Report: Free Market Road Show in Prague 2019

The Free Market Road Show convened at the University of Economics (VSE), organized by the CERGE-EI Foundation and VSE’s Institute of Strategic Investments. The late afternoon event consisted of two panels, the first focused on the opportunities and threats posed by Big Data, the second debating the overarching theme of this year’s FMRS: Europe at a Crossroads. The panelists, drawn from the senior echelons of the local business community and long-term international supporters of FMRS offered the audience a challenging, provocative and, at times, heated discussion.

Moderator David Lipka of Prague’s Anglo-American University opened the first panel by asking whether the risks posed by big data can be mitigated by markets alone. In a broad-ranging conversation, opinions were divided. However, there was overall consensus that the opportunities presented by the era of Big Data are currently embryonic but have huge potential to drive better decision-making across governments and businesses.

Milan Šlapák, CEO of GE Aviation in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, forecast that big data will revolutionize current business models, offering opportunities for step changes in product and service quality and profitability. However, cyber-security and IP protection will become major considerations as organizations determine how to safeguard their assets. Offering a macro perspective, Lukáš Kovanda, Chief Economist of Czech Fund observed that current levels of productivity growth are at their lowest since the nineteenth century but the warning bells are not being heard. Will the Big Data era need as long as the industrial era to realise the full potential of today’s innovations?

Miroslav Umlauf, Data Management Director of Czech software giant Avast’s consumer division commented that, after two decades, the network effect of digitization is now materializing, giving extraordinary disruptive powers to individuals in a way that would have been impossible in the pre-digital age. Nick Harris, Public Affairs Director of Japanese Tobacco, challenged the increasing momentum of governments worldwide to regulate lifestyle brands without offering any evidence that such regulation is achieving its stated goals. He called on governments to harness big data to support smarter, evidence-based regulation.

The second panel discussed the current situation in Europe. AEC’s Richard Zundritsch challenged the EU’s propensity to overregulate, while EU Parliamentarian and ALDE member Pavel Telička criticized the inability to tackle issues at EU-wide level, a failing which he attributed to a lack of will and courage.

Dan Mitchell of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity urged that the EU should not be given the power to raise taxes, fearing a dangerous undermining of economic prosperity. Former Governor of the Czech National Bank Miroslav Singer remarked that the EU’s flagship project, the Euro, was seemingly leading to the polar opposite of its original intentions to foster prosperity and friendship. Long-time FMRS supporter Cris Lingle of the Universidad Francisco Marroquín sounded a persistent warning bell. He accused the EU political classes of refusing to confront systemic problems and warned of the demographic deficit and the enormous timebomb awaiting future generations.