Armenia: Libertarian Paradise?
At the end of last week, in response to an article scrutinizing the problems of 1787, a new political party in the USA, one of our readers, Stephen Kent Gray, took objection to a brief dismissive comment made about the Libertarian Party. Gray bemoaned what he described as common liberal misperceptions about libertarian politics. “You can look at any libertarian or relatively libertarian society to disprove your predictions,” he wrote, before listing a number of nations that have admirable libertarian policies.
Let’s look at one of the nations he listed: Armenia.
Armenia is a former Soviet Republic north of Iraq and Iran, and east of Turkey. The nation has an ethnically nearly homogenous population of approximately 3 million people. Armenia’s national motto is “One Nation, One Culture”, which sounds more Nazi than libertarian.
Armenia has a high rate of literacy, achieved under the Soviet centralized system of education, and maintained since independence. The dominant school of higher learning, Yerevan State University, is government run. Some decentralization of the educational system has taken place in Armenia since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, but schools remain government-run, with a national curriculum, and what decentralization has taken place has been under the direction of international bureaucracies such as the World Bank, the Soros Foundation, and the United Nations. Armenia’s educational system is not libertarian.
It’s true that, in reaction to Soviet-era centralization, Armenia’s post-Soviet government has emphasized economic liberalization in which capitalist entities are relatively unregulated. As a result, there have been serious environmental problems: Garbage dumps in Armenia are untreated and unlined – simple, old-fashioned dumps. Industrial activity such as mining is able to spew pollution without much regulation, as reported by one volunteer who writes that the “Lori region is rich in copper-molybdenum deposits which has opened the doors for people to use it to produce copper. Certainly, it would only make sense to make use of natural resources to make something useful for people to use. But, the problem lies in the fact that the waste is not disposed of properly. Specifically, in between the monastery and the copper mine, runs the Akhtala River where part of the waste is dumped into while the rest is left out in the open, instead of being fenced by cement, diffusing all through the town and making its way into the lungs of the locals. I was truly heartbroken when I learned that Akhtala’s Monastery did not qualify as one of UNESCO’s world heritage sites due to the radioactive waste produced by the open-pit copper mine across from it. What a shame.”
While corporations and wealthy individuals get libertarian-style freedom from strong government regulation, ordinary citizens in Armenia suffer from brutal governmental authoritarianism. The secret police are a strong presence in the country, and human rights abuses are serious. Amnesty International cites “harassment and intimidation suffered by civil society activists and journalists who question the mainstream view”, in which “public officials condone violence against those with dissenting opinions. The targets of such attacks are often left without adequate protection and offences against them go unpunished, which has a chilling effect on others.” Human Rights Watch notes manipulation of results in recent national elections, intimidation of protesters, and a centralized health care system that prevents people from gaining access to the medicines they need.
Stephen Kent Gray tells us that the United States of America would benefit if it became more like Armenia, an exemplar of libertarian ideals. However, conditions in the real Armenia merely illustrate what goes wrong when libertarian ideals are put into practice: The powerful get all the benefits of being above the law, while everybody else’s freedoms and economic conditions are diminished. The supposed economic benefits of libertarianism are not realized, as the powerful gain more power at the expense of the rest of the nation, creating a level of corruption that drains the national economy of 5 percent of its wealth every year.
Is it any wonder that Americans overwhelmingly reject libertarian politics, when the libertarians suggest that we move to the Armenian model?