On November 9th, 2014 the world celebrated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The event not only led to the liberation of millions of people and the fall of the Soviet Union, but it effectively ended a near 50 year old cold war nuclear standoff between the USSR and the United States. Communism had failed and the promises it had offered laid in shambles like the pieces of that iconic wall as it was torn down by the very people it had oppressed.
There was so much promise for humanity in those events. The world seemed on the verge of peace. Globalization was to bring economic prosperity and civil democratic societies would interact peacefully. The days of totalitarianism seemed numbered. The notion that a central authority could plan people’s lives seemed completely refuted.
As a young boy, the images of the Wall being torn down struck a chord with me. I wanted to know why the people I saw on the television were so full of emotion, who had erected the Wall and why? Why would anyone wish to Wall people off from the rest of world? It was a formative event in my young life.
The song Right Here, Right Now by Jesus Jones perfectly captures the spirit of hope and promise which the fall of the Wall brought with it. There was a genuine feeling that, as the song said, we were watching the world wake up from history—that it was time to move in a better, freer direction.
Looking back it feels as though humanity wrote a check it has yet to cash. While the 90’s saw progress, the following decade felt like a leap backwards. Wide scale warfare, increasing government intervention into the economy, and the rise of a surveillance state, all deterred humanity from the path of global trade, cooperation, and prosperity. Today, many of the policies which wrought so much ugliness under Soviet rule are increasingly championed by people across the globe. Communists like Che Guevara and Karl Marx are popularized and romanticized, with no regard for the system of murderous oppression they unleashed on the world. Totalitarian governments are tolerated and even excused by the world community in the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia.
Yet despite that, capitalism continues to eradicate world poverty, and the UN believes that acute poverty will be wholly eliminated within the world’s poorest nations within the next 20 years. Almost one billion people have been lifted out of poverty due to economic growth over the past 20 years, slashing world poverty rates in half.
Have we forgotten the lessons of the Berlin Wall? Or are we finally ready to embrace liberty, free trade, and a global society of cooperation and prosperity? Let us not be forced to relearn old lessons. Calls for more government in our lives or in our economies is moving humanity backwards, towards the dark days of totalitarian governance. We must remember the results of the policies which built that Wall, and the promise of freedom which tore it down. If we do, maybe we can truly have world peace and prosperity right here, right now.