Friday, February 11, 2011

A Cautious Congratulations to Egypt

The people of Egypt deserve our congratulations; by remaining steadfast and united, they were able to remove a kleptocratic leader. If the military is supportive of their efforts, they may be able to establish truly free elections. I urge caution, because leaders like Mubarak are not only a cause of corruption, they reflect the culture and norms of a people. In Egypt and many other nations, "bakshish" and nepotism run rampant, from the smallest policeman to the highest reaches of government. The standard refrain that "poverty causes corruption," is simply inaccurate, because it is just as prevalent among the wealthy elites. In addition, core democratic principles and practices, like tolerance for dissent, fair treatment of minorities and the rule of law are lacking in large segments of the population. So, paradoxically, revolutions and dramatic acts of reform are not as challenging as reforming the customs and daily habits of a people.

More than anything we must caution the people of Egypt (and the United States) to not put too much faith in the power of politicians to change basic economic realities. The government will not be able to legislate rampant poverty, unemployment and economic inequality out of existence. The temptation will be to create jobs by expanding Egypt's already bloated and inefficient public sector, which may work in the short term, but is fiscally unsustainable for the long run. The temptation to seize wealth from one segment of society to give to another must be resisted , because it will create much discord, while doing little to alleviate long term poverty. And the temptation to blame Israel and America will be strong, but fixating on real or imagined historical grievances will not address a single social or economic ill.

The most we can hope for is have the government avoid policies that stifle the creation of new and more competitive enterprises. But, it is up to the people to create those businesses and jobs through hard work, saving and investing. And it is up to each individual and family to promote the education and equality of their sons and daughters. More than anything I wish the people of Egypt good luck and wisdom, because history clearly shows that the real challenge of a revolution is to establish ordered liberty. Failure to do so will bring chaos, which always heralds a new and more vexing dictatorship.

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