The best two addresses were given on the final day. Vaclav Klaus with “We are not on the Winning Side” and Swiss journalist and think tanker Gerhard Schwartz, with “New Isms Endangering Liberty” gave incisive but pessimistic analyses of the task before those who want to see prosperity and liberty maintained.
Klaus spoke of how the velvet revolution had faded into a new form of socialism, the genesis of which we should have detected with the popularity of the Club of Rome and the dominance of the intellectuals with their socialist proclivities. He identified nine problems including:
The 1960s liberation when the anchor of long standing traditions including self-reliance was jettisoned.
The human rights ideology developing which is really only a denial of civil rights.
Judicial activism replacing elected politicians’ decisions.
The rise of public goods and the public sector.
Schwarz developed a comprehensive report on what has gone wrong and in doing so establishes a program and guide for the liberty defence and promotion agenda. The new Isms have piecemeal replaced the more comprehensive plans that communism and national socialism developed. They are championed by different sets of people who are related largely in their hostility to capitalism. He develops his theme through all of the isms starting with religious fundamentalism, one of the few, in its Islamic variety, that is openly anti liberal.
On top of this is centralism. Less obviously there is pragmatism, transparentism and moralism. The first puts resolution of problems as the key even though this often jeopardizes liberty because its “can do” approach is unprincipled. Transparentism means requiring all we do and all we own being subject to public scrutiny, while moralism blames private sector actors, e.g. In finance, for crises and tends to the suppression of views and thoughts because they are “morally wrong”.
He then deals with paternalism and the prevalent “nudge” theory of guiding people to actions that are said to be in their own self-interest. Some legitimate areas for this exist eg where the actions of people might give rise to costs to taxpayers, but the notion has become utterly perverted as in the case of the fight against smokers.
Above all ecologist has taken root in developing the global desolation scenarios of global warming on which the most potent politic-economic engineering have been developed.
Schwartz shows how the isms all strive for some kind of perfection, using for the most part the notions of liberty but allowing this, a la Mordy Bromberg, only where it conforms to their own views. They claim to be above politics and sometimes claim left and right are archaic terms and operate within the system (their success being facilitated by their having marched through the institutions).
One of the key messages Schwartz offers is, “democracy belongs in its proper place, namely wherever decisions are taken on matters affecting everyone and where public goods are involved.” The knowledge that democracy can demand wealth transfers to the unproductive, regulate the productive and reward the agitational intellectuals, thereby creating adverse incentives towards work, savings, investment, etc. and bringing about the death spiral of affluent nations was a dominant concern of many attendees.
Entitlements is an area in which Schwartz does not dwell, though it is clearly an outcome of the moralism and the rights agenda that has fueled the economic crisis we now face (disappointingly, Barro, the last speaker suggested the answer to the forward debts this has created is to raise sales taxes rather than to cut the entitlements).
Clearly the threats to freedom and prosperity coming from hydra-headed sources are as great today, if as they were in 1947 when communism was the key concern. Unlike Communism, which had an ostensible plan for improving well being, our modern opponents wear many different clothes. Like the Communists and fellow travelers, they offer solutions that can appear attractive. But their success is being achieved gradually and their entrenchment all the more strong.