They say that distance and difference are the secrets to creativity. Perhaps that is why I have returned to Australia refreshed from spending three fabulous weeks in three different countries.
I visited Oslo in Norway, Tallinn in Estonia, and then to London in the United Kingdom. I enjoyed all three. It is interesting observing Australia after being somewhere else. Getting off the plane and driving home I noticed a striking difference. Everywhere, here, I see “signs”. No country in the world, has more signs than Australia. We have signs pointing to other signs. If you drive up to a sign, there is another sign in front of the sign you cannot read. Unbelievable, but we have become so accustomed to this “visual pollution” that we just accept it.
The Rules and Regulations in Australia are extraordinary. Listening to the news, this morning was the first time I had heard the Australian news for three weeks. What was the big news item? They are looking at the licensing arrangements between the States on what pets you can keep, and it seems that in most States you can keep dogs and cats. Anything else, and you have to have a license. Really? So, they are trying to harmonise the States on whether you can have a wombat or a porcupine or a kangaroo as a pet. They are finding such inconsistencies between the States, and this is becoming a big deal. What sort of a country have we got? While I was away, there were only two mentions, in the international media about Australiana. So, I thought I would bring them back, for further reflection.
One was, “Two climate activists glued their hands, to the Perspex cover of Picasso’s anti-war painting massacre in Korea, in a Melbourne art galley, on Sunday, police, protestors and the gallery said. But the painting emerged unscathed”. Big news from Australia.
Bigger news from New Zealand. “New Zealand, on Tuesday, unveiled plans to tax the greenhouse gas emissions from farm animals in a controversial proposal designed to tackle climate change, above all things. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, “The levy would be the first of its kind in the world to tax farmers each time the cows farted.” I am so proud to come from this part of the world when we make news like that. It is just unbelievable!
Oslo was a fabulous and elegantly presented Mont Pelerin Society Conference. There were 385 of the world’s leading economists attending, analysing what we can do to “Renew the Infrastructure of Liberty”. It was an amazing week trying to solve this problem. So many stimulating conversations; this has inspired my annual festive poem (for release in December).
Highlights, of that week, included meeting up with my real daughter, Sarah, my adopted goddaughter, Naomi, and my enduring Ukrainian friend, Yuliya.
Then it was off to Estonia for a week (my third visit to Estonia). Upon arriving at the Tallinn (Estonia) Airport on October 9th ’22, I caught an Uber into the City. The Uber driver asked, “Where do you come from?” When I answered, “Australia” he burst into song, singing the full version of our unofficial “National Anthem”, The Land Down Under.
I asked him if he understood the words of our “National Anthem”, he confessed “No, but I like the tune”, so I promised to send him the lyrics and the original version. Here it is…
As soon as you arrive in Tallinn you notice no parking meters anywhere. Twenty years ago, Estonia decided that there is a better way to regulate the parking. You can park your car anywhere and you have 15 minutes of free parking and then with an app you are charged parking beyond the 15-minute mark.
This is so much better than tearing up footpaths and putting all that underground infrastructure that needs constant maintenance. No parking meters.
The politicians do not go into parliament to vote. They vote from their phones and spend their time in their electorates. Twenty years ago, Estonia got the jump on the rest of the world with respect to e-digitisation. Tallinn has less than half the population of Perth and has two conventional (Government-funded) universities.
Their third university, where I spent a day, is the Estonian Business School. A university run with no government funding and 1400 students. Located on the top floor of their building is a start-up company called “The Start-up Wise Guys”. All these fantastic people are doing their own thing and intellectually feeding off each other.
One of the participants was from Perth. His name is Matt Hart, from Soter Analytics and he has spent the last few years working at BHP, Roy Hill and FMG where he was involved with mine safety aspects. Matt has taken his discovery to a start-up stage through the Estonian Business School model. He told me he had sought the best university environment in the world in which to develop his product.
I visited this Estonian Business School several years ago but as a guest speaker. I thought then that this was an amazing school but noted their characteristic modesty. This is why I wanted to spend a day there to better understand their model. I understand they have a 20% equity stake in this Wise Guy’s start-Up company and that the cashflow, from the 20% equity, funds the university operations. There is no government funding.
The original funding came from one person who decided that Estonia needed a better university than the other two existing universities. He has subsequently passed away, but his son is now running the Estonian Business School, in his role as Chancellor. It is a great model and during my limited time there, I realised that there was so much more to learn. I have since suggested that one of London’s leading journalists, William Cook, might investigate further. The Estonian Business School think what they are doing is normal, but it is sensational. Their innovative private, non-government-funded, advance in education is epic; in the style of Hillsdale College and Francisco Marroquin University. Interesting to observe that free enterprise and capitalism are highly regarded at the Estonian Business School, in direct contrast with the average taxpayer funded universities where students are taught to “loathe and detest” capitalism.
My host, Professor Meelis Kitsing, Rector of Estonian Business School and their Professor of Political Economy, has just authored a book, The Political Economy of Digital Ecosystems. Scenario planning for alternative futures, which give insights into the Estonian vision of their digital future.
In one section of the book, he highlights the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Everyone knows what they do. We leave it to them to organise trade deals around the world. Is that right? Meelis Kitsing found that they had not organised any sort of a trade deal for 25 years. Yes, it is 25 years since they did a deal! This book outlines how by using digitalisation and better communication we can do international deals ourselves. We do not have to wait for the World Trade Organisation. We could die of boredom if we wait for the WTO. There are many items of interest in his book. I also read in The Baltic Business Quarterly the way these nations operate regionally. The Estonians, the Lithuanians, the Latvians, all compete vigorously with each other on who can have the most competitive GST rates, tax rates, etc. and this healthy competition keeps them constantly striving to be the most competitive. They all want to be the best.
I became fascinated with Estonia on my first visit. I was so enthusiastic that I became an e-resident of Estonia, and started two companies there.
If, I am ever tempted to start a new enterprise, I think I would just use those two e-resident companies. Simplicity combined with a simple Flat-Rate-Tax creates an extremely attractive business environment.
All these choices provided to us today, from these digital ecosystems available to anyone starting a business today makes me quite envious. It reminds me of some business advice given to me back in 1982.
Harry Browne, a leading investment guru of the 1980s, and later Libertarian Party Presidential Candidate, told me, “Ron, the most often asked question of me is, ‘What’s the best country in the world?’. It is a question I cannot answer because there are really three different questions.
What is the best country in the world in which to work, in which to invest, and in which to live?
Unless you are working with your hands, as in dentistry or hairdressing, it is possible to select the best country for you (it is unlikely that any single country will be the best for the three categories, and, if so, only momentarily).
With some adjustments to your current arrangements your life can be arranged so that you are working in the best country, investing in the best country and, at the same time, living in the best country.”
Back in the 1980s this would have required some major readjustments, but now with the digital ecosystem, as promoted by Estonia, one’s life work, and investment, and country in which to live, can easily be separated so that you can enjoy the very best of each of these three major goals in your life.
Estonia just seem to have got it right. The thing that they do have in common with Australia is that they are super modest. We are modest about our achievements because we do not get much applause or interest from the media. There is little media coverage on anything that we have heard today. It is just not deemed to be of public interest.
Estonia’s achievements are fantastic, but they are modest because they think everyone else is doing it and there is nothing unusual about what they are doing.
Much here for one to contemplate.
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