Nepali Times
Guest Column
Egalit? vs libert


The liquidity crisis in the financial markets may be over, but fears of infringement on personal liberty persist. No one really knows what this \'New Nepal' is going to look like, and the election manifestos of the three main parties don't allay the misgivings.

Most Nepalis want basic safeguards of a prosperous and civilised state: they don't have to die of hunger, they want proper health care, they want to live without fear, they want to enjoy individual liberty.

Nathan Rosenberg and L E Birdzell in their book How the West Grew Rich have analysed the precursors to the west's prosperity: ".political pluralism and remarkable flexibility.the breakup of centralised political and religious controls rather than any one factor that allowed an autonomous economic sphere to emerge."

Where do Nepal's Big Three stand on the issue of individual liberty?

First off, it is clear that all the parties seem to think that removal of one man, a reviled king, is going to rid us of all our problems. It may be a step, but it's not the be-all and end-all. Secondly, they do seem to be reluctant to devolve the power that they have and this can only have negative fallout on individual liberty.

Personal freedoms include the freedom of expression, the right to buy and sell property, the freedom of movement inside the country, and the right to work in a profession of one's choice. The state's direct intervention in these freedoms can be through the military, police or civil service. Indirectly, the state also constricts personal freedom through infrastructure projects, education, health, poverty-alleviation and intervention in the functioning of the free market by using upliftment of poor regions as an excuse.

In their manifestos, the three parties have expressed their commitment to basic freedoms, and this must mark an achievement of the April Uprising and a recognition of the people's longing for freedom.

But how do they propose to do it? Unfortunately, the three manifestos get barely passing grades. They have used platitudes, clich?s, jargon, even slogans, but not said outright how they will protect our fundamental rights.

Even the NC has fallen back on its discredited socialist antecedents by pushing \'just social security' and other buzzwords that have been used to curb individual freedom. Even on land ownership, the NC has decided to be diplomatic and repeat leftist market-bashing.

As if it is the fault of rich Nepalis, for example, that the poor haven't been able to benefit as much as they could have from foreign employment. It is the politicians, ministers and the bureaucrats who have enriched themselves by controlling the labour market. If government permission needed to go abroad to work was scrapped, many more Nepalis would be able to benefit from foreign employment.

The UML for its part pushes a \'mixed economy' but follows this up with ifs and buts and opportunities for government rent-seeking. The Maoists have not been foolish enough to directly advocate taking land from the jamindars to distribute to the poor, but their manifesto does recommend \'revolutionary land reform' and \'modern agriculture'. It says it supports \'national industrialisation' but doesn't say anything about the private sector.

Whoever wins or loses, the three parties will be commanding our destinies after elections. All three say they will protect individual liberty, but look exceedingly weak on the implementation part. Civil society and Nepal's international donors could play a role, but even they seem to be infected by fashionable and discredited leftism of Nepal's past.

Bhola Chalise, PhD, served as secretary to HMG's Ministry of Industry for many years and is now a liberal economist.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)