OpinionMeister

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

War on Terror = War on Poverty

Over at OpinionJournal.com, Claudia Rosett writes that defeating tyranny is the surest way there is to raise the world's poorest to greater prosperity. Link.
Yet to whatever extent Mr. Bush's agenda plays out in practice, one of the main results would be a richer world for all--with the most dramatic benefits reaching those who are now among the poorest. One of the truths wrested at great cost from the grand social experiments of the 20th century was that the prerequisite for prosperity--if we are speaking of wealth for the many, not just for a ruling few--is freedom. It is not only by smothering free speech or jailing loyal opposition that dictators keep control. It is also by decreeing--in ways that suit the pleasures of the ruler, not the ruled--the rules and conditions under which people may seek work, earn money, own property and buy what they need to feed their families and otherwise pursue happiness. With every reasonable choice that gets cut off by dictatorial rule, with every payoff that must be made to authorities who exist for no other purpose than to please themselves and collect tolls, more human energy and talent and knowledge goes to waste.(...)

The real answer to poverty is the creation of systems of government that let ordinary citizens help themselves, and require them to take responsibility for what they then do--rather than hoping for handouts and blaming their troubles on forces beyond their control, whether by way of quietly hating the local despot, or loudly and more safely denouncing such stand-in targets as the U.S. It is no accident that among the tyrannies most vociferously protesting Mr. Bush's speech were some of the poorest countries on earth. These included Zimbabwe, once breadbasket of Africa, now a country where the thuggish and increasingly lawless rule of Robert Mugabe has left millions on the edge of famine. Or North Korea, whose Stalinist dictatorship holds the world record for starving people to death over the past decade--an estimated two million.

It has often been observed that rankings of liberty and rankings of wealth follow each other very closely. Wealth requires economic liberty, and, over the long run, economic liberty requires political liberty. Since 1980, the number of free or largely free countries has more than doubled, and global poverty has shrunk. Free countries are now found in Latin America, Asia and Africa. Only the Arab world remained a monolithic block of authoritarianism and tyranny. Iraq will be the first crack in that monolithic block. The most noticeable change will be the lack of rape- and torture-chambers, but the next few years should also see an incredible growth of wealth for the average Iraqi.

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