Idiocy kebabbed

Our Word Is Our Weapon utterly skewers some ignorant bollocks from Stephen Pollard on ‘free trade’, aid and third-world debt.

While it’s always agreeable to stick it to a buffoon, the post is more notable for being one of the most succinct, well-sourced and well-argued explanations of why the hardline dogmatic free traders are unequivocally, factually and morally wrong. Read it, whatever your views. Although should you be a hardline free trader, I’d be especially interested to see a rebuttal…

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8 thoughts on “Idiocy kebabbed

  1. So will I, because OWIOW only quotes the first half of Pollard’s argument. The second half goes on to say that liberalised trade won’t work without deregulation and improved property rights, which probably means taking out quite a few nasty third-world dictators and giving them a good kicking. So it’s a lovely refutation, but not of Pollard’s argument.

    Even the most extremist free-marketeer (i.e. me), isn’t suggesting we cut aid to the third world. We’re suggesting aid needs to be backed up with a focus on good governance, as the only viable way for countries to work their way up the development food chain.

  2. "work their way up the development food chain."

    Poor metaphor – as if we use the ‘food chain’ as our model we are condemning countries to poverty status no matter what their absolute level of development of good governance. Someone will always be at the bottom, and it helps the world (considered as a whole) not one jot if we help some people climb the chain and cast other people down.

    If it is an appropraite metaphor then we need to reconsider our development aims. Just as the ‘education, education, education’ lot need to reconsider just how this will produce an equal society. Even if we all have PhDs, someone needs to clean the toilets. So unless our economic structure allows (or can allow) these people the wage necessary to be a full and active citizen, then the ‘education=equality’ mantra is bunkum.

    Education is a good in itself, mind. And a societal good in that it can produce a better democracy. If toilet cleaners have well educated members of their workforce then they can better articulate their demands and acheive their goals in a democratic society. Education can help improve political equality, but the stumbling block of unequal wealth will remain until we have economic democracy.

  3. It’s a perfectly sensible metaphor given that:

    i) Anti-poverty campaigners measure poverty on a relative scale, and
    ii) they’re never fucking happy…

    Of course someone will always be at the bottom of the pile. The hope is that everyone is raised up in absolute terms. If everyone in the world earned enough to afford basic standards of nutrition and sanitation, the Polly Toynbee’s of the world would be complaining about the terrible inequalities in the distribution of Nike trainers and iPods.

  4. No, but the ‘food chain’ metaphor is very different from a ‘ladder’ metaphor – the first implies predation and dominance of those higher on those lower. In the second metaphor it is possible for all the countries/people to climb to an high position in absolute terms. In the first it is only the relative positions that matter – are you above or below someone else?

    That said, I would argue that relative wealth does matter, particularly if we beleive in democratic government, as wealth is a particularly powerful means of influence.

  5. Why are so many Socilaist of the "the cake isn’t being shared out equally" school? Economists have long recognised that the more economic activity there is, the bigger the cake there is to share out. Thus today all people in the west have a bigger slice of cake than they did 100 years ago, whilst at the same time people in the Far East (eg Japan, Singapore) have even bigger slices despite the fact that 100 years ago they had almost no cake at all. The amount of cake earnt by urban Chinese and Indians will soon surpass that in the West. {End of metaphor}

    The principle hindrances to sub-Saharan Africa must be considered to be a legacy of quasi socialist policies and a lack of confidence by investors that they are going to get return. In addition they have learnt by heart the "victim politics" of the left. Thus for African dictators and on-message Socialists alike the narrative is always "not their fault".

    To misquote: "Capitalist democracy is the least worst form of goverment yet devised by the human race."

  6. "That said, I would argue that relative wealth does matter, particularly if we beleive in democratic government, as wealth is a particularly powerful means of influence."

    This is why relative shares of the cake concern me. It is a fairly simple idea. This isn’t to say that we ought to all have exactly equal shares (that is not the point of this argument), but it does say that increasing disparity between shares reduces the degree of democracy (which, as you know, is quite distinct from capitalism).

  7. Andrew B: Okay, I take your point, but relative wealth only matters once everyone has more than a minimum in absolute terms for survival. Even then, it’s a tool for Utopian social engineers.

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