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Challenges of the Current Era

English Pages, 9. 3. 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to visit again your world-famous institute and to see many friends here. Thank you for the invitation. I met your President Edward Crane 5 weeks ago in Chicago at the Milton Friedman Memorial Service and he said: “the invitation is permanently open”. So I am here.

I came here today as a president of the free and democratic Czech Republic, of a country which – now already more than 17 years ago – succeeded in getting rid of Communism, of a country which quite rapidly, smoothly and without unnecessary additional costs overcame its heritage and transformed itself into a normally functioning European-style parliamentary democracy and market economy, of a country which is an integral part of the free world now, member of NATO and of the European Union, a good friend of the United States of America.

I came here – together with an important delegation - to demonstrate our friendship with your great country and I am concluding my week long visit here in Washington D. C., after having met vice-president Cheney, Secretary of defense and other leading U. S. politicians.

This is not my first speech in CATO. My today’s presentation here cannot be totally different, I am stubborn and conservative. Everyone has a list – mostly an implicit one – of issues, problems, challenges which he feels and considers – with his experiences, prejudices, sensitivities, preferences and priorities – to be crucial, topical, menacing, relevant. I will try to reveal at least some of the topics from my own list. All are – inevitably – related to something that was absent during most of my life in the communist era.

What I have in mind is, of course, freedom, something the Americans value very highly, in spite of the fact that they did not experience its nonexistence or absence personally. This experience of ours provides us with a special sensitivity, if not an oversensitivity in this respect.

Where do I see now, at the beginning of the 21st century the main dangers (or threats) to freedom? I will not speak about some – looking at the headlines - currently very fashionable topics. Especially I do not intend to speak about our external enemies, about Taliban, Al Qaeda or Islamic fundamentalism, because I have nothing special to say or add to this issue and don’t want just to repeat the well-known arguments and facts. This issue is also heavily “burdened” by the weight of political correctness, which bothers me. I consider it more important to speak about our internal challenges. Our ability to go ahead and eventually face external dangers depends to a large extent on our beliefs, visions, convictions, internal strength, coherence, ability to function, etc.

I will, therefore, concentrate on three main challenges of the current era.

1) My first topic is connected with Communism. We – together with all the other former Communist countries – had to undergo a difficult transition. We got to understand very early that it had to be done at home as it was impossible to import a system devised abroad. It can’t be done. We also got to understand that such a fundamental change was not an exercise in applied economics, but a man-made evolutionary process, and that we had to find our own path, our “Czech way”, towards an efficiently functioning society and economy.

Ten-fifteen years ago I spoke many times in this country about this process of transition, about its non-zero costs, about its benefits, tenets and pitfalls. Now, when it’s over, we face a different problem.

As I said, we already succeeded in getting rid of communism. But – along with the predominant view at home and elsewhere – we erroneously hoped that the attempts to suppress freedom and to centrally organize, mastermind, regulate, control the whole society (and economy) were already matters of the past, an almost forgotten historic relic. They are, to our great disappointment, still there. I see more examples of them in Europe and in most of international organizations than in America itself, but they can be found here as well.

The reason is that there are new, very popular and fashionable “isms” which again put various issues, visions, plans and projects ahead of individual freedom and liberty. It is social-democratism (which is nothing else than a milder and softer version of communism), it is human-rightism (based on the idea of mostly positive rights applicable all over the world), it is internationalism, multiculturalism, europeism, feminism, environmentalism and other similar ideologies.

Communism is over, but attempts to rule from above, are still, or perhaps again, here.

2)The second main challenge I see is connected with our experience with the EU, but goes beyond it because it is part of a broader tendency towards denationalization of countries and towards world-wide supranationalism and global governance.

The special sensitivity, that I (and many of my countrymen) have, makes me view many current trends in Europe rather critically. My opponents do not seem to hear my arguments and a priori keep rejecting the views they don’t like. To understand my criticism requires familiar knowledge of the developments in the EU, its gradual metamorphosis from a community of cooperating nations to the union of non-sovereign nations and prevailing supranationalistic tendencies. This is not the standard knowledge in America.

I have always been in favor of friendly, peaceful, and for all of us enriching cooperation and collaboration of European countries. However, I have many times pointed out that the move towards an ever-closer Europe, the so-called deepening of EU, the rapid political integration, and the supranational tendencies without an authentic European identity and an European demos are not only necessary for the freedom and democracy in Europe, but damaging.

Freedom and democracy, these two, for us so precious values, cannot be secured without the parliamentary democracy within a clearly defined state territory. This is exactly what the current European political elites and their fellow-travelers are attempting to eliminate. And it bothers me.

3) The third main threat to individual freedom and liberty I see in environmentalism. To be specific, I do understand the concerns about eventual environmental degradation but I do see a problem in environmentalism as an ideology.

Environmentalism only pretends to deal with environmental protection. Behind their people- and nature-friendly terminology, the adherents to this ideology make ambitious attempts to radically reorganize and change the world, human society, all of us and our behavior, as well as our values.

There is no doubt that it is our duty to protect rationally the nature for the future generations. The followers of the environmentalist ideology, however, keep presenting to us various catastrophic scenarios with the intention to persuade us to implement their ideas about us and about the whole human society. This is not only unfair but extremely dangerous. What is, in my view, even more dangerous, is the quasi-scientific form that their many times refuted forecasts have taken upon themselves.

What belongs to this ideology?

- disbelief in the power of the invisible hands of free market and belief in the omnipotence state dirigism;

- disregard for the role of important and powerful economic mechanisms and institutions – primarily that of property rights and prices – for an effective protection of nature;

- misunderstanding of the meaning of resources, of the difference between the potential natural resource and the real one, that may be used in the economy;

- Malthusian pessimism over the technical progress;

- belief in the dominance of externalities in human activities;

- promotion of the so-called “precautionary principle“, which maximizes the risk aversion without paying attention to the costs;

- underestimation of the long-term income and welfare growth, which results in a fundamental shift of demand towards environmental protection (this is demonstrated by the so-called Environmental Kuznets Curve);

- erroneous discounting of the future, demonstrated so clearly by the highly publicized Stern-Report a few months ago.

All of these views are associated with social sciences, not with natural sciences. This is why environmentalism – unlike scientific ecology – does not belong to the natural sciences but is to be classified as an ideology. This fact is, however, not understood by the common people and by numerous politicians.

The hypothesis of global warming and the role of man in this process is the last and till this day the most powerful embodiment of the environmental ideology. It has brought along many important “advantages” for the environmentalists:

- an empirical analyses of this phenomenon is very complicated due to the complexity of global climate and the mix of various long-, medium-, and short-term trends (and causes);

- their argumentation is not based on simple empirical measurements or laboratory experiments, but on sophisticated model experiments working with a range of ill-founded assumptions that are usually hidden and not sufficiently understood;

- the opponents of this hypothesis have to accept the fact that in this case we are in the world of non-internalized externalities;

- people tend to notice and remember only extraordinary climate phenomena but not normal developments and slow long-term trends and processes.

It is not my intention, here and now, to present arguments for the refutation of this hypothesis. What I find much more important is to protest against the efforts of the environmentalists to manipulate people. Their recommendations would take us back into the era of statism and restricted freedom. It is therefore our task to draw a clear line and differentiate between the ideological environmentalism and the scientific ecology.

I started my speech saying I wanted to use this opportunity to present my concerns about some non-negligible tendencies of the current era. I hope you see and feel them as well.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Václav Klaus, CATO Institute, Washington D.C., March 9, 2007


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