Friday, December 17

Do the Right Thing

Leo Tolstoy wrote at the beginning of Anna Karenina, “All happy families resemble each other. Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

This is also true of nations - look at a map of the world and it is not difficult to pick out the prosperous, peaceful and democratic countries on every continent (or those on the way to becoming so). All of that ‘happy’ group display a basic commitment to some combination of capitalism, rational governance and respect for their citizen’s rights.

The ‘unhappy’ group reveals many different brands of oppressive ideology, religion or any other possible justifications to serve their ruling classes. As though determined to prove that Hobbes and Malthus were right those varied dictatorships worldwide make human life "poor, nasty, brutish and short" for uncountable millions while squandering resources, time and lives.

The world has no more lessons to offer on how to move from one group to the other - reforms not revolutions work and there is no third way. History may not be over but there still is only one direction to progress. Nations are poor and unjust exactly in proportion to the lessons their rulers quite purposefully choose to ignore in the service of their own power and at the expense of everyone else. For such rulers, ‘happiness’ is achieved with each successive day they survive in power. All other factors are secondary.

the right things

What are the 'happy' governments doing right and how should any willing government ‘do the right thing’?

1) A Rational World View - Recognize once and for all that ideology and mantras will not change human nature or create wealth. The most cursory glance at a globe will show what basic policies work and which don’t. Essentially, create conditions favorable to good old fashioned capitalism - not some convenient special version of it.

2) The Rule of Law - Enshrine a constitution and laws that leaves people alone to their own devices as much as is possible by protecting them from the necessary evil of government and from each other. Government and its associated political parties should have no place in the economy besides the minimal regulation of commerce and the collection of the lowest possible tax burden.

3) Civil Society - From the free flow of information all the way to independent civil institutions such as universities and even sports clubs, power and influence should devolve away from government. Basic rights such as private ownership of property can ensure that citizens have a government in their service and not the reverse.

4) Limited Government - This deserves repeated emphasis. Excepting an initial dominance of basic infrastructure projects, education and public health, government should command an ever shrinking portion of national resources. Indeed, government should, within the limits of providing for law and order, be eternally suspected of wrong.

5) Trust and Democracy - Emphasize what citizens have in common and respect tradition. While the executive should run government, she should be subject to constant criticism and fear of recall. She should have no ability to govern without the consent of popularly elected representatives and should have to obey the law as determined by an independent judiciary.

All of the above won’t happen overnight or even necessarily concurrently, but development and improvement will be obvious from day one of a decision to accept them in principal. And no ... these things are not easy to do but even a miss in any regard is better than going in entirely the wrong direction.

what then must be done? ... well, our part anyway

Over the coming months and year we will set before ourselves the task of refining the above facets of ‘doing the right thing’ by looking at other versions of these rules and by consulting sources from Smith to Hayek to Friedman to Sowell. This examination will include philosophical and historical factors from the Enlightenment to the Industrial Revolution. We will continue to show that policy in Ethiopia today is very much based on doing the wrong thing in the service of an unnecessarily insecure grasp of power.

In an other context we will consider why the proven concepts that have made so many societies prosperous and democratic (and others worldwide well on their way to being so) are often suspect in the societies where they are most desperately needed. Meanwhile obviously failed ideas are somehow considered authentic or relevant to the experience of countries like Ethiopia.

Classical liberalism and communism, for example, are both products of the West anyway. Ultimately it should not matter where an idea came from but if it works should matter. The world is decidedly not a zero-sum place where one's success is linked to another's failure and it is not a place where ruinous and reflexive radicalism make any sense at all.

Basically, the successes of the West and those who have emulated them worldwide are human successes that are no one's property. There is absolutely no reason that those victories over want and wrong can not be shared by Ethiopians.

Many in the Third World have taken too much Western self-criticism to heart forgetting that the most radical Westerner has very sharp limits at home about how much she can actually re-order what are essentially conservative societies. After all radical Westerners don't want to live in poor ideologically correct countries but enjoy being tourists in them. The contempt of low expectations is evident in the lip service they have given the radical neo-colonial classes over the years who experiment and muck about with African lives, for example.

ethiopundit has focused on one ideological dead end that has made unhappy countries miserable in the same way. Ethiopia is one of those countries and is deep into its second generation of domination by Marxist inspired nonsense that has led to every possible bad decision being made about development. The murderous Communist military junta, the Dergue, described its policies as ‘Scientific Socialism’ while the today’s government describes its policies as ‘Revolutionary Democracy’. The current watered down version of Marxist-Leninism has the lonely virtue of being less destructive than its originals.

Our concern, in the 21st century, with radical agendas and communism may seem odd to some readers but tragically 70 million Ethiopians live with the residue of those manifest failures today. The current government is more than capable of doing the right thing right now - should it chose to.

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