An argument I have come up against recently, in this apocalyptic book by James Rickards, is that free trade, as classically defended by David Ricardo with his famous Law of Comparative Advantage, only works in theory because the freedom to move capital and factors of production around means the “playing field” of the market is never “fair”, hence tariffs/other controls are just to re-set the game. Straight off, this sounds bunk to me, not least because free movement of capital is part of what capitalism (clue is in the word) is all about. Capital, both in its physical and human form, goes to places where it can earn the highest rate of return. This is how, to summarise massively, we got from the caves to the skyscraper. If a businessman cannot use his capital where it works most effectively, it would render much investment pointless.
And if it is wrong for capital to move around because it somehow undermines some sort of “fair” trade, then this applies not just to between nations, but inside them, too. Ah, but I hear the Trumpistas cry, what about those evil currency manipulators gaming the system in their favour? The answer is that if the Chinese or others want to send us cheap stuff, made even more dastardly cheaper by currency manipulation, it means consumers don’t have to earn so much to buy imports. True, in the short-term it means that some jobs will be lost because of the cheap imports, but then again the pay packages of millions of consumers stretch a bit further. The pain of the affected industries is easy to see and makes for great TV and campaign spots for a Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders (whose views on trade are identical); the costs to consumers from protectionism is not easy to visualise. Also, if China, for example, sells or “dumps” cheap steel on the world market, manufacturers in the West who use steel will see their costs fall. It is worth nothing that when in the early Noughties George W. Bush slapped tariffs on steel, it “saved” some US steelmaker jobs, but cost many jobs in sectors where steel is a factor of production.
Finally, here are more thoughts on the idea that free capital movement somehow dents the case for trade trade, via Gene Callahan over a decade ago:
An honest advocate of free trade must admit that there will often be people who are made worse off, at least in the short run, by the freedom to trade internationally. But the same is true of trade within the borders of a country: If you open a restaurant near to and better than mine, my business will suffer.
It might be pleasant to live in a world of unlimited resources, where everyone who wanted to run a restaurant could do so without having to compete for customers’ scarce dollars. But since we don’t, the fact that my situation might worsen because of your business activities is an unavoidable consequence of the freedom to buy from and sell to whomever one wishes. If we try to prevent all such unpleasant outcomes, we will eliminate the market economy and regress to a hand-to-mouth existence.
In a recent posting here, which I called How Brexit has unified the Conservative Party, and which I might have called (as I said in it (but never mind, I can use that title for this)) “Brexit has unified the Conservative Party and divided Labour”, I explained how Brexit had unified the Conservatives and had divided Labour.
Last night there was a vote in the House of Commons about whether Britain should proceed with what its voters had voted for.
Total number of Conservative MPs who voted against the bill, despite Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May commanding them to vote for it: 1.
Total number of Labour MPs who voted against the bill, despite Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn commanding them to vote for it: 47.
See what I mean.
The irony being that the demand that the House of Commons have its own vote on the matter has only served to highlight this Conservative Leave-inspired unanimity and Labour Remain-inspired division.
For how long will EUrope divide the political left in Britain? From where I sit, the longer the better.
The convener of the Health and Sport Committee, Neil Findlay MSP, defended the proposed policies: ‘Scotland has not previously been afraid to take the initiative to tackle health-related issues when other interventions have failed. This is why this committee is asking for a bold approach to tackling obesity.’ This, in all its overtly protective language, is a call for further intrusion into the life and liberty of Scots. We don’t need to be subject to gross social engineering. We don’t need to be treated like ignorant, gullible pawns, shuffling brainlessly towards Scotmid for another high-calorie fix. We drink alcohol because we like alcohol. We eat fatty foods because they’re tasty. We drive cars because they’re useful. We don’t need the obesity-obsessed overlords in Holyrood lecturing us on our lifestyle choices.
Our message to politicians like Findlay should be clear: get stuffed. Who knows, it might make their policies taste less sour.
– Charlie Peters
After a brief pause, he relayed a recent anecdote, from the set of a network show, that was even more terrifying: The production was shooting a scene in the foyer of a law firm, which the lead rushed into from the rain to utter some line that this screenwriter had composed. After an early take, the director yelled “Cut,” and this screenwriter, as is customary, ambled off to the side with the actor to offer a comment on his delivery. As they stood there chatting, the screenwriter noticed that a tiny droplet of rain remained on the actor’s shoulder. Politely, as they spoke, he brushed it off. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, an employee from the production’s wardrobe department rushed over to berate him. “That is not your job,” she scolded. “That is my job.”
The screenwriter was stunned. But he had also worked in Hollywood long enough to understand what she was really saying: quite literally, wiping rain off an actor’s wardrobe was her job—a job that was well paid and protected by a union. And as with the other couple of hundred people on set, only she could perform it.
This raindrop moment, and the countless similar incidents that I’ve observed on sets or heard about from people I’ve met in the industry, may seem harmless and ridiculous enough on its face. But it reinforces an eventuality that seems both increasingly obvious and uncomfortable—one that might occur to you every time you stream Fringe or watch a former ingénue try to re-invent herself as a social-media icon or athleisure-wear founder: Hollywood, as we once knew it, is over.
– Nick Bilton
All libertarians should really be opposed to State Visits, by definition. But do I sense that not libertarians but sanctimonious prigs are out in force here in the UK? Trump executive order: Million sign petition to stop UK visit. This is somehow newsworthy, but read the small print in the petition, not visible on the headnote:
Donald Trump’s well documented misogyny and vulgarity disqualifies him from being received by Her Majesty the Queen or the Prince of Wales.
Wasn’t Prince Charles the chap who talked about wanting to be a tampon? But then again, cancelling the visit would save Prince Charles the horror of meeting a climate sceptic!
So it would be a scandal for this visit to go ahead. Did they say that about the GIs in 1942? Wouldn’t it be a scandal for the government to take notice of this petition?
Given that the Queen was railroaded into giving a knighthood and a State Visit to the Romanian Communist tyrant Ceausescu, President Trump seems to have a long way to go before he could possibly compare. How about making President Trump an honorary Knight of the Thistle instead?
Some things can come out from the petition process (and I don’t mean changes to government policy). The site provides a breakdown of voters’ location by Parliamentary constituency (or, at the least, where the voters purport to originate), so you can see where those affected by the apparently ceaseless urge to agitate and virtue-signal, like a bird in some bizarre mating and nesting ritual, are found. As I write, the data suggests (well I never!) clusters of Lefties in University cities and towns across the UK, and relative indifference in-between. This is where the Left are found, and there are still 58,000,000 or more who haven’t signed the petition. The Left are outnumbered and isolated, but signalling away to each other, they come to think that they rule the roost.
I suppose this data might help the North Koreans estimate where the socialists are most densely packed and so to target their nukes accordingly when they get round to liberating us.
The difference of course, is that in the US, they have a choice of who to watch and listen to, but in the UK, the massive public subsidy kills off any commercial competition to the BBC. So they (and the clone like politics in public subsided Channel 4) have a virtual monopoly on “intellectual” programming. Indeed, “intellectuals”, meaning a few politicians and academics have a channel devoted to brainwashing them: Radio 4. The result is that our “elite” (as they see themselves) are so completely brain-washed by the BBC hate filled bile, that they just inherently adopt the attitudes of the BBC and cannot fathom why anyone could complain when they parrot the brainwashed propaganda.
– Scottish Sceptic
Looking back, it’s hard to overstate the cultural significance of GamerGate: it marked when the Left suddenly and unexpectedly lost control of social media, right at the point where the influence of social media actually started to matter. In a sense, it was the second wave of discontent that started with the arrival of anti-MSM blogs in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, but within a very different internet environment compared to ‘The Golden Age of Blogging’ 2001-2010. As has often been the case in military campaigns, when one side becomes greatly overextended, they only realise they have lost the initiative when they seek to advance and experience a completely unexpected reversal: a result that may seem obvious and perhaps even inevitable to a historian looking back, but which was far from obvious to the people on the ground at the time.
So certain was the Left that they had won the culture war, so confident with the established media under their effective control that ‘truth’ was theirs to declare, that they gave up on any pretence of objectivity. After all, their enemies had been swept from both airwaves and print (I sometimes cannot tell the difference between the Times and the Guardian and the Economist). And so they began to manoeuvre with the assurance and arrogance of an army under an umbrella of complete air(wave) supremacy, a supremacy that suddenly proved to be illusory because opinions had moved on-line.
I could just as easily be talking about Brexit or Trump, for it was a widespread tone deaf lack of introspection by establishment folk that made those things possible (albeit for very different reasons)… but the way I see it, GamerGate was the canary-in-the-coal mine. And almost no one on the Left noticed that particular canary had fallen off the perch and dropped dead. I imagine when the history of Brexit and Trump are written, GamerGate will probably be a forgotten footnote (and it is indeed a mere footnote), but I think it was (and sporadically still is) a more significant series of protracted skirmishes in the culture war than a lot of us Old Farts realise, a very successful clash that radicalised many younger people in ways that horrify the Tranzi Left.
And their response every time has been to double down as if nothing has changed, eventually stripping words like ‘misogynist’, ‘racist’ and ‘nazi’ of any meaning in the process.
Obama is described in the web novel Unsong:
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton originally looked set to sweep the national vote based on her connections and name recognition. Then things got interesting. People all around the country started talking about “hope” and “change” and “yes we can”. New political phenomenon Barack Obama inspired huge crowds wherever he went. The older, stodgier candidates were swept aside in the wave of enthusiasm at the revolution he promised.
Me, I figured he was probably a demon.
I mean, I’ve read enough folktales to recognize the basic arc. A mysterious tall dark stranger arrives in the capital and quickly gains the ears of the court. There’s no particular reason why anyone should like him, but everyone who listens to him can’t shake the feeling that he’s a trustworthy, intelligent figure. When he’s out of earshot, the nobles of the land plot against him, wondering how such a relative lightweight could dream of usurping their power – but as soon as he speaks to them in his smooth, calming voice, they immediately forget what they were going to do and join in the universal chorus of praise.
And in every one of those folktales, the stranger turns out to be a demon.
This post was necessitated by a conversation at Brian’s Friday.
Sometimes I observe a public discussion and notice that each side is talking across the other and neither side is understanding. I wonder if a change to the language of the debate might be constructive.
When Donald Trumps talks about making Mexico pay for the wall by imposing a 20% tariff on imports from Mexico, the left rightly point out that this means that Americans will pay for the wall. Similarly, those who want the UK to remain in European Union talk about the importance of trade. Nearly everyone agrees that tariffs are bad and trade is good. But dig a little deeper and soon it becomes clear that people are not talking about free trade at all. They are talking about the kind of trade that involves hugely complicated and interventionist multilateral treaties between governments.
I often try to explain that I am in favour of free trade and that we do not need people in government to make complicated deals: we just need to leave people alone and they will trade with each other. I am met with various objections. Exporters will suffer because foreign governments will increase tariffs and people in foreign countries will find it too expensive to buy British goods. Foreign governments will subsidise production and people in foreign countries will be able to sell things cheaply to British people; so cheaply that British people will stop buying things from British companies until those companies go out of business. At this point the foreign people might put up their prices and if they time it right the prices might never go down again because skills required to restart British companies might be lost.
My answer to these objections is that people are clever and they will find ways to make the most of the new situation. But it will be a situation in which people are, on the whole, richer than they were before. Cheap foreign goods make us richer. Not exporting things frees up labour to do other useful things.
But I can not deny that in the short term people will lose jobs and will struggle to find new things to do. My arguments are all about how people can get richer in the end. People who think the government can help with trade want to help the man who works in the widget factory and wants to be still working in the widget factory tomorrow.
Some Trump supporters and some people in favour of the UK leaving the European Union want to reduce immigration. I am in principle in favour of freedom of movement. I would argue that the ability of people to move to where there is demand for their labour makes production cheaper and everyone richer. But I can not deny that people moving around can make life uncomfortable for people staying still if the people staying still find their wages going down as a result. It is certainly not helpful to make accusations of bigotry in the face of such concerns as people on the left often do.
It might turn out that we all agree about what happens when people are free to move and trade, we just have different time preferences.
Interestingly, some of the same people who object to unilateral free trade are also in favour of freedom of movement, even though it is equivalent to unilateral free trade in labour.
Trump knows that the press isn’t trusted very much, and that the less it’s trusted, the less it can hurt him. So he’s prodding reporters to do things that will make them less trusted, and they’re constantly taking the bait.
They’re taking the bait because they think he’s dumb, and impulsive, and lacking self-control — but he’s the one causing them to act in ways that are dumb and impulsive, and demonstrate lack of self-control. As Richard Fernandez writes on Facebook, they think he’s dumb because they think he has lousy taste, but there are a lot of scarily competent guys out there in the world who like white and gold furniture. And, I should note, Trump has more media experience than probably 99% of the people covering him. (As Obama operative Ben Rhodes gloated with regard to selling a dishonest story on the Iran deal, the average reporter the Obama White House dealt with “is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns.” In Rhodes’ words, “they literally know nothing.”)
– Glenn Reynolds
“Economies are dynamic, complex systems. They are most strong and productive over time when they are free to adapt to new realities, circumstances and changing patterns of supply and demand. Was UK mining truly protected by overt government decisions to buy domestic coal in the late 1970s or early 1980s? Or was that protection merely insulating the industry from the competition of cheap natural gas, meaning that when the protection was withdrawn, the industry collapsed?”
– Ryan Bourne.