Mannkal Economic Education Foundation

Mannkal Student Internship Blog

Lithuanian Free Market Institute

Week 10 – Rebecca Lawrence

rebecca.lawrence, 23 February 2015

On Tuesday of this week, I was fortunate enough to attend an event organised by the Vilnius Liberal Youth students which gathered the three frontrunner candidates for Vilnius Mayor in the upcoming elections. The event was a “World Coffee Forum”, and involved the three candidates sitting around the room and speaking to designated topics for a specific amount of time. The students could choose which candidate to listen to at any point in time, and could also ask questions while the candidates spoke. The event was very interactive and was targeted at youth without being partisan, and attracted over 50 university students as a result. The dialogue was all in Lithuanian, but my friends were able to translate the ideas that the candidates were speaking about. The main electoral issues include heating supply, the quality of public transport, the possible sale of the municipality-owned airline and the development of Vilnius’ river properties. I was lucky enough to get the current Mayor of Vilnius, Arturas Zuokas, to take a “selfie” with me – he is a self-proclaimed social media expert who often posts selfies whilst out in the community in his role.

On Friday evening, I travelled by train to Minsk in Belarus with two Australian friends. The divide between Lithuania and Belarus is taken very seriously, as Belarus is not a member of the European Union. As such, nobody that I knew had ever travelled to Belarus – not even my Lithuanian friends who live only three hours’ train from Minsk. While we were warned to expect Belarus to be very culturally different to Europe or Australia, we were pleasantly surprised by the city and found the people to be very polite and helpful. After exploring some of the main sights in Minsk, we drove to Brest (south Belarus) on Saturday and back to Minsk on Monday, stopping to snowboard for a few hours. In Brest, we were fortunate to witness a military demonstration involving two soldiers who laid stones at a war memorial site every morning. This simple demonstration reminded us of how lucky we are to come from Australia and never have seen a war fought in our country.

Rebecca Lawrence – Week 9

rebecca.lawrence, 12 February 2015

This week, I continued much of my research and reading about the shadow economy. I was interested to see the wide scope of topics that have previously been studied in relation to the shadow economy (mainly in Europe) – everything from attitudes around the shadow economy, to the specific condition of the black market within the construction industry, to the shadow economy over time and comparisons between the levels of shadow economic activity in different countries. It was also interesting to see how the Lithuanian Free Market Institute’s study will fit into the pre-existing literature on the shadow economy.

I also spent many hours at the Belarusian Embassy in Vilnius this week, attempting to secure a tourist visa to visit Minsk and Brest at the end of next week. I was rejected seven times for a variety of reasons – everything from “not having the right health insurance” (twice) to “needing a new letter of proof of booking” from my accommodation providers (twice), to “come back another day because we are too busy” and needing “a new photo”. After four consecutive days at the embassy without any luck, I managed to get a Belarusian tourist agency to apply for the visa on my behalf and the application was accepted. Of all the things I have learned while travelling and interning in Europe, the visa application process for Belarus probably taught me the most about government inefficiency. The process also taught me to appreciate the frustration of those attempting to get a visa to enter Australia.

On the weekend, I travelled to a countryside cottage with some friends. I enjoyed walking through the fresh snow in the forest and seeing the difference between the natural countryside in Lithuania compared to the barren Australian outback.

Rebecca Lawrence – Week 8

rebecca.lawrence, 2 February 2015

I began this week in Krakow, Poland, with Alex and Lauren (Mannkal scholars completing internships at the IEA). I found it incredibly interesting to learn about the history of Poland after living in Lithuania for a number of months, as the political history of the two countries is so closely linked. We visited a number of interesting places, including a bookshop with different books about Auschwitz and the old “Jewish district” in Krakow, which now forms the artistic district of the city. After this, I caught a train to Warsaw then a bus home to Vilnius, which involved nearly 24 hours of travel, and arrived in Vilnius just in time for work on Tuesday.

This week, as well as helping with translations of a document outlining the projected impacts of further increases to Lithuania’s monthly minimum wage and researching details of some free-market grants, I continued work on the project on the shadow economy. As the project is still in its early stages, we are investigating specific survey questions and methods to be used in the process of collecting data. This is extremely interesting as I am able to witness first-hand the survey process for an international study.

I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to learn about LFMI’s project on surveying perceptions of entrepreneurs in Lithuania, Bulgaria, Kyrgyzstan and Georgia this week, despite not working on the project. I was able to read the English publication of the initial results and ask questions of the LFMI’s experts. The project was designed to examine attitudes about entrepreneurship in post-Soviet countries. The results of the study highlighted to me once again how lucky I am to live in Australia, as images of entrepreneurship are typically negative across the post-Soviet countries.

I was also lucky enough to spend a night watching a contemporary Lithuanian dance performance. While the spoken component was all in Lithuanian, I was able to understand the non-verbal components of the show and appreciate the different themes portrayed by the artists. The show mainly focussed on the role of artists in Lithuanian society, and discussed the challenges of creating “modern art” performances that would engage an audience as well as showcase their own skills.

Rebecca Lawrence – Week 7

rebecca.lawrence, 27 January 2015

This week at LFMI, I focused my work on the research project on the shadow economy. I surveyed much of the previous research on international measurement of the black market and the shadow economy, including “The Shadow Economy in Germany, Great Britain and Scandinavia: A measurement based on questionnaire surveys” (Pedersen), “Handbook on the Shadow Economy” (Schneider)  and “Measuring the Non-Observed Economy: A Handbook” (OECD). Throughout this process, we continued work on developing the range of potential surveyquestions and methods that we could use for our research on the shadow economy across the Baltic States. My main task has been to compile a list of questions from the previous surveys and to investigate the scope of the previous surveys, as well as working on a way to define the scope of our research.

This weekend, I am travelling 14 hours by bus to Krakow in Poland. I plan to explore the historical parts of Poland, particularly Auschwitz, and spend some time with young free market economists from other parts of Europe. Given the very close historical ties between Poland and Lithuania, I am interested to see where the cultural differences lie today. Many Lithuanians still speak Polish, yet believe themselves to be a very different nation, so it will be extremely fascinating to see how the nations have developed differently since Lithuania gained independence.

The municipality elections are drawing near for Lithuania, and Vilnius city is filled with diverse types of political advertising. The advertising is far more targeted in Lithuania than Australia, and political parties have tried things like creating “Liberal Tea” and hosting nightclub parties for supporters as well as traditional campaigning tactics. The elections are particularly relevant to the Institute, which is not politically affiliated but often campaigns on municipality policy issues with the Lithuanian Municipality Performance Index. As such, this has been a busy time in the media for the Institute with senior LFMI figures being consulted on a range of policy issues.

Rebecca Lawrence – Week 6

admin, 22 January 2015

This week was very busy at the Lithuanian Free Market Institute. I finished my work on the Liberal Voices publication, which covers six European policy issues. These are: value-added tax reform, a review of the Working Hours Directive, potential amendments to the restrictions on company merger operations, proposed changes to the Small Business Act, the drafted Impact Assessment Guidelines and the modifications to the Notice on the Notion of State Aid. Investigating the European Union policies on a range of areas was extremely instructive for me because I was able to figure out how the EU policies differed to Australian policy, and assess the advantages of the different systems. I was also able to familiarise myself with the arguments for and against various reforms, which I enjoyed, as the topics were very interesting to me and quite relevant to many Australian policy debates.

Other tasks I worked on this week include some translation work of promotional and academic material, and updating LFMI’s fundraising information. My main project, however, was some research on the shadow economy. As this research project is only just beginning, we are currently reviewing other work that has been done on surveying international shadow economies, as well as planning the structure of the questionnaire survey that we plan to use for our project. The literature that I have read so far combines elements of statistics, macroeconomic, taxation, behavioural economic, and econometric studies and puts theory to use on an interesting topic. Shadow economic research is also particularly interesting because it involves relatively new and complex factors, which are less prevalent in Australia.

In my spare time this week, I have taken the time to explore more of the inner city of Vilnius. Despite having lived here for over a month already, I am still astounded by much of the architecture and atmosphere in the Old Town. Vilnius’ Old Town is the largest in all of Europe, and perhaps what is most remarkable about it is the level of functionality that the old buildings still have. The main part of the city still lies within the old town, and every old building has been preserved perfectly (without significant alteration) and is now in use as some kind of business, with apartments on the higher floors. This, coupled with the cold winter, serves as a constant reminder of how far Lithuania is from Australia!

Rebecca Lawrence – Week 5

admin, 20 January 2015

I began this week in Brussels, Belgium. Alex (a Mannkal scholar at the Institute of Economic Affairs in London) and I thoroughly explored the city in the short time we had there, doing everything from completing a walking tour of the CBD in the pouring rain to taking a bus out to the art district of Brussels and exploring the last of the Christmas markets. We found Belgium to be an extremely exciting and interesting place, and one that was particularly different to Australia. In addition to the significant language barrier, we also noticed the gothic architecture around the city and the effort made by the Belgian people in general to preserve their historic buildings. We very much enjoyed hearing about the historical and political background of Belgium, and (relatively young) European country’s insistence on independence throughout its history which makes it such an important part of the European Union today.

As of Tuesday, I returned to work and completed work on the documents explaining the Municipality Index. My work for the rest of the week was split between two projects. One of these involves research into the shadow economy in the Baltic states, including the extent of the shadow economy in both goods and labour markets, the causes of this and potential strategies to combat the large shadow economy in the region.  The other project is the LFMI’s Liberal Voices publication, a document released by the Institute every year which outlines their policy stances on a range of relevant European Union issues. The publication complies the Institute’s responses to European Commission consultations in the past year as well as other information about their policy stances. This years’ edition will include details of proposed free market solutions to issues including business regulation, value-added tax, the notion of state aid and the EU’s working time directive. This work is extremely interesting, because it allows me to compare and contrast the current legislation in Europe and Australia.

Week 4 Blog – Rebecca Lawrence

admin, 5 January 2015

I started the week in London, staying with the two Mannkal scholars who are completing internships at the Institute for Economic Affairs. They kindly showed me around London – both the tourist sites and the more elusive places they had discovered in their time in the UK. I was extremely excited to visit Westminster Abbey and see Big Ben and the Parliament. I also got a chance to visit the Institute for Economic Affairs office and talk to the other Mannkal interns about their time at the IEA, as well as meeting some of their co-workers. We were joined by Angelyn, who is a Mannkal scholar at the Institute of Liberal Studies in Berlin. It was fascinating to hear about their research projects and the other research topics they had seen in their short time there. I exchanged these stories for a recount of my experiences at the Lithuanian Free Market Institute.

After spending New Years’ Eve in London, Alexandra (a London Mannkal scholar) and I travelled to Paris by train. We spent two days exploring the tourist sites in the city with other (international) Institute of Economic Affairs interns and testing a wide variety of French food. In our short time there, we visited the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, French Parliament and Montmartre, took a river cruise, walked down the Champ-Élysées, tried snails and wandered around most of the art and tourist districts by night. We then took a train to Brussels in Belgium, home of Epicentre (the European international free market think tank) and the European Union.

For me, the most valuable part of travelling to London and Paris (and Berlin last week) was the chance to catch up and share stories with interns from other European institutions. Comparing accounts of the highlights of our internships has given all of us ideas for how we can enhance our own experiences when we return to work next week. In particular, I was very interested to hear about the topics of the research projects the IEA interns are undertaking.

Week 3 Blog – Rebecca Lawrence

admin, 5 January 2015

This week at work I continued to work on the English guide to the 2014 Templeton Freedom Award-winning project, the Lithuanian Free Market Institute’s Municipality Performance Index. I was also given the opportunity to speak, in detail, with the employees at the Institute and write a schedule of the work that I will be doing for the rest of my internship. I will be assisting with a research project on the black market and working on the translation of the Institute’s 2014 Survey of the Lithuanian Economy, among other things.

On Tuesday night, I took a 17 hour bus ride from Vilnius to Berlin. After arriving on Christmas Eve, I am staying in Berlin for four nights with Angelyn, another Mannkal scholar. We spent the Christmas break exploring the city’s cultural and historical highlights, including Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg gate, the Berlin Wall and several of the museums on Museum Island. I found the city extremely interesting as the history of Berlin is so well known and easily visible around the city’s streets – for instance, much of the wall is still standing and markings on the ground mark where the wall has been pulled down.

While we didn’t have a white Christmas, Berlin saw a significant amount of snow during the morning on Boxing Day. This provided the perfect atmosphere for our activity for the day, which was visiting the various Christmas markets. Berlin has many, many different Christmas markets in the city, so we didn’t visit all of them, but we did spend a few days wandering through markets trying traditional German food and drink, and enjoying the festivities. We were surprised at how much there was to do during Christmastime in the city, and returned home each day thoroughly worn out.

We have also found Germany (and Lithuania) exhausting because the official language is not English. While we are fortunate that most people have very good English, it has still proven confusing for us to navigate a large foreign city with the added challenge of a language barrier.

Week 2 Blog – Rebecca Lawrence

admin, 5 January 2015

My second week at the Lithuanian Free Market Institute has also proven to be very exciting and rewarding. This week, I have been working on a number of ways to communicate the good work that LFMI did with their Templeton Award-winning project, the Lithuanian Municipality Index, to the global English-speaking community. This has primarily involved creating a document that explains the methodology and processes behind the Index, which has allowed me to gain a better understanding of how the Index works. It is exciting to note that the idea of the Index, which assesses the local governments within a country based on how effectively they ensure good living standards, create good conditions for investment and uphold the principles of good governance, has now been replicated in other nearby countries including Finland.

This week, the Institute also had the pleasure of hosting Jeffrey Gordon from the US think tank Centre for a Secure and Free Society, who spoke briefly about his idea that countries should prioritise creating free market economies and supporting civil liberties while simultaneously emphasising the need to maintain a strong national defence strategy. He advocated for a smaller, lower-spending model of government, and one that lives within its means and limits taxation without cutting the defence budget.

I have also been enjoying the strong Christmas spirit that has swept over Lithuania. The city of Vilnius appears very partial to setting up street markets, and I have visited a number of markets over the course of the weekend, the main ones being the “Christmas Night Markets” in the city centre. The winter setting and long dark nights have encouraged many Lithuanian residents and businesses to engage in Christmas festivities, with many windows and streets displaying colourful Christmas lights and other decorations. Our LFMI office is no exception!

Finally, on Sunday I was lucky enough to travel to the town of Trakai, a little way out of the city of Vilnius. Here, I explored an old castle and we spent the day at a small village that was built in between a series of large lakes.

Week 1 Blog – Rebecca Lawrence

admin, 5 January 2015

After many hours of flying, I reached my destination of Vilnius, Lithuania sometime in the late afternoon on Friday, 5th December. The next morning, I walked through the uninhabitably cold city to a workshop on “Realistic Analysis of Economics”, run by my host institution – the Lithuanian Free Market Institute. The day involved a series of lectures by Dr Steve Horwitz, an accomplished professor in Austrian Economics from St Lawrence University in New York. Dr Horwitz’s arguments were among the best I have ever heard presented in a lecture and were more than sufficient at keeping me awake through my first jetlagged day.

My work at the Institute this week has mainly involved polishing English translations on the LFMI’s website. This has been great, as I have become more familiar with much of the work of the Institute, which will enable me to make an informed decision in relation to the project that I’ll devote most of my time towards. The busiest project at the moment for the LFMI is the 2014 Templeton Award-winning “Municipality Index”, which ranks all the Municipality Governments in Lithuania based on how good they are for citizens, how good they are for investors and how well the government fulfils the principles of good governance. The results of the index were announced this week, and have provided many opportunities for senior LMFI analysts to appear in the media discussing the potential for governments in Lithuania to perform better. I was fortunate enough to attend a press conference on Wednesday at the Baltic News Service.

I have been surprised at the extent of the differences between Australia and Lithuania’s political and economic situations. While we are often (rightly) critical of Australian politicians for raising taxes or interfering in the free market, I was appalled to learn that the average person pays around 50% of their income as tax in Lithuania. Extreme conditions like this, reminiscent of the country’s Soviet past, evidently serve as a powerful motivator for the staff at the LFMI and similar organisations to continue their work in promoting free market principles.