Johan Norberg

October 16, 2005

If you're into that classical liberal school of thought, here's the Swedish poster-boy for it:

He's a keen defender of globalisation and capitalism, and wrote the book: In Defense of Global Capitalism. For some some quick contradictions of some anti-globalisation mantras, check out this review of his book:

(start extract)

* Globalisation increases the wealth of already-rich nations by impoverishing poor nations.

Norberg reports that, between 1965 and 1998, "the richest one-fifth of the world's population increased their average income from 8,315 to 14,623 dollars, i.e., by roughly 75 per cent. For the poorest one-fifth of the world's population, the increase has been faster still, with average income rising during the same period from 551 to 1,137 dollars, i.e., more than doubling..... [W]orld poverty has fallen more during the past 50 years than during the preceding 500."

* Globalisation promotes increasing inequality of wealth.

Norberg points out that the Gini coefficient - a widely accepted means of measuring wealth inequality - has, for the whole world, fallen by ten percent between 1968 and 1997. Wealth nequality across the world has declined with globalization's advance. Norberg makes, though, a more basic and vital oint: "Only those who consider wealth a greater problem than poverty an find a problem in some [people] becoming millionaires while others grow wealthier from their own starting points."

* Globalisation threatens democracy.

Norberg presents data showing that, while in 1950 31 per cent of the world's pulation lived n democratic societies, today 58.2 per cent do. More fundamentally, he astutely recognizes that that the anti-globalization crowd "really see threatened is the use they would like to make of democracy, namely as a means of augmenting governmental power."

* Globalisation is both desired and promoted by giant, multinational corporations.

Norberg answers this pet allegation of the anti-free-trade crowd by calling attention to the obvious: "What free trade has done is to expose corporations to competition. It is above all consumers that have been made freer, so that they can ruthlessly pick and choose even across national boundaries, rejecting those firms that do not come up to scratch. Historical horror stories of companies de facto governing a society always come from regions where there has been no competition."

* Western corporations mistreat their employees in developing countries.

Norberg again reports revealing facts: "In the poorest developing countries, someone working for an American employer draws no less than eight times the average national wage! In middle-income countries, American employers pay three times the national average. Even compared with corresponding, modern jobs in the same country, the multinationals pay about 30 per cent higher wages. Foreign firms in the least developed countries pay their employees, on average, twice as much as the corresponding native firms.... The same difference applies to working conditions. ILO, the International Labour Organization, has shown that it is the multinationals, especially in the footwear and garment industries, that are leading the trend towards better workplace and working conditions."

* Globalisation hurts the environment.

Relying heavily upon the data-rich researches of Julian Simon and Bjorn Lomborg, Norberg summarizes the empirical data on environmental quality: the doomsayers are not only wrong; they are spectacularly wrong. Indeed, the only places in the world where pollution is a growing problem are countries that refuse to integrate themselves into the market. Norberg also makes the significant point that pollution is not the product only of commerce and industry. Pollution exists, in much more devastating concentrations, in non-commercial and non-industrial countries.


He is in New Zealand at the moment, and gave a speech in Auckland on the 13th. Here's an article he wrote that's entitled - The Scientist's Pursuit of Happiness:

"For centuries, philosophers and poets have tried to understand what happiness is, and what might contribute to it. In recent decades, scientists have started to come up with the answers. Happiness is electrical activity in the left front part of the brain, and it comes from getting married, getting friends, getting rich, and avoiding communism."

"A government that says it wants to make us happy misses the obvious fact that a government can't give us happiness, it can only give us the right to pursue happiness - because happiness is what we get when we are in control and assume responsibility ourselves. A way of travelling, not a destination."

It's entertaining and enlightening, but I'm not sure I agree with the bit about "[government] can only give us the right to pursue happiness". I would contend that the pursuit of happiness is a right which we all have, regardless of what the government happens to think about it. Government doesn't give us rights - it is instituted to protect our rights. Still, it's a small quibble about an otherwise good article.

(heads-up by Sus)


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