you’re going to do in a course of a year or something. And then you could speak about these things and topics and join marathons. Sort of a theme combining those two things. 

Christopher: Good idea. Thank you for that proposal. That may be my next golden opportunity to replace the other two that I seem to have lost.

Petri: You could even start on the beach. You just share it with the Instagram live feed and start that way in a nice, beautiful environment.

Christopher: Yeah. Great idea. Really a good idea. Or invest in a GoPro..

Petri: Yeah, a GoPro hat – Run with Chris around the world towards liberty

Not from liberty.

How do you cope with loneliness? You said you’re traveling pretty much all the time, and most of it by yourself. You’re in a new place. Maybe you have friends, maybe you don’t have, maybe they don’t have time to meet you right now, but do you have friends around a while, which are hundred milliseconds away, but still they’re a different place.

Do you have some mechanisms because everyone now is experiencing this? Maybe living in a place by themselves, cannot go out. It’s sort of hard just to be inside and  just don’t see other people.

Christopher: I’ve never experienced the idea of being lonely, partly because of the security of knowing that I do have so many friends and then I can always reach out in one way or another. I get tired of being alone sometimes. I think maybe loneliness is a neurosis that escapes me.

And, I always have something to do, right? There’s something needs to be read. There’s something needs to be written or in my case, I could go out for a run.  It’s just the way I am. I just, I don’t dwell on it. I just never feel really lonely in that sense.

Petri: Looking back at your life when did you know, what are you going to do with your life? Was it always clear that you want to teach and educate? What happened when you were growing up?

Christopher: Not at all. It was kind of a revelation at one moment. I went to university,  because my brothers, all my siblings went to university. So it was what people did in my family. I mean, it was open to us. My mother had been in university.

Back in the, I guess it would’ve been the 30s. She was unusual for women back in the United States. She studied for two years in university. My father was a university graduate and so they deemed it important that we go to university. So it was never a question that I wouldn’t go to university.

So I did, but I thought I wanted to study the law. But in the United States legal studies was a postgraduate discipline and in the undergraduate school they had what they call the pre-law society, where people who we’re maybe preparing to be lawyers or thinking about it. So I joined the society and I didn’t find anybody in there likable.

So I gave that idea up. And, I began studying economics for my father was in business. Maybe I wasn’t thinking very deeply about all these things. And then after I had a military commitment in the early 1970s and I went back to graduate school and we were drinking beer one night. And, I thought,I really don’t know what I want to do.

And one of my colleagues said, graduate student friends said, well, you like what you’re doing now? I said, yeah. I mean, yeah. We’re learning interesting things and interacting and solving interesting problems. And he said, well then it’s a no brainer why not become a professor? And I said, well, yeah, I guess so because now I’m paid to learn.

When I was a student, I paid someone to teach me. And now I’m paid to learn. So in order to be a professor, you have to learn new things and you are compensated for doing it. You’re rewarded for doing it. I guess I would credit one of my friends for pointing out what should have been the obvious to me. That this was my destiny, that I would become a professor and I have no regrets. I really had a charmed life. I can’t imagine that my life could have been any better then than it has been doing anything else.

Petri: That’s a really lovely way of putting it: be paid to learn.

How did you find free-market economics was that something you stumbled upon or was it clear from the beginning?

Christopher: I was born in the late forties so I began my mature years in the 1960s and of course in the 1960s there was a great deal of social change going on . I suppose when I think about it with hindsight, I turned a personality defect into a career.

My personality defect was a resistance of authority. Something that I always. Challenged or viewed as something that needs to be challenged. And so, of course, that made authoritarian regimes out of the question in terms of my looking at the world around me and realizing that countries that relied upon extensive coercion such as the Soviet Union at that time. Then red China, and then over time we began to see other countries as well.

I was really lucky that I had some interesting professors that taught economics from a free market perspective where my resistance to the idea of authority meshed very well with the idea of free markets. And then again, I was lucky in graduate school that I was influenced by some very bright fellow graduate students that gave me some support. We all pretty much followed a very similar track. Although they were other people that were less sympathetic to the ideas of human liberty than we were. But I guess I found it a great deal of support.

And I think part of what I discovered in my life is that libertarians are deeply humanistic people in the sense that all the professors I had were very warm, engaging, encouraging of my ideas. And this sort of human contact reinforced my interest in these ideas.

Again, in some ways I was lucky to have good and supportive people around me that helped me develop my career. I’ve lived a charmed and blessed life. I’ve been surrounded by good people and I allowed people to help me. I think this is something you need to learn perhaps.

Not to be suspicious of other people ..to perhaps seek out people that can help you and be open to what they offer to you.

Petri: Do you have any favorite philosophers, authors or thinkers or artists, who are your favorite people or someone you enjoy and come back to?

Christopher: I read mostly in terms of authors and so on. I read mostly historical or biographical words, some theoretical. I’ve just finished a book by Eric Larson on the war years of Winston Churchill. So Eric Larson is someone who’d work I enjoy very much. In terms of intellectual development,  I started off as what is known as a Chicago school. economists influenced by George Stigler and Milton Friedman, Gary Becker. I took courses under many of the graduates of the department of economics in the University of Chicago, but also the Virginia school, which is the beginning of the public choice economics, students of Buchanan and Tulloc, or some of my professors and many of my colleagues eventually.

And then I stumbled onto what is known as the Austrian school of economics. My intellectual development has always been in the direction of humanistic economics. That is human beings being at the heart of economic analysis. What von Mises called human action being the really the issue of economics, not these artificial aggregates, these macro economic concepts, these false  ideas of economic aggregates. So the Austrian school, Mises and Hayek.. I often say that I I developed a deeper interest in social and political philosophy from Hayek. And then I developed a deeper understanding of economics from Mises. So I began to see some weaknesses and some problems in the Chicago school, which were, they’re identified with free market economics.

But, I think their model really doesn’t hold up. And in fact, it has been utilized by the worst offenders and the biggest enemies of the human liberty, central bankers. Who have really created havoc in the financial and economic world because of an ignorance of  the wisdom of the Austrian economics.

And by using the intellectual cover of the monetarist, thinking that came out of the Chicago school. Milton Friedman was one of the great. He was one of the most brilliant men I ever met or heard speak, met him on numerous occasion, studied under people who studied under him.  Read his works. He did a great service to the idea of making human liberty a respectable discussion topic. But unfortunately, the modern quantity theory of money has contributed to the disastrous, unconventional monetary policy that we’re living under today. All of the central bankers are pretending that they are operating under the guidance of Milton Friedman’s insights.

I would think that were he alive today he would have much to criticize and he might even rethink some of his early contributions, which were valuable at the time. But at the moment we’re really laboring under some terrible monetary policies that go against human nature. Don’t go against economic logic that goes against human nature.

The idea of negative interest rates violates human nature. It’s not just a quirk. It’s an absurdity, but it’s passing for wisdom and insight in this crazy world with central bankers.

Petri: If you could teach one thing for someone who is in the public school at the moment, what would you say?

Christopher: You need to understand the importance of incentives. And how incentives influence people’s behavior. That is probably one of the key insights of economics, the importance of incentives. Because it would then influence your understanding of public policy. And what makes politicians make public policy or what makes economists promote a certain public policy? I think it’s a key to understanding politics, economics and human life. So I think that would be the single thing I would try to put it into their mind and thinking.

Petri: Is there some book you can recommend or someplace to start with easily to learn the basics?

Christopher: In many ways, any of the works by Bastiat are very accessible and deeply insightful.

Petri: You mean, for example, The Law

Christopher: The Law,

Economic Sophism.

Petri: What is seen and what is not seen

Christopher: And Henry Hazlitt’s book Economics in one lesson is a very straightforward book. Actually, Ken Schoolland published a book which contains many of the deep insights of Bastiat in an almost comic book form, which I found that the people around the world that I’ve met who identify themselves as libertarian. Many of them were attracted to it by Schoolland’s book: Jonathan Gullible, it’s called.

Petri: Where do I get good coffee? What’s the best coffee in the world? You’ve been sampling quite many coffee shops and brands.

Christopher: There are two conditions that make good coffee: high altitude and volcanic soil. So that means Java, which gives the word java or Sumatra. In Jamaica, they have good coffee. Guatemala has excellent coffee, but you’ll notice that all those places: high altitude and volcanic soil. So that’s a guide.

in terms of brands, Illy is my favorite brand. And Starbucks is my least favorite brand. Starbucks for some reason makes, I think, because most people who go to Starbucks don’t drink espresso. They have a regrettable espresso blend.

I’m on a ketogenic diet and for the last two years, my morning began with usually a macchiato and espresso with a little bit of foam that I mixed in with butter and MCT oil, which is a refined coconut oil that I would blend with the little battery-powered hand blender. 

Petri: What is your favorite word?

Christopher: It’s perhaps.

Petri: Your least favorite word?

Christopher: No.

Petri: What turns you on creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?

Christopher: Sunrise.

Petri: What turns you off?

Christopher: Negativity.

Petri: What is your favorite curse word?

Christopher: Fuck.

Petri: What sound or noise do you love?

Christopher: Bird song in the morning.

Petri: What sound or noise do you hate?

Christopher: Disco music that was going on at a distance.

Petri: What profession other than your own, would you like to attempt?

Christopher: I really tried to think deeply about this, but I really, I won’t give it up. I have had such a good life. I can’t imagine anything would have made my life better.

Petri: What professor would you not like to do?

Christopher: Replace light bulbs at the top of an antenna on a high building.

Petri: If you could be a co-founder of any startup at any era, which one would you choose?

Christopher: Seasteading. I would like to start a startup city.

I tell people that I’ve become a successionist in the sense that all these years I tried to convince people. That they should want to be free, but in fact, many people don’t want to be free.

The possibility of changing the mind of millions of people, or hundreds of thousands of people, is probably not going to work. Maybe the best thing that we could hope for is that we find likeminded people and then start our own city. A friend of mine in Honduras is setting up something like a charter city, a startup city.

Maybe I’ll have a future there somehow.