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Democracy and the market of nations

By Bruce Walker
web posted June 25, 2001

U.S. President George W. Bush and Russia's President Vladimir Putin finish a press conference after their meeting in Ljubljana, Slovenia on June 16
U.S. President George W. Bush and Russia's President Vladimir Putin finish a press conference after their meeting in Ljubljana, Slovenia on June 16

President Bush returns from Europe with our native liberal pundits again confused by conservative leaders who speak plainly and honestly. The President left behind in Europe smirking journalists and leaders who wonder when America will grow up - this from the good people who brought us global wars, totalitarianism, and new nations in Africa and Asia with leaders indoctrinated in quack socialist nostrums that brought misery to millions.

Forget the liberal whiners here and across the Atlantic, and look at some beautiful facts: Democracy is winning all over the world. Twelve years ago no one knew whether the peoples of new nations like Poland, the Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Slovakia, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Rumania, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria could hold onto democracy.

These and other new nations have not only kept democracy, but democracy has withstood the storms of regional and ethnic strife. Czechoslovakia had a "Velvet Divorce" which separates the two peoples of that nation into the Czech and Slovak republics. Yugoslavia's six separate peoples had a rougher time, but gradually these separate peoples have emerged with new states and functioning democracy. Nations have been created from Scotland to Slovenia, and ethnic differences in nations like Belgium and Switzerland have not weakened democracy at all.

Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and several other former Soviet Socialist Republics seem wobbly at times, but Russia has not gobbled up the smaller new nations and the combination of western investment and the natural longing for national independence among the non-Russian states should allow market economies and democratic principles to take hold.

The Western Hemisphere has never been more democratic. Vicente Fox's party recently won a smashing victory in Yucatan, President Bush seems absolutely committed to bringing market economies and democracy to every nation in the hemisphere, and he seems to be getting help.
When Castro dies, Cuba should quickly transition to a democratic government.

Aside from China, almost every nation in the world is becoming more democratic. The real threat of Chinese imperialism should not be underestimated, but it is not exporting successfully any anti-democratic ideology, and some future cycle of democratic impulse should make China more democratic (we must simply keep our eyes open and our powder dry until then).

So "democracy" is on the rise. Big deal. Democracy is no guarantee of the much more important right of individual freedom, and we conservatives have not exactly been winning recent elections around the world - as was quite clear during President Bush's trip to Europe. The results of elections matter - Maggie Thatcher meant a lot to freedom in Europe - but the fact of elections is much more important. Why?

Democracies genuinely loath war, and parties that like war lose elections quickly. Mothers and fathers want very good reasons for sending their sons off to die in foreign lands. War justifies more government, more censorship, more regulation, more conscription, and more regimentation. Peace minimizes the need for government power.

Snooty Swedish socialists have a holier-than-thou attitude which may cause us conservative to gag, but Sweden threatens no neighbors with violence. Leftists loath Switzerland, but that lovely alpine nation also threatens no one with force. Both these democracies ask to be left alone, offer to leave others alone, and maintain an independent ability to resist aggression. Socialist Sweden is to the family of nations what our weird neighbor driving a Volvo with bumper stickers like "Visualize World Peace" - the guy can be as kooky as he wants, as long as he is not using or threatening to use force against us.

Democracy among nations does more than reduce that transnational crime we call war, but it also opens to us consumers of political rights a supermarket of nations. Democracies are by definition relatively popular governments. This does not mean wise, good, just, fair, or even rational - only popular. Democracies cannot compel people to remain behind barbed wire, like in the Soviet Union.

Whatever goofy and wasteful policies a party may adopt, forcing people not to move is incompatible with democracy. No one makes the Danes stay in Denmark, the Dutch in the Netherlands, or the New Zealanders in New Zealand. Governments that unpopular lose free elections fast.

Immigration may bring hardships and require a balancing of problems (travel, language, family) but the more democracies around the world, the more "competition" for people and resources by nations or political subdivisions of nations. Consider that in twenty years Mexico may be modestly prosperous with a vigorous multi-party system and a large, bilingual middle class. That creates choices for Americans, Mexicans, and other peoples in the Western Hemisphere. The pressure of these choices upon other governments will compel them to also please customers or lose them.

The benefits of government as a producer and portable citizens as a consumer are multiplied in those nations that have strong provincial, state, or cantonal systems. Business unhappy with tax rates in New York can move to Kansas, and people who prefer not to join a labor union can move to a Right to Work state.

National and local governments that remain democratic will tend over time to become producers of ordered liberty, peace, rule of law, domestic tranquility, and civilized behavior in a competitive market. The resulting flow of peoples to their ideological "home" will also produce another sort of tolerance. America is the perfect model of that tolerance. As it became the homeland of people from all over the world, who were united primarily in their "yearning to breath free" Americans began to see at close range many languages, many races, and many cultures.

During moments of frustration with Soviet-loving liberals in the 1960s, many conservatives said "America: Love it or leave it." Perhaps as democracy, peace, technology, and an information revolution which is creating a global language accelerate the slogan we once said in anger can later be said with gentle firmness: Don't like it here? Fine, you have a hundred civilized democracies to live in - go where you choose.

Bruce Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

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