Finance Finance News This is what the Paris terrorists want you to forget

This is what the Paris terrorists want you to forget

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The overarching objective of the Paris terror attacks, like many others, is to goad western democracies into defining themselves as haters of Islamic State, rather than lovers of freedom and prosperity.

Will they achieve that goal? Well every person, every community, every thought-leader plays a role in resisting that trap – so we shall see.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, at least, led by example after the Parramatta terror attack in early October – the tragic killing of police accountant Curtis Cheng.

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Mr Turnbull told parliament: “We should never give fanatics the satisfaction of changing the way we live or the way we express ourselves. We uphold the fundamental values of our open, liberal democracy. Australians can have confidence in our democratic system of government and the rule of law.”

If those are the things the terrorists hate, then in the words of the late Christopher Hitchens, “we should do more to deserve their hatred”.

This is especially true in the realm of economics.

Over just a few decades, the economic institutions of the advanced nations have delivered the greatest increase in material well-being in world history, albeit mainly to their own citizens.

Australia, for example, is roughly twice as rich in real terms today as it was when my own family migrated here 35 years ago.

And despite many valid criticisms of the west’s relationship to the developing world, those same economic institutions have helped lift billions of people out of extreme poverty over the same period.

An Indian farmer: poverty is easing, but there’s much more to do. Photo: Getty

The World Bank notes that in purchasing-power-parity terms, 37.1 per cent of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty in 1990. Now, that figure has fallen to 9.6 per cent.

Those gains were mostly delivered by variations on western-style capitalism – in China after the market reforms begun in 1978, in India after reforms begun in 1990, and virtually everywhere else at their own paces.

The great exceptions to that sweeping statement are North Korea, which still lives with the oppression and stagnation of central planning, and large areas of sub-Saharan Africa where birth rates are still out of control and the only capital imports seem to be weapons of war.

The important point in relation to the terrorists’ demented objectives, is that none of the increase in human wellbeing around the world is the product of theocratic totalitarian regimes.

That is not to give blanket praise to all forms of western-style capitalism – there are many caveats to add.

Financial capitalism, for one, nearly brought the global economy to its knees in 2008, and we are still not sure if six years of extraordinarily loose monetary policy will be enough to repair the damage.

Western capital mobilised in the developing world often pays scant attention to environmental or social damage caused – as the current BHP calamity in Brazil reminds us.

And western capitalism has for centuries now been an equity tug-o-war between workers and employers – with ugly consequences when either group becomes too powerful.

The global population is rising, but the demographics are changing. Photo: Getty

But despite all those caveats, the economic institutions within which capitalist enterprise operates have themselves been slowly improved – and we are going to need the very best economic institutions available to make it through the decades ahead.

Today, the global population is 7.4 billion people, and that is expected to rise to around nine billion by 2050.

What many people do not realise about those daunting numbers, is that we are also going through a huge demographic transition. As nations become wealthier, birth rates fall and a new balance is found between mouths to feed and the means to feed them.

The sudden burst of wealth creation of the late 20th century, and the plateauing of population growth this century, offers some hope that extreme poverty and the suffering of exploitation and repression might be brought under control.

This is in large part being delivered by what Winston Churchill called “the worst form of government … except for all the others” – democracy – and a mode of economic activity that has proven itself in fact, not just in text books, to also out-perform “all the others”.

Democracy, the rule of law and the astonishing economic achievements they support should be celebrated for their achievements, despite the ongoing struggle to improve all three.

With my young family in 2003, I marched against Australia joining the invasion of Iraq – which probably tops the terrorists’ reasons in recent years to hate western powers.

Flowers are laid at a site of the Paris attacks. Photo: Getty

But even the now-obvious errors of that war do not change the fact that in Australia we have the parliament, the rule of law, the freedom of speech to make such protests.

These are things the terrorists hate, and the things they pour such extreme malice into trying to tear down.

In Paris the terrorists called on us again to hate them, and the theocratic totalitarianism that they think would deliver a better world.

We honour the victims of those attacks better by looking at the bigger picture, at the work still left to do to build democracy, the rule of law and prosperity everywhere.

We honour them by choosing to define ourselves by our accomplishments, and not by the actions of those who would return the world to the darkness from which it is only just emerging.

Read more columns by Rob Burgess here


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