Markets Brought about Freedom in Eastern Europe

Article excerpt

The ``greed decade'' may be history, but you'd not prove it by my recent clipping pile.

A California firm will trim your Christmas tree for up to $3,000. Silicone calf implants for men are the rage. The U.S. Postal Service proclaimed the North Pole to be in Atlanta, peddling the rights to Santa's zip code to Coca Cola. Pat Sajak auctioned to People magazine exclusive coverage of his wedding.

Though a lover of free markets, I find these examples obscene. On the other hand, I am enthralled by the revolutions in Eastern Europe. It made 1989 the most propitious year for human freedom since the French Revolution in 1789.

Oddly, there is a direct connection between those calf implants and the demise of Nicolae Ceausescu's Stalinist regime in Romania.

Freedom in Eastern Europe has been brought about by markets, televisions, fax machines, microchips, copiers and the economic rebirth of West Germany and Japan as much as by Mikhail Gorbachev, Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel.

As Time magazine observed in its first of the '90s issue, ``Markets are now more valuable than territory, information more powerful than military hardware.'' Thus, although Gorbachev was Time's easy pick as person of the decade, there were alternatives - Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Adam Smith and Marshall McLuhan.

In the 1960s, the power of real-time televised images burst upon the scene. The American viewing public had no stomach for seven years of nightly footage of young men returning to the U.S. in body bags from Vietnam.

That story was just repeated in Eastern Europe with a different twist. High ground, the traditional objective of military tacticians, has become the central TV station. The Romanians engaged in a bloody battle for control of TV - which amounts to control of instant public information.

Information media played other roles in Eastern Europe. Video reports of Poland's revolution, for example, seeped into the homes of East Germans via West Germany. TV also dispensed graphic daily reminders of the booming consumer society on the other side of the curtain.

The recent explosion of information technology has finally borne the global village prophesied by Marshall McLuhan 30 years ago. Part of the information-technology revolution is frivolous - e.g., People's battle for pictorial rights to a TV host's wedding. But such frivolity is part and parcel of entrepreneurial capitalism.

And make no mistake, entrepreneurial capitalism, warts and all, is the engine that made this the most dramatic year for liberty in the last 200.

Adam Smith's invisible hand spawned chichi Christmas tree trimmers. But it also delivered Apple computers, CNN, Canon fax machines, Xerox copiers, U.S. rock concerts in Moscow, the United Colors of Benetton. …

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