Tag: berlin wall

Madeleine Albright’s Confusion

Former secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright writes in Parade magazine that 20 years after the Berlin Wall, “We Must Keep Freedom Alive.” A commendable sentiment, but the article is a bit confused, notably in that it seems to use “freedom” and “democracy” interchangeably. But as Fareed Zakaria and Tom Palmer, among others, have demonstrated, they’re not the same thing. Freedom is the right and ability of individuals to make the important decisions about their lives. Democracy – especially constitutional democracy, with separation of powers, the rule of law, and constraints on government – can be the most effective way to protect liberty. But democracy isn’t liberty, and we shouldn’t confuse the relationship.

Albright writes:

democracy is a prerequisite to economic growth.

That seems clearly, spectacularly wrong. Consider some historical cases of great economic growth: Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan grew rapidly in recent decades without being democracies. (And I would say that that growth led to Taiwan’s becoming a democracy.) Beyond that, look at the United States and Great Britain during the unprecedented growth of the 19th century; neither was a democracy by modern standards. And of course China has been experiencing rapid growth in the past 30 years without democracy.

But look at Albright’s complete sentence:

In fact, democracy is a prerequisite to economic growth, which only flourishes when minds are encouraged to produce, invent, and explore.

That is a much stronger hypothesis. Indeed economic growth flourishes “when minds are encouraged to produce, invent, and explore.” And the condition in which that happens is actually called freedom, not democracy. So perhaps the problem is just that Albright is using the terms “freedom” and “democracy” loosely. And if by democracy she means the modern Western conception of a system of individual rights, private property, and market exchange protected by a limited constitutional government featuring divided powers, an independent judiciary, and free and independent media, then it would be true that that kind of “democracy” is a solid foundation for economic growth – though not a prerequisite, as the examples above demonstrate.

The relationships between the rule of law, popular participation in government, constraints on government, protection of property, the market economy, and economic growth deserve serious study, and that study should start with conceptual clarity.

Freedom for Thee, But Not for We

I expected and got some pushback about my post comparing the Berlin Wall to the wall along our southern border. Happily, it was more civil than the reactions I often get when I talk about immigration and free movement of people.

One fair comment focused on the key distinction between the Berlin Wall and our border wall: the direction the guards were facing.

From the perspective of the state, it’s easy to conceive of border guards facing “in” or “out”—and those facing in suggest much worse than those facing out. But from the perspective of the individual, what matters is whether or not the border guards are facing you. Our border wall keeps Mexicans and Central Americans from freedom and a better life precisely the way the Berlin Wall did East Germans.

Another pointed out the inconsistency between liberal immigration policies and the welfare state. But the solution is not to wall off the country; it’s to wall off the welfare state. David Friedman has pointed out that liberal immigration policies can create political incentives to hold down welfare benefits.

Twenty years ago, West Germany took into its fold an impoverished population whose capacity for self-governance had surely been eroded by years of totalitarian rule. Today, one of that population is its center-right chancellor. Liberalizing immigration would be a project far smaller for the United States, it would bring overall economic benefits, and it would help restore our country’s status as a beacon of freedom.

Those who wish to immigrate to the United States did not create the political or economic conditions in their birth countries. Yet many treat their desire for a life like ours as blameworthy. It’s incoherent for individualists to think that way about immigrants to the United States while treating the reunification of Germany as something to celebrate. Such incoherence is reflected in our ’wall’ policies, which indeed boil down to “freedom for thee (Europeans), but not for we (Americans).”

Mr. Obama, Tear Down This Wall

On his personal blog, Bottom-Up, Cato adjunct scholar Timothy B. Lee compares the Berlin Wall to the wall along the southern border of the United States. There are differences, of course, but important similarities too.

[I]t’s jarring that less than 20 years after one Republican president gave a stirring speech about the barbarity of erecting a wall to trap millions of people in a country they wanted to leave, another Republican president signed legislation to do just that. Conservatives, of course, bristle at analogies between East Germany’s wall and our own, but they seem unable to explain how they actually differ.

Judging by its ‘wall’ policies, the United States appears to value the freedom of Europeans more than Americans.

Monday Links

  • Today marks 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Full round-up of commentary on that historic day, here.
  • The heroes who helped bring down the Wall.

Liberty Most Deer

As a footnote to Chris Moody’s post about Monday’s 20-year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I just came across this article about red deer refusing to cross from Germany into the Czech Republic.  This, of course, is a border that was the once heavily fortified dividing line between free West Germany and captive Czechoslovakia.

Even deer who weren’t born when barbed wire, watchtowers, and armed guards prevented the natural extension of their happy grazing grounds act as if the Cold War never ended — apparently because they learned their habits from their parents, who learned them from their parents.

Still, as with the new generation of Eastern Europeans who have no memory of Communism, some young deer are starting to break the mold, taking advantage of — and even taking for granted — their newfound freedom.  I wonder if the grass (and ferns, and whatever else deer eat) is any greener on the other side of the former Iron Curtain.

Berlin Wall Anniversary Links

The Berlin Wall fell 20 years ago this month, marking the collapse of Soviet communism. The anniversary is an appropriate time for stocktaking and for seeking to answer a number of questions associated with this historic event, its aftermath, and its continued influence.

  • Podcast: Why Russia must confront the criminal nature of its communist past.

Wednesday Links

  • Cato v. Heritage on the Patriot Act, Round III: “In hindsight, did Congress and the president react too hastily in 2001 by passing the Patriot Act just weeks after the 9/11 attacks?”