Monday, November 05, 2012

Lion Rock 4: Leftism and Populism by Intellectuals

* This is my article yesterday in the online magazine,

Hong Kong – The Reading Club Salon on Populism ended today at the Harbour Plaza Resort City, a hotel in the Northern Territories of this big free trade city. It was sponsored by Hong Kong’s first and only free market think tank, the Lion Rock Institute (LRI), and I was one of the few foreign participants that they have invited.

There were two sessions held yesterday, on Anti-Capitalism Mentality and on Fanaticism. Among the books that we read in preparation for this roundtable discussion was Ludwig von Mises, The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality (1956). Mises noted,  
“Wealth can be acquired only by serving the consumers. The capitalists lose their funds as soon as they fail to invest them in those lines in which they satisfy best the demands of the public. In a daily repeated plebiscite in which every penny gives a right to vote, the consumers determine who should own and run the plants, shops and farms.
This is what the modern concept of freedom means. Every adult is free to fashion his life according to his own plans. He is not forced to live according to the plan of a planning authority enforcing its unique plan by the police, i.e., the social apparatus of compulsion and coercion.”
Google, Facebook, youtube, twitter and many other social media, websites and blogs that have greatly improved the people’s communication with one another across the globe, are all products of capitalism, innovation and competition. Yet we hear so many anti-capitalist or even outright socialist sentiments and public policy proposals.
Milton Friedman in his short essay, Business Community’s Suicidal Impulse (1998) observed,
“There’s a common misconception that people who are in favor of a free market are also in favor of everything that big business does. Nothing could be further from the truth.
As a believer in the pursuit of self-interest in a competitive capitalist system, I can’t blame a businessman who goes to Washington and tries to get special privileges for his company. He has been hired by the stockholders to make as much money for them as he can within the rules of the game. And if the rules of the game are that you go to Washington to get a special privilege, I can’t blame him for doing that. Blame the rest of us for being so foolish as to let him get away with it.”
During the free wheeling discussion moderated by LRI’s co-founder Simon Lee, I expressed that many intellectuals display intolerance when they advocate more government regulations and coercion to address (a) inequality and huge diversity of income and asset ownership among the people, and (b) wide spontaneity of action by the people. The regulators and many intellectuals want things to be relatively anticipated and foreseen, ordered and regulated, so they are suspicious of high social spontaneity. One  consolation though, is that their intolerance does not call for violence like the various riots and wars that we see in other countries.
The new fanaticism in the world, I shared with fellow participants, is freedom of expression. In the Philippines for instance, many groups want the government to provide just almost anything to the poor in the name of welfare, including pills and condoms. The debate on the Reproductive Health (RH) bill in Congress was relatively intense when out of nowhere, there was a cybercrime prevention law that was signed by the President just two months ago. The reaction by the netizens was widespread and spontaneous. A group of hackers attacked several government websites and defaced them. Several groups went to the Supreme Court to strike down the law as unconstitutional. Facebook and other social media was flooded by angry reactions by millions of users. And several groups went to Congress and the SC to rally and lobby for the new law’s revision or abolition.
This law in effect, has made many people to suddenly hate BIG and intrusive government. It was a miscalculation by the state that  has awaken millions of Filipino here and abroad, to dislike big government.
This morning, two sessions were discussed, on The New Left (NL) and on Propaganda. The NL was a 60s to 70s brand of activism that was generally statist and also advocated more government intervention in more sectors of society. But unlike the old left or communist movement, the NL did not call for state ownership of the means production or highlighted class struggle.
An NL thinker, Saul Alinsky, wrote in his book Rules for Radicals (1971),
“Today's generation is desperately trying to make some sense out of their lives and out of the world. Most of them are products of the middle class. They have rejected their materialistic backgrounds, the goal of a well-paid job, suburban home, automobile, country club membership… . They have had it. They watched it lead their parents to tranquilizers, alcohol, long-term-endurance marriages, or divorces … They have seen the almost unbelievable idiocy of our political leadership—in the past political leaders, ranging from the mayors to governors to the White House, were regarded with respect and almost reverence; today they are viewed with contempt. This negativism now extends to all institutions, from the police and the courts to "the system" itself. We are living in a world of mass media which daily exposes society's innate hypocrisy, its contradictions and the apparent failure of almost every facet of our social and political life.”
A participant from Beijing noted how the China government has used the mainstream media in announcing that state operated enterprises (SOEs) have paid more taxes than private enterprises, with no hard studies to cite, only a quote from one communist party official. And this propaganda news  was repeated in many if not all media outlets in China.
I added that twitter, along with facebook, youtube, blogger, other social networking, are banned in China. But there is a twitter-like microblogging site, Sina, a private enterprise that also attracts millions of users. Sina though, has about 1,000 personnel to monitor postings and take out those that can be threatening to the communist party in power. In addition, the China communist government has about 10,000 cyber spies and police as double “firewall” to Sina’s self-censorship.
Populism and the Big Government that accompanies it, is a threat to expanding individual freedom. People can be lured into believing that they will be entitled to various rights, subsidies and welfare, even if they contribute little or nothing to such huge public spending. An entitlement mentality can replace hard work mentality and the government and its huge phalanx of politicians and bureaucracies will tax and coerce more productive people just to pander populism. This is not the way to develop an economy and to raise responsible citizens. 
(Photos below, thanks to Wilson Li of LRI)

And here's what I wrote last Friday, November 02, 2012:

Tomorrow, I am going to Hong Kong to participate in the "Reading Club Salon" sponsored by the Lion Rock Institute. It's a read-read-read thing before going to Hong Kong, then listen-analyze-speak at the venue, the Harbour Plaza Resort City, a big hotel in the Northern Territories.

It is a small group round table discussion covering some of the "cream minds" of the free market network in Asia -- from China, India, Hong Kong, Thailand, Philippines, and a few friends from Germany, Canada and the US who are all Asia-based now.

This is what I meant by "read-read-read before going to Hong Kong", a list of mostly long papers and e-books, to be discussed from Saturday afternoon to Sunday morning:

Session I: Anti-capitalist Mentality and the Religion of All-powerful Government
   The Road to Serfdom by F A von Hayek (1944)
   The Anti-Capitalist Mentality by Ludwig von Mises (1956)
   Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism? by Robert Nozick (1998)

Session II: Fanaticism and Mass Movement
   The True Believer by Eric Hoffer (1951)
   Little Red Book by Mao Zedong

Session III: The New Left
   Chapters by Tom Hayden
   The Port Huron Statement (1962)
   A Letter to the New (Young) Left (1961)
   The Way We Were – The Future of the Port Huron Statement (2005)
   The Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky (1971)
   Business Community’s Suicidal Impulse by Milton Friedman (1998)

Session IV: Propaganda
   Part 5, Chapter 13 - 15 of Public Opinion by Walter Lippmann (1921)
   Campus Blacklist by David Horowitz (2002)
   Case Study on BPA Fear by Media Research Center (2012)

I have read Hayek's "Road to Serfdom" before, then Robert Nozick's "Why do intellectuals oppose capitalism?" and Milton Friedman's short paper, "Business Community's Suicidal Impulse". The rest, I started reading only last week and this week.

Perhaps this could be the most tiring free market seminar that I will attend. In 2005, in Phuket, Thailand, we also have a sort of "reading salon" during the Atlas round table discussion where we discussed only one book by Friedrich Hayek, "The Constitution of Liberty" for one whole day. It was hard for me because Hayek's political philosophy was rather too deep for me then. My exposure for many years have been largely on economic literatures.

But so far I have been enjoying a number of the literatures, like Eric Hoffer's "The True Believer".

Will write more about the two HK events including the EFN Asia Conference on Tuesday-Wednesday, or two days after the LRI round table discussion.

See also
Welfarism 18: Hong Kong's Expanding Government (Lion Rock 1), March 27, 2012
Lion Rock 2: Populism and Anti-Capitalism, LRI Forum, HK, October 05, 2012
Fat-Free Econ 28: Poverty, Planning and Populism, October 28, 2012
Lion Rock 3: The New Poor, Free Poor and Eric Hoffer, October 30, 2012

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