Fans of free markets and limited government have a new place to seek allies. Recently Conservatives International, a new global advocacy organization, was launched at a conference in Miami. While supporting many traditional principles, the group aims to bring together people beyond the current definition of “conservative” on the U.S. political spectrum:
“Conservatives International is the leading global network of conservative, classical liberal and Centre-Right movements. Bringing together politicians, businesses and think-tanks, we make the case globally for individual liberty, private property, unrestricted commerce and small government.”
Contrary to the increasing enthusiasm for closed borders and economic nationalism among some right-leaning political parties around the world, this new group seeks to clarify that modern conservatives are in favor of free markets and entrepreneurial growth and change—not in resurrecting some museum-piece vision of our cultural past.
Conservatives International views free markets “as the ultimate instrument of poverty alleviation, conflict resolution and social justice.” That may surprise a few U.S. conservatives who have learned to associate the phrase “social justice” with far-left notions of identity politics.
However, it’s a vital part of this new project, to take back some of the claims our left-wing friends have made over the years, including that a large, intrusive government will somehow lead to greater health, wealth, and happiness for the less fortunate among us. The whole history of human civilization suggests the opposite.
The conference organizers actively reached out to free market and other advocacy groups and many were represented at the seminar, including the Atlas Network, the Heritage Foundation, and Americans for Tax Reform. Despite the welcome sponsorship of AT&T, there were fewer entrepreneurs, managers, and executives than I would have hoped. More business leaders need to recognize the value of alliances like this. A Doer/Thinker Alliance of business leaders and policy scholars might achieve much, especially if linked strategically with political leaders willing to advance free market ideas in the policy world.
Daniel Hannan, currently a UK Member of the European Parliament and a popular speaker at conservative and libertarian events in the U.S., was the catalyst for the creation of Conservatives International and the Miami conference. Dan grew up in Peru, still speaks fluent Spanish, and has built close connections with the center-right community in Latin American and Spain. That background made him the perfect person to bring together people from throughout the Americas, including political reformers, elected officials, journalists, and students.
The conference program had some interesting highlights. Florida Governor Rick Scott gave a talk noting the reforms he has implemented to state programs and the enviable economic statistics that the state has achieved in recent years. In the conference’s closing speech, former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar made an inspiring case for economic liberty, invoking the legacies of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and the post-Cold War world they left behind. But what really got me engaged was the interchange of ideas I enjoyed having with the various attendees.
I was a speaker on a panel titled “The Right Involvement of Business Leaders in Politics,” moderated by Rodrigo Arenas, president of Guatemala’s Movimiento Cívico Nacional, a pro-liberty activist group. We were joined by two prominent Latin American leaders in business and civil society, Felipe Bosch of the Guatemala Development Foundation and Marcel Granier of Radio Caracas TV in Venezuela. Granier, as a top media executive in the troubled Bolivarian Republic, brought an especially timely perspective to the discussion. As the world looks on in horror at the swift unraveling of the Venezuelan economy under President Nicolás Maduro, he is able to reflect on the better part of a decade under state censorship and expropriation, going back to the early days of the regime of Hugo Chávez. He emphasized the need for defenders of the rule of law to stick together, referencing German theologian Martin Niemöller’s famous anti-fascist poem about how the Nazi regime gradually isolated and eliminated its enemies.
We opened with the question of whether businesspeople should engage in politics. Won’t this simply encourage more cronyism? That risk is already a reality, I responded. What we need now is to enlist more business leaders to defend free markets and capitalism against political attacks. Cronyism, I argued, can produce some gains for some parties, but is overall a negative-sum game—it produces no net wealth. The cronyist risk would be lessened if business leaders were more aware of the long-term benefits from partnering with principled free market policy groups, like the ones represented at the conference.
Business leaders around the world should be less fatalistic when it comes to confronting the immovable object of government. Many now think that government is too big, too complex, the media is too unfair, and politicians are beholden to too many different constituencies for them to do anything other than keep their head down and make the best deals possible. But as Radio Caracas’ Granier pointed out, even if you ignore the politicians, they might still come after you. We all agreed that closer links between free market intellectuals and free market business leaders would address these problems.
The emergence of Conservatives International is a heartening development, as academics, activists, and business leaders around the world are increasingly joining forces to defend the principles of a free society, and the peace, prosperity, and cultural flourishing that are their result. The professional economists and academics of the Mont Pelerin Society, for example, are increasingly working with the advocacy groups of the Atlas Network internationally, and the State Policy Network here in the U.S. And when it comes to standing up for the role of business owners and entrepreneurs, our friends at places like the Bastiat Society and the Job Creators Network are doing excellent and inspiring work as well. There’s a lot more for all of us to do, at home and abroad, but we’ve never had a better organized team of happy warriors.
Originally posted to Forbes.