“Economic freedom is a necessary condition for personal liberty; therefore right wing authoritarianism is always better than left wing authoritarianism because it preserves a degree of economic liberty.” So wrote Miguel Pinochet in a far reaching and challenging Facebook exchange that I had a couple of years ago with the Chilean legislator and nephew of the former dictator.
I was incredulous, but he proceeded to methodically lay out his case, not for the horrors of his uncle’s regime, which he readily acknowledged, but for an understanding of the qualitative difference between the Chilean experience and that of the many of her neighbors.
Today, Chile is the bright light of South America. While many countries have labored under leftist (and dubiously democratic) regimes, Chile continues to hum towards becoming the continent’s only “first-world nation.” What has set this skinny sliver of land on such a dramatically different path? While not comfortable to admit, it has a lot to do with Augusto Pinochet’s otherwise profoundly evil reign.
As your heads explode and you prepare to pen angry email denunciations of me, permit me to draw some important distinctions between supporting ANY anti-democratic regime and understanding why economic freedom is the great hope of EVERY person who lives under such governments; as well as the lesson that we can all take from their experience.
One of the most fundamental tenets of international economic development is that the economic system of a country must encourage the development and growth of a middle class. The relative economic health and civil rights respect of a nation tends to roughly correlate to the health and wealth of its middle class. Countries with robust middle class populations usually have more democracy, fewer human rights abuses and tend towards a more liberal approach (in the classical sense) to balancing the interests of the State and the interests of the individual.
The tenet holds that in order to have a modicum of respect for human rights; nations need that middle class to not only exist, but to have sufficient free time and capital to generate “pushback” against government overreach. Absent a middle class and the non-governmental institutions that develop around it, there is simply no counter-balance to the unchecked power of the State. This result is an unchallengeable government monopoly on power and…witnesses 20th century communism or most of Latin America today.
Given this, we begin to see the distinction made by Miguel Pinochet start to make logical sense. The effect of unchecked leftist power is as predictable as it is sad. The first order of all leftist regimes, whether out of a genuine desire to help the poor and remake society for the better (Morales, Mujica, Chinchilla) or a Machiavellian need to destroy their opposition as a function of maintaining power (Chavez/Maduro, Correa, Ortega), is to curtail and eventually destroy the purchasing power of the middle class. By eliminating the free time and resources of the people and their private institutions, the State consumes and co-opts the mechanisms of wealth creation and thus the power to oppose them.
By contrast, right wing regimes, even brutal ones such as Pinochet’s, maintain the private ownership of property and resources and thus the people’s ability to push back and even, as was the case with Chile, to resume normal democratic order in time without a great deal of social upheaval.
In case after case, nation after nation, we see a similar dynamic. Economic liberty is, indeed, a necessary condition for civil rights because without it, civil rights cannot stand against the raw, unchecked power of the State.
So it is that when I am asked why I am a Republican despite being critical of my own party and deferential to many of the civil liberties arguments of the left, the answer is simple: the GOP is more likely to support and maintain some degree of private property and economic liberty. Without that, there are no Democrats and there are no Republicans, there is just the State and the serfs who labor under its yoke.