Sunday, January 27, 2008

The myth of free trade...

I've been struggling with the idea of globalism - whether it truly is the way to 'raise all boats' or is it just another way of exploiting the masses.
 
Most economic theorists argue the former: that free trade and access to markets benefits both the advanced and developing economy. Something has always bothered me about this purported axiom ... and it seems like someone with some credentials have spoken up:
 
Ha-Joon Chang is a Cambridge economist... His latest book: Bad Samaritans looks to be a good read. Truthdig has a review. Since I'm pressed for time, as usual, I'll excerpt it.
 
The new book is a discursive, well-written account of what he calls the "Bad Samaritans," "people in the rich countries who preach free markets and free trade to the poor countries in order to capture larger shares of the latter's markets and preempt the emergence of possible competitors. His central point (from the review I read) is that we (the west) preach the panacea of the free market and free trade -- but a look at our history clearly demonstrates that we didn't practice what we currently preach during our own economic development. In fact, all of the current economic powerhouses: S. Korea, the US, China, etc. ALL practiced protectionism and nurtured their indigenous industries with tariffs, subsidies and the like. In fact, even today the US subsidizes farming to an alarming degree -- while calling for 'free trade' with nations that have farmers who cannot hope to compete with our high-mechanized corporate farms.
 
We live in an allegedly enlightened age of free trade.  Nonetheless, European citizens support their dairy industry with subsidies and tariffs to the tune of 16 billion pounds sterling a year. This amounts to more than 1 pound per cow per day, when half the world's people live on less. The pattern is repeated with regard to a vast range of agricultural commodities grown in rich, developed countries. The U.S. subsidizes corn and exports it to Mexico, where it is the staple diet of most of the people. These exports, however, drive small Mexican farmers into bankruptcy and encourage their illegal immigration into the United States, where a racist backlash is directed against them. In many cases, the American proponents of farm subsidies are one and the same people who stir up hatreds against Mexican farm workers. Japan is one of the world's richest countries, with a remarkably even per capita income distribution, but it still lavishly subsidizes its extremely inefficient rice growers and prevents the import of rice that could easily compete on price with domestic rice.

With "Bad Samaritans," Chang has succinctly and comprehensively exposed the chief structures of economic imperialism in the world today. What is now required is the leadership to undermine and dismantle the barriers that keep so much of the world so poor.

I'm going to pick up the book.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Food for thought...

From the Times...

Which of the following people would you say is the most admirable: Mother Teresa, Bill Gates or Norman Borlaug? And which do you think is the least admirable? For most people, it's an easy question. Mother Teresa, famous for ministering to the poor in Calcutta, has been beatified by the Vatican, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and ranked in an American poll as the most admired person of the 20th century. Bill Gates, infamous for giving us the Microsoft dancing paper clip and the blue screen of death, has been decapitated in effigy in "I Hate Gates" Web sites and hit with a pie in the face. As for Norman Borlaug . . . who the heck is Norman Borlaug?

Yet a deeper look might lead you to rethink your answers. Borlaug, father of the "Green Revolution" that used agricultural science to reduce world hunger, has been credited with saving a billion lives, more than anyone else in history. Gates, in deciding what to do with his fortune, crunched the numbers and determined that he could alleviate the most misery by fighting everyday scourges in the developing world like malaria, diarrhea and parasites. Mother Teresa, for her part, extolled the virtue of suffering and ran her well-financed missions accordingly: their sick patrons were offered plenty of prayer but harsh conditions, few analgesics and dangerously primitive medical care.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Maybe... just maybe

There may be room to believe (not one of my favorite words, but what the hell) that people are at least becoming sane. From the Washington Post:
 
Conservatism, quite simply, is a mess these days. Conservative attitudes are changing. Or, more accurately, the attitudes of people who call themselves conservatives are changing.

The most cited data to prove this point come from the Pew Political Typology survey. By 2005, it had found that so many self-described conservatives were in favor of government activism that they had to come up with a name for them. "Running-dog liberals" apparently seemed too pejorative, so the survey went with "pro-government conservatives," a term that might have caused Ronald Reagan to spontaneously combust. This group makes up just under 10 percent of registered voters and something like a third of the Republican coalition. Ninety-four percent of pro-government conservatives favored raising the minimum wage, as did 79 percent of self-described social conservatives. Eight out of 10 pro-government conservatives believe that the government should do more to help the poor and slightly more than that distrust big corporations.

Of course, we don't need more government -- just more efficient government.

Maybe the public is starting to realize that you can't put government in the hands of people who openly profess disdain for the enterprise...