Acton Institute Powerblog

Liberty for Me, But Not for Thee

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At last night’s plenary dinner at the Association of Private Enterprise Education (APEE) conference, William Easterly of New York University was awarded the association’s highest honor, the Adam Smith Prize.

In a powerful speech, Easterly juxtaposed the contrary visions of economic development represented by the two laureates of the Nobel Prize in economics in 1974, Friedrich Hayek and Gunnar Myrdal.

As Easterly put it, Myrdal’s views on development won the day, and there never was any debate with Hayek’s perspective. Myrdal emphasized the need for economic “experts” in the developed world to work with governments in the Third World to effectively plan the economics of these nations. Hayek, by contrast, favored an approach which would provide liberties to billions of individual “problem solvers” to address the challenges confronting them in their own unique contexts.

Decades of Myrdal-inspired “development” have left the basic condition of much of the world unchanged. According to Myrdal, economic liberty was a luxury that might be possible and debated in the developed world, but that all such elite “experts” in the West held that no such freedoms could be granted to those in developing nations.

Liberty became a privilege denied to the poor.

Such a perspective amounts to a denial of the dignity of the human person, created in God’s image, and endowed by him “with certain unalienable rights, among which are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The dominant paradigm of intervention, however well-meaning, has had real world, life and death consequences. In many cases it has amounted to the practical collusion with tyrannical regimes and despotism. Easterly pointed to the case of a land grab in Uganda encouraged and promoted by the World Bank, in which farmers’ homes and crops were burnt and their livestock killed. An eight-year old boy was also killed in the fires:

Residents were given until Feb. 28, 2010, to vacate company premises while soldiers and the police kept surveillance. Company officials visited, too. From time to time a house would be burnt down, villagers said. Then came Feb. 28, a Sunday.

“We were in church,” recalled Jean-Marie Tushabe, 26, a father of two. “I heard bullets being shot into the air.”

The New York Times exposed this incident, and the World Bank promised to investigate.

Three years later we are still waiting for the investigation, and four decades later the developing world is still waiting for liberty.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, where he also serves as executive editor the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary. He has authored articles in academic publications such as The Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, and Journal of Scholarly Publishing, and has written popular pieces for newspapers including the Detroit News, Orange County Register, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In 2006, Jordan was profiled in the book, The Relevant Nation: 50 Activists, Artists And Innovators Who Are Changing The World Through Faith. Jordan's scholarly interests include Reformation studies, church-state relations, theological anthropology, social ethics, theology and economics, and research methodology. Jordan is a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), and he resides in Jenison, Michigan with his wife and three children.

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