To understand the indifference of Burma\’s military rulers to the suffering of cyclone Nargis survivors, look no further than the large gold lettering on the gates of the army\’s officer training school.
It proclaims the young officers to be \’the Triumphant Elite of the Future\’, which sums up the attitude of the men who have run Burma for 46 years and regard themselves as above the people, with the perpetual right to tell them what to do. It\’s much the same in Zimbabwe where Robert Mugabe\’s recent campaign slogan was \’Get behind the fist\’ with a picture of his, firmly clenched.
Mugabe\’s message – that his opponents are traitors to the liberation movement and not true Zimbabweans – was clear and those not behind the fist are liable to be crushed by it. In winning the war against white domination, he regards his Zanu-PF party as also having won the right to rule indefinitely.
The two regimes have much in common besides decades in power and a deep-seated paranoia. The crisis in Burma lays bare how both regard their own survival, and enrichment, as paramount, no matter how many of their citizens die along the way. It\’s a common trait in authoritarian regimes. The Burmese army doesn\’t really think it is better able to deliver aid than the World Food Programme. But the regime is fearful of allowing in hordes of foreigners from countries it blames for Burma\’s problems because that would be an admission of its own failings and limitations.
Well, yes, all true.
But the great insight of public choice economics is that all governments are like this: it\’s only a matter of degree. Do we think that every member of the House of Commons is there for the selfless struggle to better the lives of their constituents? That every Ministerial decision is made solely with the benefits to the population in mind? That there are no MPs, no Miinisters, there for the pleasures and aggrandisement it gives them, and them alone?
Quite, they\’re all at it. It\’s a matter of degree.
And that\’s what those boring things like civil liberties, laws about what they may not do to us, are all about. Limiting their ability to do as they wish for themselves at our expense. Without them, no, of course Britain would not turn into Burma overnight….but the path would be open and in time, it would happen.