Sean Gabb, director of the UK’s Libertarian Alliance, has penned a quite interesting and eloquent Christmas Greeting, unlike others “from religious and political leaders from around the world,” which “range from the vacuous (Her Majesty the Queen), to the impressively malevolent, so long as the volume is turned down (the Bishop of Rome), to the plain stupid (the Archbishop of Canterbury).”
Gabb’s column is quite remarkable and full of subtle insights and sound, sober reasoning. He seems to be have the appropriate mixture of pessimism and optimism, and many of his suggestions mirrored or crystallized some thoughts I’ve had–on China and the relative prosperity of the West, and other matters.
I liked Gabb’s observations about the possibility and hope that technological progress can help to continue to drive the underlying engine of economic prosperity despite the state’s regulations and parasitism:
Here, though, is an end of my gloom. Much is bad now, and will get worse in the next few years. So long, however, as we can avoid a collapse into totalitarianism, the future is nowhere near so bleak as we are presently assured. Scientific and technical progress continue at the most wonderful speed. Sooner or later, there will be a renewed scramble to bring the results to market, and our lives will be still further enriched–and this time, I hope, considerably extended.
As for China’s much-ballyhooed coming economic dominance, from my business dealings with that country and region over the last decade, I’ve become more and more skeptical of this. They’ve improved so much, in part, because they were so far down due to communism; loosening the chains a bit can easily double or quadruple GDP in a short time. But the corruption, the entrenched regulatory-state mindset, the lack of a liberalized property rights institutional history and framework, along with certain widespread character traits, I think are severe barriers to China catching or surpassing the US or Europe in economic terms. I’ve begun to think India has a better shot, given its better English skills and British-imposed legal and property institutions, but even they seem to be a basket case. While there are smaller economies that may be superior to the West, such as Singapore, there seems to me to be no serious large challenger to the US’s economic dominance. Despite our flaws, America and Western Europe are still head and shoulders above all other large economies, and this can continue to be manipulated to our advantage. Gabb has some similar thoughts:
And there need be no relative decline of the West. We have been told for years–usually by self-righteous lefties, gloating over a fall that they assume they and their families can personally avoid sharing–that the coming economic giants of this century are China and perhaps India. This is as fatuous as earlier claims about Japan. If you type the phrase “population pyramids” into Google, the first result will be an American Government website showing how the population of every country in the world is, and will be, distributed by age. Until we know how to extend not merely life but also youth, the most dynamic people in any country will be aged between twenty five and forty five. In England and in America, this age group will predominate throughout the present century. In the Orient, every developing country is following the Japanese pattern of rapid ageing, followed by actual decline of population. The Japanese at least reached Western standards of living before they stopped having children. The Chinese may simply grow old before they get rich. After a fashion, China has been getting richer for about thirty years. We shall see how long that can continue once the majority of the population is over the age of fifty, and have neither savings nor children to support them in old age.
I’ve noted elsewhere (Dyslexic Vandarchists of the World–Untie!, Left Anarchists and Progressive Taxation, The Over-reliance on State Classifications) that some of the “left-libertarians” seem to overshoot when they attack the state-support of industry and industry’s manipulation of the state to the detriment of competition, consumers, and workers–in vulgar anti-capitalist fashion, they go so far as to accuse even nominally peaceful and productive companies, like Macy’s and Wal-Mart, of not being genuine owners of their own property and thus subject to vandalism, squatting, etc. In Gabb’s column, he turns the tables and criticizes the more totalitarianism Chinese intermixing of state and commerce:
And China has been getting richer only after a fashion. About thirty years ago, its Communist rulers decided to turn the country into one big sweatshop, supplying the West on razor thin profit margins. They managed this by unlimited force. Ordinary working people in China have been ruthlessly exploited. With the banning of real trade unions, and with generally oppressive contracts of employment, labour there is free only in the nominal sense. Otherwise, costs have been socialised for favoured companies; and competitiveness has been maintained by an undervalued exchange rate. Look beyond those glittering towers built for the ruling class and its foreign partners, and you find endless and increasing misery.