“China Approves Property Law Strengthening Its Middle Class” – March 2007 New York Times headline of article announcing China’s first law protecting private property.
“The whole theme of the last century and of Einstein’s life is about people who fled oppression in order to go places to think and express themselves.” – Walter Isaacson, author of Einstein: His Life and Universe.
“The case for trade is not just monetary, but moral. The case for freedom creates habits of liberty. And habits of liberty create expectations of democracy.” – George W. Bush.
What is all of this about? It is about the theme of the 21st century, which I think, far beyond Einstein’s 20th century, will prove to have witnessed the liberation of more people than in all of world history to date. China’s announcement was but a validation of what had already become a fait accompli on the ground with many millions of its people, and the party elites there will not be able to avoid the continuing march toward the consent of the governed in their public life. Likewise, although it is very difficult to be optimistic at this point and it will be a bloody road, Islamofascism will join the 20th century forms of totalitarianism in the dustbin of history, ultimately falling before the relentless pursuit of freedom.
Who has set this example? No contest—Western civilization, primarily the English-speaking peoples, as explained by the moral philosophy of Adam Smith: pursuit of self interest, division of labor, and freedom of trade. And, as P. J. O’Rourke explains so well in a recent Forbes article on Networks, Smith saw clearly that the free market answered liberty’s need for a larger network of voluntary associations. And he also understood that these networks are what make the free market moral as well as free. He may not have imagined Amazon and Google, but he knew that everything would depend on freedom.
This is the reason I cannot understand why so many reasonable people are so inclined to bash Wal-Mart. Sure, I understand their concern with the encroachment on traditional distribution systems and the disruption they can bring to communities. But the history of human freedom is paved by disruption and Schumpeter’s “creative destruction”. Wal-Mart has become the world-wide model for the creative destruction of state run monopolies and the liberator of the dispossessed, and it has probably already saved more lives and lifted more people out of poverty than the United Nations could dream of. We need much more of this model, not less, and places like Russia could stand a large dose right now!