Posts Tagged ‘democracy’

Autocracies in global ascendancy

March 30, 2013

Although Westerners like to believe that democracy is on a continuously upward trend, this is far from true. Democracy has been in retreat across much of the developing world in recent years. In its latest Index of Freedom in the World, the global monitoring group, Freedom House, notes that 2012 was the seventh consecutive year in which the survey found more declines than gains. For democracy, this is the longest losing streak in the past 60 years.

Democracy in the developing world is struggling in part because citizens in many countries, led to believe that democracy and prosperity always go hand in hand, are finding out that this is not necessarily so. For this reason, trust in democracy has waned in such countries as Malawi and the Philippines. Simultaneously relatively new democracies such as India, Brazil and South Africa, have done little to promote themselves as fruitful political models.

In politics there is no such thing as a vacuum. When democracies falter, the world’s most powerful autocracies fill the vacuum. In particular, China and Russia have become far more assertive on the global stage and increasingly are working together to promote what they view as common interests. Most especially, they are concerned to block democratic developments in their own backyards.

China has provided training over the past decade for police, judges, judicial officials and bureaucrats from a range of countries in Central, South and Southeast Asia. Initially such training focused on economic management. Increasingly they have turned to lessons on how to replicate Chinese-style legal systems, crowd control, Internet monitoring and other strategies of internal repression.

Under President Putin, the Kremlin has taken similar initiatives. In Ukraine, the Kremlin party United Russia, signed an agreement to cooperate with the pro-Russian Ukrainian leader, Vikto Yanukovych, who was unsympathetic to the country’s Orange Revolution of the early 2000s. Kremlin support, including a promise to lower gas prices, helped to secure the presidency for Mr. Yanukovych in 2010. Russia has continued to provide strong support for his repressive government.

Beijing further promotes its model of autocratic development in the nations of Africa and the Middle East as an alternative to the Washington consensus of free markets and free politics. Where China moves, Russia almost always is a fast second.

Western promoters of democracy have no cause for complacency. The autocrats are now on the march into territories once viewed as entirely safe for democracy.

Hat Tip: Joshua Kublantzick, ‘A New Axis of Autocracy’, The Wall Street JournalMarch 30, 2013

Why modern Robin Hood outlaws should be prosecuted

January 17, 2013

Many movies have been made in praise of Robin Hood and his Merry Anglo-Saxon outlaws who raided the coffers of rich Norman barons and knights in order to dispense their loot to down-trodden fellow-Anglo-Saxons during the absence, leading Crusades, of King Richard I, when his evil brother, Prince John, ruled England with a heavy hand.

Now that period of history was one of absolute dictatorship and our instincts naturally – and most probably justly – lie on the side of the severely oppressed. After all, William the Conqueror’s Normans were foreign invaders, who had seized Anglo-Saxon wealth at the point of the sword (and arrow). Rough justice requires an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

Aaron Swartz, who died by his own hand earlier this week, represents a very different kind of outlaw, even if much of the media is reporting his thefts in terms reminiscent of those episodes in Sherwood Forest. For Aaron Swartz was stealing from the rich to give to the poor within the environment of modern democracies operating under the rule of law.

In so doing, Swartz was eroding property rights. And property rights are the fulcrum of economic progress within the capitalist sector of any economy. Without clearly articulated and protected property rights, no modern economy can function. Contracts become impracticable, and a barter economy, in the absence of property rights, descends into a state of nature that we describe as a Hobbesian jungle.

In essence, if the Aaron Swartz’s of this world are allowed to prosper and multiply, they will take the advanced economies back into the Middle Ages of King Richard I and Prince John. I assure you that that is not a pleasant environment in which to fight for survival. It is not a world in which you would choose to live.

Aaron Swartz faced a lengthy jail sentence – as much as 30 years – for deploying computer hacking skills to download illegally millions of academic papers from an electronic library. Five years ago, Swartz had elected to become an outlaw by signing a guerrilla open access manifesto. He complained that the ‘world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage’ was in the process of ‘being digitalised and locked up’ by a handful of private corporations. He advised computer hackers to ‘take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world’.

Well, that is communism well beyond the vision of any Marx, Lenin or Stalin. When information that is costly to produce and process is distributed without charge to anyone who wishes to gain access, then assuredly such information will no longer be produced and processed. That is the nature of any market system.

Should governments then take over the role of markets in the production and dissemination of information, history tells us two things: (1) market-relevant new information will fail to appear; and (2) government-information will be produced and disseminated in a manner designed to destroy individual liberty and to promote tyranny.

So we should not judge Aaron Swartz as a Robin Hood attempting to ease the burdens of tyranny. Rather we should judge him as a promoter of communism, attempting to take down democracy and capitalism, and to replace them by absolutist government. For that crime, 30 years is a modest penalty. The gallows might be viewed as more appropriate.

In any event, Aaron Swartz delivered himself into judgment without any cost to society. And that decision ironically conforms with his personal philosophy. Aaron Swartz surely was not a hypocrite.

Hat Tip: John Gapper, ‘Aaron Swartz suffered from an illusion over research’, Financial Times, January 17, 2013

Democracy sometimes may be worse than autocracy

December 11, 2012

Democracy has become a favored form of government in Western parlance. And autocracy has become a dirty word.  Yet, history does not support such a comprehensive judgment.  Just to mention, in broad-brush terms,  a few possible exceptions:

Germany’s  democratic Weimar Republic performed so badly as to open the gates to Hitler’s Third Reich.  Kaiser Wilhelm’s autocracy performed much better during the early years of the twentieth century.

British autocratic rule over Hong Kong offers one of the finest examples of governance in the history of mankind.

Singapore’s long-lived one-party autocracy continuously positions Singapore second in the index of economic freedom.

The Allende democratic majority in Chile brought the nation to economic ruin. It took a  General Pinochet dictatorship to promote Chile from third to second world status.

The Chavez democratic majority in Venezuela has brought the holder the world’s largest oil reserves to economic ruin.

British economic performance under limited democracy 1689-1884 arguably was far superior to British performance under an expanded suffrage following the passage of the Third Reform Act in 1884.

Readers will easily identify other exceptions to current political correctness on this issue.

Readers may care to think about the implications of such ‘evidence’ for the future of  those Middle Eastern countries that move from secular dictatorship to Islamic ‘democracy’.

With respect to Egypt, the ‘democratic’ rule of Mohamed (Moriarty) Morsi quickly springs to mind!

 

Henry Kissinger offers wisdom on China

October 7, 2011

“Now we are living in a world in which both China and the United States have to get used to the fact that they’re not the dominant country, and that they have to deal with each other and with other countries on the basis of creating an international system.  There has to be some equilibrium, there has to be some principle of order, and that has to arise not out of confrontation but out of possible partnership.  I do not believe we have the capacity to make every country in the world democratic.  I think we have the capacity to make our views known on human rights and we should use our influence on human rights.  There may be decisions in which we can contribute to democracy.  But I do not think that the objective of American foreign policy with respect to China should be to involve itself in the domestic affairs of China, in the domestic evolution of China.  But when there are unjust treatments of individuals we can and should express our view with respect to those issues.  The relationship between China and the United States has become really the key single element for international stability.” Henry Kissinger, The Washington Post, October 7, 2011

Those Senators and U.S. government officials who are pressing to impose penal tariffs on Chinese imports would do well to remember that China was the most advanced country in the world in 18 out of the last 20 centuries. China was a civilized country when Native Americans were running around, near naked with red-paint on their bodies, chanting war songs as they danced around totem poles as they built up courage to go on the war path with the  intent of scalping their enemies.

China is now well on the road back to its earlier pre-eminence, and Americans would do well to cultivate good will and trade relationships, rather than envy and hatred for a well-earned success that is currently eluding their own half-educated and increasingly work-shy population.

Is democracy compatible with Islam?

September 12, 2011

The statistics on this issue are decidely discouraging.  Of the 50-plus countries where Muslims represent a majority of the population only four currently enjoy political liberty as defined by Freedom House.  Indonesia, and Mali have established democracy internally. Turkey depended enormously on Kemel Ataturk for its evolution from theocracy to limited democracy.  Iraq has had an uneasy democracy imposed upon it at the point of the American bayonet.  Turkey and Iraq lie within the heartland of Islam.  Indonesia and Mali are located on its periphery.  No Wahhabist Muslim nation is anywhere close to endorsing democracy.

Since many Muslims express a high regard for democracy in clandestine opinion polls, why do they have so little of it?  Nathanael Smith and I addressed that question in an essay published in Public Choice in 2009*.  Following detailed empirical testing of alternative hypotheses, we concluded that the decisive obstacle was a generalized unwillingness to allow religious freedom and a reluctance to accept the primacy of secular law over Sharia law. These are decisive obstacles to true democracy.

Some Muslims – especially the extremists who support al Qaeda – view a global Caliphate that combines religious with political authority and that holds sway over the entire Muslim world, as the ideal form of governance. The fact that there is no prospect whatsoever of recreating those  first four caliphs who followed the Prophet, makes no difference to the madmen who hear Mohammad’s voice in the twenty-first century air. But they are a miniscule minority of the world’s Muslims.

Much more important is Muslim reluctance to embrace any Western notion of the rule of law.  Islam is the only major religion to include specific injunctions about crime, punishment and family law.  These Sharia law commands are illiberal, indeed barbaric, in terms of twenty-first century philosophy.  The Koran mandates flogging for unlawful sex, requires that adultresses (woman only of course) should be stoned to death, and that petty thieves should suffer amputation of their limbs. With respect to inheritance, a daughter is entitled only to have half as much as a son.

Many Muslims refuse to acknowledge that rules of punishment passed down by an illiterate Prophet during the Dark Ages should be ameliorated in response to the Enlightenment and the subsequent history of Western Civilization. To this extent, many Muslims remain locked into the unlightened past.

Finally, the issue of  religious dominance cannot be ignored. Democracy is a system where individuals vote their preferences, either directly or through elected representatives. If such voters are constrained by the Supreme Power, they are not free to establish their majority preferences, where such preferences challenge Islam.  Apostasize and die – that is the Saudi Arabian creed. If God alone – as interpreted by one acknowledged Prophet – can adjudicate on what is right and what is wrong, human reason cannot prevail and democracy is doomed.

Even Turkey – the world’s most advanced Islamic democracy -is testing those limits at the present time. Given that Kemel Ataturk’s secular constraints are now severely loosened, the democracies must wait nervously to see whether the Koran or the People will determine that country’s fate.

*Charles K. Rowley and Nathanael Smith, ‘Islam’s democracy paradox: Muslims claim to like democracy, so why do they have so little of it?’ Public  Choice, June 2009, 273-299


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