A few weeks ago, retired Senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Antonio Carpio, forwarded to me on Viber Dambisa Moyo’s speech on TED Talks, the wildly popular online conference in which ideas are discussed by competent and authoritative resource persons.
Moyo, a Zambian-born international economist who comments on important world events, was educated at American University in Washington, DC (BS, MBA), Harvard (MPA) and Oxford for her Ph.D.
During the 15-minute presentation, Moyo described China’s success in lifting around 300 million people out of poverty over a 30-year period. Moyo credits the Chinese “new system” with the combination of state capitalism and the primacy of economic rights over political rights.
There has been a loss of priority of political rights in emerging markets, and developing countries are more concerned about their governments providing food, education, healthcare and other basic needs rather than worrying about whether their leaders are elected to power.
Moyo compares the American/European system which has succeeded for almost 250 years by combining liberal democracy with private capitalism.
Moyo cites Patrick Henry, who would later become governor of Virginia, as having declared in 1775 defiance of the British colonizers. “Give me freedom or give me death,” Henry would proclaim. The phrase would later become one of the most moving and powerful exhortations to 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 freedom is ingrained in all human beings.
The combination of liberal democracy, private capitalism and free markets has generally worked well and is therefore the appropriate formula for prosperity. Why, asks Moyo, would this model not be preferred because the proof 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 must still, for the most part, provide basic necessities and these luxuries to their populations.
The then USSR in the 1920s, around the time Joseph Stalin came to power, envious of the material prosperity of the United States and the rest of Europe, attempted to rapidly transform itself from an agrarian economy to an industrialized society, to America and the West. The USSR launched a massive and bloody collectivization of agricultural land. Private lands. The peasants were forced to put all their agricultural land in a collective or common agricultural zone. Millions of people were killed or starved to death in this attempt by the USSR to inject steroids into a system that had neither the absorptive capacity nor the natural enthusiasm to follow the wishes of their masters.
The fact is that a totalitarian system that had an ideology that could only be imposed on the community through the use of force, resulted in the deaths of approximately 11 million non-combatants.
Russia will experiment later, from 1985, with free markets or perestroika (opening and removal of central planning) and Glasnost (be more transparent) during Mikhail Gorbachev’s presidency.
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.
Gorbachev’s experiment, encouraged and supported by the Reagan administration, failed because of factionalism and several other factors. Gorbachev wanted openness but hoped the Communists would remain firmly in control.
In 1998 Yeltsin left the Russian presidency and his chosen successor was Colonel Vladimir Putin, a low-key intelligence officer who served as president until 2008. In 2008 Putin became prime minister to succeed Dmitry Medvedev who became president . Musical chairs.
In 2012, Putin took over the presidency and will likely hold the presidential seat well into the 2030s, when he will be nearly 80 years old. Meanwhile, the Russian economy is in shambles despite (still or because of) Putin’s total control over Russia. and its terrorist apparatus. It is an example of a failed attempt to provide economic benefits on the condition that political rights are entirely absent.
Thus, the Russians lost their economic and political rights. The only time the Russians saw any prosperity was at the start of Putin’s first term, thanks to favorable oil prices.
Before China got to where it is today, it had the luxury of learning from the murderous and tyrannical reign of Mao Zedong who in 1958 launched the so-called Great Leap Forward. The five-year program which was almost a carbon copy of the forced collectivization of Russia. It aimed to turn China into an industrial and agricultural paradise by terrorizing and killing people. Various estimates show that 30 to 40 million Chinese perished either by execution, starvation and other atrocities. The economy has also gone into a spin. The total number of deaths in the failed collectivization of the USSR and China is estimated at 51 million (40 million in China and 11 million in the USSR). For comparison, the population of the Visayas and Mindanao according to the latest population count is 44 million: 25 million in Mindanao, including the island groups, and 19 million in the Visayas.
Going back to China’s rapid growth solely on the basis of economic parameters, it can be said that state capitalism is a huge advantage, especially because it is not, on the whole, appreciated by liberal democracies. The country’s willingness to defy and ignore international norms, property rights and international rulings makes the Chinese system an unusual system and a formula for increasing international disagreements and tensions.
In the end, we have no problem following Moyo’s recommendation. Liberal democracies and private capital will cooperate and compete with China. We did it anyway, especially in regional groupings like ASEAN. We cooperate but we compete. However, we are guided by the firm belief that you can have both political and economic rights and that it is not necessary to 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 have lost our bread because the parties that are supposed to protect our political rights have also taken them away from us. Watch what happens when you lose both. It’s goodbye for some.
Philip Ella Juico’s areas of interest include the protection and promotion of democracy, free markets, sustainable development, social responsibility and sport as a tool for social development. He earned his Ph.D. in Commerce from De La Salle University. Dr. Juico served as Land Reform Secretary under the Corazon C. Aquino administration.