Join 3,497 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Summit of the Americas
April 21, 2001 8:04 AM   Subscribe

Summit of the Americas A very complex set of issues that are being discussed in Canada, but for most of us, all we see presented is the police, the tear gassings, the forces gathered in protest. Here, a summary of the complex issues at stake and being discussed.
posted by Postroad (53 comments total)

 
What benefit accrues (to anyone other than corporate USA) from creating one huge mega-market? I don't see all that many US jobs developing out of NAFTA. I do see vastly cheaper wage costs, possibly cheaper goods, and definitely more profits.
posted by caraig at 3:04 PM on April 21, 2001


I see a couple of benefits from NAFTA. First, a greater choice of jobs for people living in 3rd world countries and allow more people to work, providing themselves and their children with money for medicine, clothing, schooling, etc. Second, Employment has gone up in the U.S. since NAFTA, and millions of new jobs in *manufacturing* has been added since NAFTA. Third, NAFTA has encouraged many companies to move their factories from Asia to Mexico to cut costs, saving many U.S. factories from being moved to other countries.
posted by gyc at 3:15 PM on April 21, 2001


millions of new jobs in *manufacturing* has been added since NAFTA.

But there's a difference between indigenous industry which provides long-term benefits for these countries, and inward investment which diverts much of the operating profit back to the mother country, and is always the first thing to be abandoned in times of economic downturn.

A case in point: during the 1990s Britain became an expert in attracting semiconductor firms and car manufacturers from abroad, with settlement grants, loans and other incentives. Once the grace period expired, and there were cuts to be made, which factories got closed down? You guessed it. Siemens, Ericsson, Daewoo, countless more.

You could say, more fool the government for essentially bribing these companies, rather than encouraging indigenous manufacturers. But another side-effect of globalisation (ugh) is that in a sense, there are few large "national corporations" any more: that is, ones which feel a commitment to support their country of origin. That kind of attitude is dying out with the nationalised industries.
posted by holgate at 3:49 PM on April 21, 2001


"The main thing we want to achieve is a strong reaffirmation of the hemisphere's collective will," says Marc Lortie, Canada's summit coordinator. More than anything else, the future of the hemisphere will depend on how — and if — that happens.

This statement begs a question: Who claims to determine the hemisphere's collective will? Certainly not the finance technocrats who attend these meetings, who will make decisions that will affect generations but have been appointed, not elected, primarily for their negotiating skill.

The numbers just do not bear out the media trumpeting we hear about the benefits of NAFTA, WTO, not to mention the World Bank and IMF. These organizations have succeeded in raising the living standard for a small minority of people in the small minority of developing countries where any of their programs have actually worked, and the vast majority of the world's population continue to live in middling to crushing poverty.

Meanwhile, western multinational corporations, whose interests these international trade deals and institutions are created to service, have seen incredible growth. Any downtick in stock value can quickly be solved by raising prices, laying off workers, and moving operations to Mexico at 1/20th the hourly wage, where collective bargaining for better pay or safety, if not exactly illegal, will get you beaten with a lead pipe by policemen or local thugs.

There are elements of market capitalism that have shown great benefits to humankind, obviously, but for developing nations to throw open their markets to huge influxes of international capital without first creating durable political/economic institutions would be, and has been, inviting corruption. SEE: Nigeria, Guatemala, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Indonesia, the Philippines, for a few examples.
posted by Dr. Boom at 4:12 PM on April 21, 2001


What benefit accrues (to anyone other than corporate USA) from creating one huge mega-market?

Uhm, if a person in Country A wants to trade something with a person from Country B, he won't be stopped or slapped with tariffs by the government for doing so. Seems like a pretty obvious benefit to me.
posted by frednorman at 4:55 PM on April 21, 2001


But you're not answering the question there, frednorman. The most obvious benefactor would be the country in Country A, which is likely (but not always, of course) to be an international conglomerate. Country B would benefit in the short term by gaining goods that it needs. BUT the idea behind tariffs was not only to have a steady stream of revenue, but also to encourage investment within nations. The American government did this in circumstances too numerous to mention. If you can argue that the countries benefit internally by free trade more so than by tariffs, by all means go ahead, but you didn't even begin to answer holgate's question.
posted by raysmj at 5:02 PM on April 21, 2001


frednorman: Or, more accurately, part of the reasoning behind tariffs was/is to encourage self-sufficiency within nations.
posted by raysmj at 5:04 PM on April 21, 2001


...there are few large "national corporations" any more: that is, ones which feel a commitment to support their country of origin. That kind of attitude is dying out with the nationalised industries.

I'm confused - companies looking at the world as a whole rather than through a pinhole of nation-state parochialism (a perspective that pretty much caused every war of the past two centuries, including the current situation in Israel/Palestine) is a bad thing?
posted by dchase at 5:14 PM on April 21, 2001


raysmj: Government's job is to retaliate and defend against those who initiate force, not to initiate force itself, against those who choose to engage in voluntary exchanges of services/products, no matter where they happen to be born or located at the time. (Moving slightly away from the original, narrow topic here, I know)
posted by frednorman at 5:17 PM on April 21, 2001


frednorman: You still didn't answer holgate's question. You snapped back with a libertarian platitude.
posted by raysmj at 5:26 PM on April 21, 2001


NAFTA 5-year report card
posted by johnb at 6:09 PM on April 21, 2001


dchase: there's a not-so-subtle difference between the competing territorial interests of nation state and commercial parochialism. Compare, for instance, the messy competitive playground of the privatised British rail network with the "parochial" state-owned and subsidised SNCF, which makes it a pleasure to travel by train in France.

The point being that SNCF exists because the French government understands the importance of a functional, efficient and affordable railway to the social and economic integrity of the state. Whereas many transnational corporations, as I mentioned in the earlier and longer thread, don't feel any particular responsibility to invest in the infrastructure of the places they work from, beyond the proximity of the workplace. So a global perspective shouldn't be presumed to equate to a global benevolence.

Remember for a moment that incorporation preceded imperialism in the 18th century; it was the speculative Companies in the East and West Indies, in particular, which created the possibility for imperial rule. (I had a fun argument with a business major from UGA last year when I described the development of global corporations as "proto-Imperialism". The last thing Americans appreciate is any connection with Empire-building.)


(rajsmj: it wasn't my question. but it's one I'd ask anyway.)
posted by holgate at 6:23 PM on April 21, 2001


another NAFTA report card
posted by gyc at 7:18 PM on April 21, 2001


johnb and gyc: thanks for the report cards. They represent opposite poles. The heritage.org report seems mightily weighted towards big business. Public Citizen goes the other way--but that happens to be the place where I live.
posted by caraig at 8:11 PM on April 21, 2001


Lies, damn lies, and statistics. The real truth is somewhere in the middle, no doubt.
posted by darukaru at 9:14 PM on April 21, 2001


Well, the Heritage Foundation definitely gets an F for geography:

"No two of these countries share a common border, though some (like Ireland and the United Kingdom) are virtually neighbors."

It's also interesting that France, that nasty little bastion of state protectionism, with the world's best public healthcare system, doesn't even get into the "nearly" column. I really ought to move there, just to be safe.
posted by holgate at 9:45 PM on April 21, 2001


raysmj: I wasn't trying to answer holgate's question, I was trying to answer caraig's question.

He asked What benefit accrues (to anyone other than corporate USA) from creating one huge mega-market?, and I answered that the benefit of "one huge mega-market" is that it'll lead to a reduction of governmental interference -- and thus initiation of force -- against ALL individuals choosing to engage in voluntary exchange of services and/or products.

Here's an illustration, if I may:



Now, would you please explain to me why it's reasonable that there would be forced tariffs if person A chose to sell his computer to person C, who happens to live five feet away from him -- coincidentally putting him in another "country" -- but not if he chose to sell it to person B, who also lives five feet away from him, but who happens to be on the other side of the "border". Don't you agree that this is both arbitrary and irrational?
posted by frednorman at 1:30 AM on April 22, 2001


As I see it, the basic premise of FTAA type trade deals is this: Government (Public) ownership/regulation is bad, Privatization is good. I fundamentally disagree.

There are spheres in which the government, that is, the collective voice of the people, should dictate order. This is a basic premise of republican constitutional law, that limited, commonly held resources be controlled by majorities. We rent out broadcast airwaves and land rights, from which multinational corporations harvest billions, but only a small fraction of that profit makes its way into public coffers.

The question becomes: In which spheres, and to what extent, should the collective assert control?
posted by Dr. Boom at 4:29 AM on April 22, 2001


> please explain to me why it's reasonable ...
> coincidentally putting him in another "country"

Because each country (no quotations) has the right and responsibility to create and enforce its own laws, including laws governing what can be imported and under what conditions. The import tariff is one of the many reasonable tools that the people of a country can use to their common benefit.

To your example:

If the people of country 2 choose to protect some of their fellow citizens (in this case, presumably computer salespeople) from hardship while they retrain or retire or just get up to speed, that's good for the people of Country 2. Country 1 is likewise protecting person A from dumping and the various other nasty tricks businesspeople commonly pull when they are not carefully monitored and regulated.
posted by pracowity at 4:33 AM on April 22, 2001


pracowity: that's good for the people of Country 2

Except for person C, of course, who is now either heavily taxed or completely prohibited -- by force -- from engaging in a voluntary exchange with another individual, just because of where he happens to be living at the time.

You further write that The import tariff is one of the many reasonable tools that the people of a country can use to their common benefit. I submit that as long as a law leads to the initiation of force against individuals (here: Person C), it is morally wrong and should be repealed.

Thus, I also disagree with you that each country [...] has the right and responsibility to create and enforce its own laws, including laws governing what can be imported and under what conditions. I believe that government should be restricted to retaliating and defending against those who initiate force, period.
posted by frednorman at 5:01 AM on April 22, 2001


> Except for person C ...

The people of country 2 would of course have to take person C's welfare into account. If person C can't get a great deal on a computer now, however, but the tariff is to the overall good of the people of country 2, then person C will just have to try to live a little longer without that flat screen or will have to pay a little more for it.

One person you leave out of your little stick-figure drawing is person D, someone in country 2 who is also trying to sell to person C. It is country 2's job to protect not only consumer C, but developer D, who is trying to earn a living and depends on the government of country 2 to ensure a fair business environment.

Finding the right balance is difficult but is better than not looking for it.

> I submit that as long as a law leads to the initiation
> of force against individuals (here: Person C), it is
> morally wrong and should be repealed.

So you don't want laws to be enforced? Please clarify this.

> I believe that government should be restricted to
> retaliating and defending against those who initiate
> force, period.

If by initiating force, you mean physically assaulting someone else, that's up to you. If all people who believed that were to move to one country and make it into free-trader heaven, we unbelievers in Randism and absolutely free markets might soon see our folly as the free-traders thrived and danced unregulatedly in the unregulated streets.

But there is no such country. My guess is that people don't want such a country, that most people believe government can be a force for good and against pure greed and selfishness and shortsightedness and narrowmindedness, that government should not be just a robocop waiting for some yahoo to pull a gun.
posted by pracowity at 6:09 AM on April 22, 2001


What pracowity said. Also what Dr. Boom said above; I happen to live in one of those developing countries, and that's pretty much exactly what's going on.

Protectionism is an ugly word, yes, but it's necessary when the playing field isn't level -- and trade between the first world and the third world (and I hate those labels, but for expediency's sake, will use them here) is far from level. Cracking barriers open in the interests of free trade actually means "in the interests of big business" and "in the interest of the rich" -- far from equalizing things, it actually encourages long-term dependence on the part of poorer nations rather than independence, in that they attract multinations seeking superprofit (that immediately leaves the country) instead of developing their own industries, as holgate said earlier.
posted by lia at 6:41 AM on April 22, 2001


> If person C can't get a great deal on a computer now,
> however, but the tariff is to the overall good of the
> people of country 2, then person C will just have to try
> to live a little longer without that flat screen or will have
> to pay a little more for it.

How do you justify this? Do you think that it's okay to -- by force -- limit the choices of an individual, simply because you've amassed a plurality of other individuals -- who happen to live in the same geographical area as you, and who agree with you? If so, I beg to differ. Initiation of force is wrong, no matter who -- and how many -- support it.

> So you don't want laws to be enforced? Please clarify this

I want immoral laws to be repealed. Aren't "repealing" and "not enforcing" two different concepts? (English isn't my native language)

> most people believe government can be a force for good
> and against pure greed and selfishness and short-
> sightedness and narrowmindedness, that government
> should not be just a robocop waiting for some yahoo to
> pull a gun.

But isn't the government the greedy, selfish, short-sighted and narrowminded one here, pulling out guns -- like a yahoo, if you like -- trying to stop an individual from engaging in voluntary trade? Surely sounds like one to me. And stopping greed, selfishness, shortsightedness and narrowmindedness by doing all the same itself, doesn't sound like the best idea to me. In fact, it sounds a lot like f**king for virginity, if you'll pardon the expression. The only difference, of course, being that the government can force all of it through, while we regulars have to hatch our evil plots based on people acting on their own volition :-P
posted by frednorman at 6:47 AM on April 22, 2001


lia: developing countries .. big business .. the rich .. poorer nations .. multinations ..

You write a lot about large, generalized groups. I'd like you to look at this from an individual's point of view instead.

Suppose I live in a developing country: Why should I be prohibited from trading with, say, an American who wants to trade with me, simply because some other individuals -- who happen to live in the same geographical area as myself -- think it would be bad for their businesses? Why do you think it's their right to sacrifice my interests on the altar of their own? Don't I have rights, as an individual, too?
posted by frednorman at 7:10 AM on April 22, 2001


> Don't I have rights, as an individual, too?

Yes.

But you have to coexist with people who have conflicting needs and desires, and that means everyone has to compromise here and there.

> Do you think that it's okay to -- by force -- limit the
> choices of an individual, simply because you've amassed
> a plurality of other individuals -- who happen to live in the
> same geographical area as you, and who agree with
> you?

Yes.

That's how countries (and cities and towns and villages and so on) work. If you don't want to live in a country, you might as well buy yourself a boat and start sailing and hope you never meet any pirates (though you might find in them a kindred spirit), because it's a safe bet that your (sane) neighbors, even if they don't especially love the government, are happier with government than they would be without a government forcing people to follow the law.

If you don't take the permanent boat trip, you'll have to live with the people around you. When there are irreconcilable disagreements and no one will back down, someone will have to leave or be forced to follow the rules.

You just have to trust that the government -- your collective neighbor, the voice of all your neighbors and your history and traditions, embodied in elected representatives and the institutions they run -- is generally wiser and fairer than the individuals around you, like the drunk who fires his revolver into the air at midnight, or the family that refuses to take their stinking garbage away, or the guy who eats your dog ("Fair game!") because it strayed on to his property, or the ...
posted by pracowity at 7:46 AM on April 22, 2001


You write a lot about large, generalized groups. I'd like you to look at this from an individual's point of view instead.

It doesn’t make any sense to do that. International trade is an aggregate issue, involving workers, environment and diverse communities. Saying it’s nothing more than individuals exchanging property is an incorrect simplification.

People protest corporate trade agreements under the (correct) assumption that the treaties hold commerce over labor rights, the environment and national soverignty. Should governments consider quality of life more important than GDP? Left to their own devices most people say, “A little from column A, a little from column B.” These trade agreements — and the way you’re looking at these issues — are all column B.

If, as in America, the GDP is high but services are comparably low, then people get angry when they see corporate protectionism in the form of “free” trade agreements. On the other hand, if services are high and GDP is low, as in Nicarauga pre-Reagan, increasing trade becomes important.

Looking at trade as if it exists in a vaccum is classic economist-like mistake. The product (capital) can move across borders freely, but labor cannot. Hence, most democratically controlled governments protect its citizens and economies with tarriffs. Liberal movement of capital without worker protection is the easiest way of creating a third-world country. You need not look much farther than India for a good example of this.

As a colony of Britian, India had liberalization and privitization forced on them. They are resource rich, but anyone can tell you the quality of life is low. They’re begging for column A, but neo-liberal trade institutions like the IMF won’t ever let them. That’d be bad for business.
posted by capt.crackpipe at 8:28 AM on April 22, 2001


capt.crackpipe:

> International trade is an aggregate issue, involving
> workers, [...] and diverse communities. Saying it’s
> nothing more than individuals exchanging property is an
> incorrect simplification.

Workers are individuals, and communities consist of individuals. Non?

> Should governments consider quality of life more
> important than GDP?

Neither. Governments should, as I've already stated, be limited to its only real job: to retaliate and defend against those who initiate force. Whatever happens beyond this, should be of no interest to the government whatsoever.

> product (capital) can move across borders freely, but
> labor cannot.

I support repealing immigration laws as well.
posted by frednorman at 9:29 AM on April 22, 2001


frednorman: I don't care what you think about morality, and your sickening, overly simplistic libertarian platitudes. Why would your system work better for increasing trade within nations, period? Why, why, why? Get away from your ideology for a second, stop anwering with the bit about force and being five feet away and blah blah blah, and answer the freakin' question already.
posted by raysmj at 10:00 AM on April 22, 2001


Also, didn't mean to imply that I didn't think that you wouldn't be able to answer such a question. I'd like to hear it, honestly.
posted by raysmj at 10:05 AM on April 22, 2001


Workers are individuals, and communities consist of
individuals. Non?


Oui. You can see yourself as an individual in the world, or in a world filled with individuals. By the way you phrased that question, it sounds like you prefer the latter.

Regardless, the way you’ve characterized international trade in this thread is overly simplistic, in that it doesn’t take into account everyone effected by it.

Or, high GDP doesn’t mean high quality of life.

Governments should, as I've already stated, be limited to its only real job: to retaliate and defend against those who initiate force.

Libertarianism never made much sense to me. Democratic control of all autocratic regimes is the only way to protect people’s rights. Anything else is a concession that you can’t handle your freedom.
posted by capt.crackpipe at 10:29 AM on April 22, 2001


No need to get upset, raysmj. No need to put that "libertarian" label on me either, because it doesn't fit.

Now, with regards to your question (Why would your system work better for increasing trade within nations, period?), I have to say that I don't see what your getting at. You ask as if increased trade -- within nations -- was a goal in itself. I don't see it as such. I don't care where a trade or exchange takes place. My only concern is that -- when two parties want to engage in such a voluntary activity, no matter where they are located at the time -- they be left alone and free to complete the transaction, as such.
posted by frednorman at 10:32 AM on April 22, 2001


> Regardless, the way you’ve characterized international
> trade in this thread is overly simplistic, in that it doesn’t
> take into account everyone effected by it.

If you'll explain it to me, I'll be glad to listen.

I'm guessing that you -- in my example as presented above -- would say that person C needs to take into concideration the producers and vendors of computers within the country where he lives, e.g. country 2. If so, I respectfully disagree. I submit that it's not his duty to sacrifice himself to others, and it doesn't become such simply because he happens to live in the same country as the others either. He should buy the best product he can get for the price he's willing to pay, wherever it may be found, end of story.

PS: I just asked raysmj to stop labeling me as a libertarian. That goes for you too, if you don't mind.
posted by frednorman at 10:41 AM on April 22, 2001


frednorman: If you're not a libertarian, then why are you so adamant in your trade-as-morality thing? You're stuck in a philosophical hole and unable to converse with others, and thus unable to have your beliefs challenged. You come off as an ideological fundamentalist.

If you were able to see developing trade within nations as a worthy and noble goal, which many here unquesitonably do, then how is free trade better in that regard? Try to work with this idea as an abstraction.
posted by raysmj at 11:02 AM on April 22, 2001


My only concern is that -- when two parties want to engage in such a voluntary activity, no matter where they are located at the time -- they be left alone and free to complete the transaction, as such.

Frednorman, I agree with this statement in principle, but to assert that what goes for two trading individuals should go for two trading states seems to disregard complex international and cultural relations.

Every major industry in the United States got it's start with massive public underwriting and entire systems of protectionist trade measures, but we currently see so much support for free markets in the U.S. because U.S. based multinationals (who own the media) are now in a position to dictate terms of trade once barriers to investment are lowered.

Again, back to my earlier point that FTAA type trade deals benefit only a tiny minority of people. Various developing countries should be free to experiment with various economic methods, not forced into cookie-cutter economic models designed to benefit foreign investors.
posted by Dr. Boom at 11:47 AM on April 22, 2001


You come off as an ideological fundamentalist.

If you mean that you see me as someone who argues consistantly in accordance with a set of ideological and moral ideals, I hope you're right. If it's just another label you chose throw around for the sake of simplicity, on the other hand, I couldn't care less.

As for your abstraction, I'll give it a go. although I must warn you that I'm no economist. Let's say person C, from my example above, saves $250 by buying a computer from abroad. The best offer within country 2 was $1000 per unit, while the best offer from abroad was $750. He chose the latter, and thus has $250 "extra" in his pocket that he wouldn't have had otherwise. Those $250 aren't lost. Quite the contrary, they give him a competitive advantage, because he's got more money now, to invest in improving his productivity, which again means that he can earn more money, and further expand his business. Perhaps he hires a couple of workers in country 2. That'd mean a development of trade. Perhaps he rents a more expensive office, too. That'd also mean a development of trade. Or perhaps he's already made enough to buy himself that car he's always been wanting. That'd mean a development of trade as well: instead of buying that computer for $1.000, he's now getting a car for $100.000. If he continues to buy his equipment from abroad this way, he'll gain international competitiveness, thus being able to gain even higher profits, and again being able to expand even further, for example by hiring more people in country 2.

Again: this is just layman economics written as a quick draft. Don't take it for anything else. But you asked for an example, and I'm doing my best here. Besides, I still don't see developing trade within nations as a goal in itself.
posted by frednorman at 11:56 AM on April 22, 2001


Dr. Boom:

> to assert that what goes for two trading individuals
> should go for two trading states seems to disregard
> complex international and cultural relations.

Please explain how.

> Again, back to my earlier point that FTAA type trade
> deals benefit only a tiny minority of people.

I'm not well enough informed on the particular FTAA deal to reply here, but to me, the whole notion of signing a deal to allow "free trade" in the first place has always seemed like a self-contradiction. If was free, after all, wouldn't they just stop bugging those engaging in it?

> Various developing countries should be free to
> experiment with various economic methods,

I disagree. A country's gvoernment should not be free to "experiment" with the lives of those individuals living in that country, no matter how under-developed they are or have been. The criteria should always be if an economic method protects the rights of the individual or not. If it does, it is good, if it doesn't, it is bad.
posted by frednorman at 12:04 PM on April 22, 2001


frednorman: I still don't see developing trade within nations as a goal in itself.

think if it in these words: strengthening local economies.

now, wouldn't local business be more effective at doing that than bringing in a multinational corporation? and what if country c is charging such low prices because they pay their workers far under a living wage, or maintain unsafe workplaces, or the like?

now, your local vendor has to charge higher prices because she pays a locally competive wage (thus affecting the mores that affect *your* wage) and she maintains a safe workplace in accordance with local standards (again upholding the expectations that influence the conditions at *your* place of work.)

if she and others like her go out of business, then what's to prevent local conditions from deteriorating? businesses (those still existing) will say that they can't afford to do those same things, rules will be changed, you'll make less money and possibly breathe asbestos all day. can you see that self-interest might make you question the wisdom of just opening all doors to the lowest bidder? (I laugh at my own metaphors. :)

those tariffs were in place for a reason all those years, although it didn't have to do with high wages or safe working conditions: it had to do with the profits that local (read national) companies wanted to protect. with the rise of multinational companies, all bets are off. you're as valuable as the profit derived from you, period.

I'm not against anyone making money, I'm just convinced that we need some intelligent checks in a system of this type. just the same as I like the checks in our government (at least as it exists on paper. :)
posted by rebeccablood at 12:13 PM on April 22, 2001


frednorman: the abstraction sounded fairly reasonable. Now, why was getting that out of you like pulling teeth? I'm not angry, just annoyed. In any case, the "rights of the invividual" thing sounds very nice, but what if you're trading with a country with no rule of law, or dealing with the government of another nation? You're assuming that there's a level playing field too, which there most definitely is not. I'd say that encouraging nations to be self-sufficient in some way too -- and to develop their own trade and rule of law, etc. -- is absolutely a worthy moral goal, for reasons too numerous to go into here and so obvious in any case you'd have to be a total freak to not comprehend. Do you have to do so through tariffs? Not necessarily, but I wanted you to answer that question. It only took eighteen or notes or so for you to do so. Thanks a lot.
posted by raysmj at 12:25 PM on April 22, 2001


Frednorman:

Governments should, as I've already stated, be limited to its only real job: to retaliate and defend against those who initiate force.

That’s libertarianism. If that is the type of government you want, then you are a libertarian.
posted by capt.crackpipe at 12:27 PM on April 22, 2001


rebeccablood:

> think if it in these words: strengthening local economies.
>
> now, wouldn't local business be more effective at doing
> that than bringing in a multinational corporation?

I'm not so sure. Take a look at my (amateurish) example above, if you will.

> and what if country c is charging such low prices because
> they pay their workers far under a living wage, or
> maintain unsafe workplaces, or the like?

Workers work some place because it is better for them than not working there, e.g. they do it by their own free will, in their own self-interest. I have no problem with that.

> if she and others like her go out of business, then what's
> to prevent local conditions from deteriorating? [...] can
> you see that self-interest might make you question the
> wisdom of just opening all doors to the lowest bidder?

The myth of the race to the bottom has been debunked far too many times for me to go at it again.

> with the rise of multinational companies, all bets are off.
> you're as valuable as the profit derived from you, period.

For me, as a worker, that's all I ask. Anything else would be unreasonable.
posted by frednorman at 1:00 PM on April 22, 2001


frednorman: Sorry to sound trite, but you're language says a lot about your thinking. What about you, as a person, as opposed to a worker? You're not just a worker bee, and you have value above and beyond the profit derived from yourself. If you believe otherwise, I just feel very sorry for you. Pitying you also means I can't hold a reasonable conversation with you, so that's it for me unless you give me a reason to feel otherwise.
posted by raysmj at 1:10 PM on April 22, 2001


frednorman - a point about environmental standards:

Emitting toxic substances like dioxin into the environment -- thereby increasing my cancer risk (among other things) -- sounds like a classic case of "initiation of force".

Under regulations established by NAFTA, WTO etc, however, it is illegal to distinguish between products based on how they were produced. Clearly, the fundamental question underlying the "globalization" debate is not where? but how?.

Now we can quibble about the magnitude of the health risk associated with, e.g., dioxin emissions (or carbon emissions etc). But whether it is 1/100, 1/1000 or 1/10000, the fact remains that I never "volunteered" to be exposed to a carcinogenic substance.

This is why the present system, by ignoring questions of how a product is made, is set up to reward a "race to the bottom" in environmental standards. And so we have a very "unlibertarian" situation in which there is an ever-increasing economic incentive to impair my health whether I like it or not.

This is just one example. The same applies to other kinds of standards. For example, consider trade with an autocratic regime; how do you define "voluntary exchange" with a slave?
posted by johnb at 1:25 PM on April 22, 2001


you're language says a lot about your thinking

I guess so.

What about you, as a person, as opposed to a worker? You're not just a worker bee, and you have value above and beyond the profit derived from yourself. If you believe otherwise, I just feel very sorry for you.

I don't see what you mean by "a person, as opposed to a worker". I'm an integrated human being, not a collection of different characters I play in a theater. There is no opposition between me as a person and me as a worker. WYSIWYG, no matter what I happen to be doing. Yes, I have value above and beyond the profit derived from myself. But I don't want others to act against their own rational self-interest when they interact with me, e.g. I don't want them to sacrifice themselves for me, in pure pity. I want them to offer me whatever they honestly think it is worth giving back for whatever it is that I can provide -- if they're interested in having it in the first place -- and leave it at that if they're not. I'm too confident in my own ability -- not to mention proud -- to accept anything else. This goes for other relationships as well, by the way, not just workplace related ones.
posted by frednorman at 1:26 PM on April 22, 2001


johnb: Emitting toxic substances like dioxin into the environment -- thereby increasing my cancer risk (among other things) -- sounds like a classic case of "initiation of force"

I don't know anything about the scientific part of this example, whether dioxin can lead to cancer or not, but if you're right, and this can be proved scientifically, I agree wholeheartedly.

This is why the present system ...

Just for the record: I don't necessarily support the WTO or NAFTA or whatever. I believe in free trade, and the agreements I just mentioned sadly do not seem to do support the same.

For example, consider trade with an autocratic regime; how do you define "voluntary exchange" with a slave?

You can't! This is a great example of with whom it would be immoral to trade.
posted by frednorman at 1:31 PM on April 22, 2001


frednorman: That's an obscure philosophical point, and made in an OK though fairly awkward way. But I think it's fairly safe to say that most people think of themselves as human beings first, employees or CEOs or proprietors or whatever second. To do otherwise would be to identify yourself completely with a role, and to serious identity crises or neuroses and/or criminal activity. You called yourself a worker first.
posted by raysmj at 1:49 PM on April 22, 2001


Workers work some place because it is better for them than not working there, e.g. they do it by their own free will, in their own self-interest. I have no problem with that.

I do, if they don't have other choices. there's a difference between taking hazard pay for dangerous work and making pennies a day for dangerous work because that's all there is available.

The myth of the race to the bottom has been debunked far too many times...

I'm no economist, but even I see some obvious problems with this (skimmed over) article. the article uses average and median income as ways to measure how US workers are doing. I think the figure that would answer *my* questions would be more like a bell curve: what is the income range of the middle, say, 40% of workers? what are *most* people living on, and then what are the ranges above and below that?

how are those benefits (which have increased, according to the article) distributed? amongst the top 50% of workers? amongst 70%? (I can tell you that I've only had two jobs in my entire working career that offered me benefits of any kind.)

all of the figures cited are interesting and useful up to a point, but none of it addresses what I want to know: what is the average worker, how is he or she faring, and how does that compare with the average worker of 30 or 50 years ago?

the article also uses wealth as the only indicator of progress. while having lots (or even just more) money is nice, in some value systems an economy bringing full employment at lower wages might be considered a greater good than 90% employment with very high wages for some, low wages for others (forcing them to work more than one job just to make ends meet) and no jobs for 10% of the people. in the first value system, lots of small farmers, each of whom employs 5 workers to run the farm, would be better than a few very large farmers, each of whom employs 20 workers.

do you see what I'm getting at?

'you're as valuable as the profit derived from you, period.'
For me, as a worker, that's all I ask. Anything else would be unreasonable.


do you live in the US? the thing is, if you lived in a town and three industries moved in and bought most of the land (perhaps land you used to sharecrop) suddenly you might really *have* to go work for them. now, what if your choice of wages was $1/hour, .90/hour and $1.10/hour? which was about what you made before, but suddenly you don't get to keep some of the food you used to farm? so its harder to feed your family. plus working conditions are more dangerous. etc, etc.

see, that's the sort of thing I'm concerned about. I don't need to worry about the well-to-do. the well-to-do will be able to take care of themselves. it's the poor people I worry about.

johnb: Clearly, the fundamental question underlying the "globalization" debate is not where? but how?

thank you! I wish I had been able to put it so succinctly. that's it exactly.
posted by rebeccablood at 1:55 PM on April 22, 2001


frednorman: One more. You're right about not wanting to be pitied, and not pitying others. To do so makes you see poor people, say, as pure abstractions. But one should have empathy with others. I don't see how one could have an empathic bond with other human beings and still say that encouraging national (or almost any primary group, or even individual) and, one would only hope, eventual world self-sufficiency and sustainability isn't a worthy goal.
posted by raysmj at 2:18 PM on April 22, 2001


One might say that it's a worthy goal, just not attainable. And then one might smacked for being somewhat glib and smart-ass, but one has already said it, and what's one to do, anyway?
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:27 PM on April 22, 2001


Having something in mind as a goal doesn't necessarily mean that it has to be utterly attainable, does it? I did say "enouraging," after all. One could have noticed that, but now one must get clothes out of the dryer in any case.
posted by raysmj at 3:06 PM on April 22, 2001


Point of reference, dioxin causes cancer.
posted by capt.crackpipe at 4:24 PM on April 22, 2001


Free trade means opening the borders to money and objects, but leaving them closed to human beings.

This is a good thing for people with lots of money and objects to move around. For the rest of us, it is one more way to get screwed. It gives corporations a privilege we don't have: the ability to move around and pick the most profitable place to live without regard to national borders.

Open the borders and I'll support free trade. Until then it's antidemocratic and unfair.

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 6:00 PM on April 22, 2001


frednorman,

you wrote:
to me, the whole notion of signing a deal to allow "free trade" in the first place has always seemed like a self-contradiction. If was free, after all, wouldn't they just stop bugging those engaging in it?

Yes. The "Free Market is a myth. It implies that two individuals can trade goods or services in an environment free of pressure or prejudice. That is, in a vacuum.

Neo-liberal economics is the major faith of our time, and "The Free Market" is its heaven.

A country's government should not be free to "experiment" with the lives of those individuals living in that country, no matter how under-developed they are or have been. The criteria should always be if an economic method protects the rights of the individual or not. If it does, it is good, if it doesn't, it is bad.

All governments "experiment" with the lives of their constitutents, in a sense. Democratic governments have tacit approval to do so, in varying degrees.

And don't the needs of the many ever outweigh the needs of the few--

or the one?
posted by Dr. Boom at 9:18 PM on April 22, 2001


Tariffs were put in place to protect local industries from being "flooded" with loss-leading imports (or imports benefitting from economies of scale). In some respects, a tariff regime is obsolete, because it sustains distinct import markets through branding: the reason Levis are £50 in the UK and $40 in the US isn't a tariff barrier, but a self-imposed "luxury" markup by the manufacturer.

But there's an issue here: frednorman's example just doesn't scale. There's a difference between A selling his computer to B or C, and the EU being forced by the WTO to accept large-scale imports of US beef that couldn't be farmed (because of the use of bovine growth hormone) within the EU itself. And that's one of the grating elements of globalisation: it's not designed to encourage mobility of capital and labour on the level of the individual (or even the small-scale) transaction, but to be used as a bludgeon by corporate blocs. There's absolutely no empowerment of the individual here.

(The US/EU trade dispute on bananas is another case in point.)

Anyway, Carl Steadman's piece in the Sunday Times talks about this disparity a little. (Forgive a kind of self-link, as I'm the "star" of the first paragraph.)
posted by holgate at 10:09 PM on April 22, 2001


« Older Napster to Use "Fingerprinting" Technology to help...  |  Adobe and SVG:... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments