Libertarianism in Honduras

13 Oct

My friend Greg Grandin writes on Facebook:

One of the stranger fallouts from the 2009 Honduran coup has been the scheme hatched by an NYU economist, Paul Romer, along with free-market libertarians—including Milton Friedman’s grandson, Patri; you can’t make this shit up—to start a bunch of “year-zero” cities in the country, free-market utopias with their own laws, etc. It’s like Empire’s Workshop meets The Shock Doctrine meets Fordlandia (except Henry Ford at least had his year-zero city provide free health care). If they were to come to fruition, they would be little more than free-trade maquila zones, like the kind that run along the US-Mexican border, except more savage.

In any case, the plan has hit a snag in that a committee of the Honduran Supreme Court has declared them unconstitutional, though that ruling could be reversed by the full court. Recently, a lawyer who argued for their unconstitutionality was gunned down, joining the long list of decent people killed as a result of the US-endorsed coup.

By the way, related to the discussion Corey Robin had on his blog about whether Hayek’s and Friedman’s support for dictatorships were inherent to their thought or just situational, Patri Friedman has cleared that point up, saying, in relation to these kind of start-up cities, that “Democracy is the current industry standard political system, but unfortunately it is ill-suited for a libertarian state.” Peter Thiel, founder of Paypall and bankroller of FB and another supporter of the Honduran scheme, wrote: “Most importantly, I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.” Glad that particular contradiction has gotten resolved. Adelante.

28 Responses to “Libertarianism in Honduras”

  1. jonnybutter October 13, 2012 at 7:13 pm #

    By the way, related to the discussion Corey Robin had on his blog about whether Hayek’s and Friedman’s support for dictatorships were inherent to their thought or just situational, Patri Friedman has cleared that point up…

    Gee what a surprise.

    • Avoid Honduras October 14, 2012 at 10:28 pm #

      Never invest in Honduras, they cannot be trusted, Gringos are perceived as Pinatas, This is the voice of experience talking, the signature of their president means nothing

  2. noiselull October 13, 2012 at 9:19 pm #

    Of course, there is zero evidence that the shooting had much to do with opposing the new system and not part of the broader lawlessness of the region. And why do those who argue that people don’t know what’s best for themselves in markets argue that people are policy experts?

    • Mitchell Freedman October 14, 2012 at 10:28 am #

      Here’s my reply to your question: We pass laws to regulate corporate economic behavior for the same reason we have laws that stop us from shooting each other. Individuals sometimes get ripped off, sometimes are forced to do things they don’t really want to do, etc. in the economic sphere, and we pass laws to ensure those with more power (in this instance more economic power) do not abuse that power.

      We always have the who guards the guardians, but that is a separate question, and usually the answer is open governments, however limited that often can be. It’s the best of a worst answer, as Churchill reminded us long ago.

      • noiselull October 14, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

        You’ve made a great case for paternalism in certain areas, but you haven’t made the case for the efficacy of democracy in general. Additionally, economic power is of far less signifance than growth in general, and there is little reason to suppose that democracy is better for growth. If people get ripped off slightly more but they live 10 years longer, I don’t see how you can justify a regime which sacrifices this. Essentially, Churchill’s pithiness needs evidence to back it up.

    • LeonS October 14, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

      I’m sure sure I’m clear on this: are you saying that basic rights and freedoms depend on one being a “policy expert”? If you are not one you’ll just have to rely on someone who is to do right by you?

      Or is it that: if you support Democracy, you are insisting that all people are “policy experts”?

      I’m just not sure which position to ridicule yet.

      • LeonS October 14, 2012 at 3:31 pm #

        I’m *not* sure I’m clear on this: are you saying that basic rights and freedoms depend on one being a “policy expert”? If you are not one you’ll just have to rely on someone who is to do right by you?

        Or is it that: if you support Democracy, you are insisting that all people are “policy experts”?

        I’m just not sure which position to ridicule yet.

      • noiselull October 14, 2012 at 11:52 pm #

        Nope. I’m a consequentialist who thinks that most people don’t know what policies will make them better off.

      • Chip Daniels October 15, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

        @noiselull-
        Just curious- are you one of the “most people”?

      • noiselull October 15, 2012 at 9:09 pm #

        @Chris Daniels I might be, but I don’t use levels of snark to determine whether someone is or isn’t.

  3. Seth Edenbaum October 13, 2012 at 11:46 pm #

    Apropos.
    I think CT should take a break from posting “book events” on moralizing science fiction fantasies of politics, and have one on Mishra’s From the Ruins of Empire. Reading it I can’t help but hear John Quiggin’s enlightened voice in the language of colonial administrators. Agnotology indeed.

  4. anthrosciguy October 14, 2012 at 1:16 pm #

    “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.”

    Democracy means the most freedom for everyone, which entails limits on each person’s freedom to maximise freedom on average. Thiel simply left out the word(s) “my” or “rich people’s” before “freedom”.

  5. anthrosciguy October 14, 2012 at 1:16 pm #

    “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.”

    Democracy means the most freedom for everyone, which entails limits on each person’s freedom to maximise freedom on average. Thiel simply left out the word(s) “my” or “rich people’s” before “freedom”.

    • Seth Edenbaum October 14, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

      “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.”

      They aren’t. If you want freedom, move to Siberia and live in a yurt.
      Democracy is a form of community regulation in which the members of the community make the decisions. It’s founded on shared responsibility not freedom. There’s no contradiction in being both a defender of republicanism and an anti-individualist.

      Doctors serve their patients and their oath; lawyers serve their clients and the law; teachers serve their students and their calling; masons and musicians serve their trade. Economic life is an aspect of social life, not the other way around. It’s grotesque that we have to argue this with hippie reactionaries and anarcho-narcissists who fantasize an anti-social social life. It’s disgusting that college professors defend those fantasies. It’s part and parcel of the new anti-humanist humanities.

  6. Blanye East October 14, 2012 at 2:27 pm #

    I first heard about the Honduras project from a Reason.com article that starts with the line: “A roadblock on a very interesting plan to create experimental, freedom-friendly governing structures down in Honduras…”

    I absolutely love the fact that Reason.com describes a plan to use eminent domain to seize land from poor indigenous communities and hand it over to multi-national corporations “freedom-friendly.”

    Not to mention the absolute denial of freedoms the workers of this for-profit city can come to expect if it’s ever built.

    It really encapsulates the concept of property right’s “original sin” quite beautifully- in order to create landed private property, you have to steal it, at the point of a gun, from the people who were using it, and then use the power of government to enforce your ownership.

    This proves that not only do libertarians not actually care about freedom (everyone knows that), but they also have no respect for property rights.

    Go back far enough down the chain of ownership for any acre of land on earth, and you eventually get to the point where that property was created through theft. Thomas Paine has a pretty eloquent explanation of this in his pamphlet Agrarian Justice.

    • Aliothemage October 14, 2012 at 4:58 pm #

      You don’t understand libertarianism at all. Nice straw.man and ad-hominen

      • tt October 14, 2012 at 7:06 pm #

        the “no true llibertarian” fallacy

      • Blanye October 15, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

        Fair enough, but I’ve yet to meet a libertarian who can give me an answer to the ‘original-sin’ problem I brought up.

        Care to give it a shot?

      • Donald Pruden, Jr. a/k/a The Enemy Combatant October 15, 2012 at 1:35 pm #

        Hey – ain’t you the same “Aliothemage” who rages against paying taxes to educate schoolchildren, writing: “And who will pay for that? People like me who don’t give a fuck about give some education to my future enemies in the marketplace. But I’m forced to do so by people with gun called the government. Let’s the leftists have their way into transforming the land of freedom in the new Greece”? There’s that word, “freedom”, again. Funny how folks like you can turn a venerated concept like “freedom” into a weapon against the weak and defenseless.

        Still bedwetting over the likelihood some little kid in the taxpayer supported public school system will steal your job in the future, Bro?

        But seriously, folks, on the matter of “people with gun” [sic]. Dude – taxes to educated children bum you out, but libertarians (are you one?) are ok with lawyers being gunned down who dare to challenge the prerogatives of property against the interests of flesh and blood persons just trying to get by in life? Does that kind of gunning sit well with libertarians? The people of Honduras have already shown that they have no use for libertarian ideals that will turn them into instrumentalities for profit, and their living conditions operating under the total erasure of their citizenship and their human rights.

        You can claim of someone that he/she does not understand libertarianism. I would humbly suggest that the peasantry and indigenous peoples of Honduras do understand, and so too did the deceased attorney who fought alongside them, nonviolently and in Honduran courtrooms. And that is why they are vigorously rejecting the Charter City model. At the risk of their own lives.

        Don’t you just get tired of expending the kind of energy it takes to hate your fellow human beings?

  7. LeonS October 14, 2012 at 3:40 pm #

    noiselull:
    Democracy is not desirable based on its growth rates, it because its the *only* system we have stumbled across that provides protection from very serious abuse, as imperfect as it is.
    Where is your evidence that without Democracy people will only be “ripped off slightly” or “live 10 years longer” if there are no protections guaranteed for these people?
    If rate of economic growth is the *only* thing we desire of a system then sure, Democracy is not the system to use.
    Some people have already decided that their lives were worth sacrificing for the principles that Democracy protects, however. I do not think they would take the 10 more years in exchange for the being “ripped off slightly” bargain you propose.
    I also think your “ripped off slightly” is belied by centuries of real world data. Economic growth in general does not always benefit everyone. Not without the protections that, so far, only Democracy offers anyway.

  8. Enoch Root October 14, 2012 at 6:13 pm #

    This year-zero city thing worked out so well in Naypyitaw.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/24/world/asia/24myanmar-sub.html

  9. Johnathan Hubbard October 14, 2012 at 8:11 pm #

    Read “Democracy: The God That Failed” for an understanding of the irreconcilable differences between democracy and liberty. “While the legislature is in session, no man’s property is safe.” – Mark Twain

    • LeonS October 14, 2012 at 8:53 pm #

      I used to be a young immature punk, and was in favor of Anarchy. I used to quip that the only problem with anarchy, was a problem that all governments share. I still hold that belief; the problem is that humans are not to be trusted. So what system deals with that best? I don’t see how a ‘natural order’ does, and there is no real world evidence to that effect.
      Democracy, for all of its faults, allows people to have a fighting chance, and at least allows the most serious abuses to be mitigated.

      Personally I feel bad for them, but lets see how this Honduras thing goes, huh? If it is the miserable failure I, and all recorded history, would predict, can we at least agree not to say it was only because it was imperfectly applied. If it can’t be applied perfectly that too is an inherent flaw. If it works, hey, I’ll rethink my position.

  10. Donald Pruden, Jr. a/k/a The Enemy Combatant October 15, 2012 at 8:52 am #

    I have known about this for a while. Check out this NYT article: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/01/world/americas/charter-city-plan-to-fight-honduras-poverty-loses-initiator.html?ref=world

    From the article: “Nobody disputes that impoverished, violent Honduras needs some kind of shock therapy. ‘You put the bucket list of everything that needs to be changed — you do all the things at once in a small place,’ Mr. Sánchez said. ‘We needed to create the right conditions in the midst of political turbulence.’”

    “Shock therapy”!!??. If no one disputes this, then why is the left in Honduras raising a such a ruckus and issuing lawsuits?

    The “Shock Doctrine” strikes again.

    Here is how the creators of the Charter City concept describe it: http://chartercities.org/concept

    Here is a flavor of the debate about CCs, brought to the doorstep of the CCs’ creators, on their own website: http://chartercities.org/blog/231/honduras-update

    Check out the comment postings – and read especially entries number 6 and 9 [yeow!] which state the problem with CCs baldly. Pay particular note to a poster calling him/herself “Carlos Urbizo Solis”, who has a bunch of entries. Carlos’s issue: Honduras’ lack of democracy.

    This, as well, from the NYT article, where Mr. Octavio Sanchez (mouthpiece to the undemocratically installed prez) boldly articulates Naomi Klein’s thesis as the policy: “Mr. Sánchez said. ‘We needed to create the right conditions in the midst of political turbulence.’”

    We tried CCs here in the United States: they were called “company towns”.

    However, it appears that some – the vast majority – in Honduras still value democracy enough to tell Romer and his folks to “shove it”. And Romer is at least smart enough to realize that little factoid. [Floomp!] Whoa! Was that a towel being thrown in?!

    Power to the people.

    Still.

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