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When I was growing up in Lima in the 1970s, Western visitors were astonished by the shantytowns, the barriadas, as they were known, that ringed that grimy city. Why, they asked, did people leave the countryside to live in these squalid slums? Why swap the pure air of the Andes for traffic fumes and sewage?

It was a very First World question. No Peruvian ever asked why people were quitting villages that lacked electricity and clean water. The barriadas may have been ugly, but they were humming with enterprise. They offered work, access to schools and clinics, a power supply. They were, for most of their denizens, transitional, a staging post between mountain squalor and something better. . . .

Employees of foreign-owned companies in Vietnam earn 210 percent of the average wage. The readiness of that country to open itself to trade and investment has brought huge benefits to the Vietnamese, including those on the lowest incomes. Over 19 years, the West struggled to defeat totalitarian socialism in Vietnam, and failed. Three decades of trade have achieved what 60,000 American lives and over a trillion dollars in today’s prices in military spending failed to achieve: the end of Communism.

Developing countries which open their markets eliminate poverty more quickly than those which don’t. Compare Vietnam to Myanmar, or Colombia to Venezuela, or Bangladesh to Pakistan. A study of developing states since 1980 showed that those which had joined the global trading system enjoyed annual growth at an average of 5 percent, as against 1.5 percent for those which hadn’t. . . .

Liberalization works every time. Look at India since 1991, or China since 1979 — or, before that, at Singapore, South Korea, Chile. So why don’t others follow?

Much of the answer has to do with politics. Right-of-center parties in many less developed countries are both oligarchic and autocratic. They are aware of the inequalities of wealth in their nations, and believe that the only way to appeal to a poor and often badly-educated electorate is through bribery in the form of public works, or else through nationalism.

They are wrong. You don’t have to be rich or educated to grasp that fewer government officials and less form-filling will make a country less corrupt. The handful of politicians brave enough to offer that formula — Colombia’s Alvaro Uribe, for example — were richly rewarded at the polls.

The world is in a strange place when it takes an international movement of conservatives to promote liberalization.