In August 2018, the Adam Smith Center organized the inaugural IMAGINE Conference at Lifelong Learning Institute, with a focus on the Future of Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Progress. What set this conference apart was that it incorporated an economics and public policy lens to a theme that is usually explored through a purely commercial, business-based viewpoint.
As such, the conference not only featured local entrepreneurs – which it did – but also economists, political scientists and public policy experts who gave their unique perspectives on innovation trends around the world, its implications and even policy suggestions on what governments could do to increase economic growth and welfare.
Amongst the many leading experts we featured, we were pleased to have had Professor Razeen Sally from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy as our keynote speaker on the second day. Also an advisory board member of the Adam Smith Center, he spoke on the topic of “Future of Economic Growth in Asia”. He argued that governments need to go further in their market-based reforms in order to sustain growth for the 21st century.
We also had speakers from overseas as well. One of the highlights of the conference was Professor Randall Holcombe, who is the DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University, and who also previously served on Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors from 2000 to 2006, and is past president of the Public Choice Society and the Society for the Development of Austrian Economics.
Prof Holcombe spoke first on the topic of market failure and debunked common fallacies concerning it, arguing that market imperfections were simply profit opportunities for entrepreneurs to discover solutions and new technologies. Simply put, “market failure” is not a death sentence that inevitably necessitates government intervention. Entrepreneurs step in to plug gaps in the market. This would imply the need for government to maintain a pro-competitive, conducive environment for entrepreneurship to flourish.
On the second day, Prof Holcombe was also on the panel titled “Public Policy for the Future Economy”, where he explored the role of government in promoting economic growth. Here, he drew on concepts from public choice theory and Austrian economics, to argue that governments are limited in picking winners and losers, and even predicting growth industries of the future. Owing to the sheer complexity of the task, government would do best by allowing the private sector to innovate solutions on its own.
One may easily think that this conference was a boring academic event featuring policy wonks and economists. But the Adam Smith Center believes that these intellectual ideas can be, and very much should be, made exciting and interesting for the ordinary lay person. After all, ideas have a powerful impact on society and politics, and we are after all in the business of spreading good ideas.
This is why our conference also explored interesting topics seldom found in other events. For example, on the second day, we ran a panel on the future of healthcare where we explored the ethics of organ trading. Featuring medical doctor Kyle Varner and economist Ken Schoolland, we debated how and whether the legalisation of kidney sales would help tackle the worldwide organ shortage that is even now killing patients on the waiting list.
The Adam Smith Center believes in the important intellectual legacy left behind by the political economist Adam Smith in the 18th century, and its relevance for ordinary people today. This is why we specifically explored the topic of “Future of Developing World”, where we invited thought leaders from overseas NGOs to share about how free market reforms are helping lift ordinary people out of poverty. Mr Barun Mitra from India shared about how property rights in land were empowering local villagers, Mr Rainer Heufers from Indonesia spoke about low cost private schools providing educational access, and Ms Li Schoolland shared a powerful story about living under Maoist Communism.
We are also very thankful to all our guest speakers, partners and sponsors for making this event a success. First, we want to make a special mention to Mr Andrew Bryant, bestselling author of “Self-Leadership”, and executive coach, who gave his keynote address on Day One on how “Self-Leadership” is necessary for social progress. Here, he reinforced the importance of thinking for oneself and owning one’s thoughts in order to not be framed by others.
Supporting organisations included Tabula Rasa, our event partner, Students for Liberty – Singapore, Singapore Human Resources Institute, EDGE Society, Bitcoin.com, and many others. We thank you for making this event a success and we very much hope to collaborate with you again.
We also want to thank the many students who attended our conference. The Adam Smith Center exists to provide educational programs and activities that will build a new generation of free market humanitarians in society, and is pleased to have interacted with the JC and university students who were in attendance. Special mention to the NUS Political Science Department for sending its students to this event.