[Ilya Somin (guest-blogging), March 28, 2006 at 6:51pm] Trackbacks
Promoting Democracy vs. Promoting Human Rights II:

A few points building on my earlier post on this subject:

1. Does my claim imply that we are worse off for having occupied Afghanistan and Iraq?

I think not. Despite very serious flaws (and major errors by the Bush Administration), the new Afghan and Iraqi governments are greatly superior to the predecessors - both from the standpoint of US interests and from that of their own people. Being better than the Taliban and Saddam Hussein is not a high standard to shoot for, but it is still an important achievement. However, failing to pay adequate attention to promoting liberal values as well as promoting democracy is likely to both reduce the extent of our success and imperil its longterm viability.

2. Is liberalism harder to promote than electoral democracy?

Many commenters, and some scholars, such as Fareed Zakaria, claim that it is. I am not so sure that this is universally true. Unlike electoral democracy (which usually takes years to provide any real benefits to the population), individual rights provide immediate and tangible benefits to a large number of people. The most dramatic recent examples are Afghani women who can now work outside the home, attend schools, and not wear burkhas. But there are many smaller, but still significant examples, such as the fact that 62% of Iraqis now have cell phones, which were forbidden under Saddam Hussein. Such benefits can be used to strengthen public support for individual freedom. Obviously, radical Islamists will resist efforts to promote individual rights, but they are not exactly big on democracy either. I am not suggesting that promoting individual rights will always be easier than promoting democracy. But there is no reason to believe that the reverse is true, or anything close to it.

Splunge (mail):
This viewpoint seems cramped by an academical and leisure-class perspective. I suggest neither electoral democracy nor individual civil or sartorial rights mean diddly to ordinary folks, compared to the ability to earn a a good living the way you can best do so, and do what you wish with the fruits of your labor.

That is, I suggest basic economic freedoms are far more important to ordinary folks than either democracy or the right to flaunt the majority's moral mythology. There are historical examples of cases where people have in fact arguably acted as if they valued more (and would fight harder for) economic freedom than democracy or moral freedom, e.g. Lenin's forced retreat from the true socialist economy via the NEP, and the resiliency of the Chinese Communist government after it liberalized China in the economic sphere alone twenty years ago.

From that point of view, one of the best ways to stabilize either Afghanistan or Iraq is simply to encourage widespread entrepreneurship and enforce maximum respect for property rights. It's a million small-business owners who are not cool with either having their front window broken in riots, or government imposing 4 PM curfews and searching potential customers randomly in the street, who are the best basic bulwark against both anarchy and oppression. Girls not wearing burkhas is nice, I'm sure, but plenty of societies have gotten along fine despite weird dress codes (like having to powder your hair white before you go out, or having to not wear pants or short skirt if you're a woman).
3.29.2006 2:42am
Neal R. (mail):
The United States is not "worse off" for having occupied Iraq because the new Iraqi government is "greatly superior" to its predecessor?

With all due respect, that analysis is a bit thin.
3.29.2006 9:24am
JosephSlater (mail):
Dear family members of the 2,300 + Americans dead, the many more Americans seriously wounded, the many more Iraqis dead and seriously wounded, oh and what the heck, cc to those about to be killed in the continuing violence with no end in sight:

62% of Iraqis have cell phones!

Really, what more needs to be said?
3.29.2006 10:30am
Freder Frederson (mail):
I don't know how having a cell phone is some great marker of freedom. I don't see that as a fundamental human right. I don't recall Patrick Henry getting up in front of the House of Burgess' and demanding "Give me Cingular or give me death" (although that would be a pretty good ad campaign) or Jefferson writing in the the Declaration of Independence "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Free Long Distance". Now if you had figures on access to cable tv, then we are talking fundamental rights, I believe that is in the constitution.
3.29.2006 10:39am
Randy R. (mail):
perhaps a better marker of democracy is a country's ability to pick it's own leaders. Iraq has done that. George Bush is not happy with the pick. In fact, he told the US ambassador to inform Iraq that he wants them to change their choice for prime minister.

Well, George, democracy in Iraq shouldn't work like it does in the US, with certain people picking out the leaders. It's supposed to be that when people vote, that vote is respected.

Bush, after having gotten Iraq on the road to democracy, has decided he doesn't like the outcomes afterall. So why the charade?
3.29.2006 3:14pm
I think Somin has missed a critical point: people do not really want freedom, except for themselves and their friends. What people want is to achieve status and power through government action, nongovermental institutions like the market or religion, and social norms. Ideally, as with race and sex, through all three.

It's Spring Break, and I've been catching up on the Equal Protection reading that I should have done earlier in the semester, but didn't. Less than 50 years ago, people were closing their schools, parks, and pools rather than integrating them. People who supported these policies are still alive and voting! It doesn't make you feel good about America, or human nature in general.
3.30.2006 12:54am