November 21, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
Robert Mugabe, the cartoonish dictator of Zimbabwe, wasn’t corrupted by 37 years in power. Contrary to the myth his admirers created in the 1980s, he never was a selfless revolutionary devoted to the welfare of his people.

From his political emergence in the 1960s to his ousting in a coup this week, Mugabe remained what he always was: a hard-core Marxist willing to do anything to gain and hold onto absolute power.

His time in office was marked by violence and economic illiteracy — a fatal combination that broke the once-prosperous country. As befits the fate of a tyrant, Mugabe finally found himself at the mercy of his erstwhile henchmen. And as he exits the political arena, he leaves Zimbabwe in the hands of a man who is, arguably, even more brutal than Mugabe himself.

Mugabe, a carpenter’s son born in 1924 in Southern Rhodesia’s Kutama Mission, was inculcated with a deep hatred of the British Empire by an Irish Jesuit who ran a mission. Bookish and intelligent, Mugabe won a scholarship to study at a South African university, where he got his first taste of Marxism.

In 1960, he joined Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union, a black liberation movement committed to ending colonial rule in Rhodesia.

After falling out with Nkomo, Mugabe helped to establish the Zimbabwe African National Union. The two movements — ZAPU, supported by the Soviets, and ZANU, backed by the Red Chinese — were soon at loggerheads and, following an outbreak of violence, both Nkomo and Mugabe were imprisoned by the Rhodesian authorities.

Upon his release in 1974, Mugabe left the country for safe haven in Mozambique from where ZANU launched a guerrilla war against his former captors. Unsuited for combat, Mugabe outsourced the actual fighting to one of his deputies, Josiah Tongogara. The mounting costs of war, international pressure and economic sanctions forced the Rhodesian government to the negotiating table and set the country on a path to the fateful 1980 election.

Preparing for the election, Mugabe appeared to have disposed of Tongogara, a possible rival, in what the US Embassy in Lusaka described as a “non-accidental” car crash. Mugabe’s guerrillas also intimidated defenseless villagers into casting their votes for ZANU. Much to everyone’s surprise, Mugabe won 57 out of the 100 seats in Parliament.

In the early 1980s, Mugabe’s North Korea-trained troops descended on Nkomo’s stronghold in the Matabeleland, killing 20,000 people and forcing Nkomo into exile. The man entrusted with the grisly task of genocide, Emmerson Mnangagwa, would become Mugabe’s right-hand man — for a time.

During the 1980s, government corruption metastasized while Mugabe’s socialist policies slowly suffocated the country’s economy. Burgeoning debt and deficits necessitated an IMF bailout and a promise of economic reforms in the 1990s.

As socialism collapsed in Europe, the aging revolutionary reinvented himself as the enemy of all things Western and determined to wipe out the last vestiges of the British colonial legacy in Zimbabwe. These were the white farmers, who constituted the backbone of Zimbabwe’s economy.

Using the pretext of the farmers’ meddling in politics, Mugabe started expropriating commercial farmland in 2000, which occasioned a spectacular economic meltdown.

In 2008, the country’s output fell to the 1979 level and GDP per capita to levels last seen in the 1950s. Zimbabwe saw the second-highest hyperinflation in recorded history, an annualized rate of 90 sextillion percent. Unemployment rocketed to 90 percent and government departments — with the expectation of the military and police — effectively ceased to function. Yet Mugabe, propped up by South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki, survived and limped along with Zimbabwe for another decade.

Now, aged 94, the increasingly fragile and senile Mugabe made a grave error by dismissing his vice president to clear the way for his second wife, the 52-year-old Grace, to ascend to the presidency. Mnangagwa responded by apparently staging a coup and placing Mugabe under house arrest.

Latest reports suggest that Mugabe will be permitted to go into exile unmolested, leaving a broken country at the mercy of a murderous maniac. If so, Zimbabwe is a long way from gaining political freedom or returning to economic growth. The international community will doubtless try to keep up pressure on ZANU and its new leadership, but, in the end, it’s up to Zimbabweans to avoid another Mugabe.

This piece first appeared in the New York Post
November 16, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
The admiration of young people for communist leaders is slightly down from last year, according to the annual report on U.S. attitudes toward socialism, which was released by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. Joseph Stalin saw the greatest fall in popularity, from 12 percent of millennials reporting a favorable impression of him down to 6 percent. However, a horrifying 23 percent of Americans between ages 21 and 29 believe that Stalin was a “hero.” Also, 32 percent of millennials hold a favorable view of Karl Marx, slightly down from 34 percent last year.

This drop in popularity is comforting, but only slightly. Chances are you have friends who still idealize socialism, communism, and the men who enforced these ideologies with an iron hand. But what they probably don’t realize is the awful truth about these utopian visions of a better world. Let’s quickly walk through some of the history they ought to consider.

Sitting in the reading room of the British Museum, Marx theorized that society was a struggle between wage laborers and the owners of the means of production, and that the latter were “class enemies.” He feared that factory owners were exploiting factory workers, farm owners were exploiting day laborers, and so on. Many university students today share his fear of exploitation, rail against “the one percent” and the “privileged,” and desire a class-free society.

“I wonder what Karl Marx would have made of [the factory workers I met],” said Leslie T. Chang in her TED talk, The Voices of China’s Workers. She continued: “His view of the world persists, [as does] our tendency to see the workers as faceless masses, to imagine that we can know what they’re really thinking… Certainly, the factory conditions are really tough, and it’s nothing you or I would want to do, but from their perspective, where they’re coming from is much worse.”

Chang notes that since China’s economic liberalization, factory work has allowed hundreds of millions of Chinese workers to escape rural poverty to become middle class, and that most factory workers go on to start their own small businesses. They work in factories willingly because the alternative is grinding rural poverty.

Marx and his followers, sadly, did not realize that capitalism-driven industrialization ultimately creates widespread prosperity, and they ended up hurting the very workers they aimed to help. Thanks in part to the factories that Marx detested, the United Kingdom’s average income was three times higher when he died than when he was born.

After communists seized power in Russia a century ago, in the name of equality, anyone who was too well-off had to be identified and punished. Those with specialized knowledge, such as engineers, or those who had “non-labor income” were suspect.

In the Russian countryside, any farmer who produced enough food to sell as surplus, as opposed to any farmer who produced only enough for his family, was labeled a “kulak”—a class enemy, engaged in the alleged crime of enrichment through trade. Any farmer who hired help, who owned a creamery or other machine, or who rented out agricultural equipment, was also labeled a “kulak.” The kulaks’ poorer neighbors were encouraged to take away their homes and steel their possessions.

Comforting his wife, who was troubled that her acquaintance Marusia’s family had been imprisoned as kulaks, a devout communist said the following:
“You see, they can’t make a revolution with white gloves. Annihilating the kulaks is a bloody and difficult process, but it has to be done. Marusia’s tragedy isn’t as simple as it seems to you. What was her husband sent to the camps for? It is hard to believe that he wasn’t guilty of anything at all. You don’t end up in the camps for nothing.”
The man quoted above was eventually arrested and shot. No specific charges were ever given. His wife was sent to the labor camps shortly thereafter.

That anecdote is representative of the madness of that era. Millions of “class enemies,” political dissenters, and other unfortunate victims were sent to work in the Gulag, the forced-labor-camp system created under Lenin and greatly expanded under Stalin. Anyone who tried to escape was summarily executed. Those close to Stalin were not exempt, and more than a third of leading camp executioners ended up as prisoners in the camps themselves.

In some camps, prisoners mined radioactive material without adequate protection and died of radiation poisoning. In others, frostbitten prisoners chopped timber and dragged the logs back to camp barefoot in the winter. In others still, prisoners labored to produce food on collective farms while they themselves were allowed only meager rations. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “It is estimated that the combination of very long working hours, harsh climatic and other working conditions, inadequate food, and summary executions killed off at least 10 percent of the Gulag’s total prisoner population each year.”

The slave labor of the camps helped sustain the ruling class of the allegedly classless Soviet regime as the economy collapsed. Agricultural productivity plummeted following the removal of the kulaks and the collectivization of the farms. As millions starved to death, some resorting to cannibalism to survive, Stalin forbade use of the words famine, hunger, or starvation. Even doctors dared not diagnose a starving patient’s condition accurately. Stalin blamed the clear failures of his centrally planned system on deliberate sabotage and undermining of the economy by disloyal elements. He claimed that hidden enemies were everywhere and used that as an excuse to send more and more people to death and to the labor camps.

In sum, to bring about equality, the communist system imprisoned or killed those who had attained expertise and achieved success—whether in farming or in a technical occupation such as engineering. They initially redistributed wealth, but many of the peasants who at first benefited from robbing the kulaks ended up starving to death. By imprisoning or murdering many of the most productive people, while simultaneously eliminating market incentives for productivity by collectivizing industries and banning competition, communists brought about far deeper and more widespread poverty than under capitalism. (Capitalism, in fact, has helped bring world poverty to an all-time low.)

Research suggests that the number of unnatural deaths wrought by communism may be upward of eighty million—a number so high that the violence of Tsarist Russia, the Spanish Inquisition, and “Bloody” Mary’s English counterreformation pale in comparison. Today, seven out of ten Americans underestimate the number of lives that communism extinguished. Perhaps that explains part of communism’s continued appeal. But if your friends could travel back in time to the Stalin era, they would see that literal class warfare benefits no one except opportunistic tyrants like Stalin.

And they would see that he was no hero.

A version of this first appeared in the Intercollegiate Review.
November 16, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
I was still a university student when I learned that Robert Mugabe, the leader of Zimbabwe since 1980, had started expropriating land from that country’s farmers, leading to the second highest hyperinflation in recorded history and a spectacular economic contraction. Back then, I confidently predicted that the people of Zimbabwe would rise up and overthrow the ZANU-PF dictatorship. That was 17 years ago and, duly chastised, I have refrained from making definite predictions ever since. At last, the wily dictator, now aged 93, appears to have met his match in the one man who is arguably even more brutal than Mugabe himself. Emmerson Mnangagwa is a killer and a fitting successor to the man he is likely to replace.

For decades, Mugabe dominated Zimbabwe’s politics and bestrode the global stage as Africa’s elder statesman. He accomplished the former by bribing, torturing and murdering his opponents. He achieved the latter via a cultural quirk, which venerates the aged, no matter how despicable. The increasingly senile nonagenarian, however, made a serious error on November 6, when he sacked his Vice President, Emmerson “Crocodile” Mnangagwa, in order to facilitate the succession of his 52-year old wife, Grace “Gucci” Mugabe. That was Plan B. Mugabe tried to have Mnangagwa poisoned first. Alas, the Crocodile survived an assassination attempt in August and used his carefully cultivated military connections to turn the tables on Mugabe.

As things stand, the military, which launched a coup d’état on Tuesday, has Mugabe under arrest in Harare and his wife exiled in Namibia. Most commentators seem to assume that the dictator will now be forced to hand over the reins of power to his erstwhile deputy. Mnangagwa has been at the centre of power in Zimbabwe since that country’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1980. In addition to the Vice Presidency, he has held a number of ministerial positions, though none as consequential as his stint as Minister of National Security between 1980 and 1988, when he presided over the Gukurahundi pogrom and murder of approximately 20,000 people in Matabeleland.

What sort of a country is the 75-year old génocidaire going to inherit from his predecessor? First, Zimbabwe is a dictatorship, with the opponents of the ruling ZANU-PF regime regularly beaten, jailed and even murdered. Elections, including the one in 1980 that brought Mugabe to power, are either heavily rigged or are conducted in an atmosphere of political violence against the heroic but blundering opposition. The country has no freedom of speech, with the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation serving as the regime’s propaganda tool. That is why the military’s first move was to take over its Harare headquarters.
Some four million Zimbabweans, especially the best and brightest, have left the country. They keep the 16 million people still in the country afloat through remittances amounting to over a billion dollars a year. Speaking of the economy, following Mugabe’s assault on property rights and the rule of law in the early 2000s, the country has experienced hyperinflation that peaked at an annualised rate of 90 sextillion per cent in November 2008. That year, output fell to a level last seen in 1979, while GDP per capita fell to where it was in the 1950s. Unemployment rocketed to 90 per cent and the state’s functions – with the crucial exceptions of the military and secret police – effectively ceased to operate.The international community stepped in and organised a power-sharing deal between Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, under which the country was governed between 2009 and 2013. As befits its bumbling nature, the MDC was given the thankless task of cleaning up the economic mess, as well as trying to improve health and education in Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, ZANU-PF kept control of the powerful ministries, such as the police and the military. Unsurprisingly, the 2013 general election saw Mugabe regain full control of the country and Mnangagwa, who was instrumental in keeping the dictator in power through the worst of the economic crisis, was soon elevated to the Vice Presidency.Those of us who have spent years advocating in favour of political and economic freedom in the Southern African country, not to mention millions of Zimbabweans at home and in the diaspora, will rejoice at seeing the back of a corrupt and brutal dictator. But it would be a mistake to be too hopeful. The man who seems poised to take over is just as corrupt and just as brutal as Mugabe. Things in the beleaguered African country might yet get worse before they get better.

This first appeared in CapX.
November 08, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. It did so by accident.

During a press conference, the spokesman for East Berlin’s Communist Party noted that citizens of the German Democratic Republic would be allowed to travel to the West. For months, pressure was building on the authorities, as tens of thousands of East Germans tried to flee to West Germany via the unguarded Hungarian frontier.

To regain control of the situation, the authorities agreed to start providing exit visas to the restless populace in the near future, but both the nature and the timing of the concession got lost in a frenzy of questions that followed the announcement.

The word of the border opening spread like wildfire. By midnight thousands of Berliners squared off against a few dozen confused policemen guarding the Bornholmer Street checkpoint. Overwhelmed, the police let the people through. Over the next three days, three million East Germans got their first taste of the life in the West.

The communist authority in East Germany crumbled along with the Wall. Within a year, the two Germanys were reunified. In Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and Romania, communist governments met the same fate. Finally, in August 1991, communism fell in the Soviet Union, and the country dissolved on December 26.

Twenty-eight years later, those of us who lived through those momentous days still cherish the freedoms that we gained. For most people, alas, communism is but an echo of a distant past. So much so that socialism, an economic system of communist countries, is experiencing something of a renaissance.

In Venezuela, for example, an 18-year-old experiment with socialism is entering a horrific denouement marked by hyperinflation, hunger, rising infant mortality rates and increasingly brutal suppression of the opposition. In the United Kingdom, an unrepentant socialist came within a few percentage points of winning this year’s election, while in the United States, a socialist senator almost became the Democratic Party’s nominee for the presidency.

Let us, therefore, remind ourselves what communism wrought.

Writing in this newspaper, A. Barton Hinkle noted that “while the Soviet Union is no more and communism has been discredited in most eyes for many years, it is hard even now to grasp the sheer scale of agony imposed by the brutal ideology of collectivism.” Indeed.

“The Black Book of Communism,” a postmortem of communist atrocities compiled by European and American academics in 1997, concluded that the human cost of genocides, extrajudicial executions, deportations, and artificial famines stood at over 94 million.

Professor Mark Kramer from the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University edited “The Black Book.” Subsequent research, he told me, suggests that “the total number (of people) who died unnatural deaths under communist regimes … (is) upward of 80 million.”

Let’s put that new number in perspective.

Between 1825 and 1917, wrote Stéphane Courtois from the French National Centre for Scientific Research, the Tsarist regime in Russia “carried out 6,321 political executions … whereas in two months of official ‘Red Terror’ in the fall of 1918 Bolshevism achieved some 15,000.”

Or, consider the Inquisition. According to Professor Agostino Borromeo, a historian of Catholicism at the Sapienza University in Rome, “there were some 125,000 trials of suspected heretics in Spain … (between 1478 and 1834, but only) about 1 percent of the defendants (i.e., 1,250) were executed.”

Finally, consider the counterreformation. Queen “Bloody” Mary, who tried to restore Catholicism to England between 1553 and 1558, sent 280 dissenters to the stake. Between November 1917, when the communists came to power in Russia, and the North Korean famine in the mid-1990s, communists were responsible for deaths of at least 154 people every hour.

Consider, also, the economic legacy of communism. While socialist economies of Central and Eastern Europe continued to grow for much of the communist period, capitalist countries in Western Europe grew faster.

For example, look at East and West Germany. At the end of World War II, average incomes in Germany were, by definition, equal. By 1989, West German incomes were almost twice as high as those in East Germany.

Then there is North and South Korea. Once again, incomes in Korea were equal, on average, at the conclusion of World War II. Contemporary data for North Korea is tough to come by, but Professor Angus Maddison of Groningen University estimated that in 2008, South Koreans were 18 times richer than North Koreans.

Finally, those who are truly interested in the reality of daily life under socialism can see it for themselves by visiting Cuba and Venezuela.

No matter where it was tried, communism has always resulted in mountains of dead bodies. As for socialist economics, it has always resulted in shortages, inefficiency, poverty, and desperation. The verdict of history is clear, but only if people are willing to see it.

This piece first appeared in The Richmond Times-Dispatch
Today marks 100 years since the Bolshevik coup d'état in Russia overthrew the provisional government of Alexander Kerensky and replaced it with communist dictatorship that lasted until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Throughout this year, I have written a number of columns devoted to communism as a system of government and socialism as a system of economic organization, throughout the former Soviet bloc. It would, therefore, serve limited purpose to revisit the many social and economic ills that the events of November 7, 1917 unleashed upon the world. Suffice it to say that dictatorship of the proletariat and central planning have resulted in mass murder and relative immiseration wherever they have been tried.

Instead, I would like to use today's column as a call to action. Put plainly, we (i.e., libertarians, classical liberals and other promoters of free markets and small government) are at risk of losing the battle of ideas, especially when it comes to young people. According to a new poll conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, "nearly 45 percent of millennials polled said that they would prefer to live in a socialist country compared to the 42 percent who said they preferred a capitalist one. Another 7 percent said that they preferred living in a communist country above all. The findings show that the percentage of millennials who prefer socialism over capitalism is a full 10 points higher than that of the general population."

Of course, I realize that all people, as they grow older, worry about the young and it is not my intention to disparage anyone. Both Millennials and Generation Z have the potential to provide the world with astonishing technological and medical breakthroughs. They will not make the world a perfect place, but they can make it much better than it already is. But, improving the state of humanity requires institutions and policies conducive to openness and experimentation. Neither communism, nor socialism, can provide such an environment. I wonder how many young people realize how dependent the fulfillment of their dreams is on liberal democracy and a free market economy—the social and economic underpinnings of our society.

The reasons for widespread ignorance about the crimes and failures of communism are, by and large, embarrassingly banal. America's economic vitality broke the spirit of communist leaders and won the Cold War. In spite of economic setbacks like the Great Recession we have succeeded in creating material abundance that would have been unimaginable to previous generations. Even developing countries benefited, as globalization raised billions of people from absolute poverty. Yet, we have neglected the war of ideas by assuming that the results of the greatest social experiment ever conducted—the conflict between communism and capitalism—spoke for themselves.

Aside from economics departments, capitalism is treated with disdain by the rest of the social sciences. Much of the humanities have degenerated into post-modern mumbo-jumbo. Newspapers, television and Hollywood are often run by people who cannot tell the difference between McCarthyism and the Gulag. Also, spare a thought for the kids in primary and secondary schools, whose education, such as it is, focuses on the real (as well as imagined) sins of America, while largely ignoring the bestial nature of America's Cold War opponent. How else can we explain that "one-third of Millennials believe… [that] more people were killed under George W. Bush than under Joseph Stalin"?

Learning about slavery and Jim Crow has its place. So does learning about Nazism and the Holocaust. How many people, however, know that the word "Nazi" is merely shorthand for the National Socialist German Workers' Party? How many people know that Adolf Hitler massively increased corporate taxes in order to expand the welfare state and took state control of the economy very seriously? How many people who have heard of the Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini know that he started off as a socialist and edited that country's main socialist newspaper, Avanti?

But, perhaps, we were always expecting too much. Perhaps the war of ideas cannot be won and we are destined to run in circles forever. Perhaps, as Milton Friedman put it in his 1995 Reason interview with Brian Doherty, "You just have to keep on trying to do it. There's no short cut. There's no way in which you're going to end the discussion, because new generations arise; every group has the same crazy ideas." If so, then allons! Let's get back to work and win the next round of our never-ending combat with socialism. We have done so before and we can do so again!

This first appeared in Reason.
November 07, 2017
By Alexander Hammond
The First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, recently denounced the idea of a post-Brexit Britain entering into trade deals with poorer nations. Jones’s main objection lay in the premise that free trade with less developed countries would “undermine Wales’ farming sector.” Jones’s remarks came after meeting International Trade Secretary Liam Fox. Sensibly, Dr. Fox has not been dettered by this warning and remains focused on seeking new post-Brexit trade deals.

Shortly after Jones’s comments Chatham House declared that post-Brexit, a market oriented approach with no farming subsidies, like that seen in New Zealand, would ultimately lower food prices and increase British productivity. Jones is concerned about Welsh farmers being unable to compete with cheaper international produce. To overcome this “problem”, Jones favours either taking taxpayer money to give to farmers in the form of subsidies, or tariffs to tax international products. The former would mean the government extracting more from UK taxpayers; the latter would mean selling foreign produce at a higher price to British consumers.

As a member of the EU, the UK has become accustomed to artificially high food prices. Prior to entry into the European Economic Community in 1973 (before Britain had to accept high tariffs on non-EU imports) food prices were 40 per cent lower. Even the OECD has conceded that the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy still adds 17 per cent to our food bills. Bear in mind that this is the same organisation that recently declared, with the arrogance that has become characteristic of such supranational organisations, that calling a second referendum to reverse Brexit would be beneficial to the UK.

Among the most unreasonable tariffs on non-EU produce are the 54 per cent tariff on dairy products, the 31 per cent tariff on sugar and the 22 per cent tariff on cereals.

Imposition of tariffs hurts the poorest in society, who spend a larger proportion of their income on food. To quote Daniel Hannan’s new Institute For Free Trade, in regards to industries that have been artificially propped up by government, “we must not shy away from the fact that some people lose out from free trade. But it is vitally important to clarify the scale on which this occurs. Many more people lose out from protectionist policies. The overall effect of an open trading environment on the economy is undoubtedly positive.”

In sharp contrast, Jones laid out his vision of post-Brexit Britain as follows: “What we can’t do is have free-trade deals that deliver cheaper goods in Britain but end up with us exporting jobs to somewhere else.” Like many protectionists who have come before him, Jones ignores both jobs lost to protectionism (more expensive inputs lead to more expensive outputs) and the very concept that for the last two hundred years has made his own nation prosper: comparative advantage.

The concept of comparative advantage turns 200 this year. Developed by David Ricardo in 1817 it states:“If a country is relatively better at making wine than wool, it makes sense to put more resources into wine, and to export some of the wine to pay for imports of wool. This is even true if that country is the world’s best wool producer, since the country will have more of both wool and wine than it would have without trade. A country does not have to be best at anything to gain from trade. Because it is relative advantage that matters, it is meaningless to say a country has a comparative advantage in nothing.”

If, in the 19th century, the UK had followed the advice of the likes of Jones, rather than David Ricardo, we would all still be stuck with back breaking labour in the fields. Importing cheaper foodstuff from abroad allowed us to work in factories at a significantly higher wage, while our agricultural jobs were exported internationally. If Jones’s ideas were applied to the UK in the 20th century, many of us would all still be working in the factories as opposed to having more comfortable jobs in service sector.

Later in his speech, Jones said “Fine, have a free trade agreement, but it’s got to be with a country which is pretty much level pegging with you in terms of income.” This is an absurd suggestion. There’s no doubt that developed countries trading freely with one another is beneficial. But excluding poorer nations from these agreements both hurts the UK by denying Jones’s constituents cheaper goods, and denies the poorest nations access to the markets in which they can grow prosperous.

If we in the developed world were never permitted to buy cheap products from China, not only would we be missing out on a plethora of Chinese goods, but the Chinese extreme poverty rate (less than $1.90 per person per day in 2011 at PPP) would not have fallen from 66.6 percent in 1981 to under 1.9 percent today. Comparative advantage, when allowed to work its magic, is a force that drives worldwide progress, prevents stagnation and allows the poorest nations to develop.

Whether it be wartime blockades, or sanctions imposed against a rogue state, limiting a nation’s ability to freely trade with the outside world makes them worse off. As my Cato Institute colleague Ryan Bourne says, voluntarily imposing tariffs is like blockading your own ports during wartime. The English economist Joan Robinson paraphrased the great Frédéric Bastiat when she said, “Even if your trading partner dumps rocks into his harbour to obstruct arriving cargo ships, you do not make yourself better off by dumping rocks into your own harbour.”

Comments from the First Minister of Wales show misunderstanding of basic concepts of economics and ignorance of practices that made Great Britain great. Following the U.K.’s departure from the E.U., we should slash the protectionist practices we’re currently obliged to follow and in doing so we’ll help both the poorest in our society and in the worldwide community. Let’s stick to the free-trade ideas that were at the heart of Brexit, whilst being cautious about dumping the rocks of protectionism around our own white cliffs.

This first appeared in CapX.
November 01, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
Concern over the power of large corporations is back in the vogue. From Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on the left to Fox News' Tucker Carlson on the right, politicians and opinion makers worry about the influence of U.S. corporate giants on politics as well as on the private lives of ordinary Americans. People are concerned about Facebook's censorship of content, Twitter's banning of controversial users and Google's possession of staggering amounts of information about users' search histories, shopping habits, etc.

As a libertarian, I say, pish-tosh! If you don't like a particular company, find an alternative provider or live without a particular service altogether. Alas, most people are not libertarians or as closely wedded to the sanctity of the contract as the latter tend to be.

The good news is that corporations are not as powerful as most people think. Before I get to that, a little background is in order. Until the 19th century, most economic output came from family farms in rural areas and artisan families in towns. As such, the only serious concentration of wealth and power was in the hands of the landed aristocracy and a few wealthy bankers. The latter came from small Italian city-states or were Jewish. As such, they had little political muscle and their wealth was subjected to periodic expropriations.

As with so many other things, the Industrial Revolution upended the old order. The rise of the factory and large-scale manufacturing put massive amounts of money in the hands of a new breed of men—the Industrialists. By the end of the 19th century, Western Europe and North America could boast a coterie of self-made millionaires, including Cornelius Vanderbilt, John Jacob Astor, Edward L. Doheny, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie and J. P. Morgan. The ruling classes were caught by surprise and it is telling that a disproportionate number of early socialists were aristocrats.

Although they comprised a mere 1.7 percent of the population of the Russian Empire, 22 percent of Bolsheviks belonged to the landed gentry. And Russia was not an outlier. The French Emperor Napoleon III once worried about the Empire's prospects, quipping, "The Empress is a legitimist; Morny is an Orleanist; Prince Napoleon is a republican; I am a socialist …; only Persigny is an Imperialist—and he is mad!"

As George Watson argued in his The Lost Literature of Socialism, "Socialism above all meant a horror of the new age: the age of machines and high finance. It was more than conservative. It was reactionary and nostalgic, and in the long march from status to contract it demanded a return to the familiar and time honored world of status."

It was not just the wealth of the industrialists that the aristocrats envied and the loss of the nobility's relative status that the latter bemoaned. At the end of the 19th century, no one knew just how large corporations could get. Many people simply assumed that corporations would continue to grow indefinitely. Concern about the drift of the corporate behemoth toward a monopoly gave rise to the Progressive Movement in the United States—a bipartisan phenomenon as witnessed by its two leading lights, Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican, and Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat.

Unfortunately, the Progressives have not found time to evaluate the logic of and the empirical evidence for their concern over corporate power in the last 100 years. And, so it fell to Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute to do that for them. In a fascinating article, "Fortune 500 firms 1955 v. 2017: Only 60 remain, thanks to the creative destruction that fuels economic prosperity," Perry has looked at the changes in the composition of the Fortune 500 firms between 1955 and 2017.

According to Perry, "only 60 companies … appear in both lists. In other words, fewer than 12 percent of the Fortune 500 companies included in 1955 were still on the list 62 years later in 2017, and 88 percent of the companies from 1955 have either gone bankrupt, merged with (or were acquired by) another firm, or they still exist but have fallen from the top Fortune 500 companies (ranked by total revenues). Many of the companies on the list in 1955 are unrecognizable, forgotten companies today (e.g., Armstrong Rubber, Cone Mills, Hines Lumber, Pacific Vegetable Oil, and Riegel Textile)."

Put differently, in so far as corporations are interested in relentless expansion and acquisition of an ever-increasing market share, most have done a very bad job of it. Some are dead and some are much diminished. That's good news for the defenders of free market capitalism, for it confirms that Schumpetarian creative destruction continues to do its magic. That's also good news for the progressives from both parties, for it means that they can sleep better.

This first appeared in Reason.
October 31, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
You might see a fair number of witches out and about this Halloween; they’re a staple of the season. But odds are low that you’ll see any of them burned at the stake or hanged.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson recently asked a self-identifying witch who claims she cast a magic spell on the president, “Is this legal? … Is there any kind of federal regulation on this?”

In the United States, it is indeed permissible to wear black and try to cast spells to your heart’s content.

That’s not the case in some several parts of the world:

In August, villagers lynched an alleged witch in one of the poorest parts of India. Earlier this year, Tanzanian widow Ruth Zacaria fell victim to a witch hunt. Her attackers alleged that she prevented their family from being able to afford a particular property by using witchcraft to kill their father, bringing them to financial ruin. One witness to a witch hunt in Tanzania in 2015 described the situation in harrowing detail: “They broke into the house and hacked my wife with machetes and knives. They burned the body of my wife and later set fire on my house.”

Beliefs undoubtedly play a role in motivating these killings, and some people imagine that witch hunts result solely from cultural, not economic, factors. But as University of California-Berkeley’s Edward Miguel noted in his a study on witch killing, “Poverty and violence often go hand in hand,” and economic desperation frequently leads to scapegoating and slaughter.

Village mobs and individual families strangle, burn alive, knife or beat to death thousands of alleged witches each year, mainly in impoverished parts of the world. The Thomson Reuters Foundation estimates that in 2017, the deaths at the hands of vigilantes have numbered about 80 a month in Tanzania. Most victims are women. And an Indian law firm says it is “only the most gruesome cases that are reported — most cases of witch hunting go unreported and unrecorded.”

Miguel’s study found that in the extreme poverty of rural Tanzania, after a poor harvest, women are frequently blamed and murdered for witchcraft. In years where unusual rainfall ruins crops and creates near-famine conditions, there are about twice as many witch killings as in other years. Poor families are the most likely to murder alleged witches.

During the early 17th century, when witch killings were common across Western Europe, Germany’s average income was nearly identical to Tanzania’s in 2010: just over $800 in 1990 international dollars per person.

The Salem witch trials

Famously, America had its own smaller scale witch panic at the end of the 17th century, when its average income was roughly $900 by the same measure.

It seems that even in America, poverty was partly to blame for the killings. The majority of the charges in Salem were leveled by economically desperate farmers against more prosperous merchant families, according to the authors of Salem Possessed: the Social Origins of Witchcraft.

Unsurprisingly, the Salem madness was preceded by a series of unusually cold winters causing crop failures. Cold weather and subsequent deteriorating economic conditions also correlated with more witch killings in Europe, just as crop-ruining rainfall levels often precede witch hunts in Tanzania.

Poverty and ignorance do not always lead to witch hunts, but they seem to make violence more likely. For one 14th century site excavated in South Dakota, an astonishing 60 percent of the population died in conflict. Many of the bodies show not only signs of violent death but also extensive nutritional deficiencies, suggesting starvation-level poverty preceded deadly violence.

One reason for violence’s decline that Harvard University’s Steven Pinker identifies is capitalist peace theory: when it’s easier to buy things than steal, people don’t steal. Hence trade and commerce between countries reduce the exploitative incentives of military conquest.

Of course, trade doesn’t guarantee peace. Europe enjoyed abundant trade before World War I. But in general, as people move from subsistence to exchange and from poverty to prosperity, they become less desperate and violent. As prosperity enables education to spread, belief in witchcraft fades. After a poor harvest, instead of witch hunts energy is poured into innovative ways to ensure better crop yields next year.

If you see any witches this Halloween, take a moment to contemplate the incredible strides that humanity has made against poverty and violence. While progress can be uneven and there are still places where “witch” is a deadly accusation, declining poverty helps to end witch hunts and makes the world less violent.

This first appeared in USA Today.
October 31, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
In a recent piece for CapX, my colleague Chelsea Follett wrote about the declining rates of absolute poverty. This data is, indeed, encouraging, but rising income is only one way to measure the improving state of humanity –  let’s not forget the other indicators.

Because when it comes to nutrition, life expectancy, infant and child mortality rates, and education, great progress is being made throughout the world. That is especially true of poor countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, absolute improvements in human well-being are taking place, while the quality-of-life gap with the rest of the world is also being narrowed.

According to the latest data, the share of humanity living on less than $1.90 per person per day, adjusted for purchasing power, shrunk from 42.2 per cent in 1981 to 10.7 percent in 2013 (the last year for which data is available). That’s a reduction of 75 per cent over a comparatively short period of 32 years. According to researchers at the Brookings Institution, “Poverty reduction of this magnitude is unparalleled in history: never before have so many people been lifted out of poverty over such a brief period of time."

This fall in extreme poverty is all the more remarkable considering that the world’s population rose by 59 per cent over the same time period. Far from being a problem, as was once believed, this growing population has gone hand in hand with increased prosperity. Specialization and trade, or globalization, ensured that an increase in the world’s population translated to an increase in the world’s productivity. As such, real average per capita income also rose by 59 per cent between 1981 and 2013.

The greatest reduction in extreme poverty happened in East Asia (from 81 per cent to 3.7 per cent) and South Asia (from 55 per cent to 15 per cent). The data for sub-Saharan Africa is incomplete. In 1990, it is estimated, 54 per cent of people lived there in absolute poverty. Poverty peaked at 59 per cent in 1993. Since then, it has fallen to 41 per cent. So, in terms of absolute poverty reduction, sub-Saharan Africa is a laggard. But, on other measures of human well-being, sub-Saharan Africa outperforms the world average.

The world’s daily calorific intake per person, for example, has increased from an average of 2,550 in 1981 to 2,850 in 2013 – a 12 per cent increase. In sub-Saharan Africa, the caloric intake increased from 2,138 to 2,448 over the same time period. That’s a 15 per cent increase. To put these figures in perspective, the US Department of Agriculture recommends that moderately active adult men consume between 2,200 and 2,800 calories a day and moderately active women consume between 1,800 and 2,000 calories a day.


Between 1981 and 2015, global life expectancy rose from 63.2 years to 71.9 years – a remarkable 12 per cent jump that is, undoubtedly, connected to rising incomes and, consequently, improved nutrition. In sub-Saharan Africa, life expectancy rose from 48.5 years to 59.9 years. That’s a 24 per cent improvement (i.e., twice the global average). The spread of HIV/AIDS, which threatened to decimate the African population, has been arrested in large part due to the generosity of British and American taxpayers, who subsidize the distribution of anti-retroviral drugs in sub-Saharan Africa.

Let’s now turn to the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, which measure human progress over a shorter period of time. According to the UN, the infant mortality rate droppedfrom 64.8 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 30.5 in 2016. That’s a 53 per cent reduction. In sub-Saharan Africa, it fell from 108 to 53 – a 51 per cent reduction. Over the same time period, the mortality rate for children under five years of age declined from 93.4 per 1,000 to 40.8 per 1,000. That’s a reduction of 56 per cent. But in sub-Saharan Africa, the decline was even more dramatic – from 180 per 1,000 to 78 per 1,000 (ie, 57 per cent).

Enrollment at all education levels is up. Globally, the primary school completion rate rose from 80 per cent in 1981 to 90 per cent in 2015 – a 13 per cent improvement. In sub-Saharan Africa it rose from 55 per cent to 69 per cent over the same time period – a 26 per cent improvement (i.e., twice the global average).

The lower secondary school completion rate in the world rose from 53 per cent in 1986 to 77 per cent in 2015 – that’s a 42 per cent increase. In sub-Saharan Africa it rose from 22 per cent to 42 per cent – a 91 per cent improvement (i.e., more than twice the global average).

Between 1981 and 2014, the share of the global and sub-Saharan African population enrolled in tertiary educational institutions rose from 13 per cent and 2 per cent to 36 per cent and 9 per cent respectively. Once again, improvement in sub-Saharan Africa was greater (350 per cent ) than was the case with regard to the global average (177 per cent).

October 17 was the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. And, indeed, there was much to celebrate. Absolute poverty has been drastically reduced in much of the developing world. But even in places where absolute poverty persists at unacceptable levels, such as sub-Saharan Africa, much progress is being made in other areas of human well-being. In fact, the world’s poorest region is catching up with the world average at a very fast pace.

This first appeared in Capx. 
October 27, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
The Trump administration announced earlier this month that the United States will be leaving the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) at the end of 2018.

The United States previously withdrew from UNESCO in 1984, because of "corruption" and what it saw as the organization's "ideological tilt toward the Soviet Union [and] against the West." George W. Bush, in his wisdom, reversed Ronald Reagan's decision in 2002.

The State Department has long complained about the organization's anti-Israeli bias and the U.S. stopped paying America's membership fee after UNESCO admitted Palestine as an independent member in 2011.

The stated causes of the United States decision to withdraw aside, it is difficult not to marvel at the goings on at the United Nations, and the U.S. should look at other U.N. organizations to exit.

The U.N. Human Rights Council, for example, currently includes Qatar, which imposes the death penalty for such crimes as apostasy and adultery and flogging for alcohol consumption. Venezuela, which censors its press, and tortures and kills its political prisoners, is on the council. So is China, which does not permit basic human freedoms, including those of religion, speech and assembly, and occupies Tibet. Rwanda, which kills the ruling regime's opponents at home and abroad, is in, and so is Saudi Arabia, a medieval kingdom that, among countless other transgressions against civilized norms of behavior, beheads homosexuals.

And then there's the World Health Organization, which last week appointed the 93-year-old Zimbabwean dictator, Robert Mugabe, as its "goodwill ambassador." Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Ethiopian director-general of the organization, has previously praised Zimbabwe for "its commitment to public health" and said that Zimbabwe "was a country that "places universal health coverage and health promotion at the center of its policies to provide healthcare to all."

After a public outcry, Adhanon rescinded Mugabe's appointment. That said, let's ponder the WHO action for a moment, since, in the long line up of the world's most destructive leaders, Mugabe surely belongs to the top five.

First, consider the gaping abyss between the rhetoric of universal health coverage and the reality of life in many countries. Critics of the U.S. healthcare system often point to some God-forsaken nation that claims to "provide healthcare to all." The American left has for decades lauded Cuba as an example of a free and universal healthcare system for its citizens, ignoring that country's ramshackle hospitals, primitive medical instruments, lack of basic medicines, phlegmatic staff, dirty linen, and lack of food. Michael Moore even made a Goebbelesque propaganda movieabout it.

Second, consider the actual legacy of Mugabe's rule on the health of ordinary Zimbabweans. There are, of course, many examples to choose from, but the following is pertinent for it involves the well-fed and handsomely remunerated invertebrates who stalk the hallways of the United Nations and staff the organization's many offices throughout the world.

In 2005, the Mugabe government nationalized Zimbabwe's water supply, then quickly ran out of money to treat the water and maintain the infrastructure. The government ended up shutting down the water supply altogether and people had to drink from ponds and sewers. In 2008, cholera broke out. The United Nations stepped in to help the cash-strapped country, but moved at a glacial pace.

The government's official line, after all, was that there was "no cholera" in Zimbabwe. Georges Tadonki, who headed the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Harare, noted that the United Nations "didn't want to anger the host government, which was trying to convince the world in general and Africa in particular that all was well in Zimbabwe."

Agostinho Zacarias, who headed the overall U.N. mission in Zimbabwe, refused to give the go-ahead for anti-cholera measures for four months, which was crucial, for "cholera is highly contagious, has an incubation period between one and two days and can kill soon afterwards." By the time the United Nations finally intervened, I wrote at the time, there were already "over 4,000 deaths, more than 100,000 people sick of cholera and millions [of] people affected directly or indirectly not only in Zimbabwe, but also in neighboring South Africa, Zambia, and Mozambique."

The United Nations is a sick organization and the Trump administration would be fully justified to look at America's participation in its other offshoots, well beyond the hapless UNESCO.

This first appeared in Reason.
Last Tuesday marked the 25th anniversary of the United Nations’ International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. The date intentionally coincides with the 30th anniversary of the Call to Action, which saw the French anti-poverty campaigner Father Joseph Wresinski ask the international community, in front of 100,000 Parisians, to “strive to eradicate extreme poverty”.

To mark the occasion, Antonio Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, was featured in a short video assessing the current state of world poverty. Despite noting such issues as unemployment, inequality, and conflict continuing in some regions, Guterres correctly observed that since 1990 the world has made “remarkable progress in eradicating poverty.”

While it is valuable to acknowledge that problems remain, it is important to reflect on just how far we’ve come.

The speed of poverty alleviation in the last 25 years has been historically unprecedented. Not only is the proportion of people in poverty at a record low, but, in spite of adding 2 billion to the planet’s population, the overall number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen too.

As Johan Norberg writes in his book Progress, “if you had to choose a society to live in but did not know what your social or economic position would be, you would probably choose the society with the lowest proportion (not the lowest numbers) of poor, because this is the best judgement of the life of an average citizen.” Well, in 1820, 94 percent of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty (less than $1.90 per day adjusted for purchasing power). In 1990 this figure was 34.8 percent, and in 2015, just 9.6 percent.

In the last quarter century, more than 1.25 billion people escaped extreme poverty - that equates to over 138,000 people (i.e., 38,000 more than the Parisian crowd that greeted Father Wresinski in 1987) being lifted out of poverty every day. If it takes you five minutes to read this article, another 480 people will have escaped the shackles of extreme of poverty by the time you finish. Progress is awesome. In 1820, only 60 million people didn’t live in extreme poverty. In 2015, 6.6 billion did not.

Now let’s consider those people who are still trapped in extreme poverty. The Oxford University scholar Max Roser’s website, Our World in Data, used World Bank databases to estimate that in 2013, there were 746 million people living in extreme poverty. Of these people, slightly more than 380 million resided in Africa, with Nigeria being home to largest number (86 million). Meanwhile, 327 million of those in extreme poverty lived in Asia, with India having the largest proportion by far (218 million). China had 25 million. The remaining 35 million lived in South America (19 million), North America (13 million), Oceania (2.5 million) and Europe (0.7 million.)

Put differently, of those who live in extreme poverty, over 40 percent resided in just two nations: India and Nigeria.

Since its economic liberalization reforms in 1991, India’s average income has increased by 7.5 percent per year. That means that average income has more than tripled over the last quarter century. As wealth increased, the poverty rate in India declined by almost 24 percent. But most significantly, for the Dalits – the poorest and lowest caste in Indian society – the poverty rate during this period declined even faster, by 31 percent. That means that in the nation that has by far the largest number of people in extreme poverty, it is the people at the very bottom of the social strata who are getting richer faster.

A similar trend can be seen in Nigeria. Since the new millennium, gross domestic income per capita has increased by over 800 percent, from $270 to over $2,450. There is much work to be done, but this level of progress shows that even in the poorest countries, the speed of economic growth is encouraging.

In order to help the poorest, consider the impact free-market capitalism has had in the last 200 years in alleviating extreme poverty. The Industrial Revolution turned the once impoverished western countries into abundant societies. The new age of globalization, which started around 1980, saw the developing world enter the global economy and resulted in the largest escape from poverty ever recorded. That is something that the late Father Wresinski would have been eager to celebrate.

This first appeared in FEE.
October 27, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
Earlier this month, the United Nations urged the world to celebrate the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, advertising it on social media using the hashtag #EndPoverty. The UN noted the incredible progress on the issue:

Poverty has declined globally, from 1.7 billion people in 1999 to 767 million in 2013, a drop in the global poverty rate from 28 percent in 1999 to 11 per cent in 2013. The most significant progress was seen in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, where the rate declined from 35 per cent in 1999 to 3 per cent in 2013.

Unfortunately, the UN seems to misunderstand the source of that progress. It argues that government action and top-down technocrat-led programs are to thank for poverty’s remarkable decline. The UN statement continues:

Countries have taken action to end poverty… The Government of Tanzania, for example, started a massive overhaul of its current national programme, the Tanzania Productive Social Safety Nets, to reach people living below the food poverty line.

It is an accidentally instructive example. Tanzania has made impressive progress against poverty, but that is not because of increased government spending on food for the poor. In fact, Tanzania’s government is today far less redistributionist than in the past — and those past policies of redistribution led to near-starvation for the poorest Tanzanians.

In 2011, the most recent year for which the World Bank has data, just under half of Tanzanians lived in extreme poverty. That figure was 86 per cent in 2000.

The real cause of that reduction is pretty straightforward: economic freedom. Tanzania has gradually dismantled the socialist or “ujamaa” economic policies enacted by the dictator Julius Nyerere, since he stepped down in 1985. Nyerere was widely praised by leftist intellectuals in developed countries for his sincere belief in socialism, relatively low level of corruption, and not intentionally slaughtering his own people like so many other dictators.

But Nyerere instituted policies that, according to Dr. John Shao, resulted in intense food shortages, a collapse of agricultural and industrial production, deteriorating transportation infrastructure, economic crisis and “general distress of the population” by the 1980s. Nyerere also banned opposing political parties to consolidate his authority and prevent debate about his ruinous policies.

Post-Nyerere, Tanzania managed to speed up its economic growth rate by removing price controls, liberalizing trade, and freeing its people to engage in private enterprise.

The UN’s attribution of progress to government programs, and its insistence on the importance of foreign aid to development, is as worrying as it is unsurprising.

Nyerere was able to hold onto power for so long despite his disastrous programs thanks to billions of dollars of aid money. As my colleague Doug Bandow put it, “The World Bank, demonstrating that it lacked both a conscience and common sense, directly underwrote his brutal ujamaa scheme.”

Not only is government aid ineffective compared to market-led development, but aid programs often ignore the property rights of the poor and the need for institutional reform. Other examples of dictators who received aid money include Idi Amin of Uganda, Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and even the infamously brutal Pol Pot of Cambodia.

The money often props up authoritarian regimes while they pursue destructive policies such as stealing their citizens’ farmland through nationalization. That was the case in Tanzania, which received billions of dollars in foreign aid while its socialist government nationalized hundreds of farms — slashing agricultural production and leading to the aforementioned massive food shortages. The store shelves were empty, and people waited for rations of food.

“When I first came to Tanzania in the 1980s, we used to have whole wards of kids very debilitated with malnutrition, some too far gone to survive,” recalls an aid worker for the World Food Programme, the food-assistance branch of the United Nations, “now there will only be up to one or two at any time, and we would usually find a social cause, such as an alcoholic father, or being orphaned, or inheriting HIV.” The page containing that quote goes on to claim that the U.N. food programme “made a difference”, but the reason far fewer children resort to using the food programme today compared to the 1980s is conspicuously absent.

Reducing trade barriers is far more effective at improving the quality of life for those in poor areas of the world than sending aid or technocrats to help design government programs. To get serious about eradicating poverty, countries should pursue policies of economic freedom. Because, ultimately, countries don’t fight poverty. Individuals free of excessive regulations and able to participate in global trade do.

This first appeared in Capx.
October 20, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
It took 28 years, but the rule of law is slowly emerging in Slovakia. Two former government ministers from the Slovak National Party, an erstwhile coalition partner of the current socialist Prime Minister Robert Fico, have been found guilty of corruption.

Marián Janušek and Igor Štefanov have been sentenced to 12 years and nine years respectively. The court’s verdict marks the first time since the fall of communism that government officials have been held to account in a Central European country whose public officials are renowned for lack of transparency and accountability.

While the case might seem to be of little interest beyond Slovakia’s borders, the story highlights broader issues related to the spending of the European Structural and Cohesion Funds as well as to the difficult birth of the rule of law in ex-communist members of the European Union.

The case in question dates back to 2007, when Marián Janušek, who was in charge of the Ministry of Construction and Regional Development, awarded a contract worth 120 million euros to firms close to his party boss, Jan Slota.  Janušek “advertised” the tender for mere four days on a notice board in an inaccessible passage way of a government building, thereby contravening the country’s government procurement laws, which require a far more transparent bidding process.

After the story broke, triggering a public outcry, Janušek was forced from office. His replacement, another Slovak National Party apparatchik, Igor Štefanov, then attempted to sabotage the investigation into his predecessor. Brussels, which was to pay for the tender out of the European Structural and Cohesion Funds, got involved, the contract was revoked, and Štefanov was forced out of office. Ten years later, the two men were finally found guilty of corruption. They will appeal the verdict.

Slovakia ranks 54th in the 2017 Transparency International Corruption Perception Index – lower than Rwanda, but higher than Romania. As was the case with many other ex-communist members of the EU, prior to accession, Slovakia passed a plethora of laws and regulations aimed at ensuring clean government and the transparent disbursement of the EU funds.

Political culture, alas, lagged far behind the anti-corruption legislation, which lay largely dormant and conspicuous in its non-enforcement. If anything, EU membership worsened the corruption problem that was ever present in before independence. Large sums of money from net contributors to the EU budget, such as the UK and Germany, and non-EU contributors to the EU’s financial transfer schemes, such as Norway and Switzerland, flooded poorly run ex-communist countries like Slovakia. I warned of the associated risks in a 2006 paper, “The Rise of Populist Parties in Central Europe: Big Government, Corruption, and the Threat to Liberalism.”

So, what has changed? Unlike tax policy or free trade agreements, the rule of law cannot be implemented overnight. Unless it is imposed from outside, it has to evolve incrementally. As such, a happy confluence of developments has contributed to the watershed judgement.

First, the expectations of the Slovakian people have changed. In the communist days, corruption was a way of life and, consequently, accepted as unavoidable. Younger generations, however, have been exposed to cleaner governments by working or studying abroad. They have come to expect from their government standards of transparency and accountability that they saw in the West. Second, a corrupt older generation of judges has either retired or been sidelined by a new, more professional generation. Third, economic development and the subsequent rise in the standard of living has greatly increased judges’ incomes, making them less susceptible to bribes.

Lastly, the media is freer than it was. Investigative journalists are more sophisticated than they used to be, secure in the knowledge that they will not be harmed for reporting on official misbehavior. In this respect, EU membership has been a positive. No ex-communist member state of the EU wants to be seen to facilitate the harassment of journalists. That is not to say that journalists in ex-communist countries are as inviolate as they are in mature democracies, like the UK. But the position of the media is certainly better than it was in the years immediately following the end of communism.

Is Slovakia out of the woods yet? Not by a long shot. As I have noted in a previous column, the Slovak Prime Minister is a deeply corrupt man, whose practices remain uninvestigated courtesy of his equally corrupt Minister of the Interior, Robert Kalinak.

However, that these two men at the top of the government and in charge of the police force could not thwart the court’s groundbreaking judgement against their former cabinet colleagues does qualify as progress of sorts. Let’s hope it is a harbinger of many more such rulings to come.

This first appeared in CapX.
A tragic boiler explosion killed 10 Bangladeshi garment workers over the summer, an incident reminiscent of the catastrophic 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse, which focused public attention on working conditions in that developing country. Last month, a factory fire killed six more workers. In the wake of such disasters, many people in rich countries assume the compassionate response is to impose trade restrictions and stop buying clothes made in Bangladesh.

Ironically, such a response would actually harm Bangladeshi garment workers, most of whom are women, by forcing them into far worse situations than factory work.

What many people do not know is that the rise of factory work in the country has helped bring about significant positive change in many Bangladeshi lives—particularly for women.

The country is home to 18.4 million of the world’s poorest people and has strict gender norms. Yet Bangladesh was recently called “the happiest economic story in the world right now,” as extreme poverty has plummeted.

Despite its dangers, factory work has slashed extreme poverty and increased women’s educational attainment while lowering rates of child marriage in Bangladesh. It has also sparked cultural change towards more freedom for women, not only by enabling them to earn money but by granting them freedom of movement.

The country’s women-dominated garment industry transformed the norm of purdah, or seclusion (literally, “veil”), that traditionally prevented women from working beyond the home, walking outside unaccompanied by a male guardian, or even speaking in the presence of unrelated men.

Many Bangladeshi women now interpret purdah to simply mean modesty instead of social and economic segregation. In the words of social economist Naila Kabeer of the London School of Economics, factory work let women “renegotiate the boundaries of permissible behavior.” Today, in Dhaka and other industrial cities, women walk outside and interact with unrelated men.

When Kabeer interviewed 60 factory women in her native Bangladesh, she found that the factories had expanded women’s options and were viewed positively overall. More and more experts share that assessment. The World Bank has acknowledged that factories play “a significant role” in reducing poverty and combating child marriage. The Financial Express’ Monira Munni stated earlier this year that factories have “socially empowered women workers in Bangladesh to have better control over their own lives.”

According to Kabeer, “it took market forces, and the advent of an export-oriented garment industry, to achieve what a decade of government and non-government efforts had failed to do: to create a female labor force.”

The country industrialized rapidly, growing its number of export-oriented factories from a handful in the mid-1970s to around 700 by 1985. Women now hold more than 80% of manufacturing jobs.

The expansion of manufacturing in the country met with challenges early on. In 1985, Britain, France, and the United States imposed quota limitations on imports from Bangladesh in response to anti-sweatshop campaigns financed by labor unions in the rich countries. Within three months, two thirds of Bangladeshi factories shuttered their gates and over 100,000 women were thrown out of work, many to face destitution.

The quotas were, in short, a disaster for Bangladeshi women. Britain and France removed their quotas in 1986, and Bangladesh’s garment industry has since expanded to thousands of factories employing millions. Unfortunately, protectionist sentiment is growing in rich countries, aided by sensationalized accounts of working conditions. The Bangladeshi General Secretary of National Garment Workers has warned that these could restrict Bangladesh’s growth.

Despite their frequent depiction as passive victims, Bangladeshi factory women are making their own choices. Kabeer’s research found that “the decision to take up factory work was largely initiated by the women themselves, often in the face of considerable resistance from other family members.”

Yet societal change is definitely underway. “Garments have been very good for women,” a factory woman named Hanufa, whose earnings allowed her to escape her physically abusive husband, told Kabeer. “Now I feel I have rights, I can survive.”

In fact, the earning power of women is eroding the custom of bridal dowries, and earning power typically increases the weight a woman’s priorities carry within the household.

Tragedies like the Rana Plaza building collapse garner a lot of press. The garment industry’s wider-reaching effects on the material well being and social equality of women in Bangladesh receive less attention. Rich countries should not rush to impose trade restrictions on poor countries after disasters. As one factory worker put it: “The garments have saved so many lives.”

A version of this piece first appeared in Forbes.
October 17, 2017
By Marian L. Tupy
Last Friday, the Cato Institute hosted a forum on a new book, Neil Monnery's Architect of Prosperity: Sir John Cowperthwaite and the Making of Hong Kong. Sir John Cowperthwaite was the financial secretary of Hong Kong between 1961 and 1971, as well its financial under-secretary between 1951 and 1961. As such he has contributed to establishing the policies—small government, low taxes, fiscal probity and free trade—which are credited for turning a poor backwater of the British Empire into one of the richest places on earth.

When I asked Monnery, the British author of the book, to put Hong Kong's success in context, he noted that in the years following the end of World War II, Hong Kong's per capita income was one third of that in Britain. By the time of the British transfer of the territory to China in 1997, incomes in the two countries were the same. Today, the average inhabitant of Hong Kong is over 30 percent richer than the average Briton. As late as 1960, people in Hong Kong enjoyed lives that were four years shorter than those in Britain. Today, they live four years longer than their British counterparts. Economic growth, we concluded during our discussion, is key not only to rising standards of living, but also to health and life expectancy. Put plainly, the richer the country is, the better the hospitals and higher the quality of care and the environment that it can afford to buy.

That got me thinking about the region I came from and the changes that Central Europe underwent since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the 28th anniversary of which we will commemorate on November 9. Following the end of the communist period, the region went into an economic recession, as unproductive industries shut down and millions of people lost their jobs. Life expectancy started to decline, which opponents of market reforms saw as proof positive of capitalism's deleterious consequences for people's welfare. Revisiting the life expectancy statistics some three decades later, a different picture emerges. Between 1960, the first year for which World Bank data is available, and 1989 (i.e., a period of 29 years), life expectancy in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia rose by 1.33, 1.46, 3.36 and 1.05 years respectively. Between 1989 and 2015 (i.e., a period of 26 years), it increased by 7.1, 5.68, 6.44 and 5.24 years respectively. The post-communist dip in life expectancy, such as it was, proved to be small and temporary. Further afield, post-communist depression was much more pronounced in the Baltic countries, which is, in retrospect, unsurprising. These economies, being parts of the Soviet Union, were much more heavily distorted than their neighbors to the west. In other words, a deeper restructuring was necessary.

Yet, the relationship between economic growth and life expectancy still holds. In the 31 years between 1960 and 1991 (i.e., the year of the dissolution of the U.S.S.R.), life expectancy in Estonia and Lithuania, rose by 1.47 and 0.52 years respectively, while in Latvia it fell by .75 years. Between 1991 and 2015 (i.e., a period of 24 years), life expectancy rose by 7.33 years in Estonia, 2.97 years in Lithuania, and 5.02 years in Latvia.

All in all, a switch from socialism to capitalism appears to be good for the health and longevity of the citizenry.

This first appeared in Reason.
October 10, 2017
By Chelsea Follett
Rafia Zakaria made some outstanding points in her recent New York Times op-ed, “The Myth of Women’s ‘Empowerment'” – but she also made some conspicuous omissions. In her piece, she draws attention to the international aid industry’s flawed and patronizing approach to female empowerment. However, she overlooks the importance of women’s economic empowerment, focusing solely on political empowerment, as if the two were not intimately linked.

Zakaria eloquently summarizes some of the problems with Western development professionals and their organisations. In particular, she says, their top-down approach to development, with its narrative of heroic humanitarians bestowing charity upon the world’s poorest women, is profoundly condescending. “Non-Western women are reduced to mute, passive subjects awaiting rescue,” Zakaria writes.

Patronizing attitudes aside, development professionals are also largely ineffective at alleviating poverty. The feel-good programs that give chickens to poor women, for example, don’t lead to any long-term economic gains.

These criticisms have been made before. New York University’s William Easterly has documented in great detail how the top-down “technocratic” approach to development often serves only to enrich “expert” development professionals and dictators in poor countries. The documentary Poverty, Inc. similarly shines light on the problems plaguing the aid industrial complex.

The truth is that aid has never lifted a single country out of poverty and in some cases even hinders international development. Haiti is famously host to over 10,000 aid NGOs, but the inpouring of charity has perversely harmed local industries and led to a cycle of dependence that worsened poverty.

As we know, poverty renders women particularly vulnerable. Indeed, a review of the development literature, published in the Journal of Economic Literature, suggests that “gender inequality declines as poverty declines, so the condition of women improves more than that of men with development”. In other words, women’s social empowerment is intimately connected to economic empowerment, and women stand to gain the most from prosperity.

Letting women achieve greater economic clout enables them to lobby for social change, from which flows political and legal change. Milton Friedman stated that “economic freedom is … an indispensable means toward the achievement of political freedom." In some countries, women are still not even legally allowed to pursue paid employment without spousal permission. As my colleague Guillermina Sutter-Schneider notes, “Gender equality under the law improves as countries become more economically free.”

In her piece, Zakaria does recognize that the aid industry is bad at combating poverty and promoting development, but she then, unfortunately, dismisses those goals. And yet economic development is achievable. An overwhelming amount of data shows that just within my lifetime, extreme poverty has halved, with particularly heartening progress having been made in Asia.

This economic progress was not driven by aid, but by private enterprise. Economic growth in China and India significantly outpaced Sub-Saharan Africa despite far less per person aid. That economic growth coincided with policies of economic liberalization. People in poor countries are not passive victims awaiting rescue. They possess agency and are lifting themselves out of poverty wherever they have the freedom to do so.

That is particularly true for women. Consider Bangladesh, which has seen a dramatic decline in poverty and positive change in women’s lives. As London School of Economics’ social economist Naila Kabeer observed: “It took market forces, and the advent of an export-oriented garment industry, to achieve what a decade of government and non-government efforts had failed to do: to create a female labor force.”

Industrialization has increased women’s educational attainment and lowered rates of child marriage. According to Kabeer, it has also softened the social norm of purdah or female seclusion and improved the court system’s responsiveness to women. “Garments have been very good for women,” one factory worker told Kabeer. Her earnings had enabled her to escape her physically abusive husband. “Now I feel I have rights,” she continued, “I can survive.” Escaping poverty and achieving equal rights often go hand in hand.

“The concept of women’s empowerment needs an immediate and urgent rescue from the clutches of the would-be saviors in the development industry,” Zakaria concludes, powerfully. On that much, we can agree.

I also agree that political freedoms are vital, but we must not ignore the importance of economic freedom. The alleged damsels in distress in the developing countries are completely capable of rescuing themselves if only given that freedom to do so.
September 29, 2017
By Alexander Hammond
In a speech made last Wednesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May claimed that free market capitalism is the “greatest agent of collective human progress ever created” and the only model that has “led societies out of darkness and stagnation, and into the light of the modern age.”

The speech was made just a day after Jeremy Corbyn, the opposition and Labour Party leader, stated that capitalism faces a “crisis of legitimacy” and that it is Labour’s mission to replace the “failed model of capitalism.” Corbyn critiqued Conservative Party policies, stating the party focuses on “delivering profits for a few, and debt to many.”
 

Despite Corbyn’s claims, May continued, “When countries make the transition from closed, restricted, centrally-planned economies to open, free-market policies, the same things happen: Life expectancy increases, infant mortality falls, absolute poverty shrinks, and disposable income grows. Access to education is widened, and rates of illiteracy plummet.”
 

May also noted, “It is in open free-market economies that personal freedoms and liberties find their surest protection.”  

May’s speech was most likely a deliberate attempt to counteract Corbyn’s anti-capitalist message and mounting criticism concerning her supposed lack of an appealing vision for the United Kingdom. It also coincided with the launch of Member of European Parliament Daniel Hannan’s new Institute for Free Trade. The launch was attended by three of her ministers: Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Liam Fox.
 

May went on to say, the free market economy "is unquestionably the best, and indeed the only sustainable, means of increasing the living standards of everyone in a country." She continued, “It is in open, free-market economies that technological breakthroughs are made, which transform, improve, and save lives.”

As EU negotiations enter a critical phase, let’s hope May follows her own advice: “We should never forget the immense value and potential of an open, innovative and free-market economy
.” In order to ensure a prosperous and booming post-Brexit Britain, this sentiment is needed now more than ever.

September 29, 2017
By Human Progress Team
New Antibody Attacks 99 Percent of HIV Strains 

A team of scientists from the U.S. National Institute of Health and the pharmaceutical company Sanofi, have recently engineered an antibody that attacks 99% of all HIV strains. Currently the best antibody that occurs naturally can only target 90% of the HIV. Made from combining three different antibodies, the study, published in the journal Science, called it a “tri-specific antibody.” The antibody was tested on 24 monkeys with 100% success rate, as a result human trials will start in 2018. The International AIDS Society has called it an “exciting breakthrough.”  

Bringing Back an Extinct Species 


A team of scientists plan on restoring a species of Galapagos tortoise previously thought to be extinct. The Chelonoidis elephantopus lived on the Floreana Island and was hunted to extinction in the 1800s. By using blood samples from a related species of tortoise with genetic traces of the extinct species, the Galapagos Conservancy and the Galapagos National Park will try to restore the lost species. Although the species won’t be genetically identical to the one from Floreana, the new population will have “many of the same genes.” The Ecuadorean Minister for the Environment notes; “we can tell the world it is possible to reverse negatives effects on the environment. We are going to recover an extinct species.”  

FDA approves first 'living drug' for tough childhood leukemia


For the first time in its history the FDA has approved a gene therapy treatment, a “living drug,” which aims to combat childhood leukemia. The CAR-T treatment is developed by Novartis and genetically engineers the patients’ T-blood cells to recognize and attack cancer. The FDA noted the “historic” approval is the start of a “new frontier in medical innovation.” For now the treatment is only aimed at those diagnosed with lymphoblastic leukemia (a disease that affects 3,000 children and young adults every year.) If the CAR-T treatment continues to be a success it is likely the therapy will be available to combat more types of cancers soon.
Click here to see a larger version. This first appeared in Reason.
September 28, 2017
By Alexander Hammond
Earlier today, the Fraser Institute published the 21st edition of its annual Economic Freedom of the World (EFW) report. The Canadian think-tank uses 42 data points across five different areas (size of government, legal/property rights, sound money, freedom to trade internationally and regulation) to rank the economic freedom of 159 countries and territories.

The results? As Johan Norberg puts it, “freedom is awesome”. Which is to say that – almost without exception – the freer the country, the more rapid its economic growth, and the higher its citizens’ income.


The full report is available on the Fraser Institute’s website. But here are the key points:

America is not the real Land of the Free

Hong Kong, despite recent political upheavals, takes the top spot – as it has since 1980. For the tenth year in a row, Singapore comes in second. New Zealand, Switzerland, Ireland, the UK, Mauritius, Georgia, Australia and Estonia make up the rest of the top 10. The United States has moved up from 13th spot to 11th. There it joins Canada, which has fallen six places. Other notable rankings are Germany in 23rd place, France in 52nd, Mexico in 76th, Russia in 100th and China in 112th place.


The freer the country, the better

Why do the positions on the list matter? They matter because, as mentioned above, there is a high correlation between economic freedom and important indicators of human wellbeing.

The Fraser Institute splits the measured countries and territories into quartiles (i.e., each quartile represents a quarter of the samples) based on their level of economic freedom. The freest quartile has an average income that is seven times higher than that of the least free quartile ($42,463 and $6,036 respectively). Between 1990 and 2015, economic growth averaged 3.35 per cent a year in the freest quartile, whereas the least free experienced a measly 1.66 per cent growth.

It’s not just about money. In the freest nations, life expectancy is 80.7 years. This is 16.3 years more than in the bottom quartile. For many people, that amounts to a difference between knowing one’s grandchildren, or dying before their birth.

Finally, the freer the nation, the better off the poorest people in it are. The bottom 10 per cent of income earners in the freest quartile earned 11 times more than the bottom 10 per cent in the least free quartile ($11,998 per year and $1,124 per year respectively). In the freest countries, the poorest 10 per cent make almost twice as much as the average person in the least free countries.

Economic freedom isn’t just about the economy

For the first time, the 2017 edition of the report has adjusted its methodology to include the Gender Disparity Index (GDI). The inclusion of the index acknowledges that women are not always accorded equal treatment before the law. By using information from the World Bank’s Women, Business and Law and 50 Years of Women’s Rights projects, the Fraser authors have amended the EFW scores retrospectively.


This methodological change has meant that the Arab nations have dropped – a lot. (The report was compiled before the news broke that Saudi women will now be allowed to drive, but I don’t think it would have affected the findings much.)


In the previous report, for example, there were four Middle Eastern nations within the top 30. Now that GDI is included, not a single Arab nation ranks in the top 36. The United Arab Emirates and Qatar, which were previously the highest ranked MENA nations at 5th and 11th places respectively, are now just 37th and 45th. And the 10 countries that experienced the biggest decreases due to the GDI adjustment were all Muslim-majority nations.

The world is getting freer, faster

This is the final and most important point to make. Despite our tendency towards pessimism about the state of the world, economic freedom has increased substantially in the last 25 years – especially in developing nations.

In 1990, the average score for a “high-income industrial” country was 7.18, compared to only 5.28 for the average “developing” country. By 2015, the average score in high-income countries was 7.76 and the average in developing countries was 6.61. The gap between the two groupings has fallen from 1.90 to 1.15 – an improvement of 40 per cent. This is thanks in large part to trade liberalisation, and the widespread conquest of inflation and introduction of sound money.

The result is that, if the 1980s world average was a nation, it would place in 154th place today – ranking between war-torn Syria and anarchic Libya. If the 2015 world average was a nation in 1980, it would be the 9th freest – with a score of 6.88, slightly above Canada at the time.


The new EFW shows that despite many anomalies and challenges, economic freedom remains deeply linked to important indicators of human wellbeing, including wealth, poverty alleviation and life expectancy. As such, it is the poorest members of the human family who get the greatest benefits from it. Long may that continue.