Milk cartons, the billionaire, and Freedom Week

Published by freemarketconservatives on

BY J P FLORU

A few days ago, Swedish-born Tetra Pak billionaire Sir Hans Rausing died. I never met him, but more than 500 students benefitted from his benevolence – even though they probably don’t realise it.

Back in 2005 I felt frustrated that so many young centre-right students defended the free market in some ways, but apologised for other aspects of it. I felt that they lacked a proper understanding of free market economics – a system that is still unequalled in its ability to solve virtually every societal issue successfully. Given that unlike totalitarian Marxism, freedom is rarely or insufficiently taught at our universities, this was unsurprising. Over coffee in an old fashioned coffee place in Westminster (long since a Pret) with one Henry De Zoete (later SPAD of Michael Gove, and Vote Leave digital director), I devised the idea of Freedom Week.

I wanted to organise a one week seminar for 30 UK students where they would be taught about the philosophy of individual liberty and free market economics. The teachers would be freedom minded academics from Britain and abroad. It would be for one week, full board and free for the students, and would be held at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. The idea was based on a seminar organised by the Institute for Humane Studies I had attended in America when I was a 19 year old Belgian student. This seminar changed my life: I have defended free market economics ever since.

I talked with several free market think tanks, who were all hugely enthusiastic. They would (and did) support me in every single way. They suggested subjects, possible teachers, and promised free books. At the same time they made it clear that I would be responsible for the fundraising.

So I set about calculating a budget, and finding the money. I trawled documents from organisations involved in free market causes and found a number of names of (obviously wealthy) individuals who seemed to be involved with several. I then searched for their addresses, and wrote them begging letters, including a homemade brochure.

And then I waited. And waited. Would the money arrive? I tried to think of other things and other projects.

Many weeks later a letter did arrive. It was a £10,000 cheque. From billionaire Hans Rausing. If he had been near, I would have kissed him. Freedom Week became a reality. Many others donated as well, including the free market think tanks. But Hans Rausing’s cheque was the first one – and by far the biggest.

Dr. Hans Rausing’s £12 billion fortune stems from the patent of Tetra Pak, the milk carton. He fled from socialist Sweden in 1982 to settle in Thatcher’s Britain. Since 1998, the family has given at least £1 billion to charity. He was knighted in 2006. The £10,000 he gave to Freedom Week may seem little, but to this small project it made all the difference.

The first Freedom Week took place in 2006. I ran it for five years, and then handed it over to the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Adam Smith Institute.

Freedom Week has just had its 14th edition. The IEA and the ASI still run it together, annually, and very successfully. More than 500 students have been taught at Freedom Week over the years. Many went on to defend for freedom at their universities – Freedom Week alumni founded Liberty League. Many went on to defend freedom in politics, the City, academia, and the media.

Nothing makes me more happy than Freedom Weekers writing that it changed their lives, too – as it once changed my life back in America.

So let us make a toast to Hans Rausing, the milk carton billionaire, who made it all possible.

J P Floru is a writer, solicitor, former Conservative Parliamentary candidate. and founder of Freedom Week. Follow him on twitter: @jpfloru


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