English Pages, 6. 5. 2005
Ladies and Gentlemen,
thank you for inviting me to be here with you this morning and for giving me the opportunity to express my views on some of the topics of your Forum. I will focus on two issues: one is the accession of Turkey to the European Union and the other is the so called “knowledge economy”.
To the first issue, I would like to say very clearly that I am in favour of your membership in the EU. I have repeatedly stated it – openly and loudly – in my country as well as in many other European countries in the last couple of months. It is, however, not only about Turkey. I am convinced that the European Union should be open to any country willing and ready to participate in the European integration process. To put it differently, I don’t think that anyone in Europe has a right to consider himself to be the “owner” of Europe and I especially do not accept when some people try to postulate an identity between Europe and the European Union.
Due to it, it is worth stressing that Turkey will be in the future entering the EU, not Europe. Turkey will – I hope – get a chance to enter the man-made, time-determined institution, called the European Union. There is no membership in a – for centuries spontaneously evolving, geographically delineated – European continent. This difference is a basic, general, almost philosophical position for me and I consider it crucial.
In a more specific way, in the field of interests, not ideas, I am also in favour of Turkey’s membership in the EU because I am strongly against the very problematic concept of an “ever closer Europe”. I don’t want uniformity, “one-for-all” size of institutional and legal rules and principles, excessive homogenization of the continent, cultural conformity and dependence. I am, therefore, ready to invite Turkey into the EU for egoistic reasons – I welcome the entry of a big, culturally diverse, in some respects truly different country to be a part of the EU dispute about its future, which is currently going under the banner of the European constitution.
Speaking as a President of the Czech Republic, I believe that our preparatory years since applying for membership in January 1996 and our one year membership represent a good starting point for the eventual “lessons” for the future members of the EU provided that they are ready to listen. The European Union is a liberating and at the same time a restrictive, traditional freedoms and procedures suppressing factor and force. The contribution of both impacts and influences depends, on the one hand, on the domestic conditions of individual participating countries and, on the other hand, on the undergoing structural changes and developments in the EU itself.
When a country does not have a sufficient domestic drive for openness, for liberalization and deregulation, for political, social, economic and cultural freedoms, EU membership (and accession preparations) can be a positive, liberating force. When a country itself wants to deregulate and liberate human activities and is able to do it, than the contribution of the EU membership is either neutral or sometimes may be even negative. I don’t dare to make any statement about Turkey in this respect, but for my country this “liberating” influence of the EU was rather marginal. Our efforts – after the fall of an oppressive communist regime – were sufficient to do the same without foreign involments, pressures or instructions.
It has, of course, its time dimension as well. With regards to the recent accelerated shift from intergovernmentalism to supranationalism in the EU, the proportion between liberating and non-liberating influences of the EU membership has been moving from the first to the second. This is, I believe, something what all the would-be member countries should know.
To move to my second topic, I must admit that – while reading the program and the objectives of the Forum – I was struck to see the repeated use of the term knowledge society or knowledge economy.
I have serious doubts about the term “knowledge economy”. For me this term is an empty, undefined and undefinable, more or less propagandist or lobbyist term, which cannot become an object for a serious discussion. In recent years there has been a lot of talk about moving into an information or knowledge economy in various influential intellectual circles all over the world but with all my fantasy I do not know from where we are supposed to be moving. From what kind of an economy? From a non-information, non-knowledge economy?
This is not possible. Any complex economy, which means any economy we know, any economy based on an extensive division of labour, on specialization, and on a widespread exchange of goods and services, has had – at any moment in human history – to optimally use the existent, but in society dispersed knowledge. According to Hayek and the Austrian School of Economics the problem is in dealing with a necessarily dispersed knowledge, with knowledge which – because of its very nature – can never be transmitted to and stored in one place – however sophisticated the available information technologies could be. As a reaction to this, the evolution of human society has been associated with a permanent search for ways how to make the economy informationally efficient and how to minimize the inevitable transaction costs, which means costs of sharing and using information. By trial and error and at heavy costs in terms of human happiness and/or suffering it has been finally proved that:
- the informationally most efficient economic system is the free market economy;
- the informational efficiency of a social system increases with its freedom and openness;
- the informational efficiency is not necessarily connected with this or that technology.
Has this message been fully understood? I am afraid not. I have to ask whether the authors and propagandists of the term information or knowledge economy do it with an intention to replace the crucial adjective “market” in the term market economy?
Some of them do it, obviously, with such intensions. Do they assume – as the old-fashioned socialists – that the more complex the economy is, the more it needs the visible hand of the government and the less sufficient the invisible hand of the market is? Exactly the opposite is true. Do they eventually hope that the modern and sophisticated information technology can replace markets? If they think so, their misunderstanding of the nature of human society is even bigger.
I have to, therefore, repeat that I consider the term market economy as correct, most fitting as well as sufficient which means that – in spite of recent enormous technological advances – it does not need any innovative redefinition. More than 15 years after the collapse of communism we should not forget old fallacies, we should not return to the world of pre-economic, non-economic or anti-economic ideas and repeat the past, very costly experiences with economic systems which tried to get rid of the market mechanism or at least to suppress it as much as possible.
The modern information technologies have undoubtedly changed the world and my comments do not imply that I am not aware of that or that I am against their use and further development. I am against something else. I am against pseudo-scientific delusions promising easy solutions to human problems. The belief in the knowledge economy belongs to them. We do not succeed in getting rid of them because the intellectual milieu of the times as well as the vested interests of various technicians and public intellectuals lead us there. We are witnesses of the emergence of another wave of progressism, of scientism, of technological futurism, even of antiliberal mysticism. This is dangerous and I suggest to everyone to think about it seriously.
This forum gives us the opportunity to do it.
Václav Klaus, Istanbul Forum, 5.5.2005
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