Is Democracy An Impediment to Economic Growth?

In a recent column (The solution to Africa’s problems is not socialism but freedom) on Africa’s perennial economic problems, Walter Williams made an argument that rears its ugly head all to off ten in free market conservative thought — namely the claim that democracy isn’t necessarily a good thing. If Williams were advocating on behalf of philosophical anarchism that might be understandable, but instead he is defending what might be called mildly authoritarianism.

Williams’ impetus for making this claim is a state by Cote d’Ivoire minister of planning and economic development Tijdjame Thiame that, “Africa has paid too little attention to political modernization. Too many African governments pay only lip service to democracy, which is often limited to simply holding regular elections.”

Williams has a simple retort to that — democracy isn’t necessarily desirable for economic growth.

“Whatever are the benefits of American-style democracy,” Williams writes, “democracy is not a necessary condition of economic growth and, in fact, democracy might impede economic growth.” Williams goes on to cite some non-democratic countries that have experienced impressive economic growth — Chile, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. Meanwhile, as Williams points out, India has experienced much economic chaos even though it is a democracy.

Reading his article, I kept waiting for Williams to qualify this argument, but alas he leaves it at that — democracy can interfere with economic growth. To be blunt, this is nonsense.

First, Thiame isn’t too far off the mark in his analysis of African democracy. Frequently in Africa there are countries which hold elections which are essentially meaningless. Zimbabwe is a good example of just such a country. While it is nominally a democracy and holds regular elections, the bottom line is that the country is run by a single party and uses all the accoutrements of dictatorships, including ignoring the supposedly independent judiciary when it tries to reign in excesses. Many African democracies are democratic in the same way that Mexico claimed to be a democracy even though a single political party effectively pulled all the strings.

Second, Williams’ analysis is too short term. His claims are reminiscent of Leftists who proclaimed Communism a success because the Soviet Union and other Communist nations achieved growth rates higher than in Western nations for brief periods of time in the 1940s. Unfortunately the problem is that the longer authoritarian policies remain in effect the more likely it will be that such powers will end up screwing things up. It is true that in India voters can go to the polls in favor of socialist policies, but it is conversely true that should Chile have decided to put in place socialist policies, its citizens would have had no recourse. Faith in authoritarianism is the faith that whoever has his finger on the trigger of political power at the moment will be a free trader.

Besides, there are things more important than economic growth. What good was economic success of Chile to those who were kidnapped and disappeared in the days and months after Pinochet’s coup d’etat? How were the pro-democracy protesters in South Korea to spend their money after being shot dead in the streets by the military government?

Fundamentally, Williams’ argument raises similar questions as those raised by the anti-immigrant views that frequently appear at a site such as LewRockwell.Com. Immigration is bad on this view because a) immigrants will consume welfare services, b) they will tend to vote disproportionately for Democratic candidates, and c) they will support the expansion of the welfare state. But is free market liberalism really such a weak, anemic idea that it has to be imposed by dictators or preserved by keeping out immigrants who might be hostile to it (and I don’t agree that is the case, but refuting it is beyond the scope of this essay)?

If so, Williams and others might want to re-evaluate if it’s really an idea worth defending at all.


The solution to Africa’s problems is not socialism but freedom. Walter Williams, Capitalism Magazine, November 30, 2000.

Does Anyone Still Care about X-Com: Alliance?

Game Center has a roundup of new action games slated for 2001. Tribes 2 looks to be the big hit among the games included in their article, but the last game they feature as possibly coming out in 2001 is X-Com Alliance. At this point the game has taken longer than it took John Romero to put together Daikatana, and odds are the game will stink just as bad.

Look, who at Microprose sat around thinking, “You know we have this turn-based strategy game that appeals to gearheads, so what should we do next? Oh yeah, turn it into a first person shooter.”


Yes!! Speedball 2100 for Playstation

I’d pretty much given up on the Playstation platform. I like the sports games, but most of the other games I’ve tried bore me. Then by accident the other day I read that Bitmap Brothers had recently released an update to one of the best games I’ve ever played, Speedball. Excellent.

Fortunately for me (but not for Bitmap) the game isn’t selling too well — already discounted to $9.95 at the local department store. So since late last night, I’ve been playing Speedball 2100, and the game still rocks.

Speedball was/is simply the best ripoff of one of the best scifi films of all time, Rollerball (yes, I’m serious about that). Two teams face off in an enclosed arena trying to put a metal ball through a goal. The game superficially resembles hockey, except there are no sticks and you can score points for severely injuring people on the other team. Of course you’ve also got power-ups to deal with and a few other ways of scoring, which aren’t really implemented well in this version for reasons I’ll get into in a bit.

It’s still one of the best implementations of a “future sport” for a home console that I’ve seen, but the update of Speedball does have a few problems.

First, although they are a lot better than the Sega Genesis/Amiga graphics of the original Speedball, the Speedball 2100 graphics are definitely subpar for a Playstation game. In addition the instruction manual is horrible (as are most Playstation game manuals, but this one really blows.)

The biggest problem, however, is that the game forces you to play two 90 second halves. I would have liked to have been able to alter this, as some of the alternative ways of scoring — there are a bank of targets that can be lit up as well as a nifty way to multiply your score — are too hard to carry out in only 90 seconds. A two and a half minute period would have allowed for more strategic games.

Also hardcore gamers, this game is probably way too easy. When I can get a good third of the way through a console game, there has to be something wrong (it took me weeks just to figure out NFL Blitz).

Still, if you can find it for $10 like I did, you won’t go wrong with Speedball 2100.

My .02 on the Leon County Hearing — I Just Want David Boies to Lose

Until the other day I didn’t really care who won in Florida, and I still don’t — I just want David Boies to lose. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t believe the more I watch this sniveling weasel in practice the more my sympathy for Microsoft increases (Boies was the lawyer responsible for the government’s case in the MS antitrust lawsuit). His mini-confrontation with Judge Charles Burton this afternoon really seemed to annoy Judge N. Sanders Sauls.

As for the case itself, Gore’s people can’t have felt good about things when Judge Sauls called Burton — the Bush campaign’s lead witness — “a great American” when he stepped off the stand. After watching how well Burton came across while describing how the Palm Beach County Canvassing Board determined the intent of voters, I would be very surprised if Gore prevailed in this trial.

The best Boies could do was whine that Burton had originally voted against doing a manual recount, only to have Judge Sauls seemingly share in Burton’s reasoning when Sauls seemed perplexed at what justification the Palm Beach County Canavassing Board had for doing a manual recount in the first place.

Feminists for Free Expression Attack Columbia Sexual Harassment Law

Feminist for Free Expression recently wrote a letter to Alan Stone, vice president of public affairs at Columbia University, to protest Columbia’s controversial new sexual harassment policy.

The letter complains that the new disciplinary procedures for sexual harassment complaints, “infantilize students by streamlining away both the protection for the accused and the accountability of the accuser, as the juvenile justice system routinely did to “protect” children before In Re Gault.”

Such infantilization is taken to an extreme by Columbia’s odd definition of lack of consent.

The inference of lack of consent when the accused “should have been aware” of “mental . . . impairment or incapacity” opens the door to a wide variety of potentially spurious accusations against which defense might be difficult. Such a red flag should be countered by a rigorous attention to fundamental precepts of due process, but it is not.

FFE also strenuously objects the Star Chamber aspects of the new policy, wherein the accused is not allowed to confront the accuser, nor have an attorney, parent, or other third party present, nor even be notified of the disciplinary proceeding until just before it occurs.

This policy, by isolating the parties from each other and enforcing secrecy, attempts to combine a disciplinary procedure with therapeutic consideration of “the emotional needs of individuals who have experienced sexual misconduct.” However, since charges are real and potential penalties are real, therapeutic considerations should be dealt with independently, not entwined in a fact-finding hearing with the resulting failure of a full and fair and recorded hearing of the charges.

Sexual attacks should certainly be punished. But it is no service to women to hold that offenses against them require a kangaroo court.

A very succinct summary of the problems with Columbia’s policy.

Meanwhile civil libertarian Nat Hentoff points out in a Village Voice column that in March 1999 Columbia’s own Columbia Law Review published a definitive study of private and public college disciplinary procedures. The study was co-authored by Columbia Law School professors Vivian and Curtis Berger. Hentoff interviewed Vivian Berger and writes,

In her comments to me, Vivian Berger emphasizes the [Columbia] policy’s denial of the accused student’s right to confront and cross-examine the accuser and the accuser’s witnesses. She also criticizes the denial of the right to have an attorney present, even during an appeal. Appeals are solely by the dean, who, as the policy states, “relies upon the written record and does not conduct a new factual investigation.”

Since the dean doesn’t investigate further, how can the accused bring forth new evidence? And since there has been no-cross examination of his accuser and her witnesses, what kind of a fair, complete written record can the dean rely on to be just in the appellate process.”

Leave it to a major American university to create a disciplinary policy reminiscent of legal proceedings in some third-rate authoritarian dictatorship.


Feminists for Free Expression letter to Alan J. Stone. Joan Kennedy Taylor for the Board of Directors of FFE, Letter, November 16, 2000.

How Columbia can save itself?. Nat Hentoff, The Village Voice, November 22-28, 2000.

British Researchers to Decode Zebrafish Genome

Now that the human and mouse genomes have been decoded, United Kingdom researchers have announced plans to decode the genome of the zebrafish in a three-year projected funded by the Wellcome Trust medical research charity.

Although mice and monkeys get the lion’s share of press when it comes to medical research with animals, the zebrafish has been an important animal in laboratory studies for a long time. The zebrafish’s blood, kidney, and vision systems are very similar to those in human beings and the species has been used as a model in those areas.

The decoding of the zebrafish genome will help researchers better understand what specific human genes do. The human genome is of limited usefulness by itself, but when scientists can compare the human genome to the genome of mice, zebrafish and others, they will be able to get a very good idea of exactly how the genes interact and how things like inherited diseases arise.

Some zebrafish, for example, suffer from genetic blood disorders that are very similar to human genetic blood disorders. By comparing
the genomes, scientists might get a better understanding of what causes these genetic diseases and how they might be treated.

Currently efforts are underway to decode the genome of dogs and chickens, and some scientists are calling for researchers to focus on decoding the genome of great apes, which are the closest living genetic relatives to human beings.


Zebrafish genome next. The BBC, November 21, 2000.