by Gary Alexander
July 12, 2022
As you read this, I’m off to the 15th Freedom Fest in Las Vegas. I’ve been to them all. It started on 7-7-07, a lucky number in Las Vegas, and I’ll be turning 77 on Friday, so I guess it’s my lucky day for betting something… But I’ve got more serious issues on my mind. On Friday, I’ll join one of several film panels, this one on “Battleground Melbourne,” a film about “the world’s most livable city” that quickly became “the world’s most locked down city” in March 2020 in response to COVID, with people locked in public housing before protests began with 70 people, eventually reaching 450,000 facing down police.
Daniel Andrews, Premier of Victoria, Melbourne’s governing province, issued vaccine and mask mandates, travel limits, curfews, and five separate lockdowns, arresting many who posted or suggested meeting spots for demonstrations. Victoria was not alone. According to Conor Friedersdorf, writing in The Atlantic (“Australia Traded Away Too Much Liberty,” September 2021): “The government of South Australia, one of the country’s six states, developed and is now testing an app as Orwellian as any in the free world to enforce its quarantine rules. Returning travelers quarantining at home will be forced to download an app that combines facial recognition and geolocation. The state will text them at random times, and thereafter they will have 15 minutes to take a picture of their face in the location where they are supposed to be. Should they fail, the local police department will be sent to follow up in person.”
This was surprising to me, since according to many polls, Australia was high on the list of “economic freedom” in surveys by the likes of Freedom House or Heritage Foundation. For instance, here is the list of the Top 5 and bottom 3 nations ranked for economic freedom by the Heritage Foundation, pre-COVID.
|2019 Index of Economic Freedom
|Source: Heritage Foundation
Most of us would agree with the sorry state of the bottom three – Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea, all of them Communist holdouts – but how about the top five? Is there some fundamental flaw in the formula that was exposed when COVID struck in 2020? I’ll focus specifically on #1 and #5. Why them?
Let me back up and tell you that I am a “senior judge” at the Anthem Film Festival at Freedom Fest, with “senior” meaning I was there from the beginning, over a decade ago, when that freedom-oriented film festival had a handful of marginal films seen by a few dozen attendees. Each year, I have the honor of previewing and commenting on each film and each year it is getting harder to find flaws in any of them.
Here are three of the best in this year’s Anthem Film Festival, each with a focus on economic freedom:
How Hong Kong, the 2019 #1 Freest Nation on Earth, Disappeared from the 2022 List
In the 2022 list, Australia was demoted to #12 and Hong Kong disappeared, swallowed by China.
|2022 Index of Economic Freedom
|(China is the 158th freest of 184 nations)
|Source: Heritage Foundation
This brings me to a second documentary at Freedom Fest’s Anthem Film Festival, “The Hong Konger: Jimmy Lai’s Extraordinary Struggle for Freedom,” just released in May 2022 by the Acton Institute.
Jimmy Lai had the unfortunate luck to be born into a rich family in China in late 1947, just before Mao Zedong took control and punished rich families most severely. Lai lost his parents at age five and had to struggle to survive by hauling luggage for tips at train stations until he met a Hong Konger who was his image of Superman. At age 12, Lai smuggled himself in the bottom of a fishing boat to escape to Hong Kong where he began as a textile runner and within 30 years built his firm, Giordano, into an enormously successful clothing business in thousands of stores worldwide. Chilled by China’s 1989 crackdown on Tiananmen Square, Lai sold his textile business and launched Next Media, publishing Hong Kong’s top newspaper, Apple Daily, a voice for political free speech, especially after Hong Kong’s transfer to China in 1997, after which China promised to keep hands off Hong Kong 50 years, as ‘one nation, two systems.’
That promise lasted 20 years, not 50, until Xi Jinping cracked down on Hong Kong and raided Apple Daily, shutting down the paper and throwing Lai in prison (since late 2020). Lai could have emigrated to America or Europe decades ago, but he is a Hong Konger to the end, because Hong Kong saved his life.
Hong Kong citizens staged peaceful protests of up to two million people at a time, many carrying their yellow umbrellas as protection against tear gas as well as rain, but China has all the guns, which makes economic freedom theoretical and Mao’s maxim true: “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index peaked in early 2018, just before China cracked down on Hong Kong’s freedoms. Here’s the financial outcome of the death of political freedom – erosion of financial fortunes:
Graphs are for illustrative and discussion purposes only. Please read important disclosures at the end of this commentary.
Locking Down the Young and Healthy is the Worst Solution
The third film is perhaps the most devastating of all. “Planet Lockdown” interviews 30 experts, mostly medical but also ethical, political, and economic experts, showing how lockdown was precisely the wrong formula for solving a medical crisis. Historically, science and medicine might quarantine those with a communicable disease or those at greatest risk, but most nations locked down everyone, with the term “lockdown” most closely associated with maximum-security prisons with highly limited mobility.
Lockdowns sent most economies into deep recession, if only for a quarter or two, but created a long-term problem of supply shortages, labor disruptions, and small business extinction, all while ignoring the many other societal ills caused by lockdowns, including two years of missing or substandard education, suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, other health crises, and depression. One physician interviewed in Planet Lockdown, Dr. Louis Fouche, formerly an ICU Doctor in Marseilles, France, and Founder of ReInfo, COVID, said, “They call it a health problem, but if you unfold the monster, you will see a medical crisis, science crisis, social crisis, political crisis, financial crisis, economic crisis, school crisis and labor crisis.”
Note: “Planet Lockdown” and “Battleground Melbourne” are available on YouTube, as is the preview to “Hong Kongers,” but please support filmmakers by renting them, or sample the Anthem Film Festival.
In summary, Hong Kong was always vulnerable to China, especially under cover of COVID, while New Zealand and Australia were island nations capable of controlling COVID immigration better than most, but they used the pandemic to exert unwarranted control, “Not letting a crisis go to waste.” That’s why surveys of economic freedom are useless unless a country has military strength and political freedom.