Asia Liberty Forum and property rights

* This is my article in BusinessWorld yesterday. #AsiaLF16

01
The classical liberal philosophy of more individual freedom and more personal/parental responsibility, free market and less government intervention and taxation is not a popular personal and political philosophy in Asia yet, at least compared to similar movements in the US and Europe.

So annual events like the Economic Freedom Network (EFN) Asia conference, and now the Asia Liberty Forum (ALF), are very helpful in asserting the virtues of classical liberal, aka “libertarian” or “free market” philosophy. This concept is vastly different from other labels like “neo-liberal” and “US conservatism”.

The three-day 4th ALF event is held here in Renaissance Hotel Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This is a huge international event from Feb. 18-20 with many participants from Asia, US, and Europe. The main sponsors of this year’s conference are the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Washington DC, the Center for Civil Society (CCS) in Delhi, India, and the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) in Malaysia.

Among the important panel discussions in the conference will be on “Protecting Yourself Against Daylight Robbery — Current Challenges to Property Rights” on Day 3. The session will be chaired by Wan Saiful Wan Jan, CEO of IDEAS Malaysia. The speakers will be (1) Barun Mitra of Liberty Institute, India; (2) Kriengsak Chareonwongsak of the Institute of Future Studies for Development, Thailand; (3) Julian Morris of Reason Foundation, USA; and (4) Lorenzo Montanari of Property Rights Alliance (PRA), Washington DC, USA.

The protection of private property rights is among the hallmarks of a free and dynamic society. If other people can say that “Your car is also mine; your house is also mine; your farm is also mine. I can enter and use them anytime I want,” then society can easily degenerate into chaos and disorder. No meaningful economic growth and social development can happen in this type of environment.

The PRA has developed the annual International Property Rights Index (IPRI). The index is composite for a country’s performance in three areas: (a) legal and political environment, (b) physical property rights protection, and (c) intellectual property rights (IPR) protection. The scores range from 1 (poorest) to 10 (best).

I made a short study about the performance of some ASEAN countries in terms of property rights protection covering eight years from 2008 to 2015. Singapore and Malaysia continue to have high scores overall in property rights protection. The Philippines made a modest improvement in its global ranking, from 87th in 2011 and 2012 (out of 130 countries), it jumped to 77th in 2013 and 65th out of 129 countries in 2015.

02
If we observe the Philippines, the bulk of property rights protection — in malls and shops, hotels and restaurants, banks and condos, schools and universities, airports and seaports, etc. — is heavily privatized through the tens of thousands of private security agencies. It is not the police or army or barangay security personnel who guard and protect these businesses and residential, commercial areas, despite the huge and multiple taxes and fees that people pay to the government annually.

And this is an indicator that governments often forget their main purpose, their raison d’etre, which is the protection of the people’s right to life (against bullies and murderers), right to private property (against thieves, vandals and destroyers of property) and right to self-expression (against dictators). To have a rule of law.

When governments are busy giving away endless welfarism and subsidies, collecting endless taxes and fees, imposing endless regulations and restrictions, running banks, casinos, TV stations, and other businesses, there is a tendency to set aside its rule of law function and it is unfortunate.

Government should be big enough in enforcing laws on private property and citizens protection, and it should be small enough in intervening too much in the people’s daily lives, hence requiring small and few taxes to sustain itself.

Bienvenido S. Oplas, Jr. heads the Minimal Government Thinkers, a member of Economic Freedom Network (EFN) Asia, and a Fellow of the South East Asia Network for Development (SEANET).minimalgovernment@gmail.com

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