Friday, September 30, 2005

A world of difference

A world of difference

Johan Norberg Norberg, head of political ideas at Timbro, a free-market think tank in Stockholm, is a breath of fresh air for the liberal cause. Norberg started out as an anarchist. Early political activities included hiding refugees the government wanted to deport, and running an illegal early-morning bar to persuade the authorities to extend the city's licensing laws beyond midnight. He became a liberal when he learned free trade had lifted Sweden out of poverty in the 19th century. He points out that in recent decades globalisation has reduced the number of people living in abject poverty by half. In just one generation the average income in developing countries has doubled. So why aren't Western opponents of globalisation more impressed by these figures? One reason is a lack of sufficient information to provide a sense of proportion. For example, the anti-globos often refer to the undoubted fact that people working in Western factories in the Third World are paid a lot less than Westerners would be for the same work, Norberg says. "But they ignore another fact, that these workers are getting far more than their neighbours earn - or than they themselves used to earn - from primitive agriculture.

The problem is that most young public intellectuals are on the left, because bright sparks on the right tend to go into business rather than read books and engage in public debate. It's interesting that Norberg comes out of Sweden, which for decades has been used by the left in Australia as proof that the welfare state can be combined with economic vitality. But Norberg says it's the opposite of the truth. "We were a very free market country for the century up to 1970, when we were the fourth richest in the world," he says. "That's when our welfare state boomed and since then we've dropped to the 14th most wealthy in the OECD. In net terms our private sector hasn't created one new job since 1970."

Norberg's position on immigration distinguishes him from many other liberals around the world: "If people were allowed to cross borders at will, they would take their ideas and their labour and skills with them. He points to the second half of the 19th century, when many poor people in Europe emigrated to the New World. "This benefited them, the countries they were leaving, and those they went to," he says. He advocates something similar now, but on a far larger scale. "At the moment there is a problem. The right supports one part of globalisation - the free movement of capital and goods - while the left tends to support another part, the free movement of people." Norberg believes immigration is already so extensive it'd be unwise to halt it. Pointing out there were 15 million Muslims in Europe, he noted in a 2003 article: "If we close the borders, if we alienate this substantial minority, we risk creating resentment between ethnic and religious groups, and only the fundamentalists would gain."

"It is time for our liberal societies to stop apologising, to get back our self-confidence … the idea that we shouldn't impose our values [on immigrants] is bizarre. We should force everybody to accept every other human being as a free and autonomous individual with the same rights as himself." Norberg suggests evolution has made humans thrive on challenges. So when government expands its reach beyond providing the basic necessities of life, it threatens happiness. "If government becomes too paternalistic it deprives us of the need to be responsible for ourselves," he says. "Then two things happen. We don't get those challenges that seem to make us happier. And after a while we might even lose our capacity to make choices, which in terms of happiness is the worst thing that can happen to a person."


Post a Comment

<< Home