About the Speaker
Dr. Mart Laar served as Prime Minister of Estonia from 1992-94 and 1999-2001. During his time in office, he negotiated the withdrawal of Russian troops from the country, introduced the highly stable Estonian currency, and implemented a flat tax that has steadily decreased since its introduction in 1994. Laar realized that the only way for Estonia to weather its financial crisis was to finally leave behind the legacy of its communist past. He also announced deep cuts to paternalistic state welfare programs, slashed business taxes, and urged liberalization of international trade. By the time he left office, more than 90 percent of the economy was in private hands. The economy was growing 7 percent annually, and Laar was widely credited as the force behind the creation of the “Baltic Tiger.” Laar is not an economist, and he says that his boldness came mostly from naiveté. “I had read only one book on economics—Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose,” he said. “I was so ignorant at the time that I thought that what Friedman wrote about the benefits of privatization, the flat tax and the abolition of all customs rights, was the result of economic reforms that had been put into practice in the West. It seemed common sense to me and, as I thought it had already been done everywhere, I simply introduced it in Estonia, despite warnings from Estonian economists that it could not be done. They said it was as impossible as walking on water. We did it: we just walked on the water because we did not know that it was impossible.” In 2006, the Cato Institute awarded Laar the Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty. Recently Mart Laar also became an economic adviser to Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.