Underdeveloping a Libertarian Paradise
I’m currently on a research trip in Kenya, so have been following the news of the debt crisis from afar. In a country, and a region, currently facing a real crisis of famine, in part caused by the inability or unwillingness of various regional governments to prepare for the third drought season in a row, the fake crisis manufactured by extremist politicians in the US does seem a bit silly (silly, but still with wide ramifications, as an article in the Kenya Daily Nation argues). But in both cases, the unwillingness of governments to put governance before politics is marked, as this political cartoon reveals.
Not long ago, a blog I follow posted this video, a tourism video for a ‘libertarian paradise.’
When travelling or working in Africa, Asia, South America, and other parts of the so-called ‘developing’ world, the things that mark countries as ‘more’ or ‘less’ developed tend to have to do with governance, public accountability, rule of law, provision of services, protection of minorities, etc. These are the values of liberalism abroad. Because businesses and societies have trouble functioning when the state does not provide the infrastructure to move goods around the country; sanitation, electricity, and water systems that work reliably; a postal service to reliably interact with a global world; free schools and libraries so that people from all backgrounds have an equal opportunity for social mobility; rule of law to ensure that corruption does not derail the development of new industries, building projects, and public services; basic public health services so that employers and employees are not driven into bankruptcy by preventable diseases; a safety net for those who lose their jobs so that they and their children can continue to eat and maintain dignity; and security and regulations to ensure that citizens can go about their daily business unharassed by internal or external threats and protected from harmful practices. These are the factors that allow local businesses to develop and bring in foreign, skilled based investments – the type that create jobs. And for all this you need revenue and effective and fair tax collection.
This is what we expect of other countries in order for them to be considered ‘developed.’ The World Bank, for instance, in its development funding for Liberia, celebrates that
the Bank has played a major role in supporting the rehabilitation of basic transport infrastructure…
Bank support has helped the Monrovia City Corporation collect and dispose of 35% solid waste in the city…
IFC is supporting improvements in the regulatory environment and supports investment generation through direct support to sector ministries and a public-private dialogue through the Liberian Better Business Forum….
Most CAS social protection milestones have been achieved through successful government implementation of quick-impact social protection measures to mitigate the negative effects of the food crisis. For example, a school-feeding program operation in five counties in southeast Liberia in 2008/09 benefitted over 62,000 students from both pre-school and primary levels. A cash-for-work program implemented by the Liberia Agency for Community Empowerment (LACE) benefitted 17,000 people, including in marginalized urban areas, where unrest is a significant threat. In addition, the Community Empowerment Project in Liberia has successfully enhanced community cohesion, social capital and community infrastructure. To date, LACE has completed 155 infrastructures, including schools, health clinics, markets, bridges and culverts, and improved water and sanitation sites, throughout Liberia’s 15 counties. Approximately 2,750 community members and local government authorities also have received training from LACE on project management, as well as conflict resolution and reconciliation.
In the 21st century, we accept that the government’s role – even a limited, World Bank, capital-L-liberal style government – extends into realms that Tea Partiers and their Congressional advocates consider ‘socialist’.
Now, I agree that the government in the US probably pays a lot for things it doesn’t need: oodles of nuclear weapons; pensions for federal employees who retire at the age of 50; contracts to Halliburton for wars we don’t need to fight; farm subsidies for foods we don’t need to eat…. But the idea that ‘we don’t want the government to do anything’ is not only absurd, it’s not what ‘developed’, or even ‘developing’ countries do. Which is why the tourism ad for Somalia is funny (and sad): who wants to live in an ‘under-developed’ country?
Kenya and Somalia may be neighbors and may both be suffering the effects of the drought and subsequent famine, but they are worlds apart. Why? Mostly because Kenya has a functioning government. It’s not perfect, of course: there’s lots of corruption and desperate poverty and crime, there are natural disasters and power cuts. But there is also tax-payer money (both private and corporate) that keeps the cities clean and presentable (street sweepers), traffic flowing (traffic cops and traffic signal repairmen), archives, libraries and (free) schools running, and ultimately, businesses working. So if Republican politicians are serious about getting private business back on line in America, rather than gutting our government, maybe they should consider some of the public sector investments taking place in Africa.