Marian Goodell on Burning Man
Jan 29 2018

10principles-banner-credit-300x203.jpg Marian Goodell, CEO of the Burning Man Project, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about Burning Man, the 8-day art and music festival in the Nevada Desert. Goodell explains how Burning Man has evolved over the years, the principles and rules that govern the experience today, and plans for expanding the Burning Man experience around the world.

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Explore audio transcript, further reading that will help you delve deeper into this week’s episode, and vigorous conversations in the form of our comments section below.


Jan 29 2018 at 8:09am

I’m an introvert very much inclined to conventional behavior. Not surprisingly, the talk about “The Burning Man” has sounded like an accurate description of hell to me. That would be all fine and interesting if I have found the event to be indeed a good example of a spontaneous, emerging order. I haven’t. Apart from the paths that arise between camps and the silence while “The Man” burns, there’s very little in the episode that illustrate the kind of beautiful, intricate patterns of relationship that emerge from free interactions between individuals. On the contrary, and ironically, most examples have been about the central planning and enforcement of rules. I can only wonder what culture would have truly emerged if participants were allowed more free reign over the way they engage and take part in “The Burning Man”.

Jan 29 2018 at 1:35pm

WOW a whole episode on burning man and not even one mention of Psychedelics??

Psychedelics are so ingrain in the Burning Man experience it just seems odd that there is no mention at all??

Rusty Shackleford
Jan 29 2018 at 6:54pm

[Comment removed for supplying false email address. Email the to request restoring your comment privileges. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog and EconTalk.–Econlib Ed.]

Matthew Whited
Jan 29 2018 at 10:04pm

The central planning baked in with the emphasis on only the governing authority is allowed to charge money and spend as they desire makes Burning Man sound like the extermination leftist group I always thought it would be. If you want freedom of expression why not allow people choose to exchange good and services versus tossing them on the pyre for not following what the crown desires.

Dr Golbaki
Jan 30 2018 at 9:59am

@Mattew Whited

Two interesting views of freedom…
1. Everyone should be free to do anything, anywhere, anytime (unless they are hurting others etc).
2. Everyone should be free to find their own communities and live as they choose (unless they are hurting others etc).

If you want to trade goods and services you have the freedom to… you know… not go to Burning Man. Burning man is a good example because if it didn’t exist it would be VERY hard to have that type of experience, but the fact that it does exist does almost nothing to impact the freedom of people who don’t want to attend.

If I go to a basketball game is that an realization of my freedom because I choose to go, or an example of oppression because I cannot bring in food and drink to sell inside the stadium?

To relate this to the normal world that most of us live in, this is my push back against a common EconTalk theme, that zoning laws are very harmful. While there are certainly bad zoning laws, and even “good” zoning laws can create inefficiecy, there’s also a benefit, which is that it creates various different types of communities in an region and individuals can choose which one appeals to them.

Jan 30 2018 at 11:17am

I was even more excited than usual to see my EconTalk episode yesterday morning! I went to Burning Man in 2013 with my dad (a pastor, BTW; most self-expression at Burning Man doesn’t result in hedonism).

The first thing to understand about Burning Man is that there are a variety of reasons people go. Some people use it as a reset button in their lives, in much the same way a person might take a long camping trip after a friend has passed away. Some people view it as a party (her comment about no big name bands isn’t entirely true; they had some DJs who I was told were “world class”). And I would say the biggest group that goes are people who find that they are most comfortable being themselves around a large group of people who they’ll only see once a year. Not strangers, as they keep coming back and seeing these same friends (and some new ones), but people compartmentalized to this event. That doesn’t mean that people act out their every desire; while some social norms like clothing go out the door, functional norms like etiquette and politeness are still very much present.

One of the most important aspects of the event for me was how the other attendees were there to experience it just as part of their lives and not as anything requiring permanence. There was very little photography. If someone did something interesting, observers would watch, possibly participate, and just enjoy without feeling the need to whip their phones out. I think that experiential mindset tends to put an emphasis on participation versus just public display.

My biggest disappointment from Burning Man was how little people followed the theme. The year I was there, the theme was Cargo Cult, and the accompanying idea of performing rituals in the hopes of receiving riches through a process you don’t understand. But very few people dealt with that theme, and the ones that did focused on extraterrestrial life. But like I said earlier, people come for different reasons.

Finally, about a quarter of all attendees make the festival work. Most people come to participate, and those people are important too, but the ones who make it work are the ones creating art and sustaining the community. I was a cultural moocher, mostly observing, but attending the festival lit a spark and I hope to be in that quarter next time I go.

Highly recommend it, guys!

Jan 30 2018 at 10:30pm

Drug use: according to several news sources and quotes from individuals, drugs are very prevalent there, and there is even a pamphlet on how to handle your first LSD trip that you can find at the event. A little more than the cocktails Marion has mentioned a few times in the interview.

Maybe they need an additional principal added to the ten.

Luke J
Jan 31 2018 at 6:52pm

The Burning Man event sounds like a fab. idea, and Marian Goodell sounds like a very decent human being.

The 10 Principals are loaded with internal stress. Maybe these were chosen because they sounded good; maybe they just exist in conflict.

Here’s to another Econtalk episode I would never have expected.

Butler T. Reynolds
Feb 2 2018 at 11:45am

An even better guest to interview about Burning Man would be Brian Doherty from Reason magazine. He wrote the excellent book, This is Burning Man, which chronicles the history of the event and the ethos of it from the perspective of someone who is also fascinated by emergent order.

Amazon Link:

[Shortened URL replaced by full URL—Econlib Ed.]

Daniel Barkalow
Feb 5 2018 at 11:27am

Russ mentioned that, when you sell things to people, you need to know something about them. This is true, but it generally needs to be something you can guess in advance, at least in general, and it helps if it’s something that’s true about a lot of people. When you give things to people, they learn something about you, and it’s best if it’s something unusual.

Even with respect to gifts, the Burning Man economy is less about giving people what they need (since they’ve at least tried to not need anything from other people for the time they’re there) or want to have, but giving people what you want to give.

Feb 12 2018 at 9:26am

“The central planning baked in with the emphasis on only the governing authority is allowed to charge money and spend as they desire makes Burning Man sound like the extermination leftist group I always thought it would be.” – Matthew Whithead

Russ, do you attract some interesting people here.

I’d say a good >99% of businesses and charities will not let you freely charge for your services on their premises. I wonder if that makes them ‘extermination groups’ too, whatever that means. Accusing other people of terrible moral outrages is a good way of justifing doing nasty things to them, in my view.

Burning Man is trying to provide a unique experience that you would not want to extend to the rest of the world but can be nice to take part in for a limited time, when you freely choose to do so. Forbidding market exchanges is just part of that, and it clearly doesn’t bother the attendees much.

Feb 15 2018 at 9:16am

How many of those who are manning the borders at Burning Man keeping out moochers feel the same way about the Border Patrol keeping out illegal immigrants.

Craig Miller
Feb 16 2018 at 5:09am

Although staged on public land, there is no sanctuary city here. They charge admission, put up a fence and enforce unlawful immigration. Oh, and they demand personal responsibility. Perhaps we could learn something from the Burning Man model.

Comments are closed.


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Podcast Episode Highlights

Intro. [Recording date: January 11, 2018.]

Russ Roberts: Before introducing today's guest, I want to remind listeners you have a few more days to vote on your favorite episodes of 2017. Voting will close January 31st. So, please go to and in the up per lefthand corner, you'll find a link to the survey there.


Russ Roberts: Today is January 11, 2018, and my guest is Marian Goodell... What is Burning Man? It's an incredible phenomenon, but a number of people I suspect in my listenership have never heard of it, have no idea what it is.

Marian Goodell: Burning Man is usually known most critically and easily by people as a large event in the Nevada desert that has over 75,000 people attending. They are there for 8 days, the last week of August. And it's just north of Reno, Nevada. And we are particularly well known because we are not like any festival--we don't usually call ourselves a festival. We sort of call ourselves a gathering. But, mostly we are a city. So, we don't have any name, music bands; and we don't sell the normal food and t-shirts. We only sell coffee and ice.

Russ Roberts: And somehow an impromptu city is going to spring up in the middle of the desert for eight days, for 74,000 people to take care of themselves and survive. And, as an economist, I'm interested in that. We're going to talk along the way about how that emerges and to what role your organization is the umbrella over this--what role they play. But, I think, Burning Man, which I think started in 1986 with a bunch of people sitting on a beach in San Francisco burning a piece of sculpture. It's changed a lot; and some of it, I assume is under control; and some of it is under no one's control. So, talk about what literally happens. It's hard to understand unless you've looked at some of the pictures; and it's easy to find extraordinary photographs on the web of the phenomenon. But, there's no infrastructure there. There is just a desert spot. And at the end of the 8 days, it's a desert spot again. So, what happens?

Marian Goodell: How do you get there?

Russ Roberts: Yeah. Give me your impressions. Of course, you're the CEO [Chief Executive Officer], but also you've been a long-time attendee.

Marian Goodell: Yes; I've been part of it for 22 years.

Russ Roberts: Yes. And do you go every year now, by the way?

Marian Goodell: I do. I don't really have a choice at the time.

Russ Roberts: Okay. So, if I were to attend, I'd buy my--how much is it these days?

Marian Goodell: Well, the ticket prices, they range. The most expensive ticket price is $1200, and that's basically supplementing the low-income and art. And the lowest-income price ticket that you apply for is $190. But our average ticket price is $425.

Russ Roberts: Okay. So if I--for $425, I get the opportunity to buy ice and coffee from you.

Marian Goodell: Yep.

Russ Roberts: What will I find when I show up?

Marian Goodell: I'll give you a little bit of a history, so you can see where we got to. So, in 1986, a gentleman named Larry Harvey and his friend Jerry James--and actually today is Larry's 70th birthday, the 11th of January. And Larry and Jerry basically were looking to just sort of do something expressive, do a little bit of a gathering with some friends, and took some carpentry work, some wood that had been sitting out of a house, sort of a house that Jerry had been working on, and they built a figure. And, the figure was really representative of their humanness and themselves. And, they carried it down the beach; they invited some of their friends; it was the summer solstice of June. And two fairly introverted, shy guys found that by burning the human figure on the beach, people came and stood around--sort of brought musical instruments--they might have been walking along the beach with a drum, that kind of thing. And, they both looked at each other and said they were going to do this again. So, they did it on the beach as a one-night happening, if you will, up until 1990. And in June of 1990, 600, 500 people, something like that, showed up. Law enforcement said, 'This is too many people. This is dangerous.' By then the Man had gone from being about 8 feet tall to 40 feet tall. He was well-designed; he wasn't just cobbled together. And, the group had to take it apart. And they went and put it in storage. And, of course, over the summer, they thought about what their options were. And they had been approached by a group of sort of playful, culture jamming group, a loosely knit group called the Cacophony Society, in San Francisco; and they did a lot of sort of underground parties and events and gatherings. And that group had stumbled upon the event on the beach that they started calling the Burning Man. And, they suggested, 'Listen, we know how to do road trips'--they called them 'zone trips'--'and, we'll rent a truck. We'll put your Man, that hasn't burned, in the back of the truck, and we'll go out in the desert and we'll burn him in the desert where nobody's going to mess with us.' And, at that point they ended up with about 80 people. They chose Labor Day weekend. The pictures of that time period are exactly what you'd think it would be if a bunch of friends went out into the desert--a bunch of trucks. There's a Ryder truck that they opened up, and they put this 40-foot, now three quarters of a ton, artwork together. It took everybody in the group to pull it upright. And, they had a cocktail party at the base. And then they burned it. And, basically, from 1990, Labor Day, that word spread, and people wanted to come and enjoy this sort of happening in the desert. Pretty quickly, it had to have infrastructure. But it grew organically. We had no professional event producers. The members of the group quickly became leaders--volunteers; nobody was paid. Really, technically, I don't think anybody was paid until 1994. And, it just--by the intelligence of the individuals, they split up and divided up different responsibilities. And, I came along--in 1995, I attended. I had heard about it in photography class. And there were 4000 people, when I attended. And then in 1996, I started dating Larry Harvey. And then, through that relationship, became very closely involved in it. And, we now have--we're on public land, Federal government land. The BLM--the Bureau of Land Management, comes under the Department of the Interior--and we get permission, each year. We do go through quite a permit process, and the Federal government receives about $3 million from our ticket sales, so that they can monitor, bring law enforcement, do environment checks. And, we also have law enforcement that comes. So, we are a full-on city. We have radio stations, we have newspapers that are done by participants. And, what we've done, really, is create a participatory city. So, if you can imagine everything that you like about your city, we've actually encouraged and stimulated the membership and the citizens in this engagement to participate and take a role. We don't pay thousands of people, like your typical music festival. We don't have stages. We don't have production companies putting up any of the infrastructure. We're doing it ourselves. And from that, people end up really engaged, without having the normal things we have in our daily lives, where you have a transaction; you are using money; you are getting your nails done; you are getting your gas. If you come into an environment where your self and your creativity and who you are as a person are being brought to the surface, you will find you have more authentic connections. And the joy and creativity and the engagement that comes from that is found nowhere else on the planet.


Russ Roberts: Let's talk about some of the basic logistics, and then I want you to try to walk me through some of the experience. Because, I think people are probably thinking, 'Why am I doing this? Why am I going out into the desert for eight days to watch something burn?'--because there's more to it than that. Although that is part of it. There are 1600 Porta-Potties. Maybe there's more now--that's the article I read.

Marian Goodell: That's about the same.

Russ Roberts: What's really interesting is that there are no trash cans. So, let's just talk about that basic human functioning of food, water, waste. Do I bring all my own food?--

Marian Goodell: yes--

Russ Roberts: Do I cart out my own trash?--

Marian Goodell: yes--

Russ Roberts: Is there food available? Water available?

Marian Goodell: So, the questions you are asking are actually the foundation of what we are doing. We--we count on the participants to bring everything they need to survive. But we also look forward to people thinking of this as a community. And that they would, might bring a little bit more for their neighbors. So, we don't sell any food. You do bring all your food. Large camps certainly do pop up: As groups of friends get larger, they can be as large as 200 people. Some camps, actually, their purpose and their theme is to engage a large chessboard. But some of them actually give things away. Like, pork buns. Or falafel. Or waffles. It's kind of the exception to see a lot of food being given away. But it is a small portion of the gifting economy that people engage in.

Russ Roberts: Now, there's nothing for sale, other than the ice and coffee--by you, but also not by other participants. There's no marketplace.

Marian Goodell: Nooo. Correct. None.

Russ Roberts: On site, at least. There is some in advance. There's some outside [?] I understand it.

Marian Goodell: Yes. Yep, no--so you need, obviously, a tent. And you are going to need infrastructure. And you might even need a generator. And if you have a large camp, since we don't sell water, your large camp is going to need fresh water. So, we do have service providers that you can contract with ahead of time to help you get the services for the larger camps. A smaller camp will typically just bring their own generator, and tote in behind their truck.

Russ Roberts: And, I'm going to bring all of my own water for the 8 days? In 100-degree weather?

Marian Goodell: You are going to bring all your own water. You need to bring enough to cook with and to drink and to shower with.

Russ Roberts: How am I going to shower?

Marian Goodell: Heh, heh, heh. With your own sun-shower. You've got your local outdoor store.

Russ Roberts: Okay. Just checkin'.

Marian Goodell: Oh, yes. All of that. So, you are responsible, then, for the gray water, too. You don't just let it sort of float onto the Playa, as we call it--the dry lake bed. It's interesting that we've seen innovation come out of these requirements. People get very creative about how to manage the gray water. You could put the gray water back into some sort of tank, and then you are still going to have to haul it out. So, we're seeing people using, obviously, skills, environment skills and teaching; but also innovating their own ideas to create evaporation ponds so that we are not affecting the environment that we're utilizing. We're minimizing our effect.

Russ Roberts: Can I go into that a little deeper? If I'm taking my shower, you're saying I have to take that water home with me?

Marian Goodell: Well, you have to dispose of it properly.

Russ Roberts: I can't let it soak into the lakebed?

Marian Goodell: No.

Russ Roberts: Okay.

Marian Goodell: No. And we have the BLM, the Bureau of Land Management, with Burning Man, we collaborate together; we have a team of environment monitors. And the monitors are also actually teachers. So, if we see that you've created this cute little shower and you've got your little shower pad, and that you're, you know, your water is dripping onto the Playa, on a 1-to-1 basis you probably won't see them going to go look for that, the one camper and the kid that are doing that. But if you have a camp of 10 or 15 people, you've set up a tank, you've set up the shower, you've got shower curtains--and that water needs to go somewhere over the course of 5, 6, 7 days when you've got 10 campers that are sharing this shower situation, the overflow, the fluid, will need to go somewhere. And you get creative. You create, usually, a large pan, just to [?]--

Russ Roberts: Yeah. I see where that's going. Yeh, yeh.

Russ Roberts: What about the Porta-potties? Who provides those, and what happens to them?

Marian Goodell: Great. The porta potties are a vendor. The original vendor we sort of grew up with. As Burning Man was growing, so was the town of Reno. And so, we were able to--it's one of the limiting factors potentially for an event like ours. Law enforcement space rose, and toilets. There are over 1600 toilets. They are spread out in the community. They are in banks of 20. To clean them more easily, they are cleaned 3 times a day. They are very clean. They are not your high-end, super-duper with-a-sink kind of thing. But this is the outback, so to speak.


Russ Roberts: Now, if you look at photographs from the air--and they are very beautiful--of the community, it's arrayed, it's laid out in a half-circle approximately. There's roads; there's streets all through the camp. And when you zoom in close you see that these are cars and tents and RVs [Recreational Vehicles] and strange creations and all kinds of art, incredible things. How does that get established? One, the shape of it? And, two, where I get to go when I show up?

Marian Goodell: Great question. The shape of it was designed--the sort of birth of it goes back to around 1997. There's always been a sort of semi-circular shape--that goes back even further than that. But, in 1997, we were on private land, and we needed to work with the County. And the County, along with a friend, one of the organizers, took a look at city designs and also took a look at requirements we were getting from the County. And, you know, came up with this gorgeous design, that at the time was much smaller. The edges of the circle were [?] down to the side. And we use a clock to tell time, to take direction--we use time to take directions. So, the far righthand side of the city starts with 2 o'clock, and it goes all the way to 10 o'clock. And originally it was around 4 o'clock to 8 o'clock. We were that small. We just sort of added to it. The way in which you would find a spot is sort of interesting. So, if you are with a camp that wants to really engage and have an experience at Burning Man that is productive and is valuable to yourself and others, you might create something we call a 'Theme Camp.' And a Theme Camp has a deliberate purpose to engage with the community. And it doesn't have to do this 24/7 [24 hours a day, 7 days a week]. And it has a public facing portion; and it, of course, has lots of private space. So, you are not really creating a camp that the entire public has to engage in. But, you and your campmates have an idea that you want to give as a gift to the community. Now, those camps, of course, in order to create their idea and their infrastructure and their frontage, will need more time and more space than your average, 'Hey, I'm going to go to Burning Man and I'm going to put up my tent.' So, they apply in April of each year. And the deadline is the 30th of April. And usually there's about 1300 applicants, and close to that, there's maybe about 100 that don't make the cut. And those applicants are read by a team of 18 volunteers. And then they basically curate where the Theme Camps are placed--along the outside edges, along what we call the Esplanade, which is facing out towards the desert and the Man, and then a bit back into the living area. And, by late June, the camps find out a little bit more about where they are going to be located. And, at this point, a little more than half the city is being placed. So, half of our population is deliberately creating an environment to engage with others. And going through this process; coming in to build that portion. And then the other half of the city comes in on a Saturday night or Sunday, as we are starting, and just finds a spot. And sometimes you find a spot--you open up the map and you are like, 'Hey, I like pink flamingoes. There's a pink flamingo camp.' And you might, you know, take your tent as close as you can to the pink flamingo camp so that you can, all week, you know, hang out with the pink flamingo people.


Russ Roberts: But the tickets sell out fairly quickly, once they go on sale. Correct?

Marian Goodell: Right. So, tickets--that's a--ticketing is one of our more interesting aspects of our economy, and our culture. I've had conversations with the president of Ticketmaster a number of years ago, and he said, 'Our biggest concern in the world is making sure that what we're doing as ticket purveyors and event producers is reducing the scalping.' And, I started to tell him about our system, and he said, 'Yeah, you guys are so complicated, I'm sure you don't have a lot of scalping.' We have a lot of layers to our ticketing. And they sell out partly because we do reserve a portion of the tickets for these camps--that we just spoke about. Because, in order for a camp of 50-100 people to come and engage at that level, they need to have the number of people to actually do that. And if you use a ticketing system to curate all of that activity, the people won't get the tickets. And it did happen to us one year. We--it was a mess. We learned from that one. So, we put aside 25,000-35,000 tickets, and they are sold into that, you know, eco-system, into that portion of the culture. So, we do sell out of the tickets that are publicly available. But if you are committed to engage, and you are a volunteer or you are involved in a camp, or even if in a large art project, we make sure that if you need to come and if you are artistic and creative and you're ready to bring something to the city, you'll find a way to get a ticket.

Russ Roberts: I want to come back to that. And, we're going to talk in a minute, for those of you who are listening who still don't have any real idea what this is--like, why am I getting there early? And what does 'engaging' mean? But we'll talk about that in a minute. But I have a really basic logistical question. So, let's say I don't have a ticket, and it's the day before it starts. I think, 'I'm just going to show up.' What happens?

Marian Goodell: Not going to happen.

Russ Roberts: You're in the middle of nowhere. There doesn't appear from the pictures that there's anything. I don't see a barbed wire fence. So, how do I--what keeps me from--people like me, like, I'm so eager--but, I could be. I really love the idea of it. We're going to talk more about why. But, what keeps someone from just crashing?

Marian Goodell: Well, so, that's evolved over time. How we manage that definitely evolved over time. Up until 2011, you actually could drive up to the gate and buy a ticket. But we really couldn't function that way. We couldn't function that way economically. In 1997, 50% of the people bought their ticket at the gate; and we couldn't build the city under those conditions. But, at this point, we have a population cap. So, we have to know exactly how many people we're going to be allowing into the city. So, if you drove from Reno, it would take you about 2 hours along a 2-lane road. You would go through two small communities, one of them Native American. So, if you got out to Burning Man and you didn't have a ticket, you first of all have missed two large traffic signs that tell you that you need to have a ticket. You've also just--you've got a lot of nerve. And, you've come to the gate to find that you are probably one of 2 or 3 people--I don't think we have more than 25 or 30 people each year that are that foolish. And they do come. And often they can get a ticket from someone else that's selling them; but they might wait a day or two. And we don't sell a ticket to anybody that's standing there waiting to try and get a ticket.

Russ Roberts: But there's actually a fence there.

Marian Goodell: So, our fence is actually one of our favorite stories. Anybody on the East Coast is familiar with the Orange Trash Fence for windblown dunes. I myself lived in Boston and remember them along the roadside to keep the dunes from floating onto the road. Now, that orange fence--the fencing--

Russ Roberts: It's like a webbing--

Marian Goodell: A webbing. Yes, exactly. That's about 36 inches wide--which means, we're creating a fence that's 36, maybe 40 inches tall. We're putting in T-stakes, just like ranch stakes. And we're mapping this fence around the entire city, with two openings--three openings--One for law enforcement, one for the airport, and one for the participants. And it's a 9-mile fence that's barely waist-high. And it works because we are in the middle of nowhere, so you can see anything approaching. So, our gate- and perimeter-staff, who work with night-vision goggles and marine radar, like the boats use, to detect anything approaching--and of course, there's always somebody every year that drops someone off at the roadway and they start hiking the mile and a half in to the fence. And we catch them. We have 100% capture rate, so to speak.

Russ Roberts: You are the anti-Alcatraz of Nevada. No one's ever broken in. Do you have any wildlife--

Marian Goodell: No. You know. People are inspired by technology. They are inspired by their own ingenuity. On both sides. And these are volunteers, that are on the perimeter, that are Burners themselves. And they are like, you know, 'I'm going to find that guy.' And they usually do. There's very, very, very few stories--I've never read one in the media that actually says, 'Hey, I write in my blog post. I got through.' Just doesn't happen.

Russ Roberts: Do you have any wildlife? I mean, of the 4-legged variety. Does anything wander through the camp that's animal-like?

Marian Goodell: Yeah, very little. The folks that do set up told me last year that there was a fox that found them out in the middle. So, that fox would have traveled a couple of miles and was probably attracted by their lights, in the evening, as they were doing the survey. That's the very, very first group in early August. Other than that, we mostly see things like praying mantises and odd insects. There's been a bird one time that flew into one of our trailers, a strange little bird that had obviously gone off course; and we captured it and took it off the Playa and released it into some vegetation.

Russ Roberts: So, a pretty surreal landscape, for sure. And the creativity of the people who are there for a day adds to that, a little bit, to that surreality.

Marian Goodell: Right. It's a blank canvas. And that enhances your opportunity for your imagination. Everything that you see in front of you--if you see either nature or you see these creative endeavors, it really puts you in this place of, 'Gosh, what am I do, and how can I play, and what can I do?' And also, if you are sort of introverted and think you don't really, 'I don't know,' you turn your head up and you look at the beauty. You look at the art. And you are much more likely to work through that shyness and say hello to someone. Because there's--that's the opportunity that you are given.


Russ Roberts: So, it's kind of a giant party for 75,000 people, where you have to bring your own beer and everything else--BYOB--bring your own bread, bring your own beer? But, if you spend a day--there's no such thing as a typical day. But, a typical day, what am I going to experience, from roughly dawn to dusk, on any one day, that makes this exhilarating? And it appears to be exhilarating for a lot of people. It's not just a giant campground. It's much more than that.

Marian Goodell: It's not just a giant campground. And, in fact, certainly some people call it a giant party. I came to realize a number of years ago when I decided, doing any kind of drinking at Burning Man was going to inhibit my leadership responsibilities--I came to realize that it was really a celebration of creativity. And, so, you're--

Russ Roberts: So, explain.

Marian Goodell: Well, the--if you can imagine some of the joy that we've had when we're sitting, even as adults, making a collage, or making a handmade card, or even working with others to create a family celebration. There's so much joy in the opportunity to bring people together, or to create something for someone else. And that, the entire intention of this city is to do that. So, more than just a party, it is really a celebration of that opportunity. And that's what brings people out of themselves. They look around. They realize that, 'Gosh, I could just sit here and drink my beer and sit on my lawn chair and watch people go by and maybe hand out, you know, lifesavers. But, I could also get up, and I could go help dig a trench for that artist that needs it. I can go into the center of camp and help sell coffee. And, I might feel like I'm bigger than something than myself.' And, so, your typical day really is sort of along those lines. You might be in a theme camp, at which point you probably have some responsibilities to the camp. You might be helping to cook. You might be helping to do the interactive engagement for the public. You might have your day off to go ride your bike around and go visit other camps. And that's pretty much the same for anybody. I certainly run a camp. I'm not active in the running of the city of Burning Man itself. I am responsible for the leadership that does that. But, with my camp, I do the same thing. I wake up. I have some breakfast. I look at the weather--because that's part of my job. If it's hot, we put on different outfits--it can be as hot as 104 degrees [Fahrenheit]. It can be as chilly as about 40 degrees at night. And so, you know, you set up your outfit for whether you are working or whether you are going to just roam around. And then you probably find something to do. Like, it's rarely rare in Burning Man that you are doing nothing. Because, the entire experience is for you to do something, or to engage with other people that are doing something. It's an interactive art experience.

Russ Roberts: So, for the people who haven't looked at the photographs: there are--people are dressed in very unusual ways, very creative ways, very extraordinary ways. And there's all these installations of art that are, just extraordinary--and I'm happy to notice this. I've googled around preparing for this interview, that some of the art from Burning Man is coming to Washington, D.C., to the Renwick, which is one of my favorite museums, on March 30th. So, those of us on the East Coast can inhabit--and these are not just things to look at. Sometimes they are things to climb on. There are things to interactive with and change their shape, their color, theirs size, their whatever. It's an amazing amount of creative--an amazing number of creative people are drawn to it.

Marian Goodell: The Renwick is going to be a fabulous show. They have picked some of the best artists that have ever been to Burning Man. They have commissioned some art pieces. And it will be a great example of the story of the history. And then there will be some large, interactive art. You know--you said it. The art is spectacular. That's part of what's inspirational. And, having been somebody that's been going for 22 years, obviously--like, not even obviously--it's, this is a self-perpetuating environment. So, 22 years ago, when people say, '[?], it's different.' Of course it's different. Actually, it's bigger. It's more engaging. The art is more complicated. Because, people come one year, and they are like, 'Wait. I can do that.' And they go home and they email their friends, and then they've got five friends that come over into the backyard and they start prototyping something in September--they've just left Burning Man. And by January, they might have an idea; and they apply to the organization for an art grant. And we grant $1.2 million for art projects. And those grants are anywhere between $500 to $50,000. And that's intended to help stimulate the process and the projects. And through that, the artists continue to have more ambitious ideas over the years. And, so, more fantastic art comes to Burning Man. And one of my favorite types of art that actually anybody that lives in Houston, Texas has seen plenty of, are art cars. And art cars are basically really very unique moving vehicles. And, you cannot drive your car at Burning Man. You come, you park your car, you set up your campsite, and you don't move your car until you are ready to go home. Except for art cars. And art cars, just like theme camps, apply; they send in designs; they tell the organization what their size is going to be, how many people are going to be on it, what their safety procedures are. And, you get anything from little bunny slippers that are modified golf carts with two people on them to large dragons that will hold 150 people and a sound system and will roam around the Playa at night and you see this golden glowing dragon. And your mind is absolutely blown. So, that art, that type of art for me is the one that I really hope that we--you know, America is just so big and broad and so expansive. And it's a kind of art that because it's mobile and it can come into a city or town and people can sort of see these beautiful creatures. And, some of them look like animals, and some of them look like modified buildings; and little kids can climb on them, and there's this big art car gathering, usually in May or April in Houston, Texas; and many of those vehicles also come to Burning Man. And, I'm hoping we have some of those outside the Renwick. I'm really looking forward to that show.

Russ Roberts: Some of them look a little bit like something out of Mad Max. There's a lot of--

Marian Goodell: [?] The first cars did; and many of them still do now. The evolution of this was certainly very raw. In the early- to mid-1990s, you were an artist, you were in the underground in San Francisco, you drove this 6-and-a-half, 7 hours to get out there; and you were bringing this sort of underground vibe that was coming out of San Francisco in the late 1980s. And now, these vehicles--there's a huge one that comes from Mexico. They are building them overseas; there's one that came from Melbourne, Australia this year. They're coming from all over the planet to bring their art to engage at Burning Man.


Russ Roberts: So, as an economist, I'm interested in things that emerge without planning. And of course some of this is planned: you apply in advance for these theme camps; you apply in advance to get a grant for your art, perhaps--and some people, I know, crowd source their art--they don't rely on your grant. But still, there's some attempt on your part to make things happen of a certain kind. There must be a lot of things that happen that aren't part of your plan. One of those, I assume, is music. I assume there's impromptu music, either on a regular basis or a semi-regular basis, and I assume there's no formal--unlike, say, Disney World--this is unlike--I hope this isn't insulting to you, Marian, but it's a little bit like Disney World for the counterculture and creative people. At Disney World, it's[?] say: Such and such ride starts at this time. You can see this thing plays every 25 minutes, this show. I assume there are some kinds of things that happen like that. There are musicians that come and play every night; there are musicians that play once. And yet, most of that's going to spread through word of mouth, I assume? Or is there an impromptu schedule that emerges that people circulate? What happens--anything like that going on? Or maps? Are there maps?

Marian Goodell: Sure. Absolutely. All of the above. Music is definitely part of the characteristic for Burning Man. Now, there's plenty of dance music, since that's very powerful in the global culture. And those camps typically also have applied so that they can have a location for their stage and so they can have a location for their sound system. But they are, themselves, doing the work to bring their friends in, or DJs [disk jockeys] that they know. And then the next kind of music is certainly--there's jazz music. There's a whole camp called the French Quarter. And there's a couple of other groups, camps--there's one called Reverbia: they bring, sort of, world music in. And that's all on their own dime. They are doing all of the recruitment. They are finding friends that want to play. They are helping make sure that the folks that come--you know, there's no hotel nearby. So, if you're going to come and play music at Burning Man, you are going to be coming out and you are in a tent, or an RV. There's a limited number of RVs. It's not like you can bring an RV in on Tuesday and drive it back out on Thursday. You technically can, but it's such an endeavor to get there with the infrastructure you are likely to actually, you know, be camping or crashing in someone else's RV if you are only going to come out for a night or two. So, many of the musicians will come, make a commitment to stay for a number of days. My favorite kind of music? For sure is the pop-up music. There's a guy in my camp that plays saxophone, and, boy, is it a really nice thing to hear him climb up onto the top of one of the viewing decks we have near our camp and listen to him play the music as the sun sets. It's just all sorts. Art cars, they are mobile music: and each one of those has their own personality, because some of them have DJs on them; some of they just have somebody's favorite playlist. There's a marching band; and that's a loosely knit group of people that, they put something out there and they say, 'If you play a tuba; if you play the snare drum.' And, boy, they do their thing. There is a calendar of events. People have to submit their event, I think by the middle of July, because then we put it into a print production. It's called a What Where When. And then more events still come through, and those are just left on the Internet. And then there's a map--a beautiful map that's done--and that's handed out with the What Where When, when you arrive at the gate. So, a great example is, if you like to play harmonica, you would come to Burning Man, and you'd open up the thing, the What Where When, and you'd probably say to yourself, 'Gee. I'm looking for the music stuff.' And it would take a lot to read through the things. But you might find the Dixieland Band group, that says, 'We play every day at 2 o'clock at this camp. Come join us.' And you would take your harmonica and you'd go say Hi to people. And they would just be sitting there jamming, and you would join them. And that is the typical--that's the best and most typical way to enjoy music: is, bring what you have, and find the type of music that you want to play and be part of, and find others that do the same thing, and join them. That whole point--that's the whole point. Come and do it.


Russ Roberts: You might want to give people a scope of the size of the whole city, because it's large. Because, you are thinking, there's this band here and this band there, and you think they are going to be crowding each other out. But it's kind of big. So how--it's a piece of a circle. What's the diameter of that circle, roughly?

Marian Goodell: It's 2 miles across--we're 2 miles across from one tip of the fence to the other. Which doesn't seem like much, but when you are mostly walking or on your bicycle and it's hot, it's a long way.

Russ Roberts: Yeah. I didn't hear from you: If I bought my ticket and I show up, and I'm not in one of the camps, do I get assigned a space or do I just go find one?

Marian Goodell: No. You go just find a space.

Russ Roberts: Do people crowd? Is there some crowding in the beginning for people rushing to get one of the spaces that they want?

Marian Goodell: Well, so, the gates open Sunday morning at 12:01, and there usually is a line. There's a bit of a back up through Sunday, so it could take you 4 hours to get through the gate. Which is--sometimes it's been 6 or 8, but we like to make sure it's no worse than 4. So that the only crowding you get is that moment of that gate opening. But at that point, there are already 30,000 people getting done this step. So, you are not in line with 70,000 people. And, everybody spreads out. It's not like you are this, 2 people elbow-to-elbow getting that one little corner spot. A lot of people have already thought about where they want to be. If their friends got there early, they might have texted them and say, 'Hey, we're in this camp and there's room for you to, you know, put down your tent.' The Internet doesn't really work that well, so once we open, you know, you are on your own. You come and you might use a billboard system to try and find your friends. Hopefully, though, you've made a plan ahead of time. Like, you might say, 'I'm going to be at 8:30 in G.' And you come 8:30 in G, there's already somebody there. But your friends have actually, they've scooted down a little bit, and they're at 8:45 in G. It's kind of pandemonium in that regard. There's a little--there's definitely people driving around trying to find their friends. But that's part of the fun.

Russ Roberts: But, you've laid out some roads at that point. Or no?

Marian Goodell: Yes. Absolutely.

Russ Roberts: So, there's quadrants marked up, spaces--

Marian Goodell: Yep. All the road system is the first thing we lay out. We put the fence--the fence border goes in, and the city is, the surveying is done for the streets. And there's a block system. It is alpha [alphabetical], going outward. The first one is the Esplanade; it's always called the Esplanade. And then the next street, a curvy[?] street, is A; and then I think it goes out to L. And then, all of the angular streets are time. So, when you enter into the city you are actually entering at 6 o'clock and L. And then you go to the left or the right on L. And you might be then--you know, you find 7:30 and you drive up until you are at 7:30 and D.

Russ Roberts: It's awesome.

Marian Goodell: Very, very logical. Yeah. We tried one year to change the system. We thought it was kind of clever on our part. And the participants actually started changing the street signs back to the time. We were using a sort of compass-like system. And literally, they made paper signs and taped, and rubber-banded them, and covered them up because people preferred the 7:30 to 8 o'clock to 9 o'clock system. So we went back to that.

Russ Roberts: I wanted to ask you about other examples of that. One of my favorite examples of emergent order is that, sometimes there will be a sidewalk on a college campus, and it's not in a convenient place. Not that many people use it. Instead they've cut across the lawn. And enough people cut across the lawn, they everything create their own sidewalk. And the university often will pave that, because they realize that's where people like to walk. And that's--it just sort of emerges without any one person designing it. Do things like that happen that you can remember, where you had an idea of what might happen or, and then, something like you just told me might happen to reverse it? Or, where you saw that something emerged from the behavior of the participants and you realized, 'Let's just make this more formal, and easier to do'?

Marian Goodell: Yeah, a couple of things, in different sorts of ways. Definitely the walking paths. We actually call those 'Goat Paths.' So, a camp might be in the middle of a block, but the way that they use their internal walking system ends up creating a little zigzag path. They suddenly they'll find members of the public using their Goat Path. And you can see them on aerial photographs, how these camps, different camps, have like different zigzag paths. And we've actually done the same thing back in our staff camps. We just started formalizing them, and we called them 'Goat Paths.' And then we make sure they are there so we can sort of run around and get to each other quickly instead of using our road system. And those happened absolutely naturally. One of the ones that I think has been the most touching and the example that we talk about a lot in the community as a cultural mean that happened--we, the Man used to burn on Sunday night, before Memorial Day Monday. And, we moved it to Saturday night, a number of years ago--

Russ Roberts: You mean Labor Day?

Marian Goodell: Yes. I'm sorry. Did I say "Memorial Day?"

Russ Roberts: You did.

Marian Goodell: Definitely I mean Labor Day. A Monday before Labor Day. And we discovered that by moving the Man to Saturday, we would enhance the outbound traffic challenge. So, we moved the Man to Saturday. And, in place, on Sunday, we discovered this gentleman that was building these beautiful temples, and asked him if he would build one for Sunday, and we would burn it on Sunday. And, this is David Best. And, there's a number of people who have been doing temples over the years, but he was the first one that we asked and had on a Sunday. And, what we noticed, that happened all by itself, without any guidance from the organization, was the natural revelry of the Man-burning on Saturday night, the whooping and hollering, the music of the art cars, the fanfare, the bottles of champagne, and the laughter, stopped on Sunday night when the temple burned. The art cars turned off their music. And everybody sat in solemn silence as they lit the temple. And sometimes, a--you know, you've seen The Wave happen at a stadium. Well, a wave of, 'Ahhhhhh' will go around. Or 'Ooooh.' It's not even like, 'Ahh,' 'Oooh,' but it's more like a release of joy. And it circles around the participants. And there's no other sound. This happened all on its own. To the point that, one year, a group played a song that offended people. And we had to respond, publicly, by saying, 'Well, actually, that tradition of being silent has happened on its own. But we do want to reinforce that that is the way prefer for things to be.' And then the group that made the music happen explained what had happened and why. So, there was a whole dialog on the Internet. But, for the most part, now, we have created the framework and let people know that there is sanctity to that burn.


Russ Roberts: Yeah--it's actually very moving to me. Having been on meditation retreats, where, on the last day, there's an incredible--there's just a high level of emotion, because you've made connections with people and feel you've understood yourself better; and I'm sure that some of that is happening at Burning Man. And that last day has a solemnity to it. And a joy. It's a mixture. I'm curious what, how you feel about the destruction of that temple. Right? So, it's a really interesting idea, the idea of creating something beautiful and then destroying it. Something like life--we all understand that there's a cycle to life, and nothing lasts. Does anybody wax poetic about that? Or, do you just kind of set it on fire and see what happens?

Marian Goodell: Ohhh. Well, a lot of it--it's very much about renewal, for most people. When David did the first temple, he told a story about a friend that had helped built it and then had passed away via a motorcycle accident right before they came to Burning Man. And so, he continued to talk about the story of lost loved ones. And that's sort of one of the themes that people have attached to the temple. Whether it's from suicide, or cancer, or natural causes--that, there isn't a place where we really honor that, our losses, in a public way. So, the temple at Burning Man is known for a place that you can bring stories, and posters, ashes, memorabilia. You can write on it--you can write on the wood. And so, people will bring a sharpie. They'll write a story. They'll write loved messages. So, when we sit there preparing for it to burn, the intention of how it exists for everybody at that moment looking at it is, has been--it's been a gift of a story, of a loss. And even if you haven't put something in there yourself that year, you know what others are thinking about. And, it really--I think that the silence is part of the contemplation of, you know, love and renewal and release. There has not been any really significant discussion about it being about destruction. There's been a lot of discussion about the act of renewal.

Russ Roberts: What proportion of the camp is there on that Sunday? At that spot, where the temple is burning?

Marian Goodell: That's a really great question. My guess is, it's around 50,000 people, maybe a bit less. It could be--I don't think it's less than half. A lot of people leave--there's 3 exodus patterns, which are good to know if one goes to Burning Man, because the question is: How do I get out of here without making it like a crowded theater? And, you know, get my flight home, or get home in time to put the kids back into school on Tuesday morning? And, it's--after the Man burns, there's an exodus that is usually 10 pm to 2 am on Saturday into Sunday. And after the temple burns--and the temple used to burn around 9 o'clock at night. It now burns at dusk. And for us, their dusk is around 7:45. So, then, from 8 pm to around midnight on Sunday night, there's quite an exodus. And, then it really--it slows down in the wee hours; and it picks back up again Monday morning. Certainly people that only have to drive, you know, 6 or 8 hours, they do leave on Monday. But anybody that has a flight or has a longer drive, they tend to leave on Sunday.

Russ Roberts: How long does the burning temple last--that experience? Those moments?

Marian Goodell: It ranges on how complex the temple is and how big the temple is. I've seen it as short as 15 minutes, but it's typically 25-30 minutes, now.


Russ Roberts: Well, we're a little late getting to the 10 Principles. There are 10 Principles that you use to guide your oversight of this experience. I'd like you to just list them to start with; then we'll take a few of them, maybe, and go a little deeper. And I have the list here, if you don't know them by heart or don't have them in front of you. Unless you've changed the list.

Marian Goodell: No, we haven't changed the list. It's kind of funny: I have to speak often about Burning Man, the list of the 10 Principles. I usually know about 8 of them by heart. But I do have them in front of me. The 10 Principles are:

Radical inclusion
Radical self-reliance
Radical self-expression
Communal effort
Civic responsibility
Leaving no trace
Participation, and

Russ Roberts: So, let's start with Gifting, which is appropriate for an economist. So, one of the things--if I didn't know anything about Burning Man, I'd assume there'd be all kinds of ways to acquire things I forgot to bring by buying them. I'd assume that, you know, if I forgot--it's a horrible thought--for some reason, I forgot water; I forgot--even small things--toothpaste, whatever--there'd be a way to acquire them. That's the way markets work. And when I say, 'markets work,' I hate that phrase in some dimension. What I mean is: That's the way human beings work. You know, if you go to a baseball, a football game, and it's raining, you don't really have to bring an umbrella. There will be umbrellas for sale on the streets outside that football game. There will be peanuts for sale outside that football game. You may have trouble getting them in. You may have to pay a premium. Sometimes there's a lot of competition--that brings the price down. Sometimes there's not so much and they can charge you a lot. Sometimes they have limited who can sell, and so the price is high. But, human ingenuity tends to seek out opportunity to interact with people commercially. But, you don't allow that. So, by gifting it means--it's not just--is there barter? Or is it totally gift?

Marian Goodell: We get the gifting/barter question quite frequently, and easily misunderstood that it's barter. We feel that barter is a transaction--

Russ Roberts: It is--

Marian Goodell: and the goal is not to have transactions. So, gifting does not contemplate anything in return. And it can be a gift of yourself. It can be volunteering. It can be a gift of your music, playing your music. It could be a gift of, maybe you've made some handmade necklaces and you are riding your bike and you find this beautiful art piece, and there's the artist putting the last finishing touches on it; and you hop off and you grab one of the necklaces and you put 'em around his neck or her neck and say, 'Thank you.' The gifting is a wide range. That includes food. It includes the art itself. It includes the theme camps. So, we're all about what it is you bring to it and how you give of yourself; and it's a gifting economy.

Russ Roberts: Is it against the rules to charge for something? And how do you enforce that? Is it just sort of self-enforced by the participants, that everyone understands that you are not allowed to sell stuff? Or is there any enforcement?

Marian Goodell: It is definitely against the rules to sell anything. And--yes. We have our own ways of finding that out. Usually the participants actually come and tattle on each other. We don't have a large enforcement process. Right. Exactly. We depend on others. And it used to happen more in the early years--certainly in the early 2000s when, frankly, when the dot-com concept was coming to life, one of the things we would see which was a little related to Gifting and a little related to Decommodification is, we would see camps have logos from their start-up in front of their camp. Or, they'd be giving away flyers. See, we don't even want to see people handing out flyers for free things back in San Francisco or New York. And we really don't want to see people handing out business cards. We want most of that to be, not be done. It's all about your immediate experience and the way that you engage with other people. And, Decommodification goes with Gifting. They work hand in hand.

Russ Roberts: And you argue that--I think I read it or heard it--transactions distance people from each other.

Marian Goodell: Absolutely. Right. We are looking for the 1-to-1 experience of engaging with other people.


Russ Roberts: So, as an economist, it's a tough one for me. Not because I believe in money--which I don't, per se--I don't think there's anything good or bad about money. There's a long tradition in economics going back to Adam Smith that when I sell you something, I have to know something about you: I have to actually put myself in your shoes to figure out what you might need or what you might want. And that commercial life, our day-to-day existence, has some human face to it--precisely because we trade stuff. Now, giving is very beautiful. And, of course, a family has giving--usually, almost always; there are family probably that sell, that rent their rooms out to their kids and auction off the last cookie. But, most of us run our families through gifting, exclusively. We might have an allowance. We might have some certain chores that we might compensate kids for--we never did in our family. Our kids actually never got an allowance and never got money for chores. And, the commercial life that we lead as we grow up out of our families is a little bit jarring--as Hayek has pointed out: There's a certain asymmetry between the world we live in in the small communities of our family and neighbors and the larger, decentralized society that we live in outside of Burning Man. But, in Burning Man, you want to have 8 days of a different type of human interaction. And you also, I think, want to have that expand, ideally, beyond Burning Man's borders. Is that true?

Marian Goodell: Yes. One of the things that also happened naturally on its own was that this experience of not having transactions and having creativity and wanting to connect with others because it's, it becomes natural, that naturally took itself outside of the Black Rock City [name of the temporary city where Burning Man is set up and held annually--Econlib Ed.] environment. So, it became a cultural experience that couldn't--what people were seeking beyond Black Rock City. And the first that we really saw that was in 1997, when we were a, in some challenges with the local county, and we were in debt. Temporarily. And we appealed to the participants to assist us. And we weren't a non-profit at the time. And from that became an outpouring of support from places like Austin, Texas; Seattle; Canada; New York. And we had not, at all created any kind of infrastructure. It was the beginning of the Internet; it was the beginning of email. And we did not have anything other than a mailing system to mail out newsletters. And, when the people reached out to us, we gave them an email address so that they could find others in their area--Austin at, NewYork at And we allowed and encouraged them to find others that had maybe been to Burning Man and wanted to--not just, at the time, reconnect with the organization to help us, but also to connect with each other. To explore what it would be like to find others that had had the same experience. And, from that, people wanted to replicate the experience. So, we found them wanting to do gatherings, certainly. But we, over the years found them wanting to do civic work. And that's the most rewarding opening to Burning Man: that really, a person does not have to want to go to a party, does not have to want to go to an overnight event, to really engage with Burning Man Principles. And that's really the area, the frontier, that we are, with our Non-profit, spending the vast majority of our time. People are shocked that we have 100 employees; and it's a $40 million dollar endeavor to do Burning Man. But, much of the year-round work now is spent encouraging and supporting and stimulating and teaching and educating and learning with those that are out in the world, now, that have come to Burning Man--that have created communities. There is an event in South Africa that has 12,000 people that's called AfrikaBurn, and they've built that event up over 10 years. There is a civic engagement-type arm called Burners Without Borders, and that came out of Hurricane Katrina in Mississippi, Louisiana, in 2005. And that group now is a loosely knit group of individuals that any point can say, 'Hey, I want to help.' So, when Texas was flooded this past fall, they organically came together and began to help each other in ways that look like disaster relief but are really probably more like civic work: helping others do whatever needs to get done, not just sort of cleaning up a mess. We've done some work in Haiti, and Japan; in Peru. And that's coming directly from the participants themselves. We gave them framework, and now they became part of the non-profit, so that they can continue doing that work out in the world. So, the most exciting part of what is Burning Man is what we're just touching on, which is that: Burning Man now can be perceived and experienced through art in a city or town, engaging our playful art. There's a big piece that just got put in San Jose, California that people can move around in and make sound in and the lights go off. There will be interactive art and certainly like that at the Renwick. And we--and I just spoke about Art Cars earlier, and Burners Without Borders. The most exciting part of what is Burning Man is that you don't need to attend an 8-day event in the Nevada Desert to have an experience that makes you feel connected to other people, that makes you want to be kind to others, to feel kindness and generosity and creativity, and to help others. And the 10 Principles or that framework--a lot of people will read them and say, 'Well, I can see part of my religion in here; I can see part of my upbringing and school, or family.' The 10 Principles are sort of common sense framework for people to imagine how to be civil to each, be kind to each other, and be good citizens.


Russ Roberts: Yeah; I wanted to react along those lines. And I want to mention one of the principles we didn't talk about explicitly, which is Immediacy. And I think, in today's world, with screens potentially dominating, certainly the lives our children, and then the lives of the adults that become--and some of us as adults already. We really want that human connection. And, you know, my religious community--I'm an Orthodox Jew--every time we had a child, people brought us food for two weeks. The idea of giving, paying them, for it would have been insulting. And we, in turn, of course, provided food to many, many new parents with newborns. If someone needs a ride in a hospital situation. All those things are done as gifts. Always. No one charges, and that I know of, in most or all religious communities. And, in a very exhilarating moment, religiously, which may come or go infrequently but does sometimes happen--you know, you have the privilege of sitting in silence with a group of people you care about, and feeling something larger than yourself: whatever words you want to put around that about the Divine or whatever. But it strikes me that, when you were describing the burning of the temple, or the Burning Man--right? The exhilaration and the joy and the exuberance of the Saturday night and the solemnity and the sorrow and the bittersweetness, and the joy of renewal and saying goodbye, and all of that, that it sounds like it happens on Sunday --that's also what of course happens in many religious communities. And, it's part of what draws us to religion. It's--but as religion becomes harder for many people to accept--for either reasons of rationality or cultural reasons--something like Burning Man is an interesting alternative for people to feel that transcendence, and connection, that religion, I think, provides at its best--it doesn't always work at its best, of course. I noticed that your theme, I think this past year and your next year is Radical Ritual. And I'm curious if--how that played out. Was it this year?

Marian Goodell: Radical Ritual, yes, was 2017.

Russ Roberts: And, did that--when you announced the theme--does that just mean that the art might touch on that? What does the theme do?

Marian Goodell: Exactly. It's more like the art might touch on that. It is certainly a preference to the art for the grants. Our giving preferential treatment if it helps provoke the story of the theme. But, much of the art, is certainly, isn't related to the theme. And the theme also gives people a storyline, for just for contemplation. And in recent years it's given a framework to the way the Man base, and the way the art around the Man has a storyline. It's just giving--you know, it's a lot about reflection. Like you say. We had an environmental theme one year called the Green Man. We've done the Floating World. We've done things that talk about Space. This coming year, we're doing one called I, Robot. Which is certainly reflecting on AI [artificial intelligence] and some of the thoughts that are in society now about that.


Russ Roberts: So, for what it's worth, I see your enterprise--which sprung out of 200[?] people's desire to do something different on a summer solstice night. It's an example of the kind of thing that I think is going to be increasingly appealing. I see it in very trivial forms: Whenever I do a live EconTalk, I know that people--they want to be--as much as we want to be immersed in our screens and our podcasts and our YouTube, we also so crave human connection. And this is an incredible example of it, it seems to me.

Marian Goodell: That's what I'm finding, Russ. I'm flying alone with the world. I was just in Australia. I'm going to Russia. I'm asked to speak a lot to business groups. They are asking how they can engage and how better employees that are better citizens--like, what can they do? And then, how to look for better citizens? And how to cultivate better citizens? And, that's what we think we are doing. And it is global. And it absolutely is something that people need right now. You are absolutely right.

Russ Roberts: Let's close, or, semi-close, with the challenges you face about a tragedy this past year. Somebody died. I'm surprised that doesn't happen constantly. It's--75,000 people, things happen. What are some of the challenges you've had to deal with? And that you are worried about going forward?

Marian Goodell: You know, there's different--there are many challenges. And the loss of life is not common, thankfully. And the situation, the tragic suicide last year, was extremely unfortunately and affected a lot of people that witnessed it. And, fortunately that is, that's not happened before in that form. We do have an ongoing relationship with the government. And the administrators over the Bureau of Land Management land and local government--it keeps us busy.

Russ Roberts: I would guess so. That's crazy. That's just crazy.

Marian Goodell: It's sometimes more challenging than others. And, a lot of the work really is helping translate what the intention and purpose is, and also what the respect, the responsibilities of the local and Federal authorities that also are charged with, you know, protecting citizens. And, it's an ongoing negotiation. I would--it's a challenge at times. But I've honestly felt from the beginning--but that's part of what this is. We've never intended to be rogue. And just sort of plant ourselves and be underground. We've always intended to create society and do that, and doing that in the context of sometimes of America's rules and laws has very unique challenges. And then--it's interesting to then engage and have discussions with and meet people from other countries that are doing Burning Man. And they face different challenges. The Burning Man folks that are doing their work in South Korea or China or Thailand have different challenges than--and Germany, and Italy, and England. And America. And the one that probably everyone has to navigate together is: What is the interpretation of what we're doing, and what is the value to others, where we do not mean to or intend to be secular and take us away from what the rest of the world is doing. We actually have found that we represent all religions; we represent all politics. We have in our database over 120 different countries that have come and attended Burning Man. All 50 states usually--at least 45 each year--we're, across section of global society. And, you know, the challenges are the same ones you would get as an individual. We have challenges with people with neighbors, when you are on site at Burning Man. We have challenges with the Government. We have challenges with traffic. I think our biggest challenge is the growth. The idea that we know that there are limiting factors is frustrating for us. And so we've looked at making sure that we have a sort of a commuter environment--that we started using buses, just like the big, well-known festival at Glastonbury. We just started using buses just about 4 years ago, which, Glastonbury has been using probably for 10 years to bring people in because the cars, you know, there's always so many ways in around[?] is just one. So, it's growth. And that's the Number One challenge.

Russ Roberts: Have you thought about having it twice a year instead of once?

Marian Goodell: We have thought about that.

Russ Roberts: I don't really think I'm coming through with a big breakthrough, there.

Marian Goodell: Yeah. We've thought about it. We've thought about it for having it for two weekends, which we technically do now. We really open on a Sunday; we close on a following Monday. So, we've looked at having it two weeks long. The costs, and the energy that it would take to do that, the return on reward wasn't there for us. So, that's why we're really pushing it outward. And, we're decentralizing it, really.

Russ Roberts: So, I'm going to ask you a slightly embarrassing question. I apologize in advance. But, I assume you draw a salary?

Marian Goodell: I do.

Russ Roberts: Which I'm all fine with, of course. But I also assume that you find this work rewarding in more than just a financial way: that you believe in it in some deep way. Can I ask why? What does it mean to you?

Marian Goodell: Oh, gosh. Um. I am asked this in different ways, in different times. It's really changed my trajectory in life. I have--was raised right-wing Republican, Catholic Midwest. And went to an oldeman's[?] college. English major, photography. And I thought I might be doing something in the arts. But I was raised by a businessman, so I also thought I would be a leader some day. And, when I started experiencing Burning Man, I realized it was giving me a platform to really think about who I am and what I wanted to be. And not just in the creative sense, but the opening of being creative actually reminds you of this sort of playful, child-like self--that thought: Everything is possible. And I have stayed with it, because it's helped me create change in my life and be a better person. And, then, I've stayed with it in the next phase when I was asked to be a, even a more important leader than I had been. And, I felt that that was an honor worth taking seriously. And now, I navigate that because I do--the feedback that I get from people that I meet and even people like yourself that haven't been and understand intrinsically that it's having an effect on people--that's what keeps me going, is: The stories that the creative engagement and connecting with other people, even like you said though we are a bit afraid of others and we hide behind our laptops and it's much easier to stay at home than go out, then when people do find the opportunity to connect with other people, that there's real joy, and there's real love, between humans. And that Burning Man creates an opportunity to see that. So, that's why I continue doing this.

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