April 3, 2020 8:49AM

Do Great Leaders Create Peace and Prosperity?

With the latest news about Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban’s drive for autocratic power, I was just looking up this quote from Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom

…dissatisfaction with the slow and cumbersome course of democratic procedure which makes action for action’s sake the goal. It is then the man or the party who seems strong and resolute enough “to get things done” who exercises the greatest appeal. “Strong” in this sense means not merely a numerical majority – it is the ineffectiveness of parliamentary majorities with which people are dissatisfied. What they will seek is somebody with such solid support as to inspire confidence that he can carry out whatever he wants.

–When there arrived in my inbox this article from journalist Rob York of the Pacific Forum, who recently left the South China Morning Post, about how the growth of the Asian tigers is usually attributed to “strong leaders” Lee Kuan‐​yew in Singapore, Chiang Kai‐​shek in Taiwan and Park Chung‐​hee in Korea. Meanwhile, nobody knows the name of John Cowperthwaite, the Briton who served as Hong Kong’s financial secretary in the 1960s as the economy took off. After all, Cowperthwaite’s “‘bold’ actions [were] mostly limited to resisting the calls for tax increases, or using the healthy reserves Hong Kong had built up, or instituting protectionism.” The perfect example of a public official who would get called “do‐​nothing” these days.

Perhaps Cowperthwaite had read Lao‐​Tzu:

The more prohibitions there are,
The poorer the people will be.…

Therefore a sage has said:
So long as I “do nothing” the people will of themselves be
So long as I act only by inactivity the people will of themselves
become prosperous.

In any case, as York notes, you don’t get hailed as a great leader if you avoid mandates, prohibitions, taxes, tariffs, and restrictions and allow the people to live in peace and prosperity. But Cowperthwaite did more for human happiness than most “great leaders.” And the people of Hungary could certainly use a sage like Cowperthwaite these days.