Sunday, July 31, 2005

Column on They should all be in Jail [please proof]

They should all be in Jail

Tibor R. Machan

This is what happens when you treat a bunch of crooks with kindness: they
ruin nearly everything. That is what?s happened with a good many former
Soviet bloc countries, where instead of jailing all the communists who
destroyed people and everything else for over 40 years, these same people
and their friends are treated as equal partners in the effort to recover
from the socialist nightmare.

It is bad enough that too many Western politicians and intellectuals hold
on to some idiotic hope about ?a third way? for Europe, some hybrid of
capitalism and socialism, as if mixing slavery with liberty ever amounted
to a happy compromise. But the slow go process in Eastern European
countries, such as the eastern portion of Germany, Bulgaria, Romania,
Poland, and Hungary, is wreaking havoc all over the place.

The Hungarian economist Janos Kornai, who also taught at Harvard
University at times, made the point clearly shortly after the fall of the
Berlin Wall: Don?t even try to establish a welfare state throughout the
former Soviet bloc since for it to have a chance, there have to be rich
people to steal from and none of these countries have enough of those
among their citizens. Kornai was mostly ignored and matters proceeded
toward a full scale policy of attempting to extract blood from a turnip.
So most of these places are broke, have slow growth, still cling to
impossible infrastructural features, and systematically mislead the
citizenry with nostalgic nonsense about job security and guaranteed social
welfare. Instead of clear leadership from intellectuals and politicians
that would level with everyone about how free enterprise is the best
economic hope for the people, even if it takes some time, the folks from
these sad parts are being cuddled with political economic nonsense.

In discussions with some sensible Germans from the former East Germany I
learned that the attitude that?s prominent in that region is represented
in this supposedly cute and funny movie, Good Bye Lenin, in which East
Germany?s socialist hell is treated as a desirable, albeit slightly flaky,
political economic fantasy. No one makes it clear?because most of the
political and intellectual leaders are old line commies who yearn for the
former days when they were in power and could suck out the life blood of
the sadly compliant citizenry?that there is no such thing as a free lunch.
People are encouraged in their preposterous nostalgic mode, one that looks
back to a time when a feeble job security with zero prospect for
prosperity ruled, with the typical malady of nostalgic vision?the most
important element of the past is omitted, namely, that the future back
then was totally bleak and everyone worried about it. (That, by the way,
is the fallacy of nostalgia?dropping from recollections worries about the

The hope for leadership?some inspired presentation of the hard but
necessary truths about how a country can recover from decades of political
economic malpractice?is also in vein since out of a confused conception of
how economies work there can be no coherent vision with which a population
might be educated as to how to act right. Nearly everyone in these
countries is wishing to square the economic circle, wanting to eat the
cake while having it too, looking for some Peter to rob so as to supply
Paul with resources.

The particular are not all the same, and some of the countries in Eastern
Europe are making some progress toward economic sanity, but, all in all,
reports are discouraging. At the recent Summer Seminars conducted by the
French based Institute for Economic Studies the reports from the various
countries, East and West actually, were depressing, even though the young
men and women who did the reporting were a rare collection of enlightened
classical liberals. The conclusion with which their reports left the
listener is that a fine opportunity was last back there in the early 1990s
when all those crooks who governed for over forty miserable years were
allowed to stay out of jail and continue to play as equal partners in
forging public policies for their countries.

What else can one expect, though, when the criminals
are invited to be on the same footing with those who were the victims?

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