TCS Daily

Giving Tolerance a Bad Name

By Richard Tren - September 3, 2002 12:00 AM

JOHANNESBURG - This week President Mugabe of Zimbabwe came to Johannesburg and addressed the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). That one of Africa's worst tyrants has been accepted by the UN to the meeting shows how absurdly inclusive the WSSD has become. Although Mugabe is widely discredited around the world, oddly enough he has admirers (explicit and implicit) within the ultra-politically correct groups of environmental and health activists.

Under Mugabe's direction the so-called war veterans (read: state-backed thugs) have run amok, intimidating, torturing and killing white farmers, farm labourers and anyone that opposes Zanu PF's (the ruling party's) plans and vision. Mugabe's policies are based upon the destruction of whatever forms of property rights exist in Zimbabwe.

The result of these policies has been a 50% reduction in the size of the economy and colossal human misery. Earlier this year, President Mugabe demonstrated that not only did he not respect ordinary property rights, but that in Zimbabwe intellectual property rights were fair game too. The Zimbabwean government has chosen to import generic versions of patented HIV/AIDS drugs. This comes despite the fact that only half of the available anti-retrovirals are actually patented and those that are patented have been offered at discounts of around 90%, and sometimes are handed out for free. It is possible that the imported generics will end up costing more than the patented versions and will definitely come without the important logistical support of the drugs companies.

It seems clear that the move to import generics had nothing to do with increasing access to essential drugs, but rather was a political move to undermine the rights of private pharmaceutical companies. In any event, the widespread famine in Zimbabwe, for which Mugabe must take almost all the blame, compromises any drug treatment programme. People are unable to take anti-retrovirals on an empty stomach.

The health charity Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF) or Doctors Without Borders supported the Zimbabwean government in disregarding the rights of the drugs companies. Supporting the violently homophobic leader of Zimbabwe is one of their most shameful moves, and is even more outrageous given MSF's recent Nobel Prize.

It seems clear that the drug activists will undermine intellectual property rights and attack drug companies at all costs. In the same vein, environmental activists will do almost anything in their power to oppose open markets and economic freedom and attack multi-national corporations (MNCs).

Almost every press release from environmentalist organisations at the WSSD serves the message that global capitalism is causing the destruction of the earth and humanity. But these statements ignore the fact that in countries that ensure the greatest economic freedom, where capitalism thrives, people live longer, healthier lives and the natural environment is in better shape.

According to United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) figures, countries that have a low level of government interference in the economy have higher access to drugs, more physicians per 100 000 people and far higher life expectancies at birth.

The exceptions - with regard to the number of physicians per 100 000 people - are highly repressed countries such as Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. These countries have large numbers of doctors as part of a wider Soviet plan, but this does not mean that people in these countries necessarily enjoy better healthcare or live longer, healthier lives. Cuba may have many doctors, but the point is that the residents of Florida do not float on bits of wood through shark-infested waters in order to visit a physician in Cuba.

The fact that Mugabe is even allowed to attend a summit that is supposed to concentrate on making life better for people is utterly outrageous. The fact that so far no government has publicly criticised him at the Summit is even worse and gives him tacit support. While most NGOs at the WSSD certainly do not advocate violence and may oppose Mugabe publicly, they implicitly support his anti-property and anti-free markets ideology.

If drug activists and environmental activists are genuinely interested in improving human welfare and the environment then they should promote economic and political freedoms. Of course this is difficult to do when their organisations seek to control the lives of people and businesses in rich and poor countries alike.

Mugabe's policies have actively destroyed Zimbabwe's economy and imposed appalling human misery on the population. The policies of the left wing drug and environmental activists that are anti-property and anti-markets mean that poor countries will never be able to achieve prosperity and improve human welfare in the first place. Much as they might deny it, there is an increasingly thin line between the two.



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