Friday, January 28, 2005

The Market Shall Set You Free

Capitalism's pre-eminence as a wealth generator means that every tyrant has to either embrace free markets or fall slowly into economic oblivion; but for markets to work, citizens need access to information technology and the freedom to use it - and that means having political power.

This link between economic and political liberty has been extolled by conservative thinkers for centuries, but the microelectronic age has strengthened it. Even China's deftly capitalist-yet-authoritarian government - which embraces technology while blocking Web sites and censoring chat groups - is doomed to fail in the long run. China is increasingly porous to news and ideas, and its high-tech political ferment goes beyond online debates. Last year a government official treated a blue-collar worker high-handedly in a sidewalk encounter and set off a riot - after news of the incident spread by cell phones and text messaging.

Given that involvement in the larger capitalist world is time-release poison for tyranny, impeding this involvement is an odd way to aid history's march toward freedom. Four decades of economic isolation have transformed Fidel Castro from a young, fiery dictator into an old, fiery dictator.
I have always questioned the wisdom of economic sanctions. Used as a threat I can see the value of it, but if you are forced to use them I am not so sure. They haven't seemed to do much with Cuba. What are they doing to Burma? Did they work with Iraq? Sanctions appear to me to punish the people of a country rather than their leaders.

On the other hand I question how well economic integration works if a country is a natural resource based economy (oil, natural gas, timber) rather than people based (ie manufacturing and knowledge work). Russia's economic integration into the greater world hasn't seemed to do much for them. What about Iran? If they were part of the WTO would it push them more toward political freedom? Currently 80% of their exports are from oil (CIA Factbook) if they were part of the WTO that percentage would fall. So maybe it would. Or maybe it would just make it easier to sell oil and give the rulers more money. I am not sure.

via NY Times

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