For some reason, this blog entry was published before it was finished. My apologies. Here is the complete version.
It fascinates me to watch how the political unrest that started in Egypt has spread to other African countries, including Libya and Bahrain, and perhaps even Ohio and Wisconsin. There is no doubt in my mind that access to the internet has contributed to the “freer” flow of information and ideas, helping would be revolutionists to see beyond the propaganda that dictators have so often used to subdue their masses.
Not only are the citizens of these countries increasingly able to discern fact from fiction because of Facebook, Google and text messaging, but we too, on our side of the ocean, are able to see the propaganda machines in action and how absurd it all seems. I had to chuckle when I read this piece of information this morning on an interview Gaddafi’s son gave to the Financial Times yesterday.
“In it, he claims that administrative powers for the government would be handed over “to a new generation” (although he adds that his father would stay as “the big father”). The family is working on a new constitution that will be unveiled soon. al-Saadi Gaddafi claims that some of the protesters were given “very powerful” drugs, inc. amphetamines and esctasy (implying this is why they have risen up against the government). He said that 85% of the country was now “very calm and very safe”…..he said Tripoli was very calm and quiet. ”
While unrest is destabilizing in the short run, it should be an incredibly powerful productivity tool in the long run as the citizens of repressed nations like these are able to unleash their creative intellects to their fullest potential. Recently, I just finished reading the book, The Power of Productivity, by a former McKinsey Partner Bill Lewis. In the book, he argues that regulations (dictatorships are the most extreme version) do more to squelch the spread of progress, wealth and innovation than many overly emphasized factors like the education levels of a society. At the extreme, we should remember the glut of Soviet era PhD’s at the height of their regime or the brain drain of MD’s and Phd’s that came to the United States following the Iranian Revolution during the 70’s.
It is tempting to join the chorus of naysayers and lay the blame for a supposed decline in the United States on poor relative test scores of its youth, but the evidence would suggest otherwise. In a relatively unregulated and free society, incentives are far more powerful factors in unleashing creative potential than any formal education or state license permit ever was. I always remind myself that Thomas Jefferson not only designed Monticello without any formal architecture training, but also built it without any necessary permits. Dictatorships and excessive regulation are far more detrimental than a lack of education ever was, in spite of elitist calls to the contrary.
Here at home, we are able to get information on issues that weren’t always available in the past, including the all in compensation levels of our public employees. See www.buckeyeinstitute.org. At this site, you can type in the name of any public employee, see the salary that your tax dollars pay them and their pension benefits/pension liabilities. While the site doesn’t appear to have information on health care benefits, at the very least it will help you make a more informed decision on the compensation levels of our public employees. Too often, newspaper articles and editorials on the subject fail to consider important elements of compensation like job security, health care copays, guaranteed pensions that assume 8% annual rates of return, early retirement, vacation time, accrued sick leave, raises and double dipping. (One teacher I looked up has seen their salary increase by 40% since 2005 and has already accrued pension benefits of well over $1 million dollars for retirement.) Whether you ultimately agree, disagree or don’t even care whether or not these compensation levels are in line with economic realities, it is most important that everyone has access to the facts and understand the prevailing trajectory.
The relentless march of technology continues to level the global playing field, helping citizens worldwide make more informed choices. Riots in Egypt move to neighboring countries like Libya, when not too long ago, their existence would likely have been suppressed. Technology may even cut down on the use of violence as a means for dictators to supress and quiet their so called masses. In a world where information flows so easily and truth is more visible for all to see, dictators may even have a hard time believing their own press. Perhaps this is one reason why Egpyt fell so quickly.