Thomas Friedman claims there is a close connection between economic freedom and political freedom in his book Capitalism and Freedom from 1962. He points out that there is no place with political freedom that does not have economic freedom but he also says that economic freedom does not guarantee political freedom. Seems up to date today! However, Francis Fukuyama discusses the political without the economical in his latest book The Origins of Political Order. I did wonder about that but it is of course a simplification for clarity. Cultural matters might not be sufficiently independent of economic issues to be treated separately.
Fareed Zakaria writes on the Global Public Square blog that President Obama thinks the US has gone “soft”. One thing is that he for example has apologized for America’s conduct, which I think is way out of line. I wonder what he meant by soft? Is it staying democratic and free that is soft nowadays?
There is a tendency to think that China’s and the East Asian authoritative economic miracle is a discovery of a short cut to material wellbeing. The cumbersome and confusing democratic parliamentary way is passé. But if you add the J curve of Ian Bremmer to transit from economic freedom to political freedom there is indeed an obstacle to pass. There is no country that made that pass without exterior help so far. Is it possible? Perhaps the soft nation is rather on the right track and China on its traditional 2,500 year authoritative ditto. You simply have to believe in America like Mitt Romney stated in his recent speech that countered Obama’s idea.
How important is then political freedom? After all Friedman says that economic freedom is an extensive part of total freedom. Is it worth dying for? That is not an obvious question in Europe for example where defense budgets are slashed. The Arab Spring tells a story where people non-violently demonstrate for freedom non ultra descriptus. Is this a reminder?
If political freedom does not add benefits to society in the form of a more developed material wellbeing, the West might be in for trouble of convincing the rest of its glory. This is another way of asking what President Obama meant by going soft. Losing faith in a way of life on a higher qualitative level! I for one think political freedom offers a higher quality life.
What Obama actually said was this:
“The way I think about it is, you know, this is a great, great country that had gotten a little soft and, you know, we didn't have that same competitive edge that we needed over the last couple of decades. We need to get back on track."
This might mean that Obama does believe in democracy but somehow thinks people were a little too “lazy”. But I was not of the understanding that the US had been less competitive rather succumbed to a financial disaster. So, I still wonder what he meant by soft which apparently the two GOP candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Perry also did.
So, was Friedman right? Is there really a close connection between economic freedom and political freedom? This remains the crucial question for the upcoming decades and perhaps this century.