Liberal as in Liberty and Freedom. Iranian as in Cyrus and Ferdowsi.
Jim Lederman gives us
a new perspective on the determining role of free markets for a nation at war:
In the past, when there had been strict market and foreign exchange controls and a war had broken out, the black market in dollars had sprung to life and the stock market had suffered. Savings were wiped out overnight. This time, when the war broke out, as a result of the economic reforms, Israel had virtually no exchange controls in place. [...] By the end of the war, the stock market was only two percent below its pre-war level, and the shekel had recovered almost completely. That was a major key to maintaining national morale. One of the keys to this optimism was the assessment that had been made, not by naturally-supportive Jews, but by foreign investors taking a cold look at the IASB-based bottom lines of companies and government accounts. Among the most important assessments published during the war were those of the ratings companies that left their pre-war ratings untouched.
Pamela Bone writes persuasively
. Thanks to her for that!
... the least we can do is let the brave Muslim women who are pushing for reforms know they have our support when they want it.
Most of us 1970s feminists are grandmothers now. Lifelong socialist and humanist that I am, if fighting to prevent the possibility that my granddaughters - our granddaughters - will one day be forced to wear a burka makes me right-wing, then right-wing is the label I'll have to wear.
Human Rights and Economy
A critical reading of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
(UDHR) reveals that there are two kinds of rights discussed there:Basic Rights
: These are the rights that are naturally existent. There is no need to provide
them in order to ensure them; the society only needs to ensure that they are not taken away
. In many ways these rights are the most fundamental of all human rights. The rights to various freedoms fall in this category. Article 1 of UDHR declares, "All human beings are born free...," so obviously there is no need to provide freedom for human beings; they already have it. The institutions that are needed to ensure the protection of basic rights are mainly political in nature. They do not need to engage in economic activities directly; their connection to the economy is made through the legal framework they require. For instance economic freedom in making mutually voluntary transactions that do not involve demonstrable third-party effects, is itself a freedom to be protected under UDHR's first article. In order to do so, the law has to ban its violationsl. The ban affects the economy by setting the framework of legitimate economic activities. But the law does not require any direct intervention in the economy and its detailed processes. Another general feature of basic rights is that they are easy to define and understand. This is of course because they are essentially related to individual life. It is easy to understand what freedom is, even though it is usually hard to convince or require people to respect it.Provisional Rights
: These are the rights that need to be provided
. These are usually important qualities of life that we would like to see or have in the society. Article 23(1) of UDHR declares: "Everyone has the right to work, ..., and to protection against unemployment." The first part still spells out a basic right, and is basically equivalent to the right to freedom to work; that is, no one should be allowed to prevent someone else from working. But a protection against unemployment is not naturally existent, and the society needs to provide it in some way. Such rights have a much closer connection with the economy. Often those who call for their provision also call for the government to provide and guarantee them by directly engaging in economic activities. Many democratic governments run sectors of the economy that they consider of importance in providing such negative rights, such as the health care and education, but also whole industries, such as steel in Britain and telephone companies in France. In contrast with the primary rights, a general feature of the provisional rights is that they are not
easy to define or understand, let alone agree on. This arises because these are related to social life, and thus include its complexities in their character. That is also why providing them is not a straightforward matter of mandating their provision.
Just by the nature of these two categories of recognized rights, there arises a natural order. It is by no means certain that economic activities of governments, though aimed at providing the provisional rights, actually do so. However, the government guarantees to punish violations of basic rights are often very effective. Also, they do not hinder the provision of other rights, while the opposite is often not true. On the social aspect, it has been the collective human experience that the systematic government violations of basic rights justified by providing other "rights" have had very serious consequences. Even if it were guaranteed, the matter basically would come down to the question, whether the society will benefit as a whole by losing some or all of its freedoms in order to obtain some social security. The answer from the history of the alternative answers to this question weighs in favor of a firm "no!" This wisdom was beautifully put together more than two hundred fifty years ago by Benjamin Franklin: "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."
On these considerations, the economic role of the government in providing
the recognized rights of citizens should be subject to the protection of basic rights from the outset. If a proposed method of providing health care, for instance, violates basic rights of people to their freedoms, including the freedom of deciding whether to go ahead or not with a mutually voluntary transaction, it should be discarded. This qualification will then immediately reject a law that, say, bans private clinics that work outside the government's health care system, quite seperately from its adverse practical effects
Freedom as the Ultimate Public Good
Often it is argued that we need to abandon or limit some freedoms in order to secure a public good. It is argued that to achieve a publicly desirable end, it is necessary for all or a great many of the members of the society to effectively limit their choices to one of an argued nature, so that it becomes economical and be commonly used and of benefit to all.
Whereas such argumentation is not necessarily false and does indeed justify some central-planning measures it must be born in mind that it has very limited applicability. The main reason for this limited applicability is that, freedom itself is the ultimate public good. (Here it is assumed that the right to life, which is the source of all other rights, is already universally protected.) In many instances freedom of a particular kind cannot be a subject of competition since it won't be favored on an individual basis. If anyone were asked whether a particular group or individual should have certain rights, say, freedom of expressing an unpopular view, on a narrow and self-centered premise, a mojority is likely to respond negatively. Yet everyone would love to be free. Thus, freedom needs to be protected through political means for all to benefit. If an alleged public good is to be enforced through political means, it must be only to such an extent that it does not jeopardize the ultimate public good, freedom.
In view of the nature of freedom as a public good of ultimate value all other public goods that may be enforced at the expense of limiting freedoms of individuals must be politically temporary and subject to constant revision and discussion, which is, interestingly, only possible if we do our best to preserve the freedoms that guarantee the very existence and also the rationality of such discussions.
Dealing with Tyrannies
Observing a self-imposed deadline, 10 days before the one set by the UN Security Council resolution 1696, today Iran handed over its response to the package of incentives offered by the group of 5+1, five permanent members of the Council and Germany. It may sound too soon to voice an opinion about the exact minutae of Iran's response; but, from the general attitude of Iranian officials, and the fact that there is no straight yes/no answer from Iran (it covers 21 pages), it is safe to say that Iran has in fact rejected the central demand of the UN Security Council, that is, abandoning the process of enriching uranium on its soil.
Iran's response seems to have been crafted in such a way to cause maximum disunity among the 5+1. First there are mixed signals sent by the regime: the rhetoric before the "official" response was extremely negative. Khamenei, the supreme leader, strongly rejected
the offer, saying, "[t]he Islamic Republic of Iran has made its own decision and in the nuclear case, God willing, with patience and power, will continue its path." However, in the announcement of the response, Ali Larijani
, Iran's top negotiator, shifted the focus
of Iran's response to being "constructive" and the "resumption of talks," saying
, "Iran is prepared to hold serious talks from August 23." The 10-day breathing period before the Council's deadline is meant to serve as enough time for these mixed signals to have their effect. This is a risky move, since the same time may be used for defusing this strategy. But it seems that Iran's regime has calculated, with China and Russia's hesitations, this is a move worth the risks.
What seems to have been sadly forgotten in all this, is the issue of human rights and the nature of the regime in Iran. It is simple to see the appalling state of human rights in Iran. Just on August 17, Iran's top prosecutor announced
that Ramin Jahanbegloo, a prominent intellectual and philosopher who was arrested in April, has "confessed to plotting a velvet revolution" and that his confession may be aired on the state TV.
The Iranian regime is playing a subtle game. But their objective is simple: to survive. Being a tyrannical system, the country cannot sustain itself from within, so the regime needs outside help. Their nuclear ambitions serve to solicit this help at the price of stability in the region. However, in the deal that should be struck to this end, they also serve to divert the focus away from the human rights issues and to secure their position inside, thus guaranteeing their survival.
This is a disaster for the people of Iran, who will continue to suffer as a result. In the long run it is also a bad deal for the rest of the world. As proven time and again in recent history, tyrannical regimes cannot be trusted in their deals, since the reason they enter into these deals is only to extend their existence. Deals struck with tyrants are always bad deals all around. The only way forward is to deal with them decisively and in unison, on a single clear principle: they shall receive help from outside only when they respect the rights of their own citizens.UPDATE:
Matthew B. Stannard of the San Fransisco Chronicle argues similarly that, "Experts see Tehran using tactic as way of sustaining program"
Hezbollah Is Not Loved; It Is Feared
It is heard quite often these days that since Hezbollah spends some
of the money it receives from Iran for constructing schools and hospoitals, and because it has fought the Israeli army, it is loved by the Shiites in the south as well as the rest of the people of Lebonan.
As much as this line of thinking is apealing, it is however irrational and completely false.
It is irrational because it conflates two opposite concepts: a dictatorial regime would have to spend some
money for the welfare of its subjects so that it is not hated to the extent that would end it. What these subjects feel is not love, but a controlled hate. On a more intimate scale, a dictatorial father, for instance, evokes two sorts of feelings in his children: a natural love for father; and fear and frustration with his dictatorial ways. Hezbollah cannot be attributed such an intimiate relationship with the ordinary people of Lebonan. In the absence of a natural (biological) feeling of love, all that remains is just the feeling of fear and controlled hate.
This is not just a philosophical point. In the tangible world, one should not look hard to find many examples. The regime in Iran also builds schools and hospitals (and much more) and fights aggressors to the land, because it has to. All such regimes do is to keep their population content to the extent that they survive. In fact, more often than not, a library built by them is to be used for, say, propaganda purposes. The statements about Hezbollah being an indigenous force is also of no relevance. Most tyrants are.
The truth of the statement, on the other hand, can be tested this way: let Hezbollah put down their arms; if they are loved, they would be able to command their current power without resorting to the power of their guns. But the answer to the test is known: Hezbollah rejects being disarmed, since it feels threatened. The threat is not from Israel, which withdrew from Lebonan completely in 2000, but from the power of other ideas in the Lebanese political scene, if they are to freely and peacefully compete with those of Hezbollah's. And Hezbollah knows this better than most of us do. Were they to lose their guns and compete freely in the marketplace of ideas, they would also lose their position of power sooner that it might now seem.UPDATE: arthemis
has directed me to an article by Mona Fayyad, a Lebanese professor, 'To Be a Shi'ite Now…'
, which gives evidence for the arguments put forward above.
Hard-Talked Susan Sarandon
Susan Sarandon, the Oscar-winning actress, was on BBC's Hardtalk Extra on Friday, talking about ... well, all sorts of things. It is amusing to see what a mix runs through the brain of the "liberal" stars of Hollywood who have brought, for the most part, shame to the word "liberal".
At one point, talking about the "generations of youth" now and in the past, she said, and I paraphrase, that the youth now are less optimistic because they do not see the results of their action as soon as her generation did in the '70s. Morevoer, she thought, the corporate culture and power has increased since then. But she remained hopeful that because of the advent of the internet and cell phones and other means of fast communication and a new tech-savvy generation of youth, it would be countered. For this she pointed out the anti-WTO protests of 1999 in Seattle. When asked what she thinks of the failure of her friends to effect any change recently, she said that was because
the other side conrols the media, and the house, and the senate, ... you lose everything when you lose the press.
These remarks left me wondering:
- How could the hope to battle "corporate structure" in Sarandon's view remain in the use of technologies such as cell phone and the internet, which have been made mainstream themselves by "corporate structures" like T-Mobile and AOL?
- How could Sarandon think they have lost the press when, for instance, the New York Times, one of the world's most widely read newspapers, is basically a conduit for her kind of ideas, and Sarandon herself appears on BBC World, one of the most widely viewed news channels of the world?
- How could Sarandon think they have lost because they have no control over the house and the senate? "Losing" in this case is itself defined as "losing the control over the house and the senate." An effect cannot be its own cause.
The actual reason Sarandon and her friends (or anyone for that matter) have lost the battle of ideas is that their thinking is irrational. They will continue to lose over the long run as long as they remain that way.