The Free Market Means Civilization

Beware of Christmas appeals to feel guilty about third-world poverty. They mask a vicious, anticapitalist political agenda: we are supposed to strike our breast and agonize over American prosperity, while empowering international agencies to redistribute wealth worldwide. Don’t do it. What poor countries need more than our pathos is American capital, and that is precisely what the Holiday guilt-mongers most want to restrict.

The "progressive" Left, even while wailing about international poverty, has long decried the Westernization of the "developing world" — the polite term for societies kept poor by socialist governments. Let a stitch of American clothes or an American movie cross the border into lands of perpetual poverty, and the Left decries it as imperialism. Let a corporation open a shop and give people jobs, and the Left screams exploitation and demands a globocop crackdown.

It gets worse: the Left feigns great love for the environment (not actual people, mind you) in poor countries, and wants to restrict entrepreneurial freedom to preserve a barbaric state of nature. How a movement that devotes itself to opposing economic development came to be popular in the first place is beyond me.

It’s all very strange, because poor countries have no greater friend than foreign capital: it moves in to try to fix up their countries. Sure, multinational corporations are driven by the profit motive. It’s also true that they seek cheap labor, because that is a main asset these countries have to offer the world. Make it impossible for multinationals to employ these people, as the Clinton administration tried to do, and you condemn the third world to everlasting penury.

We often hear about slave labor in the third world. But that is not what multinationals employ. These companies go into poor countries and open their doors to people desperate to work for a fraction of what it takes to employ someone in the developed world. It is a mutually beneficial exchange: the company gets cheap labor and the citizens of poor countries get to partake in the international division of labor.

And we are not just talking about jobs, but also growing prosperity and the plethora of consumer goods that come with economic development. Imagine, for example, trying to conduct your affairs without a telephone. That’s the fate of 99 percent of the people in Haiti, where the government monopolizes all regular phone service, and it takes five years on a waiting list to get yourself hooked up. Thank goodness for the American company that moved in to establish a private system. Yes, it is more expensive. But cell phones are hugely popular all over Haiti, as in many parts of the developing world. They are not only symbols of success; they are essential to a normal life.

The New York Times reports that in Paraguay, the number of mobile phone users increased 88 percent last year. In Venezuela, more than half the people with phones use mobiles. Use in Zimbabwe increased 800 percent last year, and in Botswana, Rwanda, and the Ivory Coast, more people use private wireless systems than the government’s antiquated operation. An added appeal is that they are untapped, unlike the government’s phones.

Their very availability is no accident. It is the result of heroic, and profitable, efforts by such companies as Western Wireless (love that name!) in Bellevue, Washington, and InterCel of Reston, Virginia (which provides service in Congo, Madagascar, and Guinea). They take the risk, get the job done, and do it on their own dime. "We go where the big guys fear to tread," says Brad Horvitz of Western Wireless. God bless him!

It was once believed that only government could provide "infrastructure" like communications and travel. But more and more, we are faced with its overwhelming failure to do so, not only in the developing world but also right here at home. The main reason for the success of the internet is that it was entirely taken over by private enterprise, which brought the power of commercialism to what would otherwise have been a dead medium used only by "defense" bureaucrats and professors.

Private infrastructure responds to consumer needs in a way that public infrastructure cannot. It doesn’t look upon people as tools to be manipulated for political purposes, but rather seeks to know their needs and serve them in the most economically efficient manner. Competition between providers means that prices stay as low as economic conditions make possible. And innovation is a constant feature of private infrastructure — whereas the mindset of those manning public infrastructure is still stuck in the days of Stalin and the New Deal.

The Clinton administration, despite all its talk about innovation and the internet, was definitely stuck in a Mussolini mindset, where everything worth doing should be done by the government. Perhaps that will change under a Bush administration; certainly we are in desperate need of a change. Regulations have hobbled the ability of entrepreneurs to provide for essential needs like energy.

The California power outages are merely one example. We need to open up Alaska and other lands for oil and gas exploration and extraction, and allow private companies to build new power plants from sea to shining sea-shining with new electric lights!

Yes, environmentalists are horrified at the prospect. But what can you say about people whose stomachs turn at the very idea of economic development? I say they have an evil mentality, willing to sacrifice the welfare of humanity for a strange Rousseauian vision of contentment in a state of nature. And what is a state of nature? Los Angeles without lights, Haiti without cell phones, Bangladesh without multinational corporations, and Panama without jobs. In other words, Hell.

If it’s peace on earth to men of good will that we want this season, we must reject the nightmare of savage life, and recommit ourselves to the blessings wrought by private enterprise. The free market, by replacing the state of nature, brings us civilization itself.

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama. He also edits a daily news site, This article was originally published on

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