A large crowd of attendees at the Bratislava, Slovakia, stop of the 2016 Free Market Road Show® tour.
The ideas of liberty flourish when people of different communities, countries, and cultures come together to share their perspectives, stories, and strategies for success. The Free Market Road Show® (FMRS) brings together “leading business people, outstanding scholars and students, opinion leaders, policy experts, elected officials, diplomats and other interested parties” in an intellectual tour with more than 40 stops across Europe, the Balkan countries, and the Caucasus regions.
“The growth of the FMRS speaks for itself,” said Barbara Kolm, president of the F. A. v. Hayek Institute in Vienna and director of the Austrian Economics Center. “Nine years ago, we started in four capitals. This year we’re doing 40 nations in Europe, the Caucasus region, and Israel with 45 cities. But success is not only measured by quantity — e.g., the number of attendees, media reports, and political campaigns that pick up our topics. To us, the quality and level of discussion and debate are important. We can see the level of debate rising, and greater audience follow-up throughout the year. The Road Show brings together individuals and groups that otherwise seldom collaborate. We often preach the division of labor, but we don’t usually put it into practice.”
The FMRS stop in Thessaloniki, Greece, drew more than 1,000 attendees.
This year’s FMRS will focus on the current Euro-zone crisis and pressing regional issues like migration tax harmonization, explore possibilities for the future of Europe, and discuss ways to turn the current crisis into an opportunity. Discussions in the Balkan countries will include strategies for fighting government corruption, and the Caucasus regions provide an opportunity to cover regional tensions and explore how the situation can be improved through economic freedom, the rule of law, and protection of property rights.
“We have discussed some of the main current issues years ago,” Kolm said. “For instance, back in 2014 we one of the central topics was the migration crisis. I believe that the network of scholars, entrepreneurs, politicians, think tanks, and universities around the Road Show is presenting the European population with a counter-narrative to the one that emanates from Brussels. The fact that the FMRS audiences, media, and cities are only growing tells you that there is demand for our message. Last year in Thessaloniki we gathered 1,000+ attendees. Our Road Show was one of the biggest events in the city in 2015 and the biggest libertarian event in Greece.”
Barbara Kolm, FMRS speakers, and representatives of Youth Business Network celebrate the tour’s stop in Komotini, Greece, with a cake.
The FMRS is organized by the AEC in cooperation with more than 100 leading think tanks and universities, as well as international partners such as the Liberty Fund, Global Philanthropic Trust, European Students for Liberty, Ruefa, and the F.A. v. Hayek Institut. The program began in 2008 with the plan to export the ideas of Austrian economics and the success stories of Austrian reforms in the early 21st century throughout the region
“During the first term in office, the coalition government of Freedom Party and conservative party led by Wolfgang Schüssel conducted a series of very courageous and important reforms in Austria in the pension, tax, and labor areas,” Kolm said. “Sadly, those reforms were unwound. Anyway, back then Austria was the ‘better Germany,’ and so we thought that we could export both the Austrian school of economics and the Austrian wave of reforms that were taking place. This whole approach had to change after the financial crisis of 2008.”
Liberty Fund provides a wide array of literature at every stop on the FMRS tour, representing a spectrum of the ideas of liberty and free-market economics, here in Podgorica, Montenegro.
Kolm said that the FMRS has some strategic partners that help make the entire FMRS project a success, including Global Philanthropic Trust and Liberty Fund, which have expanded their generous support over the years — the latter, in part, by donating amazing books and collections of great works to all the local partners. It is those local partners, however, who are the key strength of FMRS. Those local organizers, think tanks, and experts in every stop on the tour are the “local heroes” who, together, form a multinational joint effort. Each one of them is important and crucial to the success of the tour — and, together with some of the leading economists and entrepreneurs featured on the tour, these local policy experts form the core of an enormous pool of expertise.
“Each and every speaker is a freedom fighter and hero of our movement,” Kolm said. “José Piñera’s story of pension reform has always been very interesting for all audiences. Top economists like Deirdre McCloskey and Ben Powell are also very popular. Young people in particular are usually fascinated by the stories of our successful entrepreneurs — Terry Anker and John Chisholm are some of the examples that come to mind. But there are also European, Asian, and Latin American speakers. Last year we had over 400 speakers involved. With the Road Show we have made it clear — particularly to the left — that it is not one think tank per country. There are many brave and strong freedom fighters who stand up and make the case for our beliefs.”
The FMRS stop in Bucharest, Romania, featured a large roundtable discussion format.