After spending the first weekend of February alongside two presidents, three national bank governors, economists from J.P. Morgan and the LSE, and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, I left the Warwick Economics Summit with much to unpack about the economic policy of today and tomorrow. With speakers from across the world, industries, and positions, the 23rd iteration of the largest undergraduate student-led conference in Europe truly demonstrated its impact on public policy, economic thinking, and youth advocacy. Featuring events such as a debate  on “de-dollarisation”, with the participation of UK’s former Secretary of State for Business and Trade, and a keynote by the Sikyong (President) of the Tibetan Central Administration, Penpa Tsering, this conference connected speakers and students from almost every continent to discuss a diverse array of global issues.

Beginning on February 2 2024, the conference welcomed almost 500 delegates to Warwick’s campus and 700 delegates virtually, as well as hosting a group of student journalists for the first time in its history. Before the event officially began, representatives of Deutsche Bank, Charles Rivers Associates, and AlphaSights offered a networking event for students to engage with professionals across the financial industry. Charles Rivers Associates, an antitrust consulting firm, provided an introduction to what would follow, as “trust-busting” became the unofficial theme of Friday night. With one of its Senior Advisors, Dr. Phillip Marsden, headlining Friday night’s schedule as their last speaker, Charles Rivers Associates stood out to many students eager to enter the professional world and seek information on the featured speaker. As a firm bringing together policy analysis, econometrics, and antitrust laws, it works closely with companies and governments to prevent anti-competitive development across industries. Its introduction to the concept of crossing between the private and public sectors as a tool to prevent trusts and inequality fostered keen interest in Dr. Marsden’s speaker event.

Though antitrust policy may seem like a fairly niche subject in comparison to other discussions at the summit, it was certainly marked on the minds of everyone who attended Dr. Phillip Marsden’s lecture — or rather, rap — on modern-day trusts. Delivering the closing presentation of the summit’s first night, Dr. Marsden reinvigorated the historical spirit of “trust-busting” Teddy Roosevelt while refashioning the backing track of “Lose Yourself”, by  Eminem. His twenty-minute beat was as entertaining as it was enriching. Dr. Marsden, a leading expert in the field of trust research and competitive economics, brought his all to his event, as he rapped about the effects of Trump’s commerce policy and the economic uncertainty brought about by the politics of Trumpism in a witty, 20-minute-long performance. 

In fact, it was one of the most commented events of the summit, partly due to the rap, but also due to the interest his personality and passion sparked for antitrust regulation. The genuine connection Dr. Marsden made with students, through his question and answer period and private discussion session with select delegates, solidified the Warwick Economic Summit as one of the few conferences that lived up to their ambitions. Dr. Marsden’s speech, like many other speeches during the weekend, didn’t just end when he got off the stage. Delegates, organizers, and other speakers possessed a true interest in what they heard from him. Inspiration was palpable, as keen delegates debated amongst themselves and even with speakers. No matter the location, these discussions continued amongst the attendees as they genuinely reflected on what they had heard. This creative endeavor of rapping, rather than lecturing, and its intellectual impact reflected the innovation that the Warwick Economics Summit brings to conferences, as a truly unique experience and a world-class conference that stimulates, engages, and connects students from across the globe. 

But nowhere else did the theme of debate reign like it did in the Tibetan Sikyong (President) Penpa Tsering’s speaker event. After an enlightening speech that would need more than one article to break down, Sikyong Tsering received an ineptly worded question from a delegate regarding China’s occupation of Tibet. Despite facts proving otherwise, this delegate called Tsering’s presidency illegal and claimed that China has just authority over Tibet. 

Contemporary research, historical records, and now deleted Chinese statements on Tibet reveal China’s occupation as unjust. As a response, Penpa Tsering cited several sources from ranging scholars on the topic in a calm demeanor, encouraging students to read a variety of sources and make a decision once they’ve understood the facts. Sikyong Tsering said, “You will look at the facts and then decide for yourself what is the truth. […] We are not asking for independence, we are being realistic […] the preservation of Tibetan identity is more important to us”. President Tsering received a standing ovation in response, except notably from the student who asked the question.

I was also fortunate enough to interview President Tsering alongside a small group of other students. Tsering, being ethnically Tibetan, Indian-born, and spiritually Buddhist, had unique perspectives on the many questions he was asked. When I asked him about Taiwan’s recent election, which was run on the view of Taiwanese independence as opposed to “One China”, he was ecstatic to see the One China position was becoming increasingly taboo in Taiwan. Congratulating the Taiwanese President, regarding him as a friend and close partner, he said that Taiwan is de-escalating the situation and acknowledging that the People’s Republic of China is the proper government of mainland China . He hopes that Taiwan continues down the path of independence rather than unification. To prevent future violence — his main goal —Tsering advocates for Taiwanese independence instead of Taiwanese “imagination” of a mainland controlled by the Republic of China.

Tsering’s advocacy for democracy and independence extends elsewhere, as long as democracy and independence are achieved peacefully. The Russo-Ukrainian War, as he said, is a difficult situation to navigate as a faithful Tibetan Buddhist and as a supporter of democracy. He wishes for the war to end immediately, in the name of peace for both sides and freedom for every Ukrainian, rather than a continuation in the name of whatever false narrative Putin has schemed. He is first and foremost a fact-oriented and peace-driven leader, and to him, the facts show no legitimacy to Putin’s claims over Ukraine. What is more important to him is peace. 

This is what distinguished Tsering from other leaders: he is not violent, under any circumstances. Sikyong Tsering explained that, as a Tibetan Buddhist, he and his people embody peace, harmony, and fairness, with peace being the foundation of being Tibetan. To him, this refreshing ideology of “peace first” could not be compromised without compromising what it means to be Tibetan. 

The struggle for Sikyong Tsering is how to progress his other beliefs, of freedom and democracy, while maintaining peace. Something he frequently reiterated is the need for politicians to “recognize the reality of the situation.” Because of this, he does what he can to push forward democracy, while making compromises in the name of peace. He is willing to make concessions if it means lives are saved. 

He suggests that Zelenskyy and Putin do the same, even if Zelenskyy loses Ukrainian regions and Putin doesn’t get everything he wants. To him, every war is lost on both sides as death tolls increase. Peace comes first and that requires compromise, something he has spearheaded in Tibetan politics and advocated globally, recently in his stop along the Baltic states, as the Tibetan Authority seeks less and less demands under his presidency.

Tibet is no longer asking for total independence, instead, they want more say in the matter of their nation and to work with the Chinese government instead of against them. Residential schools in Tibet are destroying the local culture and communication he once had with spiritual leaders have been cut off. If Tsering has to sacrifice his freedom-in-exile to protect his people, it is something that he will do. Tsering’s true purpose, in the manner of a Tibetan Buddist, is to do the best he can for his people.

As Sikyong Tsering demonstrated, the Warwick Economics Summit was more than economics. Highlighted at the University of Warwick was the idea that global economics is about more than just interest rates and consumption — it is inextricably linked with every problem and accompanying solution in the realm of social sciences, from geopolitical conflicts to gender inequality. From students learning what trusts actually are (including their hidden, unrivaled power in the technology sector) through rap, to learning of the cultural genocide of Tibet; a dollar goes a lot further than just a transaction.   


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