Interviews

Jan Skopeček: We all live on a budget

Published: 22. 12. 2021
Author: Šárka Jansová
Photo: Photo Dominik Kučera and archives of Jan Skopeček
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“Capitalism is the most successful, effective, and prosperous system I know,” says Jan Skopeček, Member of ODS, who was named vice-chair of the Chamber of Deputies in November.

Everyone has a dream job when they are growing up. What did you want to be when you were a boy? Were you drawn to economics?

I know it is a cliché, but I wanted to be a garbage man when I was little. I was fascinated by the garbage men standing on those little pegs on the back of the garbage truck. My parents would jokingly try to talk me out of it, mentioning how hard the job will be in the winter. As for economics and all of its branches, I was drawn to it during adolescence. It was the 90s, a time of economic transformation, fundamental changes in society, and the early days of free trade. Those were the main factors that influenced my decision as to what I would study.

Your focus is not only economics, the theory of economic integration, and economics of the public sector, but also history of economic thought. How do we teach people, and even entire countries, to think economically? What is the magic behind being economical?

We all live on a budget, somebody’s budget is bigger, somebody’s is smaller, but we have to make do with what we have. We have to deploy it for different goods and services – some non-essential, others essential. And this is where economic thought comes in. It is here that our preferences start manifesting, we compare the utility of different goods and services and decide the final composition of our budget. And so, even without knowing a single chapter of economic theory, we behave economically. Economists know how to describe this, they have found a set of rules in our behavior, they can tell how likely our conduct is to change if the circumstances shift. That is the field of microeconomics. We have also identified an array of rules in the field of macroeconomics. We know which mistakes in economic policy cause inflation, what kinds of impact a budget deficit can have. Unfortunately, decisions that go against these rules are often made in politics, and then people are surprised that the economy is not doing all that well. To counteract this, we simply need to provide people with economic education. The issue is that our schools are currently full of green ideologists, and so teaching our students fundamental economic principles and rules is rather difficult.

The EET (Electronic Sales Records) is likely to be cancelled. Is there another effective way to collect taxes and provide funds for the national budget?

Estimates show that there was a 5 billion crown increase in collected taxes year over year since the EET was implemented. The effect that economic growth had on this number was rarely mentioned. I think that the troubles of the Czech economy do not lie in unsuccessful tax collection. Quite the opposite, over the last few years, there have been tens of billions of additional taxes collected thanks to economic growth. The issues with national budget deficits are rather about expenses, which have grown to enormous proportions over the recent years.

Is the much-discussed pension reform finally back on the agenda? Will your government draft a new version?

There was an ODS-led government that came out with pension reform in the past, that of Prime Minister Nečas, but the current government revoked it without even providing an alternate solution. We will draft a new one, though. Nowadays, taking into account the declining demographic curve alongside many other aspects, the pension system is simply unsustainable. And if we keep going down this trajectory, people who are in their thirties today have no guarantee of receiving an actual pension.

In this year’s Parliamentary election, you led the ODS ticket of the SPOLU coalition in the Central Bohemian Region. How is this region doing?

I feel that it is in good hands now, after going through some tough times under the likes of David Rath and the coalition of ANO, ČSSD, and the Communists. The biggest issue our region has had and still has is transportation infrastructure. We have an extensive network, which is overburdened because transit from all other parts of the country has to cross the Central Bohemian Region to get to Prague. This means we have to invest large sums into rebuilding and maintaining roads and push for the Prague Ring to get finished as soon as possible. As former councilman for education, I strongly support the optimization of our high schools and more investments in this area. High schools in our region are in debt and we need to fix that.

Your son, Jan, was born in 2018. Has this brought about a sense of responsibility you have not felt before?

We have actually added one more member to our family since last year, Terezka. I am very much enjoying this time – enjoying really is the right word. My wife takes care of the majority of things, I only get to see the children when I am not at work. Which leads to a bit of injustice in me spending time with the kids just goofing around and playing. And I enjoy that time very much. [laughs]

What is your favorite way to unwind?

I have been an avid runner and cyclist for many years. Throughout this year’s campaign, I was always pointing out how our state has become quite fat and flabby and is due a rather drastic diet. And so, to put my money where my mouth was, I started doing the Železná Koule (Translator’s note: An online gym that gained popularity during Covid) challenges and working out quite hard every day. Ultimately, I managed to lose 14 kilos, which even led to people asking me whether I was sick. Knock on wood, I am not, I feel better and more motivated to keep fit.

CV BOX

Jan Skopeček (born October 21, 1980, in Hořovice) is an economist, university lecturer, MP, and as of November 2021, also vice-chair of the Chamber of Deputies.

He graduated in economics and management from the University of South Bohemia České Budějovice, and in economic policy from the University of Economics Prague.

He is a lecturer at the Faculty of Economics at VŠE, where he also got his doctorate. Skopeček has been a member of the ODS since 2001, and chairman of the ODS Regional Association of the Central Bohemian Region since December 2013.

In 2006, he became a representative of Hořovice, and six years later he was named mayor. In 2016, he was elected as a representative of the Central Bohemian Region in matters of education and sports. He worked as an advisor to President Václav Klaus. In 2009, he became the executive director of the Center for Economics and Politics think-tank.

He is married and lives in Hořovice. He has a son, Jan, and a daughter, Tereza.

Learning from Klaus

Jan Skopeček would often attend the lectures of the then-President, Václav Klaus, at the VŠE, and had worked with him as an advisor for some time. “I worked with him for the better half of his first presidential term, the entire second term, and we would often cooperate for many years afterwards at his institute. I gained a lot of experience in economics and also a wide range of knowledge in a broad spectrum of social sciences. I feel that our cooperation worked well because I am detail-oriented and I like to make sure things are finished properly, which is characteristic of his work and behavior as well.”

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