Of course I'm liberal, I believe in liberty.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Free Market, Free Trade, Free Thought

Robert Wright at the NY Times articulates what I've been thinking for a long time, but could never quite put my finger on well enough to describe. Basically, Bush doesn't have faith in the power of free markets, free trade and democracy. He talks about it, but he thinks it is something that must be delivered by the might of the sword, a gift from the powerful elite to the little people.
Critics on the left and right warned against grounding foreign policy in such naïve optimism (a world without tyrants?) and such unbounded faith.

But the problem with the speech is actually the opposite. Mr. Bush has too little hope, and too little faith. He underestimates the impetus behind freedom and so doesn't see how powerfully it imparts a "visible direction" to history. This lack of faith helps explain some of his biggest foreign policy failures and suggests that there are more to come.

Oddly, the underlying problem is that this Republican president doesn't appreciate free markets. Mr. Bush doesn't see how capitalism helps drive history toward freedom via an algorithm that for all we know is divinely designed and is in any event awesomely elegant. Namely: Capitalism's pre-eminence as a wealth generator means that every tyrant has to either embrace free markets or fall slowly into economic oblivion; but for markets to work, citizens need access to information technology and the freedom to use it - and that means having political power.
Give history some guidance, but resist the flattering delusion that you're its pilot. Don't take military and economic weapons off the table, but appreciate how sparingly you can use them when the architect of history is on your side. Have a little faith.
Digby chimes in with:
There was a time, lo these many years ago (back in the 90's) when most people understood that globalization was a huge transition with lots of unintended consequences we need to be aware of and deal with, but it was inevitable and also held out a huge promise of progress for freedom, liberty and deomcracy and all that gooey good stuff our Preznit loves to talk about. The thinking went that capitalism held the keys to liberation and that while we were embarking on a somewhat unknown track, we had faith that our economic and political systems would win out as long as we were engaged.

Then along came 9/11 and "changed everything." The PNAC neocon crowd, who had always dissented from that argument, held sway with their belief that the US had to expand its influence through the use of hard power and force the gooey good stuff because otherwise it wouldn't happen.

They did not understand that it's our "idea" that is the compelling thing, not our awesome military and economic might, which exists not to spread freedom but to protect it. They have faith in their own ideology and their own power, but they have no faith in what this country stands for. Their reliance on things like torture bears that out. That is the fundamental error.
For a free trade liberal like myself the frustration with Bush has almost been unbearable. This Project put together to insure a New American Century, in my opinion, is insuring the opposite. For those that don't know about PNAC, here is the web site. Here is the Statement of Principles written by the group back in 1997; see if you recognize any of the members. Here is the letter on Iraq they sent to Clinton back in 1998; see how much 9/11 "changed everything" in their world view. Not much.

Basically, these guys are a bunch of paranoid cowards who think the world is gonna get'um unless they shoot first. To them, 9/11 confirmed their worst nightmares. But they have no faith in ordinary people, only the all powerful state, which is why they just can't get their minds around the fact 9/11 was caused by a few fanatics unconnected to any state power. It also explains why they don't trust the power of open markets and free trade to promote liberty and bring down tyrants. American conservatives usually believe in all this stuff, after all it is largely the liberal American heritage of the Enlightenment they are conserving. Perhaps this is the difference between a conservative and a neoconservative.