This is the essay and motivation contributed by Jasson Urbach as his entry in the recent Freedomfest competition sponsored by Bob Glenister. This essay was one of the winning entries.
The best way to promote individual freedom in South Africa… is to win the hearts and minds of South Africa’s citizens and provide them with the knowledge and understanding of the benefits of individual freedom.
Despite a plethora of evidence that economically free societies are better off by virtually every measure of wellbeing than societies that are directed and controlled by a central authority, there continues to be significant opposition to ideas of political and economic freedom. Indeed, in the South African context much of the thinking still suffers from a planning paradigm and a persistent insistence that development is in a fundamental sense, up to the government rather than individuals. Those that oppose the virtues of individual freedom often use compelling anecdotes to win the “hearts” of their followers. For example, politicians continue to emphasise the need to provide further funding for “pet schemes” and to provide “essential” social services. Generally, there is little recognition that private ventures are willing and able to provide water, transportation, education, and other “public” services. And few recognise that individuals and private enterprise, as opposed to government largesse, is the real engine of economic growth.
One of the key messages is that economic growth is not hindered due to investment gaps or technological gaps but rather due to very real gaps in human liberty imposed by oppressive governments. These gaps result when leaders impose barriers on entrepreneurship, restrictions on property rights, on the ability of individuals to trade freely across borders, and on the free movement of people and capital.
Individuals that have dedicated themselves to promoting ideas about individual freedom have gained significant victories by winning the “minds” of many of today’s prominent opinion leaders with first-hand accounts of what actually “works” in development. For example, we gather theories, statistics and graphs to show why markets work, but we must do more. Experience proves that efficiency arguments are not sufficiently compelling for the majority. In addition to providing the intellectual ammunition we also need to find and relate powerful stories of individuals educating poor children, fighting disease, supplying clean water, and doing the myriad other things they do to generate wealth and improve standards of living. This is imperative to counter the very vocal claims of individuals espousing state-led growth as the most effective means to alleviate poverty.
The most effective way to promote individual freedom requires a combination of media and public debate, which targets both the “mind” (using evidence based on sound scientific knowledge) and the “heart” (using anecdotal stories that the “man on the street” can relate to). By diffusing information on “what works” it is possible to begin to reshape the belief system of policy makers and opinion leaders as well as the population in general by making “real” what to this point has only seemed abstract. Ultimately, effective reform is generated internally, by individuals within SA, who work to change their environment and who succeed in overcoming resistant vested interests.
Why I should be sent to FreedomFest?
As an employee of the Free Market Foundation I have unique access to a vast number of contacts that have been built up over the past 35 years. This provides me with distinctive advantage over other candidate’s to disseminate ideas about individual and civil liberties. I have had numerous opinion pieces placed in the popular media as well as academic journals across the globe and I have appeared on radio and television in SA. I also regularly present ideas based on individual freedom and liberty at conferences across SA.
I will incorporate the ideas and stories gathered at the FreedomFest in my opinion pieces that I regularly publish on the FMFs updates that are circulated to over 5,000 people, including all members of parliament. The contacts that I gather at the FreedomFest will also no doubt prove invaluable in the future as we expand our network. Experience tells me that a combination of media and public debate along with direct advocacy to be the most effective way of effecting change in South Africa. I am of the opinion that I could use this opportunity to gain valuable like-minded contacts (and perhaps even funding) to continue to promote the ideas of a free society in South Africa.