Democracy, Freedom and Independence

The words democracy, independence and freedom are frequently used carelessly without a clear understanding of the fundamental conceptual difference between them. They are in fact orthogonal even though they are sometimes correlated. Independence and freedom are used interchangeably, and democracy is automatically assumed to imply independence and freedom. That’s confused and wrong.

You do have states that are independent, and in which the citizens enjoy economic, civic and democratic political freedoms. But that’s not the only choice: you could have states in which citizens have economic freedom but are not independent; you could have independent states in which citizens have democratic political freedom but little economic freedom; you could also have states in which citizens lack political freedom but have economic and civic freedom; and so on.

The degree of economic, civic, and political freedom are choice variables that people have control over and choose to grant themselves certain freedoms.

Now for some examples. The US is a federation of states. The states which constitute the United States are not independent. However, the citizens of the various states do have a great deal of economic, civic and political freedoms. Economic freedom has been the primary reason that the US is the economic superpower it is. Note, it’s not natural resources — of which the US has enormous amounts — but economic freedom that is important.

Now consider Hong Kong. Pre-1997 Hong Kong was not independent. It was a British colony, starting in 1842, when the Qing Dynasty ceded it to Britain after China’s defeat in the First Opium War. But the people of Hong Kong had near absolute economic freedom. The government did not interfere in the economy. Economic freedom is the first fundamental prerequisite for economic prosperity. That enabled Hong Kong, a bunch of sparsely populated farming and fishing villages, to become one of the most prosperous cities of the world.

Here are some edited bits from the wiki entry on Hong Kong

With over 7.4 million people in a 1,104-square-kilometer (426 sq mi) territory, Hong Kong is the world’s fourth-most densely populated region.

Britain obtained a 99-year lease in 1898. The territory was transferred to China in 1997. As a special administrative region, Hong Kong maintains separate governing and economic systems from that of mainland China.

It has become one of the world’s most significant financial centers and commercial ports. The Hong Kong dollar is the world’s 13th-most traded currency. It hosts the largest concentration of ultra high-net-worth individuals of any city in the world.

Hong Kong is classified as an alpha+ world city. It has the largest number of skyscrapers in the world. It consistently ranks high on the Human Development Index, and has one of the highest life expectancies in the world.

Hong Kong is not independent under the Chinese. But it continues to have economic freedom, which the people are struggling to maintain.[1]

Like the US (prior to 1776) and India (prior to 1947), Hong Kong was a British colony. Together with independence, the Americans retained economic freedom. Hong Kong has not been independent but it had economic freedom. They prospered.

India became independent but Indians never got freedom. The British government massively intervened in the Indian economy, and implemented extractive and exploitative policies. Which, you have to admit, is the primary reason for colonization.

Although the British left in 1947, India continues to be governed by the rules that the British set up in the preceding around 200 years. India’s lack of economic prosperity is primarily due to that. The Indian government, like the British government, is heavily involved in the economy — and for the same reason, to extract and exploit the Indians.

Given a choice, I would have demanded economic freedom, and only then any political freedom. Political freedom does not help fill one’s stomach, which is my primary concern. Independence? Being part of a federation is no handicap — provided that the federation allows economic freedom.

It’s all karma, neh?


[1] I recommend this WSJ article on Hong Kong, “A ‘Troublemaker’ Faces Hong Kong’s Future“.

Author: Atanu Dey


2 thoughts on “Democracy, Freedom and Independence”

    1. Tanay, thanks for the link. Fascinating what China is doing.

      My conjecture is that the Chinese government fully understands what Islamic extremism is capable of doing. The govt is proactively suppressing ordinary Islam so as to reduce the probability of extremism. The Chinese civilization is based on Confucian values of humaneness, justice, propriety, knowledge and integrity. That is clearly in conflict with the values of Islamic civilization — submission to a vengeful deity, and conquest through violence. They are mutually incompatible.

      In India too, the Indic civilizational values are mutually incompatible with Islamic values.

      The Chinese can do what they want to do, and they do what they think is in their national interest. They have immunity because they are economically the 800 lb gorilla in the living room. The Muslim countries will soil their pants if China looks at them cross-eyed. Pakistan of course will go apeshit crazy if Indian Muslims are killed in a Muslim-initiated riot in India, but they will never dare to criticize China, their paymaster.


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