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Unchecked Globalization or New Wave of Protectionism?

English Pages, 25. 4. 2006

Thank you for giving me a chance to speak here this morning. I accepted the invitation to take part in this introductory panel even though I am rather reluctant to discuss global, cosmic, universal – more or less undefined or indefinable – topics, as it usually is a way of escaping the real issues we see around us and can, at least potentially, do something about.

These topics remind me of the old communist days when it was not possible to openly discuss our own problems but we were free (and not only free but encouraged) to criticize the difficult life of Indian peasants, of South African gold miners, or, especially, the miserable living conditions of the American working class.

Now we live in a tightly interconnected world. Its interconnectedness is much greater than in the past, because of the development of transport and communication technologies, and because of the world-wide, half a century lasting liberalization processes. There is no doubt that this development enriches us considerably despite the fact that many things which originate far away from us are brought closer to us and not all of them are positive.

As I said, the net effect of this very high degree of interconnectedness is positive. We should not, therefore, listen to the various antiglobalists whose aim is to block the genuine and in principle healthy evolution of human society. My own position on that has been reinforced by my personal experience of living – for almost half a century – in a closed and semiautarchic communist society. This experience – that I shared with many others – tells something about the importance of freedom and openness, of ideals we feel more strongly about than those who were lucky enough not to have gone through the same tragic experience. If this feeling of mine – and I dare to say “of us in Central and Eastern Europe” – reflects the true meaning of the term “New Europe”, I can take it and work with it even though I am not sure if this is precisely what the term meant, when it was used in the U.S. several years ago.

After the collapse of communism many of us expected a very bright future, the end of many existing problems, if not the end of history. The reality, however, has been different and as a result of that the expectations-reality gap began to grow, and together with it the feeling of disillusion. Communism has gone but liberty and openness have not become the guiding principles of the world of today. We have been witnesses of many new attempts to restrain liberty and openness again.

This can be said about various parts of the world but I – personally – see it very clearly in Europe. Its current political and socio-economic system is not about freedom, not about openness. It is about statism, regulation and new forms of protectionism.

This can be demonstrated by many examples. A month ago I was struck by the EU summit decision to guarantee – by the end of 2007 – that every school graduate in any EU country gets a job offer within six months after completing his or her studies. Because this couldn’t be done by the private sector – at least I suppose it couldn’t – it must be done by the government. This will be a new step towards an administered economy and society.

One Eurocommissioner recently suggested to establish an EU fund for “the victims of globalization”, meaning the European victims. This idea is absurd. I would suggest to set up a fund for the victims of the EU protectionism in less developed African countries.

The main contemporary threats is not global warming or similar irrational claims of the environmentalists, not a rapid exhaustion of world oil resources, not terrorism, not an insufficient use of internet, not a lack of public funds for education or anything of that kind. I see the problem – as always – in the field of ideas, in the new versions of belief in statism, in the new versions of belief in the benefits of government intervention in human activities and of paternalistic income redistribution. I see the problem in political correctness (in fair speech, instead of free speech), in the fallacies and clichés of the current postdemocratic politics that is based on satisfying strong rent-seeking groups and not individual interests, in the ambitions of those who consider themselves better than the rest of us and who feel they deserve to be our teachers, guides, regulators and controllers.

I hope this gathering, organized annually by the Milken Institute, will come up with a different message. With a belief in the old, proven “goods” such as freedom, free trade and openness (goods that are currently and fashionably called globalization). It is necessary because they have many powerful enemies again.

Václav Klaus, Milken Institute Global Conference, Introductory Panel „Global Overview“, Los Angeles, April 25, 2006


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