WASHINGTON DC – Economic freedom means the ability of the people to pursue social and entrepreneurial activities that respond to the various needs of their own and that of other people. Thus, when the demand for food and clothing increases, then the supply of food and clothing also increases as producers anticipate upward changes in demand for such important commodities.
Compare that situation in an un-free economy. The demand for food and clothing increases and the supply of more guns and ammunitions increase as people are coerced to produce more guns and battle tanks instead of more food, more tractors, and more clothing. The public can cry and complain, but there are more soldiers and government officials per million people to harass and intimidate them; there are more walls and fences to cage them.
The 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall was the main theme of the 2009 Templeton Freedom Awards Conference sponsored by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation. It was held this week, November 9-10, at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel in this city. There were plenty of good speakers from several free market-oriented think tanks and private institutes from many countries in the 1 1/2 day conference.
Among such speakers are those from the former Eastern European countries like Martin Chren of the F.A. Hayek Foundation in Slovakia. People in these countries have first-hand experience what it is to live under communism and economic central planning. Martin and his institute conduct various educational programs for thousands of young Slovaks every year to teach the value of economic freedom and individual liberty. Martin also discussed the economic miracles that happened to his country after they adopted the low, simple and flat income tax rate of 19 percent in 2004, plus other economic liberalization measures.
Another great speaker was Ms. Natasha Srdoc of the Adriatic Institute in Croatia. Natasha discussed how she and her team members in their institute engage not only Croatian but also other EU government officials in various public policy discussions. They also conduct various public education programs and engage local media for their several free market advocacies.
From Asia, one good speaker was the President and CEO of the Center for Free Enterprise (CFE) in Seoul, South Korea, Dr. Chung-ho Kim. Chung-ho is a friend since several years ago. Unlike the East Europeans who have succeeded in tearing down the Berlin Wall, the South Koreans still live with a hostile neighbor just several kilometers north of Seoul. And the North Koreans are caged not by a wall, but by a fence.
In his presentation, Chung-ho showed one satellite picture of the Korean Peninsula at night time. While there were lots of lights in the south, indicating lots of lighted houses, shops, buildings and streets, there were very little areas in the north that were lighted, the north is mostly dark in the evening. Chung-ho also asked, “How short is the North?” and showed several pictures -- of a captured North Korean soldier beside his South Korean counterpart, of leader of the north Kim Jong Il and the founder of Samsung. In both pictures, the soldier and leader from the north were shorter than their counterparts from the south. Chung-ho then said that on average, North Koreans are 6 inches (around 15 cms.) shorter than South Koreans, although they have the same genes, have the same climate and same landmass.
What is the explanation for this? Those from the north are malnourished, they do not eat enough. Former North Korean President Kim Il Sung and his son, current President Kim Jong Il, have succeeded in producing more soldiers and warriors than farmers and food producers from the millions of young North Korean children. North Korean communism has discouraged or killed agribusiness and farming for profit while South Korean capitalism has encouraged farming for profit.
So while former US President Ronald Reagan stood at the Brandenburg gate in the late 80s and called on Russian President Gorbachev and the East German President to “tear down this wall”, Chung-ho’s call to Mr. Kim Jong Il of North Korea was to “tear down this fence!” Later in the evening during the “Freedom Dinner,” Chung-ho toasted the 300+ guests to a wish of “Let our North Korean brothers and sisters experience freedom soon.”
I spoke on Day 2 of the conference. My presentation was entitled “Advancing liberty: shrug the walls harder” and it should be available in our website soon. The other Asian speaker in the conference was another friend, Ms. Arpita Nepal of the Prosperity Foundation, Nepal. Arpita explained that Nepal is currently headed by the Maoists and those in the “opposition” are mainly the social democrats and the Marxist-Leninist socialists. What a way to develop the economy of Nepal.
Going to the US East Coast is always a tiring activity for someone coming from south-east Asia like the Philippines. From the time I entered Manila airport (NAIA) to the time I got out of the Reagan DC airport, was exactly 24 hours. So I arrived at the hotel tired and sleepy. Only to be rejuvenated the following day with a cast of inspiring and articulate speakers, leaders of free market institutes that dream and work for a world of free and responsible individuals, people who aspire to help tear down the various walls – or fences – of modern restrictions by big governments like huge and multiple confiscatory taxes, trade protectionism and dictatorship.
The way has been shown to us 20 years ago by those living in Eastern Europe. They have tasted and experienced the value of economic freedom, after living under political and economic central planning for more than four decades since the end of World War II.
Let us not be swayed by renewed calls to try economic and ecological central planning, in the Philippines and elsewhere. Let us tear down or hurdle our personal and political walls and fences, one at a time.