Bread and political rights

PHILIPPINE STAR/ MICHAEL VARCAS

Several weeks ago, retired senior associate justice of the Supreme Court Antonio Carpio, forwarded to me on Viber, the speech of Dambisa Moyo on TED Talks, the highly popular online conference in which ideas are discussed by knowledgeable and authoritative resource persons.

Moyo, a Zambian-born international economist who comments on significant global events, was educated at American University in Washington, DC (BS, MBA), Harvard (MPA), and Oxford for her Ph.D.

In the 15-minute talk, Moyo described the success of China in pulling about 300 million people out of poverty over a 30-year period. Moyo credits the Chinese “new system” of combining state capitalism and the primacy of economic rights over political rights.

There was a deprioritization of political rights in emerging markets, and developing nations are more concerned with their governments providing food, education, healthcare, and other essential needs rather than worrying whether their leaders are voted into power.

Moyo compares the American/European system that has been successful over close to 250 years by combining liberal democracy with private capitalism.

Moyo quotes Patrick Henry, who would later become governor of Virginia, as having declared in 1775, defiance of British colonizers. “Give me liberty or give me death,” Henry would proclaim. The phrase would later become one of the most stirring and powerful exhortations of people’s yearning for freedom. For America and the rest of the developed world, freedom is a most cherished value. I hasten to add, however, that the desire for freedom and liberty is ingrained in all human beings.

The combination of liberal democracy and private capitalism and free markets, has, generally, worked well and is therefore the proper formula for prosperity. Why, Moyo asks, would this model not be preferred as evidence of prosperity is in capitalist economies: High incomes, vibrant civil society, luxuries and conveniences.

In contrast, totalitarian and authoritarian societies from the 1920s to the present, have to still, for the most part, provide basic necessities and those luxuries to their populations.

The then-USSR, in the 1920s, which was around the time that Joseph Stalin came to power, envious of the material prosperity of the United States and the rest of Europe, tried to rapidly transform itself from an agrarian economy to an industrialized society, a la America and the West. The USSR launched a massive and bloody collectivization of farm lands. Private lands. Peasants were forced to put all their farm lands in a collective or common farm area. Millions were either killed or died of starvation in this attempt by the USSR to inject steroids into a system which neither had the absorptive capacity nor the natural enthusiasm to follow the wishes of their masters.

The fact is that a totalitarian system which had an ideology which could be forced upon the community only through use of force, resulted in the death of about 11 million non-combatants.

Russia would later on experiment, starting in 1985, with free markets or perestroika (openness and doing away with central planning) and glasnost (being more transparent) during the presidency of Mikhail Gorbachev.

Gorbachev was followed by the alcoholic Boris Yeltsin. The Berlin Wall was torn down in 1989 and the Russian republics broke away from the Soviet Union and formed independent republics like Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and a number of Central Asian republics like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan.

The experiment of Gorbachev, encouraged and supported by the Reagan Administration, failed because of factionalism and several other factors. Gorbachev wanted openness but had hoped to have the Communists remain firmly in control.

In 1998, Yeltsin left the Russian presidency and his chosen successor was colonel Vladimir Putin, a low-profile intelligence officer who served as president up to 2008. In 2008, Putin became prime minister to take over from Dimitri Medvedev who became president. Musical chairs.

In 2012, Putin reassumed the presidency and is likely to occupy the presidential seat up into the 2030s when he will be close to 80. In the meantime, the Russian economy is in shambles despite (again, or because of) Putin’s total control of Russia and its terror apparatus. That’s an example of a failed attempt to provide economic benefits provided political rights are totally absent.

So, the Russians lost both their economic and political rights. The only time the Russians enjoyed some kind of prosperity was early in Putin’s first term, courtesy of favorable oil prices.

Before China got to where it is now, it had the luxury of learning from the murderous and tyrannical rule of Mao Zedong who launched, in 1958, the so-called Great Leap Forward. The five-year program which was almost a carbon copy of Russia’s forced collectivization. It was meant to transform China into an industrial and agricultural paradise by terrorizing and killing people. Various estimates show that anywhere from 30 to 40 million Chinese perished either through execution, starvation, and other atrocities. The economy also went into tailspin. The total deaths in the USSR’s and China’s failed collectivization are estimated at 51 million (40 million in China and 11 million in the USSR). To compare, the population of the Visayas and Mindanao per latest population count is 44 million: 25 million in Mindanao including island groups and 19 million in the Visayas.

Going back to the rapid growth of China purely on the basis of economic metrics, one can say that state capitalism is a tremendous advantage, especially because it is not, by and large, enjoyed by liberal democracies. The country’s willingness to challenge and ignore international norms and proprietary rights and international rulings make the Chinese system an unusual one and a formula for increasing international disagreements and tensions.

At the end of the day, we have no problem following the recommendation of Moyo. Liberal democracies and private capital will cooperate and compete with China. We have been doing that anyway, especially in regional groupings like ASEAN. We cooperate but we compete. We are, however, guided by the firm belief that you can have both political and economic rights and that you need not lose one to have the other.

In 1983, the Philippine economy was at its worst. Marcos declared martial law and promised bread and freedom. We lost our bread because the parties who were supposed to protect our political rights took them away from us too. Look at what happens when you lose both. Its goodbye for some.

Philip Ella Juico’s areas of interest include the protection and promotion of democracy, free markets, sustainable development, social responsibility and sports as a tool for social development. He obtained his doctorate in business at De La Salle University. Dr. Juico served as Secretary of Agrarian Reform during the Corazon C. Aquino administration.

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