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Can Unfettered Markets Serve Love and Compassion?

Now and again a story comes along that presents the chance to go beyond abstract arguments about ideas of political economy and see just how they work themselves out in actual lives. This is one of those stories.

I find it interesting that the most devout libertarians see no contradiction in having a government remove an entire population of indigenous people from their legally titled land so that the libertarians can establish a model city of commerce unfettered by government interference. But that is exactly what the Honduran government has signed a contract to do to the Garífuna people so that Free Cities Development can build a model city where the economy is free from Honduras’ labor and environmental laws, trade agreements, courts, and police.

Michael Strong, head of Free Cities Development, identifies himself as a leftist and proponent of Conscious Capitalism. He formed the organization FLOW with John Mackey, libertarian CEO of Whole Foods, to harness the wealth-producing potential of markets to serve the “Love, Compassion, Social & Environmental Consciousness championed in the human potential movement,” according to the FLOW website.

It is hard to say how building an artificial city with its own police force and no social or environmental regulation to fetter the markets will result in the poverty-free paradise that Strong has proclaimed. Laws and regulations that limit markets are, after all, the tools by which the rest of us prevent the very strong and ambitious from stealing, polluting, and maiming in order to maximize their profits.

The Garífuna people, meantime, continue to fight to retain the land to which they hold legal title, even though the Honduran president has called these lands uninhabited. Descendants of the indigenous Arawak and Carib people and Africans who escaped from wrecked slave ships, they have been pushed off their land before, by banana plantations, palm oil plantations, narcotics trafficking, and luxury real estate development.

Still, they persist. They gather in encampments to occupy the land they claim, and they dance and drum. They petition and cajole government workers to defy illegally locked gates and complete surveys of their lands. They have joined other civil society organizations to file a total of 76 challenges to the constitutionality of the model cities law. They have benefited from the support of allies, like Cultural Survival, who bring attention and organize powerful letter-writing campaigns.

Last October the Honduran Supreme Court ruled that the model cities legislation is unconstitutional. For right now it looks like this particular “free” city will not materialize. But the Korean and Canadian financiers who were ready to invest, the committed free-market economists and organizations that advance the concept, the libertarian politicians (the Honduran president and a couple of US Senators among them)—these have not gone away. They are busy looking for other sites where they can promise to relieve desperate poverty by doing away with all the rules.

I stay informed about these and similar events by following Cultural Survival @csorg

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About Katherine Power

I didn’t set out to be a terrorist. As a student activist, I moved from protesting the war in Viet Nam to waging guerrilla war to overthrow the government….

Recent and Upcoming Appearances and Publications
1/15/2014 Complexity and Social Change, Occupy Radio
10/31/2013 Surrender, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
10/25/2013 Surrender, Taos Community Theater, Taos, NM

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