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Boris on Sinophobia

Boris Johnson, the Tory MP and magazine editor, occasionally bugs me with his latter-day Bertie Wooster routine, which has become a bit of a self-parody, but it is hard not to like a man who writes a wonderfully clear-headed, cant-free article on China like this.

The Member for Henley-on-Thames is unimpressed by the current vogue for getting all upset about matters Chinese, whether it be terrors about Avian flu, dread of ultra-cheap clothes (low-price bras, oh the horrors!) and so forth. Boris is particularly harsh on the European Union’s bout of protectionist folly against cheap Chinese textile exports and the role of that lowlife, EU Commissioner Peter Mandelson:

It is all stark staring nonsense, and founded on the same misapprehension as Peter Mandelson’s demented decision to slap quotas on Chinese textiles, so that the mouths of the Scheldt and the Rhine are apparently silting up with 50 million pairs of cut-price Chinese trousers. It is idiocy, and not just because it is unlike Mandy to come between a British woman and her knickers.

And again:

The emergence of China and its integration into the world economy has been a major spur to growth and a deterrent to inflation. It is an unalloyed good, and it is sad to see our politicians responding with such chicken-hearted paranoia.

UPDATE: I put the wrong article in the link and have changed it. Mea culpa.

26 comments to Boris on Sinophobia

  • What’s this nimrod going to think up next, trying to convince people that free trade and respect for property rights is good?

    (joking. great writing)

  • Though I’m not sure Weather Derivatives are going to get us the rest of his words…

  • Julian Taylor

    Obviously with anything that Mandelson does you have to dig deep and ask, “Who gets to benefit from all of this?”. I presume the intent is to allow the French and Italian ragtrade to dominate the Christmas buying frennzy, all the while pushing the Primark, Asda and Tesco clothing stores out of business.

  • HJHJ

    Much as I’m not an admirer of Mandelson, he has taken rather too much flak over this. He sits in the middle between competing interests and never really had the power to settle this on his own. His track record does show him to generally be in favour of free trade.

    The real problem with free trade is that only some sectors of the population have to cope with the pressures of it – and the more sectors of the population are protected, the greater the pressures on the sectors that aren’t. We shouldn’t be protecting textile workers and businesses in the EU from free trade. However, if you’re an EU-based textile business, you have to pay for Europe’s bloated public sector, the lawyers, the medics, the farmers and others who demand prices well above world levels for their services – simply because you have no choice as their goods either can’t be traded internationally or are protected or the money is extorted from you in taxes. How can you be expected to compete under these circumstances?

    So naturally, the tendency is to lobby for for some protection yourself – if we all did this it would be economically disastrous. The answer, of course, is to break cartels and open everything up to competition and free trade. That way we’ll all get richer and it’ll be fairer all round.

  • Julian Morrison

    Real link (compressed with tinyurl) http://tinyurl.com/7ck8b

  • Verity

    HJHJ – “if you’re an EU-based textile business, you have to pay for Europe’s bloated public sector, the lawyers, the medics, the farmers and others who demand prices well above world levels for their services – simply because you have no choice as their goods either can’t be traded internationally or are protected or the money is extorted from you in taxes. How can you be expected to compete under these circumstances?”

    Of course, you can’t. I think you will agree that, instead of buffering them, we should be subjecting them to the harsh reality of the marketplace – and this will never happen while the fortress EU socialist mentality prevails.

    Another reason England, which has thrown itself with with unalloyed enthusiasm into the international trading fray for at least 400 years, should hack itself free of these coils. Let the Europeans sink. And they are.

    Someone in the Conservatives has to promise to start disengaging from this cesspit.

    What baffles me is, why none of them do? What are they scared of? – because frit they most certainly are. Are they really frighened of silly, vapid Tony Blair’s ignorant sneers of “racism”? – given that European indigenes are all the same race – Caucasian?

    What is it they are so frightened of? Does anyone know?

  • Julian Taylor


    Granted, by dint of contribution to the EU multi-billion euro slush fund we all feel we have a right to protection from external competition. Speaking frankly I probably would, in a N.I.M.B.Y sort of way, object to anyone from the sub-continent producing commercials at a much lower rate than I could but I do have to accept that they can and thus to compete I should rebrand my own services in a more aggressive way than anyone from India or China can do. I would certainly not rely upon Peter Meddlesome or his bloated eurocrats to resolve the matter of competition for me.

  • Verity

    Julian Taylor – a strange sentence from you: Granted, by dint of contribution to the EU multi-billion euro slush fund we all feel we have a right to protection from external competition

    Is that true? People feel they don’t have to worry about external competition as long as they pay the tribute to Brussels?

  • Robert Alderson

    Boris is spot on, there is no need to be afraid of China’s economic rise. In fact, it is an enormous opportunity.

    I do part comapny from Boris about the danger from avian flu. There are two components to risk; frequency and consequences. The frequency with which a variant of avian flu might pass to humans and then mutate into a form which is both deadly and communicable from human to human is very low but the consequences if this were to happen are potentially cataclysmic. Some degree of precaution is a wise step.

  • ATM

    There is reason to be worried about China’s economic rise if there isn’t political reform if you have defence obligations that could bring you into conflict with China.

    One thing about cheap Chinese goods. What do we do when they and all the other countries become developed.

  • RAB

    Something else, as usual ATM, something else…

  • Julian Taylor

    Verity, only by way of the fact that, as with all civil servants, we pay for these parasite’s wages through taxation so therefore we should have the right to make them stand up and earn their living. Of course I understand we’re talking about the EU who share a similar regard to finance as the British banking system, i.e. “it’s not your money, it’s our money – you just earn it for us”.

  • HJHJ

    Verity and Julian Taylor,

    I wasn’t really making my point in the context of the EU. It was a more general point about free markets for some and trade protection for others.

    Whether the UK is in the EU or not, the same point applies although the mechanism for changing the current situation would be different, of course. That’s not to say that outside the EU things would necessarily be more likely to change – the current UK government has thrown money at the public sector, inflated medical salaries in the NHS monopoly well above European or world levels and done nothing to open, for example, the legal ‘profession’ to greater competition (perhaps unsurprising considering the preponderence of lawyers in the govt.) and given scope for more people to be employed in ‘sheltered’ areas – for example tax consultants who have had a bonanza thanks to Gordon Brown’s increases n taxes and tax complexity. At the same time, it declares itself in favour of free trade for everyone else. Perhaps farming is the only thing they’d change substantially if we weren’t in the EU.

    What we perhaps need is a campaign educating those in areas subject to fierce international competition that it is in their (and the country’s) interest not to campaign for trade barriers for their area, but instead to open up other areas to the same competition. This would make them more able to compete as their costs would be lowered – they’d have alevel playing field and success or otherwise would depend on their own efforts. At present, how many people think like this?

  • Johnathan

    HJHJ, maybe we should air-drop copies of Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson, Smith’s Wealth of Nations, David Hume’s Essays and the complete works of F. A. Hayek across Europe, from a squadron of cargo planes?

    Just a thought!

    Apologies for the error on the link. I cannot correct it at work. Will do so later. Mea culpa

  • HJHJ


    Unfortunately, I doubt many would read them.

    A better approach might be simply to get the public aware and angry about the amount they are forced to pay for these sheltered groups in comparison to ‘free market’ prices. Everyone can understand artificially inflated prices – as long as they’re made aware that they are artificially inflated – even if they have no interest in or understanding of economics.

  • Johnathan

    HJHJ, maybe another tack is to adopt the tactics of the great anti-Corn Law League of the mid-19th century, which presented the case for free trade as the cause of the ordinary guy, ie, as a progressive issue. To this day the ACLL was one of the greatest pressure group campaigns ever, in terms of the actual benefits to the public.

  • Verity

    HJHJ – You write: A better approach might be simply to get the public aware and angry about the amount they are forced to pay for these sheltered groups

    Everyone reading here knows that that it cannot be simple. Convincing people of anything is never easy; and convincing large of numbers of them who have spent their entire lives being indoctrinated with the opposing point of view – protectionism is good for everyone; socialism helps all – would be almost impossible. Or would take years/decades.

    It’s going to need a different solution, but I haven’t the faintest idea of what it would be.

    Even some massive market failure that could be tied directly back to government policies would not serve to convince people if the government was feeding them a stream of lies. What it boils down to is, people are lazy. It would take a terrible shock to get them thinking independently again. Look what happened after the suicide splodey-dopes murdered 52 people and maimed hundreds more: Tony Blair mouthed a few “tough” sentences with no substance and no follow-through, and most people took the word for the deed. I despair.

  • mike

    Well China’s economic rise is not an ‘unalloyed good’ for Taiwan. For one thing, the FTAs that China signs with the likes of Australia presuppose the ‘inclusion’ of Taiwan unde the ‘one China’ policy – which will make it harder for Taipei to negotiate with other countries on free trade.

    China’s economic growth can’t do any harm to its’ hopes of eventually annexing Taiwan. Meanwhile, China remains under a totalitarian government that is still playing ‘survivor’. Trade be damned – I want to see the Chinese government collapse.

  • John East

    Verity, Your despair over what to do is shared by me.

    The last period when world trade collapsed after economically naïve countries rushed to erect barriers was in the 1930’s. Many economists and world leaders (with the possible exception of Bush) haven’t forgotten the lessons learned then. I also think western populations are more informed now than they used to be. Mandy wouldn’t have been given the well deserved roasting he just received in the media if the story wasn’t seen to be of popular interest. I suspect Mandy won’t want to go through that again. So I hold out some small hope that any rise in protectionism will meet stronger headwinds today than it did in the past.

    Perhaps we might have a better chance of success campaigning against something more concrete than the concept of protectionism. Getting rid of Nulabour, and out of economic fairyland (the EU) might also do wonders to reduce protectionist tendencies.

  • Verity

    John East – as superficial as it sounds, what we need are Hollywood and British celebrities to talk about protectionism and tariffs in the same scathing tones Martin Sheen, Danny Glover, Susan Sarandon & Co big up global warming and the war in Iraq.

    We need an Oscar winner to hold up his Oscar after his thank-you speech and shout, “And trade barriers down in Europe! Free Europeans from protectionism by the privileged!” “Cheap food for Europeans! Get rid of the CAP now! Thank you!”

    And go on TV talk shows and talk about Peter Mandelson in the same sneering tone adopted by the Lotus lefties about Mr Bush. As we have seen, it works alarmingly well.

  • HJHJ


    Most people don’t, and are not likely to, look at the big picture or consider the wider implications of socialism or protectionism. This is why so many journalists, when there is a perceived problem, just ask the politicians “what are you going to do about it?” inviting the politician to say that they will do something themselevs rather than to get out of the way. Because wider issues are not discussed, the politician has little choice but to say that they will solve the problem, usually with someone else’s money (although this is rarely made explicit) – otherwise they are accused of inaction and ineffectiveness. Combine this with the fact that most ministers have always lived off the public purse (best example: Gordon Brown) and you have a recipe for the current situation.

    This is why I believe that price – a concept which everybody understands is the clearest way to make the public aware of the issue. Example: recently there has been a great deal made of the fact that some newly qualified doctors in the UK have not been able to find jobs (in the NHS) despite a supposed shortage of doctors. Leaving aside the issue of why a doctor should be guaranteed a job when no-one else is, a government of a different complexion should have said “Well, we put lots more money into the NHS, but the doctors union monopoly forced us to pay doctors loads more before they’d agree to the sort of changes in working practices that everyone else accepts as normal. As a result, we have by far the best paid doctors in Europe (GPs are paid twice as much as in France) and this means we can’t afford to employ enough doctors. If they were paid the same as elsewhere in Europe, we could afford to employ more, but otherwise we can’t unless we put up your taxes or charge you £10 every time you see a doctor”. Better still, perhaps they could say “Because doctors are paid so highly in the UK, we’ve decided that the only way we can afford to pay for expensive treatment is to fly patients to India, where doctors are much cheaper and just as good. It’s either this people die because we can’t afford their treatment”.

    Would this type of response not start to educate the public?

    Incidentally, I don’t believe in the NHS, so my solution doesn’t go the whole way, but people would at least start to get the idea about producer interests. Perhaps they’d them start to question public sector monopolies and trade barriers.

  • John East

    That’s not a superficial point, it’s got me scratching my head wondering why it’s always the leftie celebs who make political comments when accepting awards. I’m sure it’s not simply because more celebs are leftwing. But then it’s nearly always the lefties who disrupt formal events from the audience as well.

    It must just be a leftie thing.

  • Verity

    John East – There are some rightists and libertarians in Hollywood – Bruce Willis is the first one that comes to mind, but there are quite a few. Probably in Britain, too. But they don’t involve themselves in political slanging matches – as in, answering the inane leftie points with their own slogans. And, more importantly, they can’t jeopardise their popularity at the box office.

    But I suspect that there are libertarian performers who would, if the bandwagon got rolling, be perfectly happy to add their voices on talk shows and at awards events. “Down with oppressor protectionists! Best for them – not for you!” “Let African producers into our markets! Down with the CAP.” “African produce is delicious and cheaper. Let them in!” Those are the kinds of sentiments that wouldn’t lose them any fans.

    HJHJ – I appreciate what you write and, in fact, agree with every point, except the facility of execution. You present an unanswerable case; yet few are going to stay with you through your argument because attention spans have shortened. They simply do not want to follow an argument, even if it would benefit them to do so. I agree, a rational person would be persuaded by what you write, but they can’t extrapolate that there’s anything in it for them. So what if doctors get paid more than they do in France? It’s still free at point of delivery. No skin off the “customer’s” nose.

    “Yes, but you’re paying more in taxes for your doctor’s visit than French people do!” “Oh, well, it’s the NHS, innit? ‘S the best in the world.”

    I don’t think I’m misunderestimating my countrymen when I say they want everything easy and without effort and without too much thought. And they want to be entertained.

    What about a hybrid “Help! I’m A Celebrity! Get Me out of Here!” and “Yes, Minister”, where each week the a small to medium size business has to escape the coils of Brussels?

  • HJHJ


    I’m not sure that the argument I put was so long and I’m sure it could be summarized into almost a soundbite with a bit of effort. If Blair can do slogans like “tough on crime and tough of the causes of crime” (meaning nothing) it should be possible to come up with a soundbite or two that encapsulates the principles I’m talking about.

    I also think you’re out of date about the NHS. I’m pretty certain that almost everybody in the UK now realises that the NHS is a worse medical system than in France and other European countries. Nobody claims it’s the best any more. This shows how the public can be enlightened over a period of time.

    However, most people also believe that its staff are underpaid – exactly the opposite of the truth – and they get public sympathy as a result. If a politician wants to get public support in the UK, all they have to do is bang on about underpaid nurses and doctors, etc.. I remember a survey where the public was asked whether they though nurses and doctors were underpaid. The vast majority said yes. When asked what they thought they were paid, on average they were thought to receive only 60% of their actual pay. Asked what they should be paid, almost everybody gave a figure substantially less than their actual pay.

    I suspect public attitudes would change substantially if they knew the truth on their pay and how their unions have extorted huge pay increases in recent years.

    Incidentally, as an illustration of producer interest in the NHS, it was revealed not long ago that there are 16 doctors working in the NHS who have previous convictions for manslaughter (hard to believe, but apparently true). The General Medical Council (which is paid for out of public funds and is meant to act as a public protection body against rogue doctors) was also condemned in an independent report as being dominated by doctors and of operating primarily as a body to protect their interests regardless of those of the public.

  • Verity

    HJHJ – I knew there was waning faith in the wondrous nature of the NHS, but didn’t know it had slipped that far. So that part’s good – although it took 60 for it to happen.

    I had no idea that NHS personnel were so well compensated! Why is Prescott – who has no right to be involving himself in “housing” anyway – talking about building housing for “essential workers” – i.e. including NHS personnel in the SE? Your point is very good, but how do you get the word out?

    Yes, Tony Blair’s moronic slogans are facile and empty, like the man himself, but the reason they get currency is, he has the platform and gets publicity on demand. The only other people who can get any guaranteed publicity is the Shadow Cabinet and I wonder how the public would take to them banging on about the overpaid NHS workers? Interesting question. It could actually make people hostile (I think).

    But this is a very large part of the problem and the solutions you propose. Getting people with a public voice to take the message out. No member of the Shadow Cabinet is going to want to say anything to make enemies – i.e., “the largest employer in Europe”.

    The other problem, which I am sure you have considered yourself, is the nature of the Shadow Cabinet, no matter who is leading it and who is in it: cowardice. Coupled, of course, with those who have “turned”, like Malcolm Riffkin, and could just as easily stand for the socialists

  • Julian Taylor

    Talking of poor old Boris – did anyone notice how the viscous Peter Oborne usurped his stand against Ken Clarke and devoted Speccie coverage in favour of Clarke. I gather Boris was none too impressed upon his return from Uzbekistan.