Free Markets, Free People
Trust me when I say I’d love to see the next government in Egypt be a democratic and modern one dedicated to freedom and liberty. But I don’t find myself to be particularly cynical when I say I don’t think that will happen at all.
Let’s start with Richard Cohen’s points as a good foundation for why I believe that:
Egypt’s problems are immense. It has a population it cannot support, a standard of living that is stagnant and a self-image as leader of the (Sunni) Arab world that does not, really, correspond to reality. It also lacks the civic and political institutions that are necessary for democracy. The next Egyptian government – or the one after – might well be composed of Islamists. In that case, the peace with Israel will be abrogated and the mob currently in the streets will roar its approval.
It not only lacks the civic and political institutions necessary for democracy, it has no history or tradition of democracy. Given all of that, I’m constantly amazed by those who see what they choose to interpret as “people’s revolutions” in places like Egypt as precursors to a sunny day in the bright light of democracy and freedom.
David Larison points to something Jeane Kirkpatrick once said decades ago after Iran fell to the Ayatollahs.
Although most governments in the world are, as they always have been, autocracies of one kind or another, no idea holds greater sway in the mind of educated Americans than the belief that it is possible to democratize governments, anytime, anywhere, under any circumstances. This notion is belied by an enormous body of evidence based on the experience of dozens of countries which have attempted with more or less (usually less) success to move from autocratic to democratic government. Many of the wisest political scientists of this and previous centuries agree that democratic institutions are especially difficult to establish and maintain-because they make heavy demands on all portions of a population and because they depend on complex social, cultural, and economic conditions.
As legitimate as the grievances against the Egyptian government are, it is entirely possible that whatever comes after Mubarak and his allies could be dramatically worse. We seem to forget that political change can also be change significantly for the worse, and that empowering a dispossessed majority can lead to economic catastrophe, ethnic and/or religious violence, and contribute to an overall decline in the public’s welfare.
Exactly. And for examples of the point, we once again turn to Jean Kirkpatrick:
In Iran and Nicaragua (as previously in Vietnam, Cuba, and China) Washington overestimated the political diversity of the opposition–especially the strength of “moderates” and “democrats” in the opposition movement; underestimated the strength and intransigence of radicals in the movement….
Many of us simply cannot see past the fact that history doesn’t much support the contention that something “good”, as in a government that will be good for its citizens and a friend to the US, will emerge in Egypt or countries like Egypt. One of the results of oppression and repression are the withering and finally death of democratic institutions – if any even existed to begin with.
And the promise of “free and open elections?” As common and predictable as sunrise. Free and open elections only guarantee you’ll see them once. After that, you’re more likely to see Venezuela, Zimbabwe and Lebanon than you are Canada, the United States and the UK.
It is having those “free and open elections” the second time, and the third, and fourth, etc. that develop the institutions we’re talking about. Holding an election after the overthrow of a government doesn’t make what follows a democracy anymore than writing a Constitution means anyone will live by it or uphold it.
Dictatorships in countries with no democratic traditions or institutions usually beget a dictatorship of a different form when the current strongman is overthrown. And even if the revolution makes an attempt at democratic progress, it usually gets subverted and taken over by the country’s next oppressor as soon as he and his followers gather enough power.
Obviously everyone would like to believe there can be exceptions to the rule and certainly it would be in our, Israel and the region’s best interests if that’s the case in Egypt. But that’s not what we should expect, and it damn sure isn’t that for we should be preparing. Instead, it appears we’re in the middle of repeating our own disastrous history of dealing with such problems. Here’s Kirkpatrick again, talking about Iran – see if you’re feeling a little déjà vu as you read it:
The emissary’s recommendations are presented in the context of a growing clamor for American disengagement on grounds that continued involvement confirms our status as an agent of imperialism, racism, and reaction; is inconsistent with support for human rights; alienates us from the “forces of democracy”; and threatens to put the U.S. once more on the side of history’s “losers.” This chorus is supplemented daily by interviews with returning missionaries and “reasonable” rebels.
As the situation worsens, the President assures the world that the U.S. desires only that the “people choose their own form of government”; he blocks delivery of all arms to the government and undertakes negotiations to establish a “broadly based” coalition headed by a “moderate” critic of the regime who, once elevated, will move quickly to seek a “political” settlement to the conflict.
When government doesn’t want to pay a bill, you have little recourse except the courts in most law abiding countries.
In the dictatorship that is Venezuela, not only does the government not pay the bill, but it takes you means of livelihood to boot for daring to attempt to collect what you’re owed. Such is the fate of one American owned country which tried to collect on its debt.
Venezuela will nationalize a fleet of oil rigs belonging to U.S. company Helmerich and Payne, the latest takeover in a push to socialism as President Hugo Chavez struggles with lower oil output and a recession.
The 11 drilling rigs have been idled for months following a dispute over pending payments by the OPEC member’s state oil company PDVSA. Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said on Wednesday the rigs, the Oklahoma-based company’s entire Venezuelan fleet, were being nationalized to bring them back into production.
The reason they weren’t presently in production is the Venezuelan government refuses to pay them for $49 million for past services.
Of course the government of Venezuela has devised an excuse for what would be grand theft in any other law abiding society:
Ramirez said companies that refused to put their rigs into production were part of a plan to weaken Chavez’s government,
“There is a group of drill owners that has refused to discuss tariffs and services with PDVSA and have preferred to keep this equipment stored for a year,” Ramirez told reporters in the oil producing state of Zulia. “That is the specific case with U.S. multinational Helmerich and Payne.”
Interestingly, we here have the opposite problem. Venezuela’s government is trying to get drilling rigs into production and has resorted to nationalized theft to do it.
We have a government trying to take drilling rigs out of production, and is prepared to ignore court rulings to the contrary and do so by executive fiat.
Bizarro world continues unabated. The logic behind this assertion is … uh, “subtle” to say the least (my emphasis):
First, on “constitutional dictatorship,” there is, somewhat surprisingly, Minnesota, where Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a favorite of the Repblican right wing (assuming there is anything else than a right wing in the GOP these days) is apparently going to use all of his powers under the Minnesota have exercised such powers, but Pawlenty’s exercise in unilateral government seems to be of a different magnitude. Perhaps we should view Minnesota as having the equivalent of a Weimar Constitution Article 48, the “emergency powers clause” that allowed the president to govern by fiat. Throughout the 1920s, it was invoked more than 200 times to respond to the economic crisis. Pawlenty is sounding the same theme, as he prepares to slash spending on all sorts of public services. The fact that this will increase his attractiveness to the Republican Right, for the 2012 presidential race that has already begun, is, of course, an added benefit, since one doubts that he is banking on a political future within Minnesota itself (which didn’t give him a majority at the last election; he was elected, as was Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, only because of the presence of third-party candidates). One might also look forward to whether he will refuse to certify Al Franken’s election to the Senate even after the Minnesota Supreme Court, like all other Minnesota courts, says that he has won. Whoever thought that Minnesota would be the leading example of a 21st-century version of “constitutional dictatorship” among the American states?
I don’t know who Sandy Levin, the author of the above screed, is but I have to believe he has become lost in his own rhetoric. We are honestly being asked to accept the premise that a Governor, using his constitutionally-approved and legislature-granted powers, is somehow a “dictator” for … slashing spending in a time of budget shortfalls?
Gov. Tim Pawlenty promised Thursday to bring Minnesota’s deficit-ridden budget back into balance on his own if the session ends Monday without an accord, using line-item vetoes and executive powers to shave billions in spending.
Pawlenty held out the possibility of a negotiated agreement, but said he was prepared to use vetoes, payment suspensions and so-called unallotment to cut the two-year budget to $31 billion. That’s about $3 billion smaller than the slate of spending bills sent to him.
The move infuriated Democrats who run the Legislature. House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher of Minneapolis dubbed Pawlenty “Governor Go It Alone.” Pawlenty shot back that without the step Kelliher would be “Speaker Special Session.”
“There will be no public hearings. There will be no public input. There will just be a governor alone with unelected people whispering in his ear of what to cut and what not to cut,” Kelliher said, calling it “bullying.”
Apparently this is exactly what Levinson and the Minnesota left want us to believe — i.e. that using duly constituted powers is the equivalent of behaving as a dictator. How utterly ridiculous.
If this were a situation where the governor was unilaterally deciding to burden the taxpayers more, or he was singling out a particular group of people to bear the brunt of arbitrary government rules, I could see where the dissenters here would have a point. If the executive branch suddenly declared, without any legislative input, that English was the official language of Minn. and no other languages would be recognized anywhere in the state upon penalty of law, then, legally granted powers or not, I would understand and support Levinson et al.
Instead, the perfectly preposterous idea that balancing a state budget, using the very powers granted the governor to accomplish the task, is now deemed the equivalent of the Weimar Republic emergency powers (you know, the ones that allowed Hitler to declare himself supreme dictator over Germany).
To be sure, the focus of this vitriolic (and, I’d say, hysterical) attack on Pawlenty stems from his threatened use of “unallotment” powers:
The procedure exists under state statute, and “the first prerequisite to unallotment is that the Commissioner of Finance ‘determines that probable receipts for the general fund will be less than anticipated, and that the amount available for the remainder of the biennium will be less than needed.”
Then the ball is in the governor’s court:
“After the Commissioner of Finance determines that the amount available for the biennium is less than needed, the governor must approve the commissioner’s actions before the commissioner can either reduce the amount in the budget reserve or reduce allotments.”
The Legislature is consulted but does not have any power or ultimate say in the governor’s actions. The process starts at the beginning of the next fiscal biennium, which means that Pawlenty won’t enact anything until July 1. And what he’ll do is anyone’s guess.
“Depending on what he does with line-item vetoes, I figure we’ll see anywhere from a half a billion to $2 billion in unallotments,” Schultz said. “It’s unprecedented in dollar amount and in willingness to use it.”
Is it good policy or politics?
Schultz points out that unallotment is on the books for “emergency conditions” in which “the Legislature can’t do its job,” such as a budget forecast that comes out when lawmakers aren’t in session.
But in Schultz’s opinion, Pawlenty is “creating the emergency conditions that allow him to use it.”
“He appears to not want to negotiate in good faith,” Schultz offered. “Working with the Legislature is supposed to be a cooperative venture, not a take-it-or-leave-it one.”
The problem, of course, is that the legislature keeps sending a bill that proposes more spending than Minnesota’s revenues will allow. Because the governor and the legislature can’t agree on identifying new revenue sources (e.g. Leg. wants to tax the rich, Gov. wants to borrow against tobacco settlement), then the two sides are at an impasse. Despite what some might say, a proposed $3 billion deficit with no budget alternative in place does represent a fiscal emergency. After all, the money has to come from somewhere, or the services (giveaways, or whatever) will have to be cut, and the government may be forced to shut down. Why that doesn’t represent a fiscal emergency of the very type contemplated by the unallotment statute remains a bit of mystery for us less hysterical folks.
Jumping out the weeds, and regardless of how one might view the necessity of spending more or less via the Minnesota budget, I am simply flabbergasted that anyone could possibly suggest that forcing the government to spend less is in anyway, shape or form equivalent to dictatorship. To accept such premise is accept the idea that government spending is the sole source of freedom. I categorically reject any such notion. And if dictatorship is to be defined as standing in firm opposition to it, then sign me up.