Monday, 28 November 2005

McKinnon v Clark. Trade v Democracy

HERALD: Clark backs democracy over trade
A controversial speech by Commonwealth secretary-general Don McKinnon at the opening of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Malta has been given a swift "thumbs down" by Prime Minister Helen Clark.

Mr McKinnon suggested that trade was more important than democracy...
Miss Clark told 3 News that she disagreed with Mr McKinnon's comments.

McKinnon suggested that trade is tool of liberation, "not just an engine for economic growth, but ... the most potent weapon to combat poverty." Clark demurred, saying democracy was more important.

As it happens, on this argument I say they're both right. Trade is indeed the essential engine for economic growth, but free trade is only possible with a political system that allows that freedom, and supports it with a legal system that protects it. And as long democracy is understood as freedom and human rights,
then freedom to trade is a concomitant of such a system.

It's unclear really what they're disagreeing about, but to make it somewhat clearer, RJ Rummel points out about such arguments that if you replace the word democracy with the phrase "freedom of speech, religion, and organization (such as creating a political party), and from fear," then you make clear the ridiculousness of such a debate.

For instance:
  • Trade is more important than freedom of speech, religion, and organization, and from fear.
  • Many people are beginning to ask whether building asystem that protects freedom of speech, religion, and organization, and from fear is really the road to prosperity.
  • Does freedom of speech, religion, and organization, and from fear put food on our tables, clothe our children, put roofs over our head or give us a future?
Well, does it? As Rummel concludes, "fostering democracy is not exporting it as though automobiles or computers, but unchaining a people’s human rights. Period."

Vist Rummel's Blog Archive for more.

[UPDATE 1: Former NZ PM and former WTO head Mike Moore stands up for democracy and property rights and against McKinnon's reported view in an interview with Leighton Smith that you can listen to here (for one week anyway) -- much of his argument is directly in line with Rummel, and very good. Interview starts a few minutes in. Part 2 can be found here. Look out for the book on the subject on which he says he's currently working.]

[UPDATE 2: McKinnon says he's been misquoted and misunderstood by both the media and the PM: "I have always stressed that democracy and development are two sides of one coin," clarifies McKinnon. "People cannot eat democracy, but development cannot occur without freedom." He's right you know, at least as long as democracy as as Rummel described it above, and it isn't just unlimited majority rule."]


  1. If Clark is the uber democrat why is she pursuing China for a FTA with such vigour? Not only is China undemocratic (as in it is not a deomcracy)it also has an uneviable human rights record.

    Conversely the most democratic nation on earth (where you even get to elect your Police Chief in a local run-off) is the US - and is continually spurned by Clark.

  2. The key to free trade is not the trade. It is the freedom.


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