Earlier this week I was at a two-day conference in sunny Dubrovnik, on the coast of Croatia – a country that used to be behind the Iron Curtain but which is now a candidate for European Union membership.
Hosted by the Stockholm Network, an umbrella group of European think-tanks, the conference went into the art and science of running a think-tank and making a difference to events. It was certainly refreshing to see so many talented people committed to the free-market cause and committed to changing reality in so many countries.
We were staying, appropriately, at the Libertas hotel. Liberty is a key principle here, a country which has come through the bitter war of the early 1990s when the beautiful old walled city of Dubrovnik, the Pearl of the Adriatic and a magnet for tourists, was shelled and laid waste. But now it's flourishing again, restored (apart from a few poignant bullet-holes) in just a few years, largely thanks to Unesco and its World Heritage Site programme. Perhaps Unesco has its uses.
The city had been destroyed before, in the earthquake of 1667. Among other things, this catastrophe brought on a new regulation, banning balconies on the grounds that many people had been killed by falling masonry during the tremor. My friend and fellow delegate Jose Pinera, the man who privatized Chile's pension system (and who is doing his best to privatize everyone else's) was scornful. Typical, he said: you get an earthquake only every 400 years or so, but still the bureaucrats rob us of the pleasure of sitting in our balconies, just in case.
Sounds like absurd Health and Safety rules are nothing new...