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Friday, January 02, 2004

Neo-Liberalism and the Right to Vote

A liberal is someone that works for social progress. A conservative is someone that works to preserve traditions. These are the classic definitions of the terms. There are no specifically liberal or conservative "issues", since these issues change over time. What used to be traditional can bee seen as progressive, and vice-versa.

A good example is the phenomenon of the WTO and the activists that rally against it. Ultimately, the luddides and conservationists who show up at WTO rallys are even more conservative than the class-rulers they seek to depose. Ultimately they seek to "preserve" and "conserve" social institutions, ancient cultures and languages, and bilateral trade.

A neo-liberal recognizes that globalism is here, and seeks to create social structures to regulate global trade that are progressive. For example a living wage law, a human rights bill and a global environmental standard would be appropriate provisions for entrance into the WTO. This would be a way of leveraging the power of the WTO as a positive force. We favor scientific and rational solutions over knee-jerk reactions and nostalgia for so-called "simpler times".

Some people claim that multilateral trade organizations favor the wealthy. This may be true today, but so does bilateral trade. Bilateral trade favors the extremely wealthy and corrupt, over the "merely wealthy". For someone to exploit workers in a bilateral trade system and get cheap goods from a sanctioned country X, they have to buy from a corrupt merchant in country Y who, in turn, buys from country X, and relabels everything. The inefficiency of this "middle man trading" system requires poor countries to oppress their workers even more than would be required under a multilateral trade system. This is the way it was done in the long and sad era of bilateral trade. It did very little to protect the workers in foreign countries. It may have helped protect some jobs in the U.S., at the expense of increasing cost of goods. What it was really good for was protecting the U.S. politicians who could conveniently blame France every time banned products slipped past the border.

Ultimately there are two forms of currency in the world: money and votes. Votes are equal among all people. Money is not. Votes recognize our fundamental sameness. Money acknowledges our differences. Both are "counters" or "markers" that seek to account for our value as people in society. Both are valuable.

My sense is that money has a great deal of law behind it, securing its future. Votes do not. Votes are a fragile currency, and their very existence often comes under attack. This is why I strongly advocate measures which secure the right to vote, and measures to increase the number of issues and positions of authority that are voted on. The United States, for example, is one of the few so-called democracies which does not protect its citizen's right to vote or to have their vote counted in a reasonable manner.

A neo-liberal is someone who advocates practical and technological solutions to traditional liberal problems. We recognize that railing against technology and raging against the system have failed and will continue to fail. Instead we use technology as a solution for positive social progress, a tool that can be used to solve the environmental and human-rights problems that are traditional liberal areas of concern.

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