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U.S. Economic Freedom Hits Historic Low...
The United States is no longer among the world’s top 15 freest economies. In fact, according to an annual index released by the Heritage Foundation on Wednesday, the U.S. fell from being the sixth-freest economy in the world when President Barack Obama took office in 2009 to being the 17th freest economy in the world today.
The U.S. economic freedom score for 2017 was 75.1 out of 100. This means economic freedom in the U.S. has fallen to its lowest level since the Heritage Foundation started keeping track in 1995. America now ranks behind such nations as Chile, Estonia, Hong Kong, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates. Since the Heritage Foundation ranks countries with scores above 80 as economically “free,” it has only ranked the U.S. as “mostly free” since 2009.
The Heritage economic freedom index is calculated based on 12 factors of economic freedom, including property rights, government spending, freedom from corruption, fiscal freedom, monetary freedom, business freedom, labor freedom, trade freedom, investment freedom and financial freedom. The 2017 report lists large budget deficits, an enormous national debt, a substantial expansion of government bureaucracy and an increased tax burden as contributing factors to the decline in America’s economic freedom.
Another index of economic freedom, published by the Fraser Institute, shows that the U.S. fell from being second freest economy in 1980 to being the 16th freest economy in 2014. According to this assessment, U.S. economic freedom actually rose from 1980 to 2000 but has been in steady decline since the turn of the millennium.
The Fraser Institute reports that the U.S. economic freedom index fell from 8.07 to 7.75 between 1980 and 2014, while China’s economic freedom index rose from 3.64 to 6.45 during the same time period. As the U.S. turns its back on Adam Smith-style capitalism and China turns its back on Mao Zedong-style communism, both nations are adopting a mixed socialist market economy where property is privately owned but micromanaged by government bureaucrats.
Germany and most members of the European Union also have economic freedom scores in the “moderately free” zone, a category associated with mixed socialist market economies and authoritarian bureaucracies.
For the past two centuries, the form of government championed by Britain and America—a form of government that has at its heart some important biblical principles—has spread throughout the Western world. Yet, in recent years, nations around the globe have been turning their back on the Anglo-American methods of economic management.
Even many key American officials have adopted an approach similar to Barack Obama’s philosophy that nations should not debate the ideologies of capitalism and communism, but instead should pursue a mixed economy that uses bits of Communist theory and bits of capitalist theory.
Democracy Is Dying
By Richard Palmer
Across the world, democracy is dying. Self-government—once viewed as the ideal of freedom and the only way to fairly administer a country—to the younger generation has become “meh.”
In the United States, only 30 percent of those born in the 1980s say it is “essential” to live in a democracy, according to data from the World Values Survey (1995–2014). Only 19 percent of them say a military takeover, in the case of the government being incompetent or failing to do its job, is not legitimate in a democracy. Only one third of them say civil rights are “absolutely essential.” In 2015, one in six said they were fine with a military coup. (In 1995, that number was one in 16.) A 2011 survey found that nearly a quarter of young people thought democracy was a “bad” or “very bad” way to run the country.
“Three decades ago, most scholars simply assumed that the Soviet Union would remain stable,” wrote Roberto Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk—the academics who compiled these statistics—in the Journal of Democracy. “This assumption was suddenly proven false. Today, we have even greater confidence in the durability of the world’s affluent, consolidated democracies. But do we have good grounds for our democratic self-confidence?” (July 2016).
“What we find is deeply concerning,” they warned. “Citizens in a number of supposedly consolidated democracies in North America and Western Europe have not only grown more critical of their political leaders. Rather, they have also become more cynical about the value of democracy as a political system, less hopeful that anything they do might influence public policy, and more willing to express support for authoritarian alternatives. The crisis of democratic legitimacy extends across a much wider set of indicators than previously appreciated.”
Similar data shows the same trend forming in Sweden, Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
The death of democracy has already gone beyond the theoretical. It is affecting ballot boxes across the world. Everywhere you look, you clearly see early warning signs of the death of democracy. And biblical prophecy strongly indicates that this trend is going to accelerate.
Since World War ii, the Western world has come to a consensus on what a democracy should look like: a system of government that has been termed liberal democracy. The West dreamed of spreading this enlightened ideal of representative self-government around the world, pushing back socialism, communism and/or dictatorships and tyrannies and giving everyone worldwide the freedom to govern themselves.
But not only has the West failed to export its prized product, it is rotting on its own shelves. Democracy in Britain, Europe, America and beyond is crumbling. This has been visible in decade-long trends and in recent elections. And it is more than a rejection of certain politicians or parties. It shows a world no longer happy with the way government works, even in free societies. It shows a world where voters are so dissatisfied with democracy that they are willing to conduct live experiments on themselves with alternative and even radical forms of government.
One alternative is the pirates. On Oct. 29, 2016, pirates came close to taking over Iceland. These were not literal pirates, but the Icelandic Pirate Party.
The pirate movement is one of the newest in politics. It morphed from a protest against restrictive online copyright enforcement to a political movement, promoting the right to privacy, government transparency and free speech.
The party was founded just four years ago, but in October it won 15 percent of the vote, making it the third most popular party in Iceland. That’s explosive growth.
Like almost everywhere else in the world, it’s easy to see why Icelandic voters have so forcefully rejected politics as usual. Earlier in 2016, the Panama papers revealed massive corruption at the top of Iceland’s government, leading to the resignation of the prime minister.
A key platform of the pirate parties in Iceland and across Europe—and the biggest way they reject “liberal democracy”—is their support for direct democracy. Just about all of the West’s liberal democracies are representative democracies. The people choose a representative; the representative is charged with lawmaking, judging or administering the way that he thinks best within the constitution; and if voters disagree, they vote him out at the end of his term—if not sooner.
But when elected representatives are as corrupt as the Panama papers, Wikileaks and other leaks reveal, it’s easy to see why voters want something different. Under direct democracy, citizens vote directly on the policies themselves, cutting out the middleman.
Beppe Grillo, the former comedian who is looking more and more like the future prime minister of Italy, leads a direct democracy group: the Five Star Movement. The Netherlands passed a law last year that allows petitions to trigger referenda on legislation.
At the same time the pirates assaulted Iceland, a farmers’ party stormed to power in Lithuania in two rounds of elections, held on October 9 and 23. Before the election, the Peasant and Greens Union held just one seat in parliament. Now it is the largest party, with 54.
Once again there is a new party; once again people are fed up with politics as usual. But instead of giving the people more power, this coalition wants to give them less. One of the core policies of the Peasant and Greens Union is to create a technocratic government. Because elected politicians have made a big mess, it reasons, Lithuania needs to appoint experts to deal with it.
This too is an idea that has spread far and is gaining more popularity after America’s presidential election. “The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States may have signaled the death of the closest thing we have to a religion in politics,” wrote former British Conservative mp Matthew Parris. “On both sides of the Atlantic, democracy risks being knocked from the high altar as an unmitigated and unquestioned good” (Spectator, Nov. 9, 2016).
Jason Brennan, a political philosopher at Georgetown University, has just written a book called Against Democracy. He advocates instead for an epistocracy—meaning rule by the knowledgeable. “Trump’s victory is the victory of the uninformed,” he wrote in Foreign Policy. “But, to be fair, Clinton’s victory would also have been. Democracy is the rule of the people, but the people are in many ways unfit to rule” (Nov. 10, 2016).
Clearly, it’s not just young people souring on democracy. Many of the elites have too.
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are really part of this same movement. The European Union has followed this approach for decades. In America, politicians from both sides of the aisle have allowed the number of unelected bureaucrats in America to grow to the point that over 2.5 million non-military personnel now work in the executive branch. They are appointed, not elected. Yet this sprawling mass of bureaucrats includes myriad agencies that have the power to pass laws, try cases and enforce punishments. They call these laws “regulations.” And the average citizen has little to no recourse against this bureaucratic state.
The more control these bureaucrats have, the less control the people have. The natural allies of bureaucrats, technocrats, epistocrats and their related synonyms are leftists, because they all want the same solution: big government.
But not everyone is happy about big government. And the fight-back is leading to another movement: “illiberal democracy.” This was a term used by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to describe those who, like himself and Donald Trump, are democratic but reject many of the norms of the modern Western state. They do things that some consider beyond the pale, things that democratic leaders should never do, no matter how strong their mandate.
These “illiberal” democracies tend to be built around strongmen: leaders who are democratically elected but who greatly emphasize their personal power to solve their nation’s problems.
In many ways, this is the hardest trend to describe, because so much is distorted. The left has gained control of many of the levers of power in liberal democracy. It has used the bureaucracies, the judiciaries, the media, the schools and even central banks to move nations to the left. When leaders on the right want to change their country’s direction, they can only do so by “interfering” with the leftist policies of these bureaucracies, judiciaries, government-owned broadcasters, etc. When they do this, the left screams blue murder.
But all this crying wolf is dangerous. It makes it hard to see where leaders are just pushing back against leftist control, and where they are genuinely altering the government toward illiberalism or oppression. Hungary and Poland are two governments singled out as being “illiberal democracies.” Are they truly illiberal? There is certainly some concerning news. But with all the heated rhetoric, it’s hard to tell what is really going on. A person is not a Nazi because he criticizes the decision-making of a central bank or because he wants to see an out-of-control supreme court reined in. The left’s smears against Poland, Hungary and the Trump administration make it harder to detect if and when these governments do, in fact, take actions that are genuinely dangerous.
These movements all feed off each other. The more the elites take power, the more people are determined to take it back, and vice versa.
Italy was forced into a technocratic government from 2011 to 2013. During that time, the direct democracy-supporting Five Star Movement exploded in popularity in a major reaction against technocracy. The first time the Dutch used their new powers of direct democracy, it was to strike down an EU treaty with Ukraine—a strike aimed at the technocrats in the EU. However, the technocrats quickly began working on a method they hope the Dutch government will use to ignore the vote.
Many in Britain hate the EU for its anti-democratic nature and elitism. And when Britain voted to leave in a rare instance reminiscent of direct democracy, this only proved to the elites that the people do not deserve and cannot handle the power to govern themselves.
Direct democracy and illiberal democracy have some common ground. One wants to give power directly to the people, whereas the other trusts a single individual to smash the status quo. But both are quickly opposed by the elites. The elites oppose the “illiberals” or “the people” grabbing power, so they seek to grab more power back—and must become more extreme in order to do so.
These countries are just examples from the most recent elections. They are not rare. A new political party winning support in a European nation has become so common that it barely makes the news. Greece, Lithuania, Iceland, Portugal, Spain, France, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden are all major examples of this trend. That represents a lot of people who are dangerously dissatisfied with the status quo of modern democracy.
It is important to recognize that one can make legitimately strong criticisms about all these alternatives. America’s founders rejected direct democracy for good reasons. Rule by elites concentrates power in the hands of the few; the best-laid plans of expert bureaucrats gang aft agley—go often askew. As F. A. Hayek put it, “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.” Strongmen can, and often have, become strong dictators.
Still, none of these movements are Nazis. All are supported by well-meaning people, most of whom would protest any suggestion that they are anti-democratic. But their support all rises from some kind of sense that the system is broken, and that we need to make big changes to the way we’re doing things. They share many views of the 25 percent of young people who believe that democracy is “bad,” even if they might reject that conclusion. They are all symptoms of the deep dissatisfaction with the way Western government works, and the sense that democracy has let us down.
Once even a significant minority starts to lose hope in democracy, the trend is hard to stop. It creates its own vicious cycle. In the 1930s, upstart parties rose with similar speed to those that are rising today. Their rise meant the established parties no longer held enough votes to form governments, and the regular coalitions no longer worked. Democracies became even more dysfunctional, more people became convinced of the need for something else, and the spiral worsened.
Furthermore, the problems building in today’s world will only get worse. Europe’s economic crisis continues to rumble on with no sign of a solution. Parts of Europe are stagnating, with Great Depression levels of unemployment. Even Germany, Europe’s engine of growth, seems likely to encounter an economic crisis. America is swimming in debt and is poised for disaster.
If masses are rejecting the system now, how much worse will the situation get when millions more find themselves without work? When millions of families have real worries about whether they’ll be able to keep their home?
Returning to the academics we started with, Public Radio International reported on an interview with Yascha Mounk, writing, “Mounk believes at least part of the explanation for the disenchantment with democracy is economic. Most citizens of established liberal democracies have been contending with stagnant or falling incomes for the past 20 or 30 years. They may believe the system has failed them, while their children face an even more uncertain future” (Nov. 29, 2016).
An economic crash would make that future radically less certain. And the sense that the system has failed would explode into chaos or anarchy.
Why Governments Fail
The global dissatisfaction ties in with a great many forecasts that the Poor Man has made for a decade: the breakdown of the political order in the United States; the rise of strongmen in Asia; Europe’s turn toward nationalism; the creation of a new, undemocratic European superstate.
Underlying all this is a simple cause: Man simply has no good way of ruling over man. He does not have the capacity. None of man’s governments has created or can create peace, stability and order. We are now seeing the latest round of men deciding that yesterday’s perfect ideal of a system has failed, and scurrying around to find tomorrow’s new ideal.
It is a failure not of politics but of human nature. No system eliminates greed and selfishness.
But that doesn’t mean that all systems of government are equally bad. Some do a much better job than others of restraining selfish human nature.
A simple understanding of history should warn of the dangers in rejecting liberal democracy and embracing alternatives. Looking at the broad sweep of history, most people in the West have never had it so good. The vast majority of mankind for the vast majority of history has lacked the freedoms that most of us take for granted.
As Winston Churchill put it, “Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
America’s Founding Fathers knew some of the problems with human nature. They designed a system of government that would restrain it. Government in the rest of the English-speaking world and beyond grew out of a similar tradition. After World War ii, many of the rest of the world’s democracies were founded on similar principles.
All these alternatives to liberal democracy fail to protect from the dangers of human nature. Illiberal democracy concentrates power in one strongman and frees him of checks and balances. That’s great if that man has little of the selfish, greedy, corrupt human nature. And what if that power corrupts him? It always does. And what about his successor? Technocracy gives power to a few elites, again, with few checks or balances. They become a gang of heavyweights that is almost impossible to rein in—without resorting to a strongman. Yet these experts still have the same human nature that has given liberal democracy such a bad rap.
Direct democracy is the least tried of all the alternatives. Its experiment in ancient Greece was an absolute disaster. Direct democracy—mob rule—has proven dangerous and volatile. Regardless of how it would work in practice in a modern setting, it certainly would not solve the problems caused by human nature.
History and human nature, then, warn us to beware. Bible prophecy gives us an even more specific reason.
A Dangerous Ending
The last two centuries have been Anglo-American centuries. The form of government championed by these nations—a form of government that has at its heart some important biblical principles—has spread throughout the Western world.
This global falling out with the Anglo-American method of government is in tandem with the decline of Britain and America.
Now, we are witnessing the final failures of these man-devised governments. Human experiments in government have ultimately failed, every single time. And today’s radical experiments on live patients in a world full of terror and weapons of mass destruction will culminate in the ultimate lesson: Human beings actually are incapable of governing themselves.
This final failure will force us to accept that fact. The rise of pirates, peasants and Donald Trump shows that we are desperate for alternatives. We are not yet desperate enough to consider the government of God as an alternative. But when this experiment finally ends, we will be.
From the February 2017 Trumpet Print Edition and the Poor Man Survivor
Yours for another revolution,
Bruce ‘the Poor Man’
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