Annapolis Institute Overview


Missing in Rio: Let freedom rip

by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Rocky Mountain News, June 23, 1992

At the recent Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, President Bush and the U.S. government were said to be “isolated,” “out of sync,” with the world community, “out of step” and “going against the tide of history.”

In fact, the opposite is true. It was the Earth Summit and the United Nations Summiteers who were out of sync. The reasons are many.

Central governments are losing legitimacy. The UN is an organization of central governments, not people. Yet, central governments are unable to solve the most vexing problems of mankind ‹ including poverty, pollution, and public safety .

Pollution cannot be stopped by top-down, command-and-control approaches favored by the Earth Summiteers. Intact families, a job, and local police have more to do with stopping violence than any central government agency.

The expansion of free trade arrangements reduces the relevance of central governments. Once free trade is executed, attention moves almost immediately to concrete issues: the harmonization of laws and regulations dealing with transportation, environment and other issues of public health and safety. These issues are typically the domain of provincial governments who work with business to facilitate commercial transactions. Central governments are nowhere to be found.

People are increasingly turned off by hypocrisy and corruption in high places. “Rot at the top” takes many forms ‹ including the hypocrisy of a Maurice Strong, the Earth Summit secretary general who promotes environmentalism in his public life but in his private life establishes American Water Development Inc. (AWDI) to divert water from an impoverished mountain valley in western Colorado to sell it to the thirsty cities on the Front Range. Stong’s manta seems to be: “think globally, dig locally.”

Growing awareness that leaders do not walk their talk has undermined the legitimacy of all leadership.

Economic development limits population and funds environmental clean-up. The evidence is clear: rich and democratic nations have cleaner environments and lower fertility rates. Expanding wealth is key to solving the twin problems of Third World over-population and environmental degradation. Yet the monologue in Rio was dominated by words like “limits,” “decline,” “disaster,” “tragedy,” “redistribute,” “coordinate,” “harmonize,” “regulate,” “control,” and ‹ most importantly ‹ “sustainable.”

I listened to many of the speeches. Not once did I hear the word “freedom.” Expressions of humility about our ability to predict the natural environment were in short supply.

Even though most of the world is moving toward democracy, privatization and free markets, Earth Summiteers were trying to move the world in the opposite direction, invoking the new religion of “sustainability” to justify increased public supervision of private decisions and a larger role for the public sector.

So, it was OK for the U.S. to stand alone. We’ve stood alone before, in every century of our existence beginning in 1776, when we rejected the monarchy as a way to organize a government; in 1863, when we rejected human slavery in the midst of a bloody war to preserve our union; and, in 1969 when two Americans stood alone on the moon. There is nothing inherently wrong with being isolated or standing alone ‹ particularly against the shop-worn, statist ideas of those assembled in Rio.

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