Saturday, February 12, 2005

Sometimes democracy doesn't work....

The Iraqi people voted overwhelmingly for freedom recently. It was in all the news. I'm very happy for them and I never doubted that they would do so, given the opportunity. That's my liberal instinct kicking in, assuring me that people always want to be free.

Unfortunately, that's not always true. Sometimes, they'd prefer security to freedom. It has a lot to do with opportunity.

For instance, in the former Soviet Union everyone got to vote. That's democracy, of a kind. They got paid for their work efforts in rubles. That's economy, of a kind. There was little they could buy, however, with their hard-earned, or saved, rubles. To misquote the Bard," Aye, there's the ruble". One worked in the USSR with little hope for bettering one's condition. If the ruble had any value it was not that which Americans are used to from the dollar, that is, what you could buy with it, for there was little to buy in the USSR. A world power with ambitions and nuclear weapons collapsed because the thing it could not provide its people was opportunity, opportunity to own a car, build a PURPOSEFUL nestegg, buy a dacha or even windshield wipers.

Again, for instance, the new Russia. It's presently headed back into its dark history of oppression because, once again, it has failed to provide opportunity for people after their Communists were cast aside. Their new freedom came with expectations of western-style affluence. They were more free, more democratic, thus the fruits of the West would now be there for them, right?

Of course, that was not the case. There was no cultural infrastructure built up over decades, even centuries, upon which they might depend, no broad understanding of personal responsibility within which the people fitted themselves and went on to create a vibrant economy. All they had was the generally antiquated Soviet industries, run by former apparatchiks whose only experience with production was how to gloss over their failure to produce under Communism. The Russian people are willingly trading their new-found freedom for security in the form of government support, even on a minimal basis. Freedom to starve, after all, is not much to cling to.

Similarly, what used to be East Germany is in the doldrums, economically. It's far worse there than in the rest of Germany. There is a resurgence of the Communist party because the people, having little experience with personal responsibility for themselves, are pretty much waiting for someone to house, feed, and provide employment to them, and that of a long term and secure nature.

The connection to the Iraqi people is similar. They've now voted for their freedom, but, will it also give them opportunity? The unemployment there is over 50%, so far. The industrial infrastructure suffered under Saddam's neglect. Much of the work done, thus far, has been replacing decades-old equipment to improve communal life, water, electricity, and the like. The part of the population that did best under Saddam was rigidly controlled through direct handouts from the Baathist party, that is, Saddam. There's an entire generation that has zero experience with personal responsibility for their survival, much less success.

Hopefully, the Iraqis are going to do better for themselves than some of the failed communist states have. There's Poland, the Latvian States and the new Czech states to look to as examples. It can work if a people has both desire and initiative. The Iraqis, at least, have a bonafide sugardaddy, the US, to help them along. I've got my fingers crossed.....

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