For some time now I have wanted to shed some light on the recent emergence of a new Belgian rightwing group blog, called The Brussels Journal. Although I strongly suspect the main driving force behind the project are Dr. Paul Beliën, Flemish conservative writer and journalist, and Mr. Luc Van Braekel, Flemish Internet entrepreneur and Flanders’ top political blogger with his excellent LVB.net, The Brussels Journal also has a European dimension since among its contributors we notice such names as Elaib Harvey, Norman Barry and Carlo Stagnaro. The Brussels Journal's aim is probably best summed up by Mr. Beliën:
"I believe in being free, acquiring knowledge, and telling the truth."
The above quote from the legendary American journalist H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) sums it up pretty much. The Brussels Journal is a project set up by European journalists and writers to restore three values that are so lacking in the so-called "consensus-culture" of contemporary Europe: Freedom, the quest for Knowledge, and the Truth.
We defend freedom and, though we do not pretend to know the ultimate truth, we strive to acquire as much knowledge as possible by presenting facts and views that are hard to find in the "consensus-media" of Europe.
- Dr. Paul Beliën
Personally, I think that the birth of TBJ is another sign of the emergence of a significant and ideologically "pure" European Right. For decades, Europes "Right" was such in name only, its being "right" most of the time not amounting to anything more than not exactly being "left" – a matter of colours if you will. Indeed, when one looks at the behaviour of the French "Right" for example, it’s sometimes hard to disitnguish their actions from the French "Left", think French protectionism and subsidies for ailing industries par example. The contributors of TBJ on the other hand offer European Rightism with an ideological backing, and as such this new group blog reminds me of IntellectualConservative.com. In the discourse they use one finds such concepts as the fair tax and even the flat tax, as well as an unashamed defense of individualism, self-accountability and free markets. In socialist dominated Europe, with its at best "mixed" markets, the existence of a group of independent thinkers and writers like TBJ is therefore a hopeful sign that the pendulum has taken a definitive swing to the other side. If we add also the fact that some – not all – of TBJ’s contributors are not ashamed to "out" themselves as Christians, or at least don’t bother to profile themselves as ethically conservative, we may indeed see the beginning of a European Rightwingism modelled after its American counterpart. Here’s hoping for the future!
While I am at it, may I point you to their regular postings which up until now invariably offer thorough and well-balanced insight and analysis. One of the last posts, by the hand of said Mr. Beliën, who is also a WSJ contributor, reports on a speech by Mr. Andrei Illarionov, Chief Economic Advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin, while at a Mont Pélerin Society summit in Reykjavik, Iceland (The Mont Pélerin Society is a Hayekian think tank). I guess that over the past five or so years, most of those interested in Russian matters have watched economical and political developments in the former USSR with considerable anxiety, given Mr. Putins clampdown on corporate Russia as well as his apparent nostalgy for the Communist era and his governments actions against political dissidents and too indepenent media platforms. Well, I must say that Mr. Illarionovs speech more or less baffled me. Some excerpts:
Last week Illarionov pointed out that in the 1990s, when oil prices were relatively low, Russia lowered taxation (adopting a flat tax of 13%), privatised its oil industry, stimulated economic competition and attracted foreign investments. Since 1999 oil prices have been on the rise, multiplying five-fold. With the high oil prices "the Dutch disease" came to Russia, said Illarionov. Money has flown in, leading to a high money supply, high inflation and a rise of the ruble.
"An exacerbation of the Dutch disease promotes corruption, impairs the quality of policies, including those of an economic nature, and demoralizes essential federal and public institutions. The flow of revenues not earned through the hard labour of the government or economic entities has a degrading effect, thus encouraging the emergence of a ‘rent-oriented’ government and a ‘rent-oriented’ society. As a result, the idea of business through creative endeavors gives way to an aggressive ideology of redistribution."
Russia soon became a "petro-economy" where the government strengthened centralisation and began to implement a so-called "industrial policy" with a sharply increased taxation of oil companies, an increase in government spending and an expansion of government companies and the non-market sector. The "petro-economy" led to the "petro-state" with what Illarionov calls the "Venezuelan Disease Syndrome." Venezuela went through an unprecedented economic growth until the late 1950s when its per capita incomes and consumption levels almost equalled those of the U.S. and Switzerland. However, after the authorities nationalized the oil industry and other key sectors of the economy in 1957 the country entered a decline that continues today.
"The Venezuelan disease [consists of] a policy based on increasingly stringent tax and bureaucratic controls over finances (above all, in the oil and gas industry), nationalization of the largest and most successful corporations, the continued government monopoly over infrastructure facilities, a ban on private ownership of mineral resources, exclusion of foreign investors from the development of the most promising natural resource deposits, and protectionism that creeps into all branches of the economy."
Today the Russian authorities are reaffirming their stranglehold on the "commanding heights of the economy." They have effectively nationalized the oil industry (Yukos). They intervene in the other economic sectors. The bureaucracy and the military are on the rise and the rule of law is dwindling. This has affected young Russians who are currently seeking career opportunities as government administrators rather than entrepreneurs.
Illarionov’s speech was, as Johan Norberg noted, "informative and powerful," but he was so outspoken that he left his audience baffled, wondering whether they had really been listening to the man who since 2000 has been Putin’s senior economic adviser. Some of the MPS members put forward the theory that the 44-year old economist, a self-declared fan of libertarian writer Ayn Rand, has been given permission by his boss to say these things so that the latter can show the world that he tolerates criticism and freedom of speech, even at the highest level. That explanation looks far-fetched to me, but as Mr. Putin is the former head of the KGB one never knows.
Johan Norberg is, as some of you may know, the driving force behind the Swedish pro free market think tank Timbro. You may want to bookmark that site. More on Mr. Illarionovs views here.