* Originally posted on September 11, 2012.
Imagine a situation like this: majority of the people and voters in a society demand that healthcare, from medicines to hospitalization, is a right and an entitlement; that education, from books and tuition payment from elementary to tertiary to graduate studies, is a right and an entitlement; that housing and credit, is a right and an entitlement; that jobs and high minimum wage, is a right and an entitlement.
This means that even if a person has no work, or work a little then complain a lot, or simply does not want to work, he/she and family members should be entitled to all the above services to be provided by the government for free or at heavily subsidized rate. Because life is a right, and the main purpose of government is to ensure that all people, young and old, men and women, rich and poor, should have quality life in this planet.
That is pure populism. The popular and majority desire of the public. And that is dangerous. When majority of the people simply want more rights and entitlements, and they do not think that they also have responsibilities and obligations to finance and sustain those high expectations of rights and entitlements, then society can descend to socialism and large-scale confiscation of the income and savings of people who work harder and more efficiently than the rest. The result is not economic and political freedom but politics of envy and large-scale coercion and persecution of the minority who do not agree with such social arrangement.
This is a very timely subject as many countries and economies worldwide are plunging into heavy public debt problems as a result of decades upon decades of giving away so many subsidies and freebies to their citizens. Even if local revenues are not sufficient, public spending for welfare and other populist subsidy programs kept spiraling, and the gap between low revenues and high spending is financed by endless borrowings, year in and year out.
So the Economic Freedom Network (EFN) Asia (www.efnasia.org) will take this deep and complex issue in its annual conference this year to be held in Hong Kong from November 6 to 8, 2012. The theme of this big activity is How Welfare Populism Destroys Prosperity: The Populist Challenge to Economic Freedom.
The main sponsors of this important event are the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty (FNF, www.fnst.org) and the Lion Rock Institute (LRI,www.lionrockinstitute.org), a Hong Kong-based free market think tank.
The conference was premised on this concept:
… Populism is more emotional than factual, it is more hopeful than real. Populist politicians use fear, uncertainty, overwhelming complications, and anti-establishment attitude to generate mass appeal, and ultimately, to get into power.
In Asia… political leaders who want to challenge the status quo present themselves as champions of the masses. They employ populism primarily as a political strategy to gain popular vote by offering quick fixes and by applying simple solutions to complex problems. Through deficit spending and subsidies they shower the voters with benefits. Ultimately this creates unsustainable solutions. It is leaving the people far worse off than before because ultimately someone has to pay for these policies… Populist policies are reducing the freedom to trade, tighten economic regulations, and increase the size of government…
Among the speakers in the event are:
First row: 1. Bill Stacey, Chairman of LRI
2. Dr. Wolf-Dieter Zumpfort, Deputy Chairman of the FNF Board
Second row: 3. Dr. Reiner Adam, Regional Director of FNF Southeast and East Asia
4. Abhisit Vejjajiva, Leader of Democrat Party and Former PM of Thailand
Third row: 5. Parth Shah, President of the Center for Civil Society (India)
6. Neric Acosta, Presidential Adviser on Environmental Concerns, Philippines, and Sec-Gen of CALD
7. Barun Mitra, Director of Liberty Institute (India)
Fourth row: 8. Fred McMahon, VP of Fraser Institute, which conducts the annual Economic Freedom of the World (EFW) index, and
9. John Tsang, Financial Secretary of Hong Kong
I was invited to become one of the group hosts in the 5 small group discussions where participants will discuss “What can advocates of free markets do to counter populism?”.
I have discussed below in Fat-Free Econ 23: Penang Workshop on Markets in Healthcare about the importance of linking always, rights and responsibilities, entitlements and obligations. For me this is one effective way by which believers of free market and individual freedom, rule of law and property rights protection, can combat populism and their usual fiscal agenda of spend-spend-spend, borrow-borrow-borrow, tax-tax-tax philosophy.