Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Freedom, Development & Fascism

Tibor R. Machan

Now and then I read that freedom—protection of the unalienable rights to private property, freedom trade, free speech, etc.—are not needed for economic development because in some countries, such as Singapore, there is ample and vigorous economic development under a substantially fascist regime, one that does not protect individual rights—especially the right to freedom of speech and press. And technically in some countries, even in the USA, plenty of economic growth can co-exist with serious government interventionism.

Does this not conflict with the libertarian notion that freedom is indivisible? If all kinds of good things can come from governmental tyrannies, petty or Draconian, why bother about freedom? Why not just worry about whether the government properly manages the economy?

It is true enough that in some countries a substantially tyrannical state has managed to generate good numbers in the economic realm. Yet is that the whole story? Isn’t it rather that where free markets are at least permitted to operate, there is likely to be economic development? Yes, that isn’t exactly what free markets are supposed to amount to—namely, conditions that governments permit to prevail. But as with parents who provide considerable room for their children’s personal responsibility to flourish, without fully letting go of their ultimate authority, so such countries do mimic freedom sufficiently to produce results that are close to what would occur within a fully free society.

Back when Chili was run by general Pinochet, it was the most successful economy in Latin America. No one could argue that the country was free, certainly not by libertarian standards. Yet when Pinochet consulted with the Chicago boys who advised him to stop interfering with the market, to allow trade to proceed unimpeded, the result was something close to a free market system and led, not unexpectedly, to healthy economic developments.

There is no doubt that the conditions of a fully free society can be approximated in countries that are ruled by people who recognize that micromanaging people is counterproductive. It was the philosopher Baruch Spinoza who started to speculate along these lines, insisting that a powerful government would do far better to ease up on dictating how the people should live. Recognizing what later became the essence of public choice theory—for which James Buchanan received the Nobel Prize in economics—Spinoza began to challenge the ideas of such thinkers as Thomas Hobbes who believed that a healthy country needs a hands on dictator. On the contrary, what works much better is when the people themselves are in substantial charge of their lives. (Spinoza, by the way, applied this notion to freedom of religion and speech, as well! But he hadn’t yet defended the Lockean notion that individual actually have the right to be free, only that letting them be free is sound public policy.)

So, then, what about the idea that dictatorship or substantial governmental intervention in the lives of citizens need not stymie economic growth and other desirable developments in a country? Sure, that’s right, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. The policies of such a government must approximate those of a fully free country, especially as far as how the economy is governed.

It also needs to be noted in this connection that freedom is not a guarantee of all things turning out well in the world. Free men and women can go wrong on numerous fronts. The point of freedom isn’t merely to encourage success on various fronts in a society but to place governance into the hands in which it belongs, the sovereign individual in voluntary cooperation with his and her fellow individuals. In the long run, of course, this is far more likely to produce the good things we all tend to want from community life. But the issue is, first and foremost, that such community life be voluntary, not coerced.

As Abraham Lincoln noted about the American system, it ".....[h]as a philosophical cause. Without the Constitution and the Union, we could not have attained the result; but even these, are not the primary cause of our great prosperity. There is something back of these, entwined itself more closely about the human heart. That something, is the principle “Liberty for all”—the principle that clears the path to all—gives hope to all—and, by consequences, enterprise, and industry to all."

No comments: