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Well, the answer to this question very much depends on your perspective of course. And if you are dreaming of the good ol’ days right now, you should take a look at the big picture.

W. Michael Cox, senior vice president and chief economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, and Richard Alm, the bank’s senior economics writer, have gathered the facts and figures which will help you feel better:

How Are We Doing?The American economy is in a rough patch. But the long-term trends are good – and there is a price to economic pessimism.

“So many data points add up to steady, continuing progress for average Americans—and there’s no reason not to expect the future will bring further progress. Bad news will pop up from time to time, just as it has in every decade of American history. Some people will take the negatives—the hiccups on the long road to progress—for harbingers of worse times to come.”

André Glucksmann, a leading french antitotalitarian, explains to Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty why we should listen very closely to what Wladimir Putin says:

French Philosopher Expounds On ‘Putin Doctrine’

“We haven’t paid enough attention to what Mr. Putin says; sometimes he talks very candidly and speaks his mind. In 2005, he said publicly that the biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century was the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991.
Is it bigger than the World War I, which killed 10 million Europeans? Bigger than World War II, which claimed 50 million lives worldwide? Bigger than Auschwitz, than Hiroshima, than the gulag? This explains Putin’s entire policy, his drive to establish, as much as possible, an hegemonic power over Russia but also over close neighbors and former provinces of the Soviet empire.”

Watch or listen to this Cato – Policy Forum from 2006 on Lukashenko’s dictatorial rule in Belarus and the different strategies of the opposition movement:

Last Dictatorship in EuropePolitical and Economic Repression in Belarus

“Belarus attained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Since he took power in 1994, however, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko has cracked down on his opponents and rigged successive elections. Today, Belarus lacks basic political freedoms, including the freedoms of the press, association, and expression. The Belarusian economy continues to be run according to the discredited socialist principle of central planning. Jaroslav Romanchuk, a prominent Belarusian opposition figure, and Anders Åslund, renowned specialist in post-Soviet economics, will discuss the state of political and economic freedom in Belarus and the role that Russia plays in keeping Lukashenko in power.”

Once again!

Charter 97OSCE observers didn’t recognise “elections” in Belarus

Radio LibertyOSCE Says Belarus Vote ‘Falls Short’ of Democratic Standards

UCPB – The Authorities Used Administrative Resource on 100%

And once again the democrats of Europe don’t stand up in support of the nonviolent and democratic resistance!

Charter 97Give Us New Elections!

BBCBelarus clean sweep poll ‘flawed’

Statement of civil campaign European Belarus

Shame on us!

Watch this Journeyman Pictures – documentary on oppression and democratic resistance in Belarus:

“Aug. 1998. After 4 years of increasingly dictatorial rule, President Lukashenko has rolled back personal liberties and put back the iron fist of the state. For Belarusians it’s as if Glasnost and independence never happened. In a rare protest, old men and head-scarfed mothers are bundled into the back of police vans. One man is not even fit enough to step-up into the van, yet the truncheon battering at his back is unceasing. This is a president who rules with the police and the KGB by his side. The former Deputy foreign minister now fears Lukashenko has become mentally unbalanced. This is after all a man who expresses ardent admiration for Hitler.”

Listen to the experts from the Peterson Institute debate this question:

Global Economic Prospects: Surviving a Mild Case of Stagflation

Their estimates in a nutshell: recession in the U.S., growing unemployment, slower growth in many emerging economies, but: no second Great Depression, probably not even the worst crisis since then.

So don’t let the populists scare you! It’s bad enough.

Watch Anne Applebaum, author of the most important and well-researched book on the Gulag since Solschenizyn’s classic work, speak about Russia’s return to authoritarian rule under Putin.

Aung Din spent more than four years in a Burmese prison cell. For the Far Eastern Economic Review he writes about how The U.N. Has Failed Burma.

Farhang is a gay blogger and activist, living in Tehran. He runs Qulture and Q-Daily in English and Persian. He talked to me about life in Iran, the struggle for the rights of gays and lesbians, and how he feels let down by most Western progressives.

Michael Holmes : Where do you live? What is life like there? What do you do for a living?

Farhang : Contrary to what most people in Western capitals might think, Tehran, thanks to the petrodollars, has the appearance of an average metropolis. So it is not surprising that there are some great cultural gaps between different neighbourhoods and districts of Tehran. I live in a family that I can easily call typically Iranian, which is one with not very well educated parents but educated offspring, very much into politics as long as it is a matter of only talk, generally pro-American, but also at the same time Francophile, with some members who are moderately religious and a majority which is severely secular, with the average income of $6000 per year for each person, a house of their own, a French car, no pets, and with access to satellite, which is of course forbidden by law in Iran. That’s the way a quite typical Iranian family might look like. It is impossible for me to go any further about my identity.

MH : How dangerous is it for an average Iranian to discuss politics? Do you have to restrict yourself a lot in everyday life? How open are politics being debated in the private sphere? Are there ways of symbolically expressing dissent without risking too much?

Farhang : You can say anything you like, but only if you have nothing to lose. That means you must be mentally ill or very old to criticize the government in public. In any case, however, talking about the Supreme Leader of Iran is simply unthinkable. On a crowded bus, for example, if you start talking to another person about the economic problems or inflation, there is always a fair chance that another person stands up in defense of the government. People incessantly voice their complaints about economic hardship, but they don’t see or wouldn’t like to see that there is a basic political problem behind this. So they somehow voluntarily never ever touch issues like democracy or freedom in their discussions, and that’s particularly true about the young.

Some believe when a girl on the street pushes her headscarf a little back to show more of her hair, she is actually symbolically expressing dissent, but in reality these kinds of “dissent” are pretty tolerable for the regime. In the private sphere people could trust each other and be open about the way they think about current affairs. This, however, is changing. As more young people see their lives depend on the government – be it a promotion, a scholarship or simply a raise – they become more tight-lipped about politics. To be concise, there is no systematic thought police intimidating and suppressing the people, simply because there is no NEED to do so (of course I am not talking about the media and newspapers, which ARE systematically censored and controlled.) Does the propaganda machine of the government work well? I doubt it. One suspects that deep cultural characteristics of the Iranian people, which make them reluctant to grapple with their problems head-on, might be at work.

I believe at the moment there is no serious alternative to the Islamic regime of Iran at sight, both inside or outside.

MH : In which ways is life for gays and lesbians even more difficult? How do you or others deal with the situation?

Farhang : The simple point is: “we don’t exist”, as Ahmadinejad once said at Columbia University. And if you don’t exist, you’re either dead – approximately 4000 executions of people because of (though not always accused of) their homosexuality since 1979! – or you just keep a very low profile and have a hush-hush life. You just meet a guy and the government can and will never get entangled with you, as long as you don’t get involved with politics, gay or otherwise. That’s why the Home Secretary of Britain has just come to this conclusion about gay life in Iran: “The evidence does not show a real risk of discovery of or adverse action against gay and lesbian people who are discreet about their sexual orientation.” In other words: only if you don’t exist. Of course she holds double standards; she believes we are less equal than the British to enjoy the “luxury” of living freely and openly. But she is right to some extent. The regime is not so stupid to kill you only or blatantly because of your orientation, but of course they have an active gay hunt program on the internet in place, of course they have closed a major newspaper because of an interview with a lesbian poet, and of course they force and even financially help you to undergo sex-change surgery to “cure” your “perversion”. But having said all this; you can have a discreet life as a queer in Iran. How this type of life destroys your human dignity and distorts your psychological health is of course far beyond imagination.

MH : How important is the help from gay-lesbian movements abroad or other human rights organizations?

Farhang : Sadly not very much. Unfortunately, they are totally misguided at best. Most of them are busy “exporting” gays from Iran to Canada or Sweden. These organizations have found the solution in helping asylum seekers to flee the country and this way, I believe, they provide the Ayatollahs in Tehran a great service. Is this just a coincidence? Hard to say. Surprisingly, one of the most vocal dissidents, Akbar Ganji, who is nonetheless a practicing Muslim, has made a plea for tolerance towards LGBTQ people. On the other hand, the Noble Peace Prize laureate, Shirin Ebadi is utterly pathetic. She is a great disappointment to all human right activists in Iran who thought that in her they have found a great voice.

MH : What is the role of the internet for the gay-lesbian-community?

Farhang : Without doubt, the history of LGBTQ movement in Iran can be divided in before and after the Internet, even if we in Iran face the strictest internet censorship in the world. Just to give you a vague idea: it must be shocking to your readers to know that in Iran not only words like “sex” or “porn”, but also words like “women,” “hot”, or “teen” cannot be googled. So if you are a student and you want to write a paper on “women” filmmakers or you just want to check out “hot” news or you want to take a look at a website containing information about the 30th (XXX) volume of a writer’s collection, you will face an “Access Is Denied” page. It is just tragically ludicrous. As anywhere else in the world Iranian gay and lesbians use the chatrooms or social networking websites (all blocked in Iran) via proxy and anti-filtering techniques to communicate with and get to know each other. The difference is, however, that this is virtually the only option to find each other. We also have something like 40 active LGBTQ bloggers right now. The subject of most of these weblogs is, however, not politics but literature. Persian is the language of poetry as you might know. Having said that, it is overtly evident that this virtual Iranian gay community on the cyberspace is a great light of hope for us all. We support each other and feel the presence of each other, despite all filtering and censorship. So when they block the access to your blog (let’s say http://www.hunk.wordpress.com) we just add a 2, or 3 and so on (like http://www.hunk2.wordpress.com) and we open a new one, and this cat and mouth play goes on and on.

MH : Do you feel let down by Western ‘progressive’ intellectuals who are always ready to take a stand against homophobia in their own countries, but then don’t really seem to care much about the far worse situation of gays and lesbians in the Middle East or other underdeveloped regions?

Farhang : It is really frustrating to see people marching on the streets of New York or Paris protesting the war in Iraq or a possible one in Iran, but then not once pour massively to the streets defending the rights of the bloggers, the women, the gays or the Bahai people to write, to wear, to love and to practice what they want, the way they want it. That is pure hypocrisy. When you scream NO to war against Iran and you don’t do the same thing and in the same fashion to the brutal and sweeping violation of human rights in countries like Iran, I can’t call you a friend of mine; consciously or not, your actions are thoroughly aligned with the Ayatollahs.

There is a close link between changes in Western attitude towards gays and lesbians and those of third world countries like mine. And I don’t think the harsh position of the Islamic regime towards gays and lesbian can be mitigated by any activist struggle in the West, no matter how sincere or serious. We are aware and we are grateful of people like Peter Tatchell for example, but unfortunately even these rare well-intentioned activists don’t know the Iranian government and the way it functions. You just can’t make a noticeable change this way.

MH : How does the general population’s attitude towards homosexuality differ from that of the regime? Is it part of the problem or part of the solution – or both? Has it been changing over time? Is there a big difference between urban and rural areas?

Farhang : People are not the major problem, it’s the government. My father may use the word “pervert” to describe a gay man but he watched Brokeback Mountain more than once. So he hasn’t made up his mind, he just needs to see these “different” people and to feel their reality. My father doesn’t allow himself to think of a “Sir” Elton John as a worthless creature who will go to hell; never, not for a minute. He watched his marriage on BBC and he never ridiculed it. If the West wants to do anything for us, the path is clear: help us to build our democracy and take Hollywood more seriously as a generator of huge change and cultural impact, even well after the time we have our nascent democracy.

Some of my audacious friends have come out to their family and friends, indeed, but most of them paid a price for that as well; for many families having, or rather the awareness of having a gay son or a lesbian girl, is an earthquake, an inevitable disaster.

We made some progress during the Shah period (before the 1979 Islamic Revolution) in tolerance towards gays and lesbians, but right now we have some huge cultural difficulty in this regard. Interestingly enough, in Persian poetry the homosexual love is well and abundantly documented since at least the middle ages. So one can’t dismiss it as pure Western “decadence”. But the current negative (or perhaps harsh) attitude towards gay people exists only because of ignorance and not because of religious fanaticism. I believe the decisive challenge for the Iranian LGBTQ movement, like in any other place, is to win the people’s hearts and minds. And knowing Iranian culture I am confident that, unlike the Arab nations, this ultimate battle will be easy to win, if we only manage to get rid of the currently ruling totalitarians, who have blocked every form of political dynamism. We have to face the people and to start a long process of persuasion and argumentation, but this regime has thwarted such a process even before it has begun. I believe our real problems are yet to come. You know, in our high schools there is no such thing as gay bashing, simply because there is no such thing as homosexuality; again, we don’t exist.

Good news first: The regime in Burma has released the country’s longest-serving political prisoner. U Win Tin has spent 19 years behind bars. With him at least six more prominent democracy fighters were also set free. It looks like even this regime, one of the very worst, is responding to international and inside pressure.

But, as Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International ‘s Myanmar researcher, has pointed out: “While the release of U Win Tin and his fellow prisoners is certainly the best news to come out of Myanmar for a long time, unfortunately they don’t even represent one percent of the political prisoners there. These seven people should never have been imprisoned in the first place, and there are many, many more who should also be released.”

The Irrawaddy ‘s Kyaw Zwa Moe is afraid that this is just another Evil Game.

Win Tin has vowed: “I will keep fighting until the emergence of democracy in this country.” The international community should join him in his fight.

Alvaro Vargas Llosa explains in Barron’s what the rich can learn from the poor about how to get rich:

Lessons From the Poor

“…something many people in rich countries have lost sight of, perhaps because they started their successful journeys so long ago: Free-enterprise capitalism, embodied in entrepreneurialism, is all about the little guy. Big companies exist because some little guys some time in the past beat the odds.”

Peruvian Hernando de Soto studied economics because he wanted to figure out why there are still so many desperately poor in an ever richer world. He didn’t agree with the right that it was a matter of backward and unproductive cultures, the poor around him working very hard every day. And he didn’t agree with the left that it was a result of capitalist exploitation – there just weren’t any greedy multinational corporations in the favelas. So what was the problem? And what was the solution?

The answer he came up with is so simple it might disappoint you at first. In two words: property rights. In the West, we take it for granted that the government secures private property and enforces contracts. In the developing world, however, huge parts of the population live and work outside what de Soto calls the property system – and this is why they can’t benefit from it.

If you are looking for ways to help reduce poverty, the first step is to get a better understanding of its root causes. I highly recommend de Soto’s major publication, The Mystery of Capital, it’s an easy and fascinating read. I can only agree with this review on Amazon.com: “Peruvian economist de Soto sets out to do nothing less than explain why capitalism has worked in the West and been more or less a total disaster in the Third World and former Communist states. This has long been a pivotal question for anyone interested in the world beyond their own back yard, and there have been plenty of attempts to explain it before (often in terms of history, geography, culture, race, etc.). However, de Soto’s is the most compelling and logically argued answer I’ve come across.”

Watch de Soto explain his main thesis in easy words and introduce to you the Oliver Twists of his home country Peru:

Capitalism at the Crossroads

“Capitalism can be the engine by which the poor, set free in an open marketplace, can raise themselves from poverty. We must give them the tools. We ignore them at our peril.”

Watch him talk about his life and work on Al Jazeera’s One on One.

Watch him talk about his book to Charlie Rose.

Watch him talk about “The Future of Democracy in Latin America” on the CIPE-Forum.

Human Rights Watch is not known to be led by right-wing hawks. So when they are seriously concerned about the human rights situation in Venezuela, it’s time to listen up – not just for… well… right-wing hawks.

Their new 230-page report “examines the impact of the Chávez presidency on institutions that are essential for ensuring respect for human rights and the rule of law: the courts, the media, organized labor, and civil society.”

Venezuela: Rights Suffer Under Chávez

And if you are still not convinced that his 21st century socialism looks pretty much like the old fashioned 20th century kind, the Venezuelan government’s reaction to the report may be of interest to you:

Venezuela: Human Rights Watch Delegation Expelled

“The government expelled José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, and Americas deputy director Daniel Wilkinson on September 18, 2008, hours after they held a news conference in Caracas to present a report that describes how the government of President Hugo Chávez has weakened democratic institutions and human rights guarantees in Venezuela.”

Three latin words come to mind: Quod erat demonstrandum.

Many people think – or shall we say: feel? – that international trade leads to economic crisis, and even more people seem to believe this when we are in the middle of one. This may be so because a more complex and flexible economy simply looks less stable or because it makes us afraid of losing political control over the economy. But, whatever the reason, it just isn’t true. And it is very important to confront this fear with some facts, because it has been trade that helped milions of people around the world to get out of poverty and the last thing the world economy needs now is a protectionist backlash.

Daniel Griswold, director for the Center for Trade Policy Studies, has written a paper earlier this year, in which he shows that economic downturns have been “mercifully shorter, shallower, and less frequent” in the era of globalisation:

Worried about a Recession? Don’t Blame Free Trade

“The ‘Great Moderation’ means that Americans are spending more of their time earning a living in a growing economy and less in a contracting economy. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, our economy has been in recession a total of 16 months in the past 25 years, or 5.3 percent of the time. In comparison, between 1945 and 1983, the nation suffered through nine recessions totaling 96 months, or 21.1 percent of that time period. In any given month, the country was four times more likely to be in recession in the post-war decades before 1983 than since then. And even if the U.S. economy has already entered a recession in 2008, the expansion that began after the 2001 recession would have lasted six years-making it the fourth-longest expansion since 1945.”


Economic Contractions Are Becoming Less Common

Average Length
Time Period Number of Contractions Contractions Expansions % of time in contraction
1855-1944 21 21 months 29 months 41
1945-1982 9 11 months 45 months 21
1983-2007 2 8 months 95 months 5

Source: National Bureau of Economic Research.

“America’s recent experience of a more globalized and less volatile economy has not been unique in the world. Other countries that have opened themselves to global markets have been less vulnerable to financial and economic shocks. Countries that put all their economic eggs in the domestic basket lack the diversification that a more globally integrated economy can fall back on to weather a slowdown. A study by Jeffrey Frankel and Eduardo Cavallo for NBER found that a country that increases trade as a share of its gross domestic product by 10 percentage points is actually about one-third less likely to suffer sudden economic slowdowns or other crises than if it were less open to trade.

Samantha Power is an Irish-American historian, journalist, lawyer and activist studying, covering and fighting genocide and mass murder. Yes, she is an idealist and a dreamer – and she is not ashamed to show it. But she also is a great scientist, a sober realist and most of all a clear eyed pragmatist.

Her question to anyone who cares is: What’s the point of building memorials or teaching ‘Never again!’ to our children, if we don’t finally put an end to mass murder wherever it’s happening? Is it really because we can’t? Or is it just because we don’t seriously try? And she isn’t waiting for an answer…

Watch her talk about her book, “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide”, on University of California TV :

Conversations on History: Samantha Power

“On this edition of Conversations with History, UC Berkeley’s Harry Kreisler is joined by journalist, lawyer, and human rights activist Samantha Power who examines the failure of U.S. foreign policy throughout the twentieth century to respond to genocide in Armenia, Cambodia, Bosnia and Rwanda.

Economic crisis can scare people so much that they are seduced by populists and demagogues. This reaction is as human as it is dangerous. Now as always the prophets of doom know exactly what and who is to blame: greedy capitalists, markets and gobalisation. But if these new antiglobalists succeed, the poor and weak will suffer first and most – in the U.S. and around the globe.

C. Fred Bergsten from the Peterson Institute explains in the Washington Times how globalisation has so far saved the U.S. economy from recession and will probably continue to do so (although it’s still too early to tell):

Trade Saves the Day

“International trade has saved the day. Our external balance has improved by more than $200 billion as calculated for gross domestic product (GDP) purposes, cutting the previous deficit by more than one-third. This dramatic progress has kept the overall economy growing by modest amounts. The prophets of recession ignored the international engagement of the US economy. The OECD foresees continued modest expansion of the US economy during 2008–09, with 80 percent of the impetus coming from trade improvement.

Watch three videos of a Peterson Institute semiannual meeting earlier this year on the question of how much the crisis can be expected to slowdown economic growth in the U.S. and the rest of the world.

Outlook for the world economy – Michael Mussa

The current financial crisis – Morris Goldstein

Prospects for India and emerging market economiesArvind Subramanian

“The world economy stands at a fragile point. The United States has slowed sharply and may be in, or approaching, a recession. The world economy as a whole is proceeding much more strongly, however, and a key question is the extent to which it has “decoupled” from the United States and may even be cushioning the US downturn through a process of ‘reverse coupling.'”

So, some reasons to be worried. No reason to panic!

On September 17, 1787 the United States Constitutional Convention signed the Constitution in Philadelphia. On Constitution Day we should not only celebrate, but also take some time to reflect on our freedoms.

Earlier this year, Freedom House published a special report on civil liberties in the U.S.:

Today’s American: How Free?

I believe the authors did a great job. I trust neither the nationalist right nor the anti-american left on these issues. And this report really convinced me that there’s a lot to worry and complain about, but there are many ways of fixing things – and many great Americans doing just that. I hope both candidates read it.

Watch some clips of the book forum and read some free chapters and excerpts of the report (by scrollling down) on the FH-Website.

Listen to an interview with co-editor Thomas Melia on the Kojo Nmandi Show.

Read reviews for The Economist: Land of the free? or the Washington Times: U.S. Not as Free as Touted

…and don’t forget to enjoy Constitution Day!

An Interactive Map – Change years or zoom to countries!

The Economic Freedom of the World Report is the most detailled and most important of its kind. It now “incorporates 42 different components (or sub-components) and uses them to measure how consistent the institutions and policies of 141 countries are with economic freedom. This report is now published annually by a network of institutes in more than 70 countries”. (For the different components see page 5).

You can download a free version of the 2008 edition (or its different chapters) on the Website of the Canadian Fraser Institute.

Beautiful small Hong Kong gets gold for economic freedom again. Watch a short video by the Fraser Institute paying tribute to the strongest of the asian tigers:

Celebrating the Miracle of Hong Kong

Here are some of the other important findings:

“The other top scorers are: Singapore (8.57), New Zealand (8.28), Switzerland (8.20), the United Kingdom (8.07), Chile (8.06), Canada (8.05), Australia (8.04), the United States (8.04), and Ireland (7.92).

The rankings (and scores) of other large economies are Germany, 17 (7.64); Taiwan, 18 (7.63), Japan, 27 (7.48); South Korea, 29 (7.42); Sweden, 33 (7.35); France, 45 (7.19); Italy, 49 (7.15); Mexico, 58 (6.98); India, 77 (6.59); China, 93 (6.29); Brazil, 96 (6.16); and Russia, 101 (6.12).

Several countries have substantially increased their ratings and become relatively freer during the past decade. Estonia increased its rating by 2.27 points since 1995 and is now one of the freest economies in the world. Lithuania and Latvia have increased their ratings by at least two points since 1995 and their 2006 ratings are greater than 7.0. The ratings of Cyprus, Hungary, Kuwait, and South Korea have also improved substantially and their ratings are now 7.3 or more. Two African economies, Zambia and Ghana, have become substantially freer with ratings of 7.13 and 7.04, respectively.

However, African nations also continue to occupy most of the spots at the bottom of the index with the lowest levels of economic freedom, joined by Venezuela and Myanmar. The 10 nations with the lowest levels of economic freedom are: Zimbabwe (2.67), Angola (4.10), Myanmar (4.19), the Republic of Congo (4.64), Niger (4.67), Venezuela (4.67), Guinea-Bissau (5.01), Central Africa Republic (5.01), Chad (5.12), Rwanda (5.23), and Burundi (5.23).”

Chapter 1: Find a list of all countries on page 8, the area rankings on page 9-12, and – most importantly – the graphs showing the connections between Economic Freedom and:

Income per Capita, Economic Growth, Foreign Direct Investment (page 18)

– Gross Capital Formation, Private Gross Capital Formation, Income Share of the Poorest 10 % (page 19)

Income Level of the Poorest 10 %, Life Expectancy, Corruption (page 20)

Political Rights, Civil Liberties, Environmental Performance (page 21)

Chapter 2 takes a closer look on world poverty and again finds a strong connection between poverty reduction and economic freedom:

“If economic freedom makes a difference, the mean poverty rates for the freer economies should be lower. This is indeed the case. The unweighted $1-per-day poverty rate was 32.1% in 2004 for countries with EFW ratings of less than 5, but only 11.7% for countries with EFW ratings between 6 and 7. The $1-per-day poverty rate for the middle group was between these two extremes. For the weighted means, the pattern of the $1-per-day poverty figures was similar. The $2-per-day poverty rate declines from 59.7% to 41.0% to 32.8% as one moves from the less free to the more free economies. In the case of the weighted means, the difference between the freer economies and the least-free group was smaller, but still substantial.” (page 29, for the graphs see page 28)

“In the mostly unfree economies, 72.6% of the population has access to safe water, compared to nearly 100% in the mostly free economies. The two middle groups fell between these two extremes. Given the centrality of clean water to health and well-being and the excessive caloric expenditures to obtain clean water, the impoverishing effect of this differential is highly noteworthy. Consider next, life expectancy at birth. As one moves from the mostly unfree to the middle groups and on then to the mostly free economies, life expectancy increases. The life expectancy of people in the mostly free group is slightly more than 20-years greater than for the mostly unfree group. For every 1,000 births on average, 64 more babies survive in freer economies per year than in the unfree economies. The gap in the rate for child mortality under age five is even greater, with an average of 109 more children per thousand surviving each year in economically free economies than for those that are mostly unfree. Similarly, there are more than twice as many physicians per 1,000 population in the mostly free economies than for those that are mostly unfree. Malnutrition affects more than a quarter of the population for the least-free economies but only a small fraction—approximately 2.5%—in the free economies. There is also a substantial difference between the free and unfree economies in the United Nations Human Poverty Index. The HPI increases from 63.9 for the mostly unfree to 93.7 for the mostly free economies with the middle groups again falling in between.” (page 29)

Zimbabwe now has a unique chance of turning things around. To figure out how, Zimbabweans could learn a lot from neighbouring Botswana, which has been a political and economic success story for many years now.

Marian L. Tupy has written a fact-filled comparison of the two countries for The American:

Botswana and Zimbabwe: A Tale of Two Countries

“Between 1966 and 2006, Botswana’s average annual compound growth rate of GDP per capita was 7.22 percent – higher than China’s 6.99 percent. Its GDP per capita (adjusted for inflation and purchasing power parity) rose from $671 in 1966 to $10,813 in 2005.”

You can watch or listen to a Cato Institute Policy Forum on Botswana and Mauritius moderated by Tupy on their website:

Botswana and Mauritius: African Success Stories

Featuring Lapologang Caesar Lekoa, Ambassador of the Republic of Botswana and Kailash Ruhee, Ambassador of the Republic of Mauritius. Moderated by Marian Tupy, Cato Institute.

On a continent scarred by political repression and economic underdevelopment, Botswana and Mauritius stand out. In 2007, Freedom House certified both countries as free, and the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World report found that Botswana and Mauritius had the two freest economies in Africa. According to the World Bank, the two also have—along with Seychelles—Africa’s highest per capita incomes. What explains that success? Why did the institutions of freedom take root in Botswana and Mauritius, while failing to do so in most other African countries? How do the two countries intend to maintain high growth in an increasingly globalized world? Please join us to hear our speakers elaborate on the past successes and future challenges facing Botswana and Mauritius.”

Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is a real hero of nonviolence, peace and reconciliation – and it’s a shame he didn’t get more solidarity from all the people who once supported Nelson Mandela in his fight against the apartheid system.

This is how Tsvangirai has explained his decision to share power with Mugabe in a national unity government:

Speech on the SADC brokered signing in ceremony

“We had two options: To put aside our differences and unite in order our people real hope, or continue to let the impasse plunge our country in to the abyss of a failed state.

People may ask how we, who have been opponents for so long, can possibly work together in government. On this I ask all Zimbabweans to hear these words.

I have signed this agreement because I believe it represents the best opportunity for us to build a peaceful, prosperous, democratic Zimbabwe. I have signed this agreement because my belief in Zimbabwe and its peoples runs deeper than the scars I bear from the struggle. I have signed this agreement because my hope for the future is stronger than the grief I feel for the needless suffering of the past years.

Today, every one of us has a decision to make. Shall we be driven by the feelings we have towards those we blame for the suffering we have endured, or shall we be driven by the hope of a new, better, brighter country, the hope of a new beginning?”

…the world should not forget its darkest years, if it wants to help Zimbabweans rebuild their country.

‘Inside Zimbabwe’ is a documentary about Operation Murambatsvina (‘Drive Out Trash’), a brutal campaign to clear slum areas, which hurt many of the poorest and weakest.

“September 2005 – In a bid to destroy the powerbase of his opponents, Robert Mugabe is bulldozing thousands of slums. Secret footage shows the consequences of this policy. A young boy flees the approaching bulldozer. Fire rages all around as house after house is reduced to rubble. These are the images President Mugabe doesn’t want to you see. Millions have lost their homes in part of a bizarre national clean up campaign centred on demolishing Zimbabwe’s slums.”

‘Inside a Failed State’ is a secretly filmed documentary from 2007 about the economic downfall, which led to Zimbabwe having one of the world’s very lowest life expectancies.

“Zimbabwe, once one of the most prosperous nations in Africa, now has the lowest life expectancy and highest inflation rate in the world. Life has become an everyday struggle for survival.
The supermarkets in Bulawayo are all empty. According to the shopkeeper, the last time they had bread was “a month ago”. Filming secretly undercover, journalist Ginny Stein captures the desperation everywhere. “There is no water. Nothing, just nothing”, laments ‘Tony’. “Children are hungry, everyone is hungry. Our government is a monster”. Even if there were things in the shops, most people couldn’t afford them.

‘Undercover in Zimbabwe’ is about the violence surrounding the March elections.

Zimbabwean dissidents have counted over 2,000 cases of political violence, including 161 murders, carried out after the March 29th elections. You can see a map of all the incidents and two short documentaries (Democracy Missing/ Zimbabwe Crisis) on the Sokwanele Website. The country’s future looked dark and grim.

No wonder the latest news of a power-sharing deal between Robert Mugabe’s ZANU PF and Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC come as a big surprise:

All Africa: Excitement, Relief and Anxiety Greet Deal

Long suffering Zimbabweans reacted with a mixture of excitement, relief and anxiety that a deal between ZANU PF and the MDC had finally been signed. But while hope for a better life dominated everyone’s interest, most people were still anxiously awaiting Monday’s final signing ceremony and the release of further details relating to the deal. Political analyst Eldred Masunungure compared the deal to, ‘walking out of a landmine field while carrying a huge load,’ and thinks it will only survive, ‘on a lot of goodwill, commitment and strategic thinking by all the key players because it can easily collapse even on small things and misunderstandings.'”

This is Zimbabwe has a link round-up post on the deal and a text on the Transitional Justice Options by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.

Last year, Marian Tupy proposed A Four-Step Recovery Plan for Zimbabwe’s economy.

Freedom House has a special report on the DPRK gulag system, “the kwan-li-so political penal labor encampments where as many as 200,000 persons, including both suspected wrong-doers and wrong-thinkers, and up to three generations of their family members, are imprisoned without trial and subjected to forced labor under extremely severe conditions.”

Concentrations of Inhumanity – by David Hawk, FH

The report deals with: “Enforced Disappearance, Deportation and Arbitrary Imprisonment, Enslavement and Forced Labor, Murder, Torture, Rape and Enforced Prostitution”.

And it concludes: “The phenomena of repression associated with the political prison camp system of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea are clear and massive crimes against humanity as now defined in law.”

For decades, left-leaning Westerners have blamed all of Africa’s ills on colonialism and exploitation. And of course many African countries have suffered a lot under colonial and apartheid rule. We should never forget that. But there are a couple of reasons why this world view is not only wrong, but dangerous.

Most problems in Africa don’t have anything to do with colonialism. We should keep in mind that Africa – just like most of the world until very recently – has always been poor. If we focus too much on colonialism, we get a wrong diagnosis – and that’s never a good starting point for fixing things. On top of that, it makes it easier for African dictators like Mugabe to blame outside forces for their own political failures.

In fact, this myth has itself become a major problem for Africa. By wrongly identifying colonialism and capitalism, it has even blamed the cure for the disease! Africa doesn’t suffer from too much globalisation. On the contrary, it suffers from too little of it! What Africa needs most is a lively entrepeneurial culture and the institutional framework supporting it.

And here’s the good news: They are there, they are ready, and they will never stop trying – Africa’s entrepeneurs, Africa’s workers, Africa’s new middle-classes. They are tough. They are creative. They are proud. And they are positive about the future.

Watch “Africa as you’ve never seen it before” – and next time you hear about economic growth in an African country, you will remember these people:   

Africa: Open For BusinessNational Black Programming Consortium

“…probes into the world of successful African businesses and exposes myths while debunking fears surrounding doing business in Africa. With concise segments following successful African and Africa-based entrepreneurs, decade-long Journalist, Carol Pineau’s film shows resilient and creative businesses who meet and exceed international standards everyday.”

Open For Business: Nigeria

Open For Business: Ghana

Open For Business: Zambia

Open For Business: Congo

Open For Business: Uganda

Open For Business: Somalia

Open For Business: Senegal

Open For Business: Lesotho

Well, it is still too early to tell. Despite its great economic successes, Singapore is still being ranked Partly Free by Freedom House. But there are some signs of hope. Hugo Restall writes in the Far Eastern Economic Review on how “Pressure Builds on Singapore’s System”.

Latin America has it all: democracy and dictatorship, wealth and poverty, markets and socialism, hope and despair. Whatever kind of progress you are looking for, Latin America ranks somewhere in between Asia and Africa.

Obviously, there are no easy answers. But Peruvian Alvaro Vargas Llosa has some ideas well worth considering. Watch him talk about his book, “Liberty for Latin America: How to Undo Five Hundred Years of State Oppression”, at the World Affairs Council.

On September 9th, 1948 the North Korean communist regime was founded. Sixty years later, it is still one of the very worst dictatorships around the globe.

Sometimes one man’s fate tells it all. Dong Hyuk Shin was born in the gulag in 1982. He was beaten and tortured until he finally managed to escape in 2005. You can watch him speak about his terrible past, the current situation and his hopes for the future at Google:

Born and Raised in a Concentration Camp

“Shin was born on Nov. 19, 1982 and called the camp home until 2005. While at the camp, he endured daily beatings, torture, starvation-level rations, saw forced abortions and even witnessed the public execution of his mother and brother in 1996. Shin described his life of total isolation from the world: ‘In South Korea, although there is disappointment and sadness, there is also so much joy, happiness and comfort. In Kaechon, I did not even know such emotions existed. The only emotion I ever knew was fear: fear of beatings, fear of starvation, fear of torture and fear of death.’ Liberty in North Korea ‘s Executive Director Adrian Hong will brief the audience on the broader issue of human rights in North Korea, as well as the current refugee situation and what can be done to help.”