The Corner

Competitive Enterprise Institute Honors Vaclav Klaus

Last night, the Competitive Enterprise Institute had it’s 24th annual dinner here in Washington. Emceed by our own Jonah Goldberg, it was quite the shindig.

Among many highlights, CEI fellow and NRO contributor Iain Murray was singled out for his efforts, and his terrific new book The Really Inconvenient Truths: Seven Environmental Catastrophes Liberals Don’t Want You to Know About–Because They Helped Cause Them was given away to attendees.

But the most memorable thing about the evening was the keynote speaker, Czech President Vaclav Klaus and recipient of CEI’s Julian L. Simon Memorial Award. That the keynote would be the highlight seems like it should be obvious, but having been to plenty of rubber chicken dinners in Washington, believe me, that’s not always the case. As Jonah put it afterward, “Immigration is a contentious issue, probably more so in this crowd than others. Whether or not foreigners take jobs Americans won’t do, I think you should thank CEI for importing a President who will give a speech that an American president would not give.”

Unlike most keynote addresses, the CEI dinner demands that speakers adhere to the theme of the evening. In this case Klaus had to speak about the Czech-born economist Josef Schumpeter, a man who’s as soporific as he was brilliant. Out of this, Klaus — a trained economist and bona fide conservative intellectual — managed to wring out a speech that was simultaneously punchy and discursive, packed with Klaus’ characteristically wry humor.

While acknowledging the value of Schumpeter’s contributions to economics, Klaus also artfully dismissed his contention in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy that capitalism would eventually become a victim of its own success. Klaus further noted that it was this kind of needlessly fatalistic thinking that sustained communism and permeates the contemporary environmental movement, scaring the masses into worshipping the cause as a secular religion. He concluded his speech: “Schumpeter, after all, has been dead for six decades. The problem is that Al Gore is very much alive.”

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