it is always a bad idea, and not infrequently it is downright idiotic." ~ H.L. Mencken
I Get Letters!
These days when one publishes and makes one's email address available, one is likely to receive posts of all kinds, very positive and pleased, even grateful, or, alternatively, courteously negative as well as out and out hostile and insulting.
My plethora of recent pieces on job outsourcing, job losses, CEO pay, free trade policy and such, from my normative political economic perspective'rather than one of positive economic science'has done much to attract comments. Some of these are brief but a few are quite bulky and offer either reasonably interesting arguments or nasty tirades. A number of them are a little bit in-between, giving some reasons, albeit couched in a good measure of vitriol. Such a one I wish to share today, so here it goes:
"Sir, I have just finished reading your article on protectionism, and I feel that you are trivializing a very serious subject that is much deeper than you make it seem. I feel that you have very little respect for the people who toil with their hands, and you are obviously not one of those persons. I am Canadian, and I am not afraid to spend a couple of dollars extra on a purchase if it means keeping jobs in North America. I hope you are not including me when you refer to involuntary slaves to the cost of making a purchase. What customers are you referring to anyway because the owners of big business will not be able to sell their product to the masses if they are all making three dollars a day! I wonder if you have researched the ultimate goals of the world trade organization because I found it quite frightening. When you are considered a resource, and not a person in your country it makes me want to puke. I hope you are not endorsing free trade by the way because it wont fly. Respectfully,"
So there'I have been told. I didn't get inspired to do much arguing here, didn't wish to quibble about various non-sequiturs, however, although I welcome such opportunities. Doing less teaching these days than earlier in my career and thus meeting fewer academic colleagues with whom to debate various topics, I welcome it when I get the chance 'to use it'lest I soon lose it'! But this post did not spur me to extend myself much intellectually. Instead I proceeded along the following lines:
" I don't see why you are so proud of yourself for making decisions that clearly impact negatively on people far worse off than any Canadian or American or Western European workers. Protectionism impoverishes millions abroad, in Third World countries, who could be competing with you and your North American pals but are prevented from doing so by those like you who believe they are so virtuous when in fact they are steeped in the worst sort of chauvinism and prejudice in favor of members of your tribe. Those other human beings you so cavalierly dismiss from the human race have every right to compete with you and your fellows in North America but no, you will not let them. Well, I have no respect for your wish to keep jobs where you live. What makes you and your neighbors so special that they ought to receive this illicit, nasty protection against those who are now disenfranchised? Not a thing. Sincerely,"
No, this response is not perhaps my intellectually most formidable treatment of the topic of outsourcing but it does add a dimension to the argument against protectionism that I have neglected: It notes how anti-humanitarian protectionist positions tend to be, how they indulge in rank tribalism and chauvinism. Suddenly, it seems, all those people with their altruistic excuses for various domestic public policies have shown their true colors. It has nothing to do with love of others but with unabashed, crass vested interest and the refusal to adjust.
I suppose, though, when one has grown up in North America to expect human community life to be a Hobbesian war-of-all-against-all'or various groups against various other groups'it is no surprise that serious concern for the genuine well-being of all, something that only freedom is most likely to ensure, is very far from one's mind and, indeed, one's heart.