Eric Hoffer, the “Longshoreman Philosopher” has revealed that his best ideas came during work. (Indeed, he was a dockworker when he developed his best seller The True Believer). The insight to be shared struck me while I absolved my daily six mile in-line-skating that serves as a break in my weight-lifting program. Since getting to the run’s venue involves some motor biking, the brain’s creative nerve-endings are truly stimulated. Or could it be the anticipation of the beer that is the reward of the fulfillment of the day’s business?
The matter that captured my attention was the outcome of the elections in Slovakia. (Possibly, “Slovakia” triggers your finger to look for another entry. Resist the impulse! Admittedly, the country might not be marked as “important” in your topic list. The “Slovakias”, however, should be rated. The hundred million central Europeans have, being the stage on which two world wars were performed, some newsworthiness.)
Generally, governments that are voted out are ones whose international reputation is miserable. In this case everything is the way it should not be. Mr. Dzurinda’s government has been inundated with more international praise than a salad gets dressing from a well-tipped waiter. Note that the tribute extended did not express the dictate of political correctness; it was earned by a once laggard country’s excellent economic performance. It is this success that dug the premier’s political grave.
What did the dismissed government do? For one thing it reduced unemployment from 18 to 11%. That came about by cutting the time it took to establish a business. At the same time a flat tax of 19% was introduced. Thanks to that the country is becoming one with the highest per capita production of (quality) automobiles. Even Hungary’s entrepreneurs – although they are disliked in Slovakia – began to leave their originally leading homeland in terms of “Foreign Direct Investment” in favor of Slovakia. The more so since the personal income tax rate there is expected to move to 15%. Indeed, there was an economic miracle in the making. Given a bit more time the fact would have gained recognition beyond the circle of the economically astute. So the question is what derailed the well-running choo-choo-train?
Ever since the stone age, modernization has had numerous detractors as it entails creative destruction. The demise of outdated industries makes place for new enterprises that ultimately absorb more people under improved terms than the superceded undertakings did. There is no way to deny that, for those caught in redundant industries, the pain of the dislocation must have outweighed the benefits extended by what was emerging. Traversing from the safe arid shore to the one where Eden lay meant getting wet. Perennially, whatever was presumed to guarantee the shaky “security” of the known, represented a desirable alternative to the success to be retrieved by passing through the dark forest of the new, the unknown. If you consider outcomes, then the achieving societies were the ones that chose to take the pioneering risks that brought their success. In these cases the groups that had a vision and the courage to pursue it could assert themselves against organized interests that detected their well-being imbedded in immobility.
Socialists of the international (Communists) and national (Nazi) variety, as well as their mutations that now emerge in places such as Bolivia and Venezuela, have something in common with the reactionary stand-patters that misuse the term “conservative.” They all pledge to protect those whose existence appears to be challenged. This is akin to promising Eskimos not better igloos but tropical weather. Indeed, those who feel as the losers of modernization are easily organized into movements. These promise to maintain their clients’ accustomed economic well-being; not by helping them to grab the new rainbows that appear but by using state-power marshaled by such parties to cater to “angst.” Such protection implies defying economic and social forces by political power. (Note the dictatorial implications.) The longer this is done the greater the “developmental lag” and the relative poverty of the protected. Once the inevitable adjustment can not be avoided the postponed piecemeal modifications will take the form of a deluge. The price of missed opportunities will include the accrued interest-on-the-interest added.
At this stage the account confronts the reader with two components that do not quite match about the real story behind a small news item. On the one hand there is a successful government facilitated program achieving re-connection to the progressive world. On the other we have a majority decision that might hand power to those promising to undo the policies that began to work for an increasing number of people. What explains this decision that is not the rejection of a plan that might not be fully understood but of an applied policy that worked?
It seems that the connecting link is the tradition of Socialism the way it was practiced regionally. Marx’ theory was a product of the 19th century. Whatever the ”sons of Marx” practiced decades after the forecast proved to be (a) wrong for the economy but (b) right for the grabbing and misuse of power, was necessarily out of tune with its time. Misunderstanding the real world, capital was replaced by artificially cheapened labor and modern technology with large enterprises producing outdated products with antediluvian equipment. Since Marx assumed that value is created alone by the labor sunk into products, this made sense. The result was a third world economy that, due to the political decisions of those who controlled the means of production and commanded the masses, got caught up in an armament-related competition with progressive economies.
Once the race was lost in 1989 some countries and some regions of the Inner- and Outer Soviet Empire were economically in a desolate state within their retarded zone. Essentially these regions entered the twenty-first century with slightly improved versions of the manufacturing establishments of the 19th. Eastern Slovakia evolved under the forced industrialization schemes of the Communist government into such an area – akin to numerous duplicates in other “people’s democracies.” Being forced after 1989 to produce under modern conditions (fulfilling demands for a competitive price) the enterprises disappeared. Left behind is a structural unemployment of 28%.
Such blighted areas constitute the reservoir from which the votes of the weird left and the wrong right are coming from. For instance, Hungary’s election this spring is the product of such forces. Here a reference that might have been too oblique needs emphasis. The economic disaster inherited from Socialism is not only working in favor of a “know-nothing” Left that is often chauvinistic. It is part of the burden of this past that, some of those that oppose the Socialists, are just as confused as is the Left. In fact their attitude regarding modernization, “globalization” capital and so on matches that of their foes. In this case a somewhat Weimaresque situation prevails. The leftist and rightists nuts that challenged the system were then (except for their flags) compatible and thus, regardless of their claim no alternative to each other.
Free elections that bring the “wrong” results have an explanation that goes beyond the predicament derived from misdirected development. The root of the problem is not the objective difficulties on the ground. The real trouble is in the heads which prevents dealing rationally with the mess that blocks the road forward.
Briefly put, the clouding of the collective consciousness takes place in two areas. One of these is social-political. In the mind of the average person freedom is an abstraction like the Red Nosed Reindeer that occasionally drops gifts. Liberty is therefore something that should “give.” That it is a condition that enables one to “get” something by being allowed to “go after it” is not wide spread. Furthermore, freedom is viewed as the right to do as one pleases and to get away with it. Dictatorship might be a lesser enemy of liberty than is its confusion with license.
The second source fogging the collective mind comes from the failure to understand economics. How successful societies came about and what maintains them is not only shrouded in mystery but is wrapped in falsehood. The man on the street has been conditioned to assume that economics is really the “dismal science,” meaning that the ruin of one is the precondition of the well-being of another. That good transactions are mutually beneficial and not one-sidedly exploitative is an unknown principle. Thereby the entrepreneur is suspect as a thief and openly profit-seeking local undertakings – especially foreign ones – appear as crooked. (The local proof is: ”if it would not be so they would not be here.”)
This mind-set, as well as the abundance of the “wrong skills,” is coupled to the belief that by taking it, the state can create the wealth to be distributed. Thereby a voting block is created that wants guaranteed hand-outs secured by political power that can defy economics. In the mind of those who think this way the bad thing about Socialism was not what made it wobbly at best and evil at worst. The old system’s negative appears to be that that the wrong people (those who had the power) did not use it for the benefit of the right folks. So voting to get something that no one can give only promise, appears to be a viable course to follow. It is also an alternative to the hard and not comprehended possibility to construct a system which guarantees the conditions that make the pursuit of happiness possible.