Dambisa Moyo and freedom

In June 2013 in Edinburgh, Scotland, Dambisa Moyo delivered a TED Talk entitled Is China the new idol for emerging economies.

Ted talks, though of mixed quality, usually offer good food for thought. Not knowing therefore how much I would wear my rhetor hat for this one, I settled down, notepad in hand.

When Ted boasts talks from the ‘world’s leading thinkers’ is it asking too much for competent sound engineers? When first we hear Moyo, we simultaneously hear threatened howl-round. There should have been a thorough sound-level-check before the audience was admitted, and anyway there are clip-on microphones these days whose range is so short that the wearer can stand close in front of a speaker without problems. Failing that, all the engineer can do is play the volume control; and we can hear that happening for the first few seconds. I would condemn them with the word, “Amateurs”, except that amateurs are more conscientious than that.

Ted speakers tend to shoot from the hip, and Moyo is no exception. Nevertheless she feels to me a little over-rehearsed. I suspect that she is not fully confident of her own ability to keep oriented and keep speaking, and therefore has practised till she can deliver this in her sleep. I’m being a little picky, because it’s all emerging smoothly and with enough vocal expression, but I just do not feel we are watching the real woman. My impression is that there is a more interesting and engaging person hiding in there.

The talk is mildly provocative, but what bothers me is that her entire argument is predicated on a widespread assumption that opinions are things to be imposed. People today seem to think that if you approve of something it automatically follows that you believe it should be compulsory, and that if you disapprove you want it banned. Whatever became of freedom?

Moyo tells us that, for some, economic freedom is more important than political freedom. Yes, I am sure she is right, but so what? She goes on to point out that the authoritarian political system in China has worked economic marvels. Good.

I would enjoy an argument about her assertion that economic growth is a pre-requisite for democracy. Also I itch to tell her that the term ‘state capitalism’ is as contradictory as ‘hot snow’. But that is merely terminology: my main problem is with her supposed East/West Schism.

She tells us that the West can either ‘compete’ or ‘co-operate’ with the East. We can either “go around the world, pushing an agenda of private capitalism…” or we can allow the East to adopt a political system that suits them. I call the latter course ‘minding our own business’. I can have perfectly good relations with my neighbour without wanting to dictate the colour he paints his kitchen.

I understand why Moyo feels this point needs making. The West has become a dreadful (and dreadfully pious!) busybody, seems intent on relinquishing free capitalism in favour of a creeping authoritarianism, and it has spawned an assumption that this is a natural process. There was that quotation from Ronald Reagan about the workings of government –

If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.

If the West genuinely believes in freedom, a good way to show it would be by returning freedom to its own people and by accepting the diversity of other people’s opinions.

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