March 13, 2004

The World's Problems (Condensed)

WE WERE TALKING with Andrew Dodge some time ago, when he mentioned we ought to do as his site had done, and take a look at the world's five greatest problems. We were quite enthusiastic about this endeavor, and would have written about it post-haste if we hadn't had our bout with sinus troubles. Constantly feeling as if one has been hit in the head with a large polo mallet is not, sadly, conducive to the creative process.

In any event, we gave Mr Dodge's proposal much thought, and after some time decided that we ought to try our hand at it. So here goes: our listing of the five great problems in the world.

1. Lack of the Rule of Law

This may seem an unusual Item No. 1., but as we see it, much of the world's problems have this as their root cause. Furthermore, we would say that if this problem was fully resolved around the world, a great many of the issues most of humanity experiences today -- poverty, corruption, forced migration, etc., -- would be notably reduced.

There are a great many reasons why the lack of the rule of law is so widespread. There is political instability, of course, which does not lend itself to a functioning legal system. On the other extreme, you have dictatorial Governments which for all intents and purposes rule by fiat. But much of the world lies somewhere in the middle: there is a recognized legal system, but it is so badly-administered, burdensome and corrupt that people find it far easier or just necessary to work outside it.

The Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto has done the lion's share of the labor on this boring but amazingly important issue (see his "The Mystery of Capital" for much more on it).

The issue here is simple, and Mr de Soto does a masterful job of explaining it: illegal capital is not, to use one of our favorite words, fungible. That is, it can't be converted to other uses or purposes. Legal capital, on the other hand, can be. For instance, here in the United States, because a homeowner can prove his ownership via title, his home becomes fungible: he can get a home-equity line of credit, "cash out" equity if his home significantly appreciates in value, and so on. This does wonders for economic growth. But as Mr de Soto points out, so many people in this world go outside the legal route to buy homes, run businesses, and so on, that their capital is -- as he put it -- "dead."

The end result: trillions upon trillions of dollars worth of wealth exists in the Third World, and no one can get to it. Fix this problem, and we might just find that many other problems get fixed along with it.

2. Lack of Political Stability

This is related to the above, but itís generally a fair statement to say that in the absence of political stability, there is precious little economic stability to go along with it. An absence of economic stability leads to misery and general unpleasantness Ė and if that wasnít bad enough, has the potential to cause political instability to both neighboring nations and other places in the world.

3. Slavery

How many slaves exist today? We have seen estimates ranging from 27 million on the conservative end to 200 million on the liberal; and it is perhaps reasonable to say the reality in somewhere in the middle.

It takes many forms, of course, and outright slavery -- the actual buying and selling of persons -- is generally done only in secret. But there is also debt slavery and white slavery (that is, forced prostitution) and child slavery; and the fact this barbaric practice continues in this day and age is horrible. Since many of the nations where this takes place cannot or will not address the issue, we are hopeful our Government will -- and very strenuously.

4. Lack of Personal Freedom

The big five -- freedom of speech, press, assembly, religion and the right to petition the Government -- are sadly lacking in one way or another in most nations. We consider America the most free nation on Earth, and we very much hope other societies will follow our lead in this regard.

5. Lack of Migratory Freedom

We'll be honest -- we see no reason why any person on Earth, if said person is not happy with the way things are going in his country of residence, should not feel free to quit and go elsewhere; provided the elsewhere in question doesn't have a problem with it. Also, it would behoove nations to not tax their citizens up the wazoo if they decide to emigrate, and then keep taxing them after they've left. We don't know who came up with that particular idea -- well, actually, we do -- but we must say that it is awfully unfair.

However, with that said, we should stress that everyone everywhere ought always pay all the taxes they owe -- it's the right thing to do, first; and second, it is a very, very, very bad idea to annoy Governments with unlimited resources at their command. Don't give us that Kentucky forgot to sign the Sixteenth Amendment crap either. Just pay. Yes, we know from experience that paying self-employment tax is about as much fun as getting one's finger caught in a car door. Just pay. It will save you headaches down the line. This has been a public service announcement from Benjamin Kepple's Daily Rant.

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Postscript:

GIVEN THE EVENTS in Madrid this week -- to say nothing of the past three years -- we realize many readers may wonder why we have not included terrorism on the Top Five list above. Our thinking on that is as follows.

At the core of it, terrorism is only successful if a) it is sustained, b) it in itself results in bringing about the key objectives its practitioners wish to achieve and c) it brings about significant damage to the political or economic stability of a nation. On all counts, al-Qaeda and their ilk have failed miserably. As for Madrid, we can say that whomever was behind the Madrid blasts has incurred the wrath and enmity of hundreds of millions of people -- people who want nothing more than to tear those responsible to pieces. As such, while those terrorists may have killed 200 people, they have themselves put an end to their movement's ambitions, goals, and lives. If ETA was behind it, they're finished; and if al-Qaeda was behind it, it's well on its way to being finished.

That does not mean that constant vigilance against terrorism is not required. Because certain forms of terrorism could result in items A and C above, it is incumbent upon Governments to protect against it. And the human toll which a catastrophic attack brings is, of course, more than reason enough to guard against terrorist acts ever happening again.

However, because the Governments of the West have realized over the past three years that terrorism is something with which they ought to be very much concerned, we do not believe that terrorism will prove all that successful in future. If those who practice such barbarism have not yet got the message they will suffer the ultimate reprisal for their actions, they will get it -- in the form of a bullet.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at March 13, 2004 08:57 AM | TrackBack