Don't let your babies grow up to be programmers

Alex Martelli aleaxit at yahoo.com
Sat Sep 25 10:35:30 CEST 2004


Arthur <ajsiegel at optonline.com> wrote:
   ...
> But what I haven't been quite able to grasp is the basis for the
> sentiment of "Globalization" as a dirty word, with the U.S. (and its
> evil corporations - as if corporations were something other than an
> organizational structure for goal oriented human endeavor) assigned

Try Stiglitz's bestseller, "Globalization and Its Discontents" -- the
author's towering stature helps.  The book focuses more on the role of
institutions such as the IMF, US-dominated though technically
international, rather than on private corporations or US's
protectionism, though (the aspects are connected, of course, but not as
directly and immediately as an oversimplification might suggest).

> I don't think, for example, the U.S. is aggressive at all in
> protecting its markets with subsidies or trade barriers.  If anything

I do, and it appears to me that such bodies as NAFTA and WTO agree.  The
US's so-called "antidumping" policies are a particular bone of
contention.

NAFTA's panel recently decreed, after a fight that lasted years, that
there is no subsidy of Canada's soft wood exports to the US, so the US
long-standing antidumping duties were illegal.  The US Dept of Commerce
basically agreed (they won't appeal, they say) -- but the duties remain.

I'm surely not the only observer to see this as the behavior of a
playground bully: what's Canada gonna do about it, take a clue from the
South Park movie?!  In such a case the US is basically stating, "we're
the 500-pounds gorilla, rules apply to lesser countries, not us, so
there".  And that's wrt their closest neighbor and friend -- AND for
incredibly myopic reasons too.  Canada's cheap wood obviously HELPS
crucial US industries such as construction (US house construction uses
MUCH more wood than we do in Europe)... but the wood-loggers' lobby is
strong enough in a key swing state, Oregon (and to some extent
Washington, too, I believe), to perhaps swing the next presidental
election, if it's as close as many think... so, forget the rules and all
the nice words, might makes right.

_Some_ US observers are clear-sighted enough to see how much hate this
kind of behavior builds up in the world over the years.  But obviously
not enough.

The cases of cotton and sugar, with subsidies and help from tariffs
amounting to over 100,000 dollars per each of the few thousands of lucky
US cotton and sugar growers who benefit from it, are other good
examples.  They're likely to end up in front of the WTO, but it doesn't
really matter because there, for once, the US isn't even _claiming_ an
antidumping issue.  Similarly for the huge hidden subsidy to growers of
fruit and even rice (!) in the parched fields of Southern California in
terms of essentially free water in ridiculous quantities (that's
unlikely to become a trade/subsidy issue, but with good water growing
scarcer in the region it's been causing tension with Mexico for a while,
and the tension is growing) - and at a time when millions of Californian
in cities have had problems with water scarcity, too.

In each case, the US does damage to its international "public relation",
to the cause of free trade, AND to a large number of its citizens, in
order to lavish largesse on small, lucky, politically powerful lobbies.

The pattern keeps repeating.  Consider the "steel antidumping tariffs"
that your President imposed, then removed -- they damaged your ailing
manufacturing sector (cars and other machinery foremost) and a part of
the construction industry (for those buildings that use substantial
amounts of steel) much more than they helped steel smelters who were in
any case being revived by such strokes of luck as China's insatiable
appetite for steel (which raises worldwide steel prices).  The WTO had
little trouble in decreeing that there was absolutely no dumping
involved, i.e., as usual, the US was brandishing "anti-dumping" as an
excuse to play internal electoral politics -- what distinguished this
case was that the political calculations were wrong (the votes to be won
by sucking up to steel producers are in fact fewer than those to be lost
by seriously enraging the manufacturing sector -- both constituencies
being concentrated in the mid-west, more or less).


> there is the argument that the U.S. should perhaps be doing more in
> protecting its markets from goods being produced overseas at
> artificially low costs as a result of implicit or explicit subsidies
> being provided in the originating country.

Yeah, right.  Tell that to the WTO and NAFTA panels which keep finding
out (over and over and OVER again) that US "antidumping" is invariably
barely veiled protectionism.

>  But being generally
> liberal on these kinds of issues seems, at this time, to set the right
> leadership tone, and seems to be working - so there is generally a
> let-it-be attitude.

You appear to be unaware of the ill-will and even hate that such issues
as your protectionist attacks against, e.g., Canadian wood, etc,
generate in the countries you thus attack.

> The U.S. in anything but the heavy in *my* story. 

The US's glaring faults do not mean that other countries are blameless,
far from it.  Agricultural subsidies and barriers in Japan and Europe
are horrid, and, again, they damage their own citizens as well as
international trade, all to help a few favourites.  And all sorts of
barriers are highest (and most damaging to their own citizens) in poor
countries, mostly against primary goods produced in other poor
countries.  But, e.g., Kenya's absurd tariffs against maize didn't tend
to raise international alarm, even though they starved poor children
(even worse than adults) in Turkana or Baringo -- apart from a few of us
crazies who READ the FAO reports, most people around the world didn't
even _hear_ about the whole issue.  And the trend in Japan and Europe
appears to be improving (in fits and starts, admittedly, and there may
be regression now that the EU has been joined by one large country with
MANY agricultural-based voters, Poland), while the US trend with the
present administration seems definitely negative.  (The Clinton
administration _spoke_ with a lot of bluster and rhetoric that often
sounded anti-free-trade, which may have helped it in internal politics
but surely damaged international perception of the US, but its actual
_actions_ overall were more favourable than damaging to free trade).

 
> Is it just that I am a neo-Dadaist PolyAnna?

Your perception appears to be congruent with that of the mass of US
voters.  But try reading, e.g., the Economist magazine for a few years:
it's one source which you definitely can't suspect of a-priori
anti-americanism or anti-capitalism, but DOES wave an unfailing banner
for free trade (the magazine was founded to champion free trade in the
19th century, and on that one aspect it has never wavered).  The news
and analyses you will read there may help you see the different
perspectives from which others see US behavior -- particularly
interesting, I hope, as being based on actual facts and sound economic
analysis, as opposed to the instinctive anti-Americanism that one can
observe in so many places.


Alex



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