Monday, February 20, 2006

What Makes a Prosperous Nation?

We have been pushing democracy in the middle-east as the solution for terrorism. Some elections have come out "wrong" with Islamic fundamentalists winning. This has led for people on both the left and right to suggest that these countries need a strong ruler more than they need democracy.

They have it wrong. There is more to building a successful nation than just having an election. Some of them can be accomplished without democracy, some of them lead to democracy.

The first requirement is a working law enforcement system. This means that the laws are fair and that they are applied fairly. This requires an honest legislature, police, and court system. This is tough. This is also where democracy comes in. When government is ruled by a dictator, strongman, or party, there is a push to bend the laws to help friends and hurt enemies. The less answerable the government is to the population in general the more it will help special interests.

Next, a country needs strong property rights. This includes the right to earn money, even large sums of it. This is how nations create wealth. People invest their money and expect a return. If the return is confiscated because it is too large or because someone in the government wants it then the money will not be invested (or will be invested elsewhere which amounts to the same thing). Europe has strong respect for laws but is growing less respectful of property rights. That is one reason that they have had poor growth for decades.

As I said, democracies are more likely to create the conditions I have listed. They can also come from a constitutional monarchy which is how England prospered in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Democracies have their own needs. Many of these enhance the other conditions I mentioned. These include freedom of speech, the press, and religion. These are all interrelated which is why they are covered in the First Amendment.

Free speech is important in order to prevent one political party from suppressing the opposition. A free press is how free speech makes itself heard.

There is a slippery slope where free speech or a free press is limited for what seems like a good reason. Once the precedent has been established it can be extended.

I've said before that standing up for free speech is easy when you agree with it. The true test is when you don't agree with it.

The left is failing that test at home.

First there are the Mohammed cartoons. The response from the left is to say that free speech is important but the cartoons should never have been printed in the first place because they are offensive. Implied is the promise that this will never happen again. There is some talk in Europe of formalizing this promise.

Then there is straight-out political speech.

A few weeks ago several Columbus churches filed a complaint with the IRS about a few large, conservative churches. The churches had invited Ken Blackwell to speak on gay issues and the law. The complaining churches felt that this was a violation of church and state.

The thing is that some of the complaining churches have a long history of political activism, especially the Unitarian Universalists. The object of the complaint was to threaten conservative churches, not to point out a legitimate conflict.

In Minnesota the Democrats have gone further. Two ads have been run in support of the war in Iraq. One includes military who served in Iraq, the other features the families of soldiers killed in Iraq. Both state that we must fight al Qaida over there so that we do not have to fight them over here. The Democrats response has been to declare the ads un-American and to try to have them taken off the air. This is not a First Amendment issue since the government is not involved but it is still an attempt at suppressing political speech. For a state party head to try this shows a total disrespect for the basic precepts of democracy.

I think that it is fair to say that anyone who does not protect our rights at home should not be trusted to lead us.

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