Free market critical for the future

The story begins millennia ago, when the agricultural revolution signaled the end of nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyles. Civilization gained a more secure food supply as a result, facilitating larger societies, more human capital and a more nuanced division of labor.

Stationary agricultural lifestyles, however, magnified another threat: repeat invasions by neighboring marauders.

So humankind, for its mutual protection and benefit, formed national governments to maintain monopolies on the legitimate use of coercive force within geographic territories, believing (if not articulating) that specialized political agents such as central planners could better order civil society than the decentralized efforts of private citizens engaged in daily living.

Over these millennia, relatively successful governments have evolved from tyrannical rule, monarchs and mob majority toward more republican, representative forms.

Characteristics of relatively successful governments have included representatives elected for specific terms, stratified government systems with multi-cameral legislatures sworn to protect basic human and civil rights and the pursuit of peaceful commerce and exchange with more cultures.

The process has been – and has remained – painfully and arduously slow. But the trend toward societies of free individuals, and the beneficence of private enterprise in free markets, is unmistakable.

Here are some highlights from last century:

Advances in mass production and manufacturing technology brought more capital-intensive production (as opposed to labor-intensive production) and lowered the cost of producing the same stock of goods, giving the poorest of global citizens access to luxury goods, that as recently as the 19th century were enjoyed only by elitists.

In fact, according to United Nations and World Bank statistics reported by Johan Norberg, (author of In Defense of Global Capitalism), "During (the past two decades) the world’s population has grown by a billion and a half (to about 6.6 billion), and yet the number of absolute poor (earning less than one dollar a day) has fallen by about 200 million."

World populations are better off in terms of health care, even if some countries still stand to benefit more. Medical advances have translated into fewer national epidemics, higher fertility rates and lower death rates.

However, Malthusian naysayers, followers of Thomas Malthus, a late 18th century political economist, tell a different story. Like Malthus’ 1789 work, An Essay on the Principle of Population, they argue that population will outstrip world production capacity, ignoring centuries of empirical evidence to the contrary.

The introduction of software, personal computers and the Internet has further extended gains from capital goods throughout and between countries’ economies – especially in America, where in 2005, U.S. (non-farm) businesses invested a total of approximately $1.15 trillion in capital goods.

Yet, despite all reason to rejoice for the material well-being of humanity, concerned minds will recall that the wars of the 20th century killed more people than in previously combined, and ask, are we devolving?

The answer, happily, is no. Contemporary humanity is still the same stock of inquisitive, incentive-driven and sentient beings who seek to secure a more peaceful and stable life for themselves and their progeny on earth.

Our collective sapient capacities, however, seem to have waned since, and ignored the priceless ideals elucidated in the Constitution of the U.S. by emblazoning in the successes of an economy built on free trade with all, and entangling alliances (i.e., treaties pledging mutual protection) with none.

President Hugo Chavez, having overseen the replacement of Venezuela’s bicameral legislature with a 167-seat unicameral National Assembly in December 1999 soon after entering the presidency, saw fit to remove presidential term limits and extend the presidency to seven years’ tenure.

The Assembly initially approved the Constitutional amendments unanimously, but the final decision will be in several months, according to a report by the Associated Press. Allies of Chavez constitute the vast majority of the assembly, since the only viable opposition began boycotting elections in 2005.

Both measures remove critical checks and balances on presidential power and leave Venezuelans at the mercy of a tyrant whose policy goals include ushering in a "new" "21st century Socialism" a la good friend Fidel Castro.

Clearly, this is a turn for the worse, in terms of enlightened human progress.

Granger, an economics and political science senior, can be reached via [email protected]

Leave a Comment