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Fast Confession - economist Markéta Šichtařová: The coronavirus is a catalyst for recession

David Budai
11.Apr 2020
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7 minutes to read

Well-known economist Markéta Šichtařová has never been afraid to express her opinions openly and without prevaricating. Maybe that's why she has, in contrast to her numerous supporters, also a lot of critics who simply can't get over her. Equally interesting is her personal life. Together with her husband Vladimir Pikora, who is also an economist, they have six children and have founded the analytical firm Next Finance. In an interview for LP-Life.cz, she revealed that without careful planning she wouldn't be able to get anything done, and that part of her family had condemned her for home deliveries.

What makes you the happiest?

Pretty ordinary things, like when one of my children brings me a picture of a heart they've drawn. I don't put material things in the first place.

You have a total of six children. How many of them were planned and how many were not?

None of them was explicitly planned, if you mean this "let's have a baby now" kind of decision. Where children are concerned, we've left it completely in the hands of fate. Either a baby will come or it won't.

How do you manage to take care of so many children, with work and everything else on top of that? Do you do a lot of planning and can you even afford to be spontaneous?

I have to plan absolutely everything, whether it is work matters, grocery shopping or anything else. It is necessary for the purpose of time optimisation. In a way, I actually even plan my own free time, because if I didn't do it, there would be things I'd never get to. Spontaneity rather applies in interpersonal relationships.

Do you cook at home?

Since my children inherited celiac disease from my husband, i.e. gluten intolerance, cooking at home is the only possible choice for me and I do it automatically. Therefore I cook even on holiday. In fact, I cook two or three times a day every day. Three times when I make a hot breakfast on the weekend.

Luxusní byt k pronájmu - Praha 1 - Nové Město
Luxusní byt k pronájmu - Praha 1 - Nové Město, Praha 1

How do you manage to keen an eye on all your children? Aren't you afraid they might hit their heads when you're not paying attention for a moment?

They do hit their heads every now and then! (laughs) Just recently, early in the morning - it was still dark outside, my son came to my bed crying. And as I was comforting him, I thought for myself, "Why is he wet here?" It turned out his head was bleeding, because he'd been causing mischief and fell down the stairs. But next time, the kids know better than to do the same thing. It has never gone so far as to result in a serious injury that would require a doctor's care.

I have no help with the children, not counting the fact that we're raising them together with my husband, of course. But if you mean something like a nanny, grandmother or suchlike, then no.

That's amazing! How comes you always have so much energy?

I was born with it. I can't give myself the credit.

How is it like to work with your husband all the time and then be with him at home? Do you sometimes get on each other's nerves?

My husband gets on my nerves all the time, but not because we work together. We usually talk about economy even in our free time.

So you bring your work into your free time?

But I find it very romantic to have a conversation about economy! What else would you expect two economists to talk about? Well, maybe about politics every now and then...

Can you even find personal time to spend together?

Of course. If two people don't find time for each other, their relationship cannot exist. Talking about common banalities is essential in every relationship.

Can you recall any romantic gesture he charmed you with?

My husband is not big on romance. And honestly, I care about it even less. Once he brought me flowers, I admit that I kicked him out with the bouquet and told him to bring something practical next time. Since then, he only gets me stuff like ham.

What moment with your children do you like to remember?

Their birth. The birth of our youngest daughter in particular was an extremely beautiful experience.

You are known for home deliveries. Did everything always go smoothly, or were you sometimes afraid because of complications?

I'm not an emotional type and everything I do is rationally justified. That is why I had also studied the statistics of complications. And I knew that in a woman with my health "parameters", the chance that a problem would occur in the child at home was statistically the same as in the maternity ward. And in a woman, the statistics for postpartum injuries even look slightly better in case of home deliveries. So I wasn't afraid. Fear is an emotion associated with something unknown. I consciously went into something known.

Many women want to give birth at home today. Are there suitable conditions for that in the Czech Republic? How should things, or the legislation be modified, if necessary?

The conditions are horrible. Home deliveries cannot be prohibited, it would be in conflict with international law. But the state decided that if it couldn't ban them, it would at least complicate them by making life difficult for midwives.

That, of course, negatively affected the women, because midwives are less accessible to them now. Therefore, births can potentially be more risky. That's what always happens when someone in an administrative position decides to "do good" from above.

Do you often have to defend your position? Some years back, you said that half of your family had condemned you for it. Have they come around?

No, half of my family had condemned me because of where my children were born, and that didn't change. I don't really defend it much, because I have no need to defend myself. It's no one's business.

Were you really listening to Metallica while giving birth?

Yes. Is there something wrong about it? Do you know any better music? (laughs)

Was your husband present for your deliveries?

Every time. Except for the one delivery he managed to sleep through.

In one of your older interviews, you said that had never really been the motherly type and that motherhood used to be more of a nightmare to you when you were young. When did it change?

It changed with the birth of my first child. Suddenly I discovered I really liked it.

Who in your family has the last word when it comes to household budget?

I have the last word, but it's not really the last one in the true meaning of that word, it is the only one. My husband doesn't get involved with the budged at all, he leaves everything to me. I'm not even sure he knows how to access his account. We have a completely socialistic budget – everything on one common pile.

Have you ever wanted to buy something for pleasure, but your husband said "no"?

Never. We don't care about these things. When one of us wants to buy something, they go and buy it. Rather, we ask each other for an opinion. Not about the price, but about whether the other person likes the thing.

But on the other hand, we live surprisingly modestly. We invest a lot in real estate, we really appreciate the quality of food. Where the ordinary everyday things are concerned, we don't need any expensive fads. Except perhaps for one thing - we spend quite a lot of money on culture. Concerts, theaters.

Have you ever spent money so unreasonably that you felt ashamed for it?

I really don't remember anything like that.

Are Czechs becoming more financially literate, or is it still a tragedy?

This is an area where I see no reason for optimism. Take those classic quotes from commercials: "This and this many thousands of crowns for just 990 a month!" And people buy it. Usually, it doesn't even occur to them to ask about the APRC… And then there is retirement provisioning. How many people are able to figure out that they are actually losing money?

Do you think there is a threat of economic crisis due to coronavirus? What will it mean for the world and for the Czech Republic?

That sounds like a very simple question, but the answer is not simple because it's a combination of several things in one.

Firstly, let's not call it a crisis, that's confusing, a crisis does not have a precise and generally accepted definition. That has already been the cause of many misunderstandings. For example, I say that we've had a crisis in Europe for some time already, which is best evidenced by the negative interest rates of the European Central Bank. If they went up to the normal "non-crisis" level, about 10 % of companies could roll over and die. But I guess you are actually asking about recession rather than crisis. And as far as recession is concerned, it's not just a threat, it has already occurred in some places.

And thirdly, when it comes to the coronavirus, it in itself is not the cause of the recession, it is its catalyst. The economy has been slowing down for a long time, the coronavirus only accelerated it. Without it, the development would have the same trend, but it would be much slower.

How well off will the Czechs be in five or ten years?

The standard of living will certainly be even higher than today. People tend to overestimate the bad and underestimate the good, but the development of the standard of living keeps going forward!

When will the Czech Republic finally have wages at the level of Germany and other developed EU countries?

It depends on what you mean by those developed countries. The EU average is easy to reach for us. But if you mean getting at the level of Germany, I wouldn't see it very optimistically. After all, you have different income levels even in Prague and Ostrava, and we are one country. It is not true at all that eurozone membership will automatically balance the income in all its countries.

There has been talk of unconditional minimum income lately. While earlier it used to be nothing but sci-fi, today even serious economists are considering it. What do you think about it? Could it work in the Czech Republic?

No. Every country that started toying with something like this, not just theoretically but practically, has fallen hard and had to give up. It is merely an ideological and theoretical construct. Like communism and other utopias, it builds on unrealistic assumptions about human behavior. Let's say this construct totally underestimated natural human psychology. It just doesn't work.

Thank you very much for the interview.

Fast confession:

Do love and money go together?

Of course, especially when my husband uses money to buy me expensive gifts. (laughs)

How would you explain the word economy in one sentence?

The science of how to minimize the costs and risks of dealing with your money, so as to produce and keep as much money as possible.

Do you do your own taxes?

I wouldn't know how, I have a tax accountant.

What was the last thing your husband really surprised you with?

I honestly don't remember, he probably did something I asked him to do.

What do you and your husband argue about most?

About absolutely everything.

What vacation do you remember most fondly?

Always the last one, because every new one erases the memories of the previous ones.

Do you think you'll ever have a seventh child?

I hope not. (laughs)

How many hours a day do you sleep?

I've never counted it, but I guess it will be about four hours. My night is very fragmented because little kids want something all the time.

An economist's nightmare?

I don't know, because I don't have nightmares.

Are we a rich nation?

Relatively, compared to other poor nations, yes. If we were to rank nations from the richest to the least rich, we would be in the upper part of the list.

What would you never invest in?

I don't make any plans of the "this definitely yes and this definitely no" kind in advance. I'll rather phrase it differently: I would never invest in something that is morally unacceptable to me.

Will the comparison of salt being more valuable than gold ever come true?

I don't think so, because there will always be more salt than gold.

What is the biggest economic cliche?

I can't think of one.

Would you ever want to run the Czech National Bank?

I wanted that a long time ago when I was in high school. I no longer have that ambition, because I wouldn't enjoy being a civil servant.
Question by the interviewee for the editor:

Why are you asking me all this? (laughs)

So that people have a fun interview to watch!
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