It’s time for the government to put consumers first

It’s a great time to be alive. In the past few years, we’ve been incredibly lucky to gain access to great technologies and services that make our lives better every day.

Just think about the great problem-solving innovations we’ve had in recent years. Want a safer alternative to consuming nicotine? Enter vape devices. Looking for a cheap, easy, and safe taxi? Ride-sharing. Do you have an extra bedroom and a need for some quick cash? Home-sharing. Congestion and emissions from too many cars in traffic? E-scooters hit the street. Instant access to thousands of hours of TV and movies without paying for Sky or pirating? Come on in, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. Cheaper flights to visit countries and cities you’ve never before explored? Thank you, Ryanair, easyJet, and Southwest.

With every new innovation, however, comes the predictable hoard of legislators and activists ready to combat it.

We saw this in London in 2017, after Transport for London stripped Uber of its license. Succumbing to the pressure of the domestic black cab and taxi industry, political leaders put onerous burdensin place for all ride-sharing services, depriving consumers of the choice of these platforms.

There are many reasons activists and politicians use to justify these regulations. Some believe Uber is unfair to taxi drivers, or desperately want more taxes from those who make extra cash from renting out their rooms on Airbnb. Other times, they express their fury at the lack of the right blend of government regulation to steer innovations in the direction they prefer.

The time has come to say enough is enough.

There are millions of consumers who enjoy these products and services, using them to improve their standard of living. We need to be able to articulate that.

As citizens of democracies, we all have a right to get active in the political process to make our voices heard. Most of us use our votes, while some donate to campaigns or politicians they believe in. 

Fundamentally, each of us has an obligation to participate in some way if we want to make a difference. Whether that be in starting your own organization, lobbying your local council, writing articles, or giving speeches. 

It’s important to hold those in power to account and contribute to the battle of ideas. The more ideas we have in the public sphere and the more activists championing them, the more democratic our societies can become.

So why is this frowned upon when it comes to the innovations and choices consumers make in the market place?

That question will become increasingly important as our societies grow and opportunities emerge. That’s why my colleagues and I started the Consumer Choice Center, a millennial activism group that advocates for greater consumer choice, specifically lifestyle freedom, consumer access, and the right to choose.

Wherever you live, that message may speak to you. The freedom to choose is popular. More than that, there is an entire constituency of consumers who embrace innovation, are early adopters of new technologies, and prefer simple and smart evidence-based regulations that help foster progress. Above all, we need to defend the interests of the consumer, often left behind in the regulatory process.

We must also champion the importance of evidence-based policy concerning GMOs, legalising and smartly regulating cannabis, choice in fashion, free trade, and more.

We champion these causes because we believe in them. We believe defending them is how consumers will continue to prosper, rather than succumb to protectionist narratives present in too many government bodies. 

The Consumer Choice Center has been able to bring these ideas to the halls of the European parliament, the US Congress, the Canadian parliament, the Israeli Knesset, and dozens of other committees and local jurisdictions.

In the United Kingdom, these activities are sorely needed. Whether it was the branding ban passed in 2017, bans on certain types of milkshakes, taxes on plastic packaging, or junk food ad bans, the need to defend consumers from bad public policy is pressing.

That said, such an endeavour will attract critics. In governing capitals around the world, there are a plethora of ideological groups who smear activists that don’t don a prohibitionist mentality.

Existing consumer groups, mostly funded by government grants, want to restrict consumer choice rather than expand it. 

We believe consumers are intelligent and rational actors. They don’t need to be paternalised, bullied, or condescended. Smart consumers are informed consumers. Restricting choice means you or I have less ability to consume or use products that we favour for our own well-being. 

Endorsing this mantra, in this day and age, naturally means you’ll make enemies, especially those who claim to have a monopoly on what they believe is right for the consumer. That’s exactly why people need an alternative. 

Groups like the Consumer Choice Center and its partners are making a change, and people are reclaiming their right to choose. That is something we should all celebrate.

Originally published on https://1828uk.com/2019/04/18/the-consumer-must-come-first-2/

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About Yaël Ossowski

Yaël Ossowski is a journalist, activist, and writer. He's currently deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center, and senior development officer for Students For Liberty. He was previously a national investigative reporter and chief Spanish translator at Watchdog.org, and worked at newspapers and television stations across the country. He received a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) at the CEVRO Institute in Prague. Born in Québec and raised in the southern United States, he currently lives in Vienna, Austria.

US Airport Funding Needs an Overhaul, not More Government Involvement

While European and Asian airports offer innovation and entrepreneurship, making them the envy of the world, America languishes due to government control of virtually the entire airport infrastructure.

Though the United States is by far the strongest economy in the world, our airports leave something to be desired. Wherever you fly domestically, terminal buildings are often outdated, logistics don’t make sense, and unwelcoming flight gates make any delays an obnoxious burden. European and Middle Eastern airports, with their glitz and glamor, routinely put ours to shame.

And while both Congress and the White House agree that airports need more investment, the current debate focuses on how to modernize airport infrastructure. Some suggest more taxpayer money should be directed to airport projects while others suggest increasing one of the many fees on airline tickets, the so-called Passenger Facility Charge (PFC).

At the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee meeting last month, congressional Democrats called for increasing the PFC charged per flight (that’s per takeoff) as the most suitable tool to boost US airport infrastructure. One stressed that the PFC is merely an optional fee but does not have to be used by the airport.

As noted by airline industry expert Ben Schlappig, with every one-way ticket there is a USD $4.50 passenger facility charge which is limited to two fees per one-way, and four fees per round trip. A roundtrip ticket with a connection in each direction has USD $18 worth of these charges. This fee could nearly double if Congress decided to increase it to USD $8.50.

While airports are free to waive PFC fees or not assess the full amount, nearly 95 percent of airports make use of the optional PFC and collect about USD $3.3 billion annually, just 11 percent of total airport revenue.

Other than this charge, airport authorities are limited from raising innovative fees from passengers. The “Anti-Head Tax Act” prohibits locally raised and managed fees. Rather than centrally dictating which fees airports can charge, we should give more authority to airports, incentivize private funding, and cut federal red tape.

Obviously, this is made especially difficult because nearly all major commercial airports in the U.S. are publicly owned, either by state or local governments, or public entities such as airport authorities. Branson Airport in Missouri is the only privately owned, privately operated commercial airport in the United States.

Compare this with nearly half of all European airports that are either privately-owned or managed by for-profit operators. More than 80 percent of Europe’s airports are corporatized businesses, meaning that even as state-owned enterprises, they must apply the same accounting and management standards as a privately-owned corporation.

Instead of inflating an expensive, bureaucratic, and centrally controlled federal airport funding scheme, it’s time to liberalize the airport system.

A first step would be to transform public airports into joint stock companies and seek public-private partnerships with airlines, property developers, and foreign airport groups. The recent decision to have Munich Airport manage Terminal 1 at Newark Airport is a good example that shows it is possible.

By abolishing the Anti-Head Tax Act and privatizing existing airports, local authorities and the federal government would let market forces and innovation drive airport development, instead of public finances and political favoritism.

No matter what, consumers will end up paying the costs and investments related to sustainable air travel business models. More competition in the airport market and innovative private models is therefore the best method to solve the US airport backlog while still benefiting consumers.

Fred Roeder is managing director of the Consumer Choice Center. Yaël Ossowski is deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center.


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About Yaël Ossowski

Yaël Ossowski is a journalist, activist, and writer. He's currently deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center, and senior development officer for Students For Liberty. He was previously a national investigative reporter and chief Spanish translator at Watchdog.org, and worked at newspapers and television stations across the country. He received a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) at the CEVRO Institute in Prague. Born in Québec and raised in the southern United States, he currently lives in Vienna, Austria.

Taxing the sky: the EU’s next attack on consumers

As the back and forth on Brexit dominates political debate in the UK, the European Union, as ever, is working on new ways to make everyday life more irksome, intrusive, and overpriced.

In May last year, the Belgian newspaper De Standaard reported: “here and there, it is suggested that environmental and health impacts should play a role in the introduction of a European minimum excise duty on kerosene”, which is Brussels-speak for: “this is going to become a proposal in the near future”. Now the proposal is on the table.

The Dutch government is suggesting a €7 air travel tax on all flights to and from the EU. Even after the United Kingdom leaves the bloc, this will have just as much of an impact on British consumers and companies as it will on everyone else.

According to The Hague, Europe has a problem with too many low-cost leisure flights, and a tax would reduce the incentives for this consumption. Dutch secretary of state for finance, Menno Snel, also points out that the measure would bring in €200 million for the Treasury. But you can be sure that those two things are completely unrelated – the proposal is clearly all for the good of the environment.

France, Belgium, and Finland are now supporting the Dutch proposal in the European council. Luxembourg said that it would not oppose the tax if all member states get on board. But the selection of countries coming out in favour of the measure is telling. In Helsinki, you’d be hard-pressed to get a pint of beer for €7, but in member states such as Poland, Croatia, or Romania, this is a lot of money. Not coincidentally, the countries whose citizens can already afford this kind of travel are not going to be the hardest hit. There is a clear east-west divide, yet it’s just brushed over as an irrelevance.

Take a practical example. You can now book a return flight in May from London Luton to Kraków, Poland for a total of £65. Since the tax applies per flight segment, you’d have €14 added to your total bill, or almost 20 per cent of your total ticket cost. This is a considerable part of the price and could be devastating for low-income consumers looking to visit their family, partners, or attend a funeral or wedding. Moreover, taking money off consumers while government officials jet around in business class is not merely upsetting, it’s crass.

Of course, this isn’t a new form of lobbying. The European Federation for Transport and Environment (T&E) has long argued for increased taxation on air travel. The group calls air travel “undertaxed” despite taxes having risen in the last seven years. Here, again, the environmental argument doesn’t seem to be the only one in their sight:

T&E analysis has found that new measures such as a carbon tax on motor fuels, aviation kerosene duty, and ending the VAT exemption for flights within and from Europe would raise more than €50 billion annually.”

However, as it’s a tax proposal, it needs the unanimous approval of member states in order to pass, and could, therefore, be blocked by states with a lot of low-income consumers, tourist destinations, or countries such as Ireland which host low-cost carriers like Ryanair.

The question is whether those countries will negotiate trade-offs on other projects, or perhaps they may even feel bound by the 2015 Paris climate change agreement to approve the measure and then blame it on the bureaucrats in Brussels.

The whole debate, however, raises a serious risk that air travel will increasingly fall victim of the environmentalist police, whose bans and taxes are bound to start affecting consumers very soon. They should be stopped before it is too late.

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About Bill Wirtz

Bill Wirtz is policy analyst for the Consumer Choice Center, based in Brussels, Belgium. Originally from Luxembourg, his articles have appeared across the world in English, French, German, and Luxembourgish. He is Editor-in-Chief of Speak Freely, the blog of European Students for Liberty, a contributing editor for the Freedom Today Network and a regular contributor for the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). He blogs regularly on his website in four languages.

Dutch Plans of an EU-wide Air Passenger Tax won’t fly High with Consumers

Last month, the Dutch government began circulating a position paper suggesting the EU should introduce a Union-wide air passenger departure tax on flights departing from the European Union. The paper promoted by the Netherland’s Secretary of State for Finance Menno Snel suggests a 7 EUR per passenger flight tax be rolled out within all Member States. Then, the funds should be allocated to the national budgets of the respective airport of departure. Snel argues that this tax would ‘disincentivize passengers from frequently using low-cost’ carriers and make more Europeans switch to trains.

While France, Belgium, and Finland support this initiative to create an EU-wide tax, passengers should be worried about this massive fiscal intrusion of tax authorities in the daily choices of consumers. Several European countries already have hefty air passenger departure fees.

The United Kingdom’s Air Passenger Duty ranges between 13 and whooping 150 GBP for each flight, pushing many Brits to take the train to take flights elsewhere, often Brussels or Paris.

The German Luftverkehrabgabe ranges between 7 and 42 EUR and has decreased in the past years. The Netherlands had a similar tax over a decade ago and got rid of it as passengers were commuting to nearby airports in Germany and Belgium. That move ushered in a loss of up to one billion Euros to the Dutch airline economy.

Looking at the map, one sees that mainly wealthy Northern European countries have introduced such taxes but not a single Eastern European country, save for southern Italy. The liberalization of air travel within Europe and the emergence of low cost carriers and massive competition within the airline industry have allowed millions of European to use planes for either leisure or economic activities.

Economic migrants and commuters from Eastern Europe can visit their families more often and more cities are connected to the rest of the continent. Assuming that a European tax would move more of these travel patterns to the rail neglects the realities of European rail networks and actual distances to travel. Passengers flying from Bucharest to Brussels will hardly be able to use buses or trains for this journey.

More remote European countries such as Bulgaria, Greece, Portugal, or Spain would also suffer from such a mandatory air passenger tax. Given that many of the countries without an existing tax rank below the average EU income, its introduction would over-proportionally hit low income households and families. Rich western EU Member States mandating high taxes on emerging economies seems to be a recipe for discord. The EU28 has nearly 1.5 billion departing air passengers a year. The Dutch plans would cost European consumers 10 billion Euros a year and likely ground many Europeans’ plans to visit friends or study abroad.

Countries with this tax usually saw a reduction of passenger numbers between 1 and 2 percent. This means not just that many passengers won’t be able to afford air travel anymore, but it may also be the nail in the coffin of many struggling European airlines.

In times of rising populism and many European economies being at the brink of a new recession, policy makers should instead focus on how to underscore the value of the Single Market and the European Union.

Introducing Union-wide taxes and limiting consumers’ choice and purchasing power is not the right way to win back the hearts and minds of people.
 

By Fred Roeder, Managing Director of the Consumer Choice Center

Originally published at https://ftn.media/dutch-plans-eu-wide-air-passenger-tax-wont-fly-high-consumers

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About Fred Roeder

Fred Roder has been working in the field of grassroots activism for over eight years. He is a Health Economist from Germany and has worked in healthcare reform and market access in North America, Europe, and several former Soviet Republics. One of his passions is to analyze how disruptive industries and technologies allow consumers more choice at a lower cost. Fred is very interested in consumer choice and regulatory trends in the following industries: FMCG, Sharing Economy, Airlines. In 2014 he organized a protest in Berlin advocating for competition in the Taxi market. Fred has traveled to 100 countries and is looking forward to visiting the other half of the world’s countries. Among many op-eds and media appearances, he has been published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Wirtschaftswoche, Die Welt, the BBC, SunTV, ABC Portland News, Montreal Gazette, Handelsblatt, Huffington Post Germany, CityAM. L’Agefi, and The Guardian. Since 2012 he serves as an Associated Researcher at the Montreal Economic Institute.

CCC pubblica uno studio sui benefici della concorrenza ferroviaria nei mercati europei e globali

FERPRESS: Roma, 11 DIC – Il Consumer Choice Center ha pubblicato oggi un policy primer sui “Vantaggi della concorrenza ferroviaria: il caso dell’Italia”.

“Il documento conclude che grazie alla concorrenza, i passeggeri dei treni e i consumatori in Italia ora stanno molto meglio, a causa di una diminuzione dei prezzi dei biglietti di oltre il 40%. Ciò ha permesso di raddoppiare la domanda senza costruire nuove linee ferroviarie ad alta velocità”, ha dichiarato il responsabile degli affari europei del Centro per la scelta dei consumatori, Luca Bertoletti.

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About Luca Bertoletti

Luca graduated with a degree in Political Science from the University of Milan in December 2014. He worked as a Business Economics Analyst for the Italian magazine TheFielder in Milan and as Think Thank Coordinator for the Austrian Economics Center in Vienna.

He is a fellow of Competere Institute in Rome, a columnist for Atlantico Quotidiano, and he sits on the scientific board of New Direction Italia. He has been featured in the New York Times, Radio RAI, RAI 1, El Economista, The National and many other newspapers.

Chers élus, laissez les trottinettes électriques rouler

Dans les grands centres urbains du monde entier, un petit nombre d’entreprises a déployé des technologies qui devraient être l’une des solutions les plus innovantes aux énormes problèmes de circulation et de mobilité qui affligent nos villes. Avec la nouvelle loi sur l’orientation de la mobilité (LOM), cet avantage pourrait être mis en danger. Par Yaël Ossowski, directeur-adjoint du Consumer Choice Center, et Bill Wirtz, analyste de politiques publiques pour le Consumer Choice Center.

Les trottinettes électriques sont des véhicules de mobilité intelligents qui proposent une révolution dans le traitement des problèmes de la circulation et du “last mile”, donc le problème de la proximité du moyen de transport de la destination désirée.

Comme l’a noté Jeffrey Philips, consultant en innovation, les trottinettes électriques ont fait leurs preuves là où le Segway, le transporteur à deux roues à équilibrage automatique développé en 2001, a échoué. Elles sont bon marché, petites, sans émissions, faciles à utiliser et omniprésentes. La génération précédente de Segways était l’un des outils préférés des plus fortunés, dont le prix était assez élevé pour bloquer le consommateur moyen, et trop grand pour être laissé dans les coins achalandés.

Il y a moins d’un an, cependant, la situation a changé lorsque les entrepreneurs de la Silicon Valley ont dévoilé des trottinettes électriques à prix modique pour en finir avec les embouteillages dans les grandes villes. Les principaux acteurs à ce jour sont Bird, LimeBike et Spin. Cette dernière a été achetée par Ford Motor Company plus tôt ce mois-ci pour près de 100 millions de dollars.

Appels en faveur d’une réglementation

Mais comme pour toute innovation dans le domaine des transports, les appels en faveur d’une réglementation ou d’une interdiction pure et simple ont freiné les perspectives prometteuses qu’offrent les trottinettes. Et ce n’est pas seulement la colère des consommateurs qui les utilisent le plus.

San Francisco, où pratiquement toutes les compagnies de trottinettes électriques sont basées, a interdit tous les trottinettes dans les rues en juin. Seules deux grandes sociétés ont obtenu l’autorisation de reprendre leurs activités à la fin du mois d’août. Seattle, l’une des pires villes en ce qui concerne la circulation, les a rapidement interdites cette année, malgré l’adoption de vélos sans port qui utilisent pratiquement la même technologie.

Tout comme les déploiements rapides d’Uber et d’autres comme Heetch, le déchargement rapide et furtif de centaines de trottinettes du jour au lendemain a incité de nombreuses villes à se battre pour réglementer davantage. Le projet de loi de la loi sur l’orientation de la mobilité (LOM) pose des question à ce sujet. Le document explicatif du gouvernement indique:

“L’article 18 donne aux autorités organisatrices la possibilité de réguler les nouveaux services de mobilité. Il s’agit d’accompagner le développement de nouveaux services (scooters électriques, vélos, trottinettes, voitures en libre-service par exemple) et de nouveaux modèles économiques tout en anticipant les impacts sur les autres modes de transport, la fluidité des déplacements et la gestion des espaces publics.”

Sécurité publique, ordre public, fiscalité

La sécurité publique, l’ordre public et la fiscalité (pas nécessairement dans cet ordre) ont été les principales motivations des organismes de réglementation. Le plus souvent, les villes ont affirmé qu’on ne leur demandait pas la permission. La mentalité ” réglementer d’abord, innover ensuite “ sera sans aucun doute un obstacle à la résolution des problèmes auxquels sont confrontées les villes à travers le pays.

Cela dit, des problèmes existent. Rouler à grande vitesse près des voitures et des piétons sans protection rend les utilisateurs vulnérables aux accidents et aux blessures. Le recours collectif intenté en Californie par des motocyclistes blessés en témoigne. Mais si les villes sont capables d’accueillir des vélos, pourquoi ne pourraient-elles pas en faire autant pour les trottinettes électriques ?

Une plainte souvent entendue est que les utilisateurs de trottinettes roulent sur le trottoir, ignorent les feux de circulation et les abandonnent dans les zones très fréquentées. Mais cela peut être résolu par une réglementation intelligente : permettre aux trottinettes d’utiliser les voies cyclables et de se garer dans les zones réservées aux vélos. Fournir des conseils clairs aux coureurs et aux entreprises.

Bird et LimeBike demandent aux utilisateurs de prendre une photo lorsqu’ils garent leur scooter, en s’assurant qu’il se trouve dans un endroit sûr et légal. Les contrevenants peuvent être exclus de la plate-forme. C’est une technologie qui assure la conformité plutôt qu’une règle bureaucratique.

Lorsque des applications de covoiturage comme Uber, Heetch, DriveNow et Car2go sont apparues dans la rue, les détracteurs ont utilisé des arguments similaires. Cependant, les villes qui ont adopté cette technologie ont réussi à retirer les voitures de la rue, à réduire la pollution et à offrir de nouvelles possibilités économiques. Les collectivités à faible revenu en ont tiré d’énormes avantages.

Aider la société dans son ensemble

Trop souvent, les études sur les effets du covoiturage examinent ce qu’ils visent à perturber : les navetteurs à voiture unique, les transports publics et les taxis. Plutôt que de nous demander s’ils affectent des industries spécifiques, nous devrions nous demander s’ils aident la société dans son ensemble. Et à tout point de vue objectif, ils le font.

Le plus souvent, les innovations qui résoudront des problèmes dans diverses parties de la société seront les initiatives d’entrepreneurs. Si les villes veulent adopter ce changement positif, elles devraient adopter une réglementation raisonnable et intelligente sur les trottinettes électriques.

Originally published at https://www.latribune.fr/opinions/tribunes/chers-elus-laissez-les-trottinettes-electriques-rouler-799648.html

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About Yaël Ossowski

Yaël Ossowski is a journalist, activist, and writer. He's currently deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center, and senior development officer for Students For Liberty. He was previously a national investigative reporter and chief Spanish translator at Watchdog.org, and worked at newspapers and television stations across the country. He received a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) at the CEVRO Institute in Prague. Born in Québec and raised in the southern United States, he currently lives in Vienna, Austria.

Canada’s Transport Minister: Expanded Egypt and UAE air agreement a win for consumers

ETN: David Clement, Toronto based North American Affairs Manager of the Consumer Choice Center (CCC), said that “The expanded agreement is a step in the right direction regarding air transport liberalization. That said, the next step here has to be further liberalization.”

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About David Clement

David Clement is the North American Affairs Manager for the Consumer Choice Center and is based out of Oakville, Ontario.

David holds a BA in Political Science and a MA in International Relations from Wilfrid Laurier University. Previously, David was the Research Assistant to the Canada Research Chair in International Human Rights.

David has been regularly featured on the CBC, Global News, The Toronto Star and various other major Canadian news outlets.

Consumer advocate suggests failure to approve ride hailing in B.C. risks public safety

NEWS 1130: The North American Affairs Manager for the Consumer Choice Center, David Clement, says the use of companies like Uber and Lyft helped significantly reduce drunk driving in the United States.

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About David Clement

David Clement is the North American Affairs Manager for the Consumer Choice Center and is based out of Oakville, Ontario.

David holds a BA in Political Science and a MA in International Relations from Wilfrid Laurier University. Previously, David was the Research Assistant to the Canada Research Chair in International Human Rights.

David has been regularly featured on the CBC, Global News, The Toronto Star and various other major Canadian news outlets.

Hamburg bekommt aus USA Auszeichnung für Fahrverbote

PAGEN STECHER: Hamburg erfährt mit seinen beiden Mini-Fahrverboten nicht nur bundesweite Aufmerksamkeit. Auch in den USA stoßen die Maßnahmen auf ein Echo. Das Consumer Choice Center (CCC) hat heute der Hansestadt den BAN-Award verliehen.

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About Fred Roeder

Fred Roder has been working in the field of grassroots activism for over eight years. He is a Health Economist from Germany and has worked in healthcare reform and market access in North America, Europe, and several former Soviet Republics. One of his passions is to analyze how disruptive industries and technologies allow consumers more choice at a lower cost.

Fred is very interested in consumer choice and regulatory trends in the following industries: FMCG, Sharing Economy, Airlines.

In 2014 he organized a protest in Berlin advocating for competition in the Taxi market.

Fred has traveled to 100 countries and is looking forward to visiting the other half of the world’s countries.

Among many op-eds and media appearances, he has been published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Wirtschaftswoche, Die Welt, the BBC, SunTV, ABC Portland News, Montreal Gazette, Handelsblatt, Huffington Post Germany, CityAM. L’Agefi, and The Guardian.

Since 2012 he serves as an Associated Researcher at the Montreal Economic Institute.