Texas Tech visiting economic professor Benjamin Powell traveled across eastern and southern Europe in June as a guest speaker for the 6th annual Free Market Road Show.
Powell, the director of the Free Market Institute at Tech, visited countries including Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, Italy, Bosnia and Herzegovina, lecturing and discussing the economic and financial problems troubling many European countries.
“Many of these countries have made progress in improving their economic freedom,” Powell said, “but not nearly enough. Only Montenegro has jumped toward the top in terms of economic freedom as we look at countries around the world.”
Montenegro has risen to the top, Powell said, because its government is more respecting of private property rights, upholding the rule of law, and generally have less tax and regulatory burden of their government.
The Free Market Road Show’s mission, according to its website, is to bring together leading business people, policy experts, elected officials, outstanding scholars and students, diplomats, opinion leaders and other interested parties from across Europe to discuss the economic crisis in the region, find out what people want from their governments and determine solutions.
The purpose of the show is not to directly change the policies of the government, Powell said, but rather to influence the ideals of future generations.
“I have no delusions that the government has heard this roadshow and will suddenly change,” he said. “The bigger impact is as we spread these ideas to students and faculty and the general public in these areas, and eventually they will be the beacons of change that cause their governments to reform.”
One of the major problems, Powell said, is many European countries have laws that make it difficult to dismiss employees, and companies are therefore less likely to hire new ones.
“It’s akin to basically going on a single date with somebody and then having to decide if you want to be married or not with no possibility of divorce,” he said.
Powell said it was exciting to see young adults he met pick up free market ideas.
“It was inspiring to meet some young intellectual entrepreneurs who were first exposed to free market ideas at this road show a few years ago,” Powell said, “and have now created think tanks in their home country to try to promote these ideas.”
The European youth are more accepting, he said, because they do not share the same ideals as the older generations.
“We now have a generation who have basically grown up since the fall of communism,” Powell said, “and doesn’t have nostalgia for that era and are looking at the West’s [economy] enviously and trying to figure out how they can get that type of prosperity and growth in their own country.”
However, Americans are not too concerned with the economic status of Europe according to a Pew Research Center article.
According to the article, last year, 17 percent of Americans said they were concerned about economic problems in Europe.
Three percent of people polled said Europe’s economic crisis was their top story of that week. By comparison, 40 percent of citizens said they tracked U.S. economic news very closely and 20 percent said they followed it more closely than any other story, according to the article.
However, Powell said people can learn from the mistakes of the countries he visited.
“Unfortunately America is not setting a particularly good example for these countries,” he said. “We have seen our economic freedom in the United States plummet over the last decade. At the absolute level we are more free than these countries I was just in, but we have been headed in the wrong direction. Most of them are trending in the right direction.”
According to the Pew Research Center, 72 percent of Americans believe reducing the national deficit should be a top priority of the President Barack Obama administration and Powell said he agrees.
“The crisis we see being played out in the (European Union), where member countries have had unsustainable government budget deficits that have led to a crisis, is a warning,” he said, “because the United States itself is on a similar trajectory. Government spending should be slashed, and be slashed dramatically, if we are going to avoid an economic crisis.”