Not Everyone is Aspirational

Each national economy is driven forward by an aspirational minority, but not everyone aspires to a “higher economic life.”

Aspiration drives economic growth

The hope that hard work will be exceptionally rewarded is a major driver in capitalism. It results in innovative products being introduced to the market and costs being reduced for existing products and services.

The higher income achieved by the aspirational urge results in more money being spent on all sorts of goods and services, which generates more income for everyone, including those who are not aspirational.

Everyone needs to work

The current frivolous discussion of a Basic Income denies the human need for a level of self-sufficiency and a sense of self-worth.

This means that redistribution of income should not be the primary goal of a democratic society. Rather, it should be creating the structures whereby everyone can get a job, as it says in this song, “Root Hog, or Die.”

“Big pig or little pig, Root Hog, or Die.” Meaning, “Rich or poor, if you don’t work, you don’t eat; you have to take care of yourself, because nobody else will take care of you.”

Ever-growing welfare is not the way to build a cohesive society.

Non-Aspirational are valuable

There are many jobs in society for those who don’t aspire to be innovators and leaders. What a harsh society we would live in if everyone desperately wanted to be its leader.

Non-aspirational members of the work force can include almost every trade and profession. It is not just made up of those who do minimum wage jobs.

Despite this, most Western countries are doing their best to rid their economies of jobs for skilled non-aspirational workers, by moving jobs overseas to the countries who can offer those jobs at a lower rate of pay.

We need an economic balance

Economists, who should know better, seem to think that the world is just one big pudding, and ignore national borders and human history in their idealist search for a “better world,” being one in which everything is as cheap as it can be.

They do not realise, even though they should, that this just takes power away from democratic governments and give it global corporations.

Fortunately, the world’s voting public is waking up to the false path on which economists have led us.

A better economic balance is coming. It will start with fiddling at the fringes, with local suppliers being favoured for government purchases. It will continue with the re-instatement of tariffs in the developed world. It will end with national governments in the emerging world increasing minimum wages.

Higher Minimum Wages in the Developing World

Higher Minimum Wages in the developing world will increase prosperity everywhere.

G20 & WTO should lead

The G20 and the WTO have dropped the ball on trade. They should be taking the lead in “forcing” downtrodden nations go for higher minimum wages. But they don’t – the G20 and WTO just hand all such matters over to the leaders of global industries, aka “the market.”

While increased trade has resulted in some improvement in living standards in some developing nations, in general the gap between the developing world and the rest has not narrowed very much, especially if you leave China, Taiwan and South Korea out of the picture. The difference in those places is that the leaders of these nations didn’t believe the more trade would be enough: they also decided to control the situation more tightly.

These two “organizations” congratulate themselves on having done a good job in increasing the standard of living in the developing world.

They congratulate themselves too much. China has been the biggest beneficiary from free trade with the West. They have done this by keeping much of their own protective regime in place, and closely managing their own economy vis-à-vis the rest of the world. They call this “communism with Chinese characteristics.” There is no way that the Chinese will put themselves in the hands of global capital, but this exactly what the G20 and the WTO are advocating. At the same time they take much of the credit for the improvement in China’s economic situation. Well, good for them! I hope it keep them happy at night, as their own constituents lose their own standard of living at the same time.

Mexico needs a higher Minimum Wages

Take Mexico as an example. Many commentators believe that Mexico has benefited from NAFTA. Certainly the Mexican government believes this to be the case. However, Mexican workers receive $15 day, whereas their wage competitors in the USA receive $15 hour. This is not because Mexican workers are only one eighth as productive as US domiciled workers, as someone has ridiculously suggested.

Don’t expect global corporations to encourage developing nations to introduce higher minimum wages. They love low wages. They won’t fix them, and indeed, they can’t. To pay more for labor than the market requires would be a breach of their governance standards.

WTO could support Higher Minimum Wages

A real fix would be for the G20 and the WTO to introduce a rule that says something like this: “Country based tariffs can be introduced where the effective minimum wage built into the goods being imported is less than half the effective minimum wage in the importing country.”

Taking Mexico as an example, if higher minimum wages were introduced the Mexican government would be compelled to introduce a minimum wage that was equal to half the effective minimum wage in the USA. Such an action would see real benefits being achieved from that nation’s increased export activity.

Nevertheless, while the G20 will have to backtrack on its impotent rage against Trump’s trade rhetoric following his election, it will do nothing of any use in fixing the trade problems of the world. Apparently, the G20 leaders do not understand that crushing the wages of ordinary workers actually reduces national wealth. They do not understand how global corporations work, and that they are not a force for improving the wages of ordinary workers. Perhaps they should read George Cooper’s Money, Blood & Revolution.

Media Bias – The Challengers don’t like to be Challenged

Media bias reflects the fact that most of the major media organizations have their own agenda. It starts with unrestrained free trade and ends in the hope that everyone will benefit. Donald Trump has pricked their balloon, and they don’t like it. In fact, they are highly embarrassed that their complicity in the current economic malaise is being exposed by an “outsider.”

Media Bias – A Western Pattern

I listen to PBS, France24 & the Australian ABC. Also I read the (UK) Financial Times, the Australian Fairfax press and the Australian. All except for the later, which has a reasonably 2-sided presentation, treat Donald Trump as a punching bag (especially the government funded national broadcaster, “our ABC”). None of them like it when Donald Trump punches back. I say, it is about time that the media is held accountable for their biased reporting.

Media bias is obvious to any objective observer. As an historian, I know that history is a matter of selection – what will be included – what will be excluded. We know what the media are including. Today I listened to the NewsHour “debate” between Mark Shields and David Brooks. As today’s show demonstrates, the two contributors and the host were keen to highlight anything that puts Donald Trump in a bad light. Here are just a few examples:

  • “Not enough positions with confirmable candidates have been confirmed.” That is not Donald Trump’s fault. It reflects more directly on the action of Democratic Senators, not a failure on Donald Trump’s part. If the Democrats are holding up appointments (for good or spurious reasons), the delay cannot be put solely at Donald Trump’s feet, but that is what the 2 debaters and the host did today.
  • The disgraceful situation where leading figures in the intelligent community are openly passing on confidential information to press was not criticized once in this discussion. These leakers should be prosecuted as Obama tried to do with Snowden, and has done with Manning. Yet this was not mentioned as a caveat to the discussion on the “Russian situation.”
  • The implication that Trump is a boy in a man’s job, which came from Mark Shields, will be shown to be a nonsense. It is just out of the current Media Bias play-book. Rather than Donald Trump not being up to the job, he is willing to address the ridiculous situation when US workers on $7.50 and hour or more have to compete for their jobs with Mexican workers on $15 day, whereas neither the Democrats or the pre-Trump Republicans even thought this was an issue that could be addressed.
  • Trump was willing to bell the cat on the impossible situation in the West Bank, which cannot be solved via a 2-state solution (since that region has been permanently cantonized by settlements for over 20 years), despite official UN approval of this ridiculous approach. Diplomacy has failed the world here and also in Syria, with the attempt to replace a stable government with one that is likely to be led by Saudi-influenced Sunni radicals.

Where is the discussion of the breath of fresh air that Donald Trump has brought to such matters? Nowhere to be seen on PBS, France24, Aust ABC, Aust Fairfax or in the Financial Times. Apart from resistance to his necessary and economically compelling agenda, we just have complaints about Donald Trump pushing back against a constant media onslaught. Certainly the media do not want anything like a level playing field and are not willing to even think about the possibility of Media Bias from their own organizations.

End Media Bias for your own good

My advice to the so-called Main Stream Media, is “Grow up.” Learn from the election result. Donald Trump won the electoral college by a thumping majority. Surprise, surprise: the liberal elites lost the election. Their mutual love-in, led by Barack Obama and for which Hillary Clinton was their default candidate, which has seen ordinary working people lose their jobs while others earn an extraordinary rate of pay, has been dispatched by democratic forces.

In addition, we can say that the expectation of Mark Shields that Trump will lose electoral support is a dream. The US economy has already turned the corner, and that has been just on the anticipation that Trump will put his plans into operation. Just be aware that when the numbers on the economy come in at the end of this year, the media will change their clothes, because if they do not, they will be all out of job and new media will take the place of the current media.

Prosperity, Insecurity and Poverty

We live in a time of great prosperity, unparalleled plenty, variety, health and peace. We also live in a period of intense and global competition, where not one job has even a scrap of the security that a job might have had 50 years ago.

Unparalleled Prosperity, with increased Insecurity

We are more prosperous than ever before, but would any ordinary working person willingly accept that getting everything 20% cheaper is really worth the employment insecurity that the current free trade arrangements are causing? I doubt it.

Automation is NOT the problem

For those who argue that it is automation, not unrestrained free trade, that is causing increased employment insecurity, I say, “Balony!” I spent a large amount of my working life implementing automation, and it didn’t lead to widespread unemployment. That is because the governments of the world hadn’t yet handed over power to global corporations, via unrestrained free trade.

Prosperity provides an opportunity to fix poverty

We can use the world’s prosperity to lift nations out of poverty, via trade, but we have to do it differently. It is no good just using our prosperity to lift the incomes of the top 20%.

We have given up the opportunity that prosperity has provided, since the great democracies of the world have surrendered their authority and power to global corporations. Shame, shame and more shame upon them all.

How to fix

There is a fix. It is in the hands of voters. It is also in the hands of the world leaders, via the WTO. It is Donald Trump who has provided the catalyst. Those who condemn him are among the worst offenders in regard to causing the current malaise. So I support Trump’s abrupt and counter-cultural rhetoric! Shock, horror!

We will be the poorer if we don’t pick up the baton that he has placed in the next runner’s hand.

Steven Keen on Democracy and Capitalism

The radical Australian economist, Steven Keen, has somewhat surprisingly “come out” as an opponent of Free Trade, at least as currently practiced.

In an breakthrough interview published in The Epoch Times, Steven Keen explains how Donald Trump could revive American manufacturing. This article is tellingly entitled, “Why Free Trade Doesn’t Work for the Workers.”

Steven Keen argues Ricardo’s (1820) theory is flawed

Keen pointed out that the argument by classical economist David Ricardo (1772–1823) about wine and clothes involved the workers in one industry losing their jobs. Ricardo assumed, as do modern neoclassical economists, that workers in the losing industry can get a job in the winning industry. So it’s assuming full employment, everybody who wants a job gets a job, which is not the real world. And they also assume you can move resources from one industry into another. Certainly, workers can be retrained. While it takes time, it can be done.

Drawing an example from China, Keen noted that China now produces more of everything, and that it is not possible is turning a weaving machine into a steel furnace. And that’s why you have the rust-belt. In the case of China and the United States, the steel plants in the United States won’t become weaving machines; they just turn into rust. So what you have is absolute destruction of physical resources in one country. Or they ship the capital to the place where the low wage workers are, like China or Mexico, and what you get is a class redistribution of income. The workers in the developed country lose, the capitalists in that country gain.

Steven Keen argues that Free Trade gives Capitalists a “Free Kick”

Keen observes that in this scenario, capitalists in the developed country still own the machinery and employ people but in a different country and at lower wages. Then they sell the products back into the American markets at the same prices but at lower costs. So they gain, and the working class has to finance their consumption with increased levels of debt because they don’t have the income anymore. The workers in the developing country also gain, so it’s also a wealth transfer from the developed to the developing country.

Why BrExit “won” & why Trump won

Steven Keen comments that in a democracy you get to the point where the workers have lost so much because of globalization, they get sick and tired of hearing the fairy tale that they won’t suffer and that it’s all for their own good. And they look at their decayed streets and factories and dismal jobs and lower share of income, and they say: “You know what, I’m going to vote against this.” And that’s what we are seeing globally now with Trump and Brexit, this revolt against globalization and financialization. The absolute losers of all of this are the working class of the first world. The winners are the multinational corporations.

Welfare vs Work

In an interesting and perceptive comment on human nature, Steven Keen says that humans get their sense of self-worth by contributing to a community. If you are human and you are being paid for staying alive, you are not particularly happy about it, your sense of self-worth is pretty low. But if you have a job and can contribute to a community, that’s where your sense of self-worth is going to come from. All this welfare is replacing work which is the case in the rust-belt areas makes people angry and resentful. Their self-worth is challenged and they are not going to be happy with the establishment.

He believes that is why Trump has such an appeal, and they don’t care about him being politically incorrect. They like the fact he is like a human hand grenade. They threw the human hand grenade into Washington.

Automation

Getting closer to a nuanced view on automation than most commentators, Steven Keen begins by arguing that part of the motivation for American businesses to move production offshore was cheap labor. But with better and better robots, you can have machines you can retrain for different assembly processes. And you have 3-D printing turning up, which has become mainstream. So it means you can produce onshore without cheap labor. But it also means you can produce without labor at all.

Although he does not define what “a well-functioning human society” would look like, he thinks that in such a society producing without any labor at all would not be a problem. He believes that the problem in a neoclassical capitalist system is that the workers lose out because their only source of income is wages. If there is no need for wages anymore, you don’t have an income anymore.

My Response

Steven Keen’s analysis of the modern economic dilemma is first class, however he does not offer anything substantive in the way of a solution.

A declared opponent of “neoclassical economics,” Steven Keen is quite happy to make comments like, “In a neoclassical capitalist system [in this scenario] the workers lose out because their only source of income is wages.” However, when he goes on to say, “If there is no need for wages anymore, you don’t have an income anymore,” but “in a well-functioning human society, that wouldn’t be a problem.” In this he is contracting his own point that welfare-dependency is a self-defeating solution to current economic problems.

From the full text of this interview, we know that he is still an opponent of tariffs as a way of achieving balance within an economy, and still hankers after the socialist ideal of a world without artificial borders.

In this area, this site is closer to Donald Trump on the need for tariffs supporting national objectives. Nationalism is deeply rooted in human psychology (beginning with a mother’s care for her child). This cannot be claimed for internationalist objectives of Ricardo’s Free Trade ideology or Marxist ideology. While Keen sees the future as being “post capitalist,” I see the future being in capitalism being brought (again) under the control of national parliamentary democracy, thus reflecting the needs and interests of the people.

I am confident that Steven Keen would agree with me in the proposition that an objective of the political system should be to deliver a result that is in the interests of ordinary people (the top 1%ers are quite able to look after themselves). I am not so sure he would agree with me in seeing a nationalist capitalist system as the basis of that model. Time will tell on that point.

I promote Democratic Capitalism because I believe it will serve the majority of people quite well. Indeed, the current trend is in support of the principles of Democratic Capitalism. As evidence for this, I can cite Theresa May in the UK (“Democracy that works for everyone”), and Donald Trump in the USA (“Make America great again”).

Global Trade Reform

President Trump has created a catalyst for global trade reform. The USA could use this opportunity to implement reform via WTO that will work for both developed and developing nations.

The Problem with Global Trade

Even though the push towards globalization has done much to reduce poverty in those nations able to exploit the changes for the benefits of their own citizens, it has presented three easily identifiable problems;

  1. Zero tariffs do absolutely nothing to remove the first-mover-advantage of Western nations. Without tariff protections, developing nations are severely limited in their ability to develop diverse economies. Each nation should seek a diversified economy, despite the benefits of specialization. Providing a diversified economy is the only way in which a nation can utilize all the skills of all their people.
  2. Western nations are unable to provide sufficient work for ordinary workers in the face of very low wages that are being offered in developing nations. A skilled worker in the USA on $15 an hour cannot compete with a skilled worker in Mexico on $15 a day. It will never work out well for the ordinary workers of the West, who actually represent the majority of voters. (Elites: watch out, your day of reckoning has come!)
  3. Globalization has failed to deliver the real equalization of incomes between developed and developing nations that has been promised by its advocates. The pressure to keep wages down in developing nations is maintained by global corporations. They are only too willing to move operations from one country to another in search of the lowest possible cost of labor. Of course, they are only operating in the way the situation requires. If it is to be changed, it will have to be changed by changing the situation, not by requiring corporations to act in ways that conflict with their own charters.

Implementing Global Trade Reform

Having defined the problem with global trade, reform of its operation becomes self evident. Here is a simple two-part fix, which Donald Trump could initiate and virtually force the whole world to adopt.

  1. The WTO rules to be changed so that any nation can introduce and maintain a high level of tariff in order to offset an identified first-mover-advantage. It is suggested that a tariff of 25% would be a good starting point for a discussion on this aspect.
  2. The WTO rules to be changed so that any nation can implement a country-by-country tariff on goods coming from another country, where the minimum wage (actual or official) is less than 50% of the minimum wage of the importing country.

Only item 2 of this program for global trade reform really applies to the USA, and pending a WTO agreement, Donald Trump could implement that aspect immediately.

In regard to NAFTA, Mexico could be encouraged to raise the minimum wage in all factories exporting to the USA to 50% of the USA minimum wage.

Under these arrangements for global trade reform, the pressure to move work from nation to nation in the search for the lowest possible wage levels would come to an end. It would also end the waste of national resources that comes from starting a factory in one country and moving it to another.

Global trade reform along these lines would see the incentive for nations (like Bangladesh) to be the work-house of the West coming to an end. Indeed, the wages of ordinary workers throughout the world would be increased.

Super-low prices will end

Yes, it is true that the prices of some very low-priced, but valuable goods, like clothing, would increase significantly over time. This would reflect the fact that the workers of the world were not continuing to be impoverished in order to meet the needs of the developed world.

For those who do not like that prospect. Suck it up! It is coming!

Elite Capitalism – It is NOT the Future

Elite Capitalism has been running the world’s governments for 30 years, but it has failed to deliver for ordinary voters.

Elite Capitalism and Free Trade

The ideology of Free Trade is built on the premise that each nation should concentrate of those things upon which it has comparative advantage. It is a static theory, which has not changed much in over 200 years. Nor have the advocates been willing to learn from the downsides of the theory that have been experienced over the last 200 years.

The ideology of Free Trade began with the theory that, in 1820 and forever afterwards, Portugal should continue to concentrate on wine, and the UK should continue to concentrate on textiles. It is theory that is based on a static world, and actually one in which entrenched poverty should be endured forevermore. And so it has happened.

Free Trade is also built on the premise that getting goods 20% cheaper is worth whatever disruption is caused by open trade borders, even to the extent that it can cause 10% more unemployment than before. Given the loss of social cohesion of such a policy, it should never have been accepted.

Even though it was not the intention of the original theorists, Free Trade has led to intolerable levels of inequality within nations, and between nations. This is because Free Trade puts too much power in the hands of global corporations, since they are able to move operations to the cheapest place in the world, and to wherever government regulations and taxation are the weakest.

Phony arguments of Elite Capitalism – Trade

In Australia, we have a government that was elected on a mix of the ideologies of Democratic Capitalism and Elite Capitalism. In simple terms, the Nationals support the principles of Democratic Capitalism (the economy must serve the interests of the voters), and the Liberal Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull believes the nation is best served by following a model of Elite Capitalism.

Turnbull approach has some appeal, since it can lead to a higher overall national GDP. Yet in defending his theory, it is appalling that he has decided to follow the UK example of “Project Fear” (in opposing BrExit). In the last Weekend Australian he made the claim that “Protectionism leads to Poverty.” This is an absurd claim that has no foundation in history or theory.

Of course, there are sufficient examples from history to show “Isolationism leads to Poverty!” If that were Turnbull’s position, there would be no problem in accepting it, but that was not what he claimed. Turnbull is ideologically committed to Free Trade. He proves to everyone that he does not have a rational argument in favour of unrestrained Free Trade, since he resorted to this pathetic argument in its favour. Don’t stand in the way of an ideologue when he (or she) is in full flight!

Rather than being hurt by protectionism, Australia’s egalitarian society was built on protectionism: it cannot be said that it led Australia into poverty. Australia had unemployment running at around 2%  until the Labor government, blinded by ideology, decided to revalue the currency upwards and reduce tariffs over-night. Since then, unemployment has reverted to world’s average of about 5%, and global capitalists have had a freer hand to control Australia’s economic life.

The world-ranking US economy was built on protectionism in the 19th century. If the Free Traders had won the argument in the middle of that century, the US would have remained an economic backwater, mostly growing cotton and other agricultural products, and the UK’s industrial base would have kept on growing and growing. Is that what Free Traders want for the developing nations of the world? Fortunately for China (and to a lesser extent India), it thumbs its noses at the Free Trade rhetoric of the West, while taking advantage of the ideological blindness of its trading partners.

Phony arguments of Elite Capitalism – TPP

The most objectionable part of the TPP is entrenching the power of global corporations via ISDS clauses. These clauses allow global corporations to sue national governments if those national governments pass laws to reduce their ability to make a profit (even at the expense of the interests of ordinary voters). These clauses are the greatest threat to national democracy in the modern world.

Even if the TPP becomes enforceable, it will be a Pyrrhic victory for Elite Capitalism. This attempt to use the rule of law to enhance the interests of corporations over voters will not be tolerated by ordinary voters. In Australia, the first sign of difficulties to come can be seen in the attempt of Philip Morris to use the ISDS clauses of a Free Trade agreement between Australia and Hong Kong to overthrow Australia’s plain-paper cigarette packaging legislation. It was the first sign of problems to come. Success would not have led to the abandonment of the rule of law in international trade, but it would have sown the seeds of that outcome.

TPP is designed to entrench the power of Elite Capitalism forever, putting ISDS clauses into law, so they cannot be overthrown by future governments. It is the enemy of Democratic Capitalism. If the current Australian government cannot see that, they are inviting other parties to take up the ground of democracy that they are abandoning. Already the Liberals are losing ground with the electorate, and it is only the complete unacceptability of the ALP opposition that is keeping the Liberals within reach of re-election to government.

Phony Arguments of Elite Capitalism – Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel has said the economic and political problems can best be solved via global solutions. She opposes Donald Trump’s proposition that nation states should solve their own problems. In this, Merkel is wrong: most problems are local, and are best solved with local solutions. Donald Trump is right.

20 years of the Euro has shown that, even in Europe, region-wide solutions don’t work. Portugal, Spain and Greece are still struggling, while Germany is going very well. It is not surprising that Donald Trump correctly says that the EU gives Germany hegemony (at least in economic matters). At least we can agree with Merkel’s response, namely that the EU can look after itself (implying that it doesn’t need Trump’s gratuitous advice). Exactly, the EU problems don’t need a global solution, they need a EU solution. It is a pity that Merkel won’t consider the obvious solution – abandoning the Euro.

Most developing nations have a dominant agricultural sector. One thing is certain from a study of economic history – global trade in agriculture has mostly led to impoverishment of the agricultural sectors of less developed nations. It has led to the over-development of single crop economies (the so-called banana republics, etc.), which has made those nations vulnerable to global price movements. Yet the agricultural sector is something that national governments could enhance, as has been done in Australia for about 100 years, starting with government funded and run storage and pricing schemes. Now, in Australia, these are often run by individual farmers, who store crops on their own farms. Such is the nature of dynamic local solutions, designed to solve local problems.

Elite Capitalism is the problem – not the solution

It is time we recognized that Elite Capitalism is the source of the world’s problem with increasing inequality. It is inevitable it will lose its hegemony. It is also ironic: Donald Trump is the only one willing to call out, “The Emperor has no clothes!”

TPP – A Way to Preserve First-Mover-Advantage

The TPP is presented as opening up trade between the Pacific nations, but the sub-text is preserving first-mover-advantage.

TPP – Staying at the Top

The main thrust of the TPP is intended to extend the rule of law to cover intellectual property. A secondary purpose is to stop nations from passing laws that hurt an already established advantage in the market place. In other words, to preserve whatever first-mover-advantage has already been earned (or achieved by whatever means).

It may not have been the clearly thought through intention of the legislators, but the outcome is to ensure that nations that are already poor remain relatively poorer than the richer nations.

In Australia, we have the naive dream that we will be a supplier of intellectual goods to Asia. If this dream is realized, what is the result for Asia? Are all Asian supposed to be satisfied with supplying cheap consumer goods to Australia, while the Australians supply the more expensive and more profitable intellectual goods to Asia? At least, if the TPP deal is agreed in the USA, then Australians will be able to hang onto whatever first-mover advantage it has, and the Asians will be the poorer as a result.

The USA is beginning to feel the first winds of change resulting from the availability of cheap Asian goods. Its leaders also have a dream of hanging onto their hard-won first-mover advantage, which they hope will ensure that alternative jobs will become available from those that are lost. This, of course, is a forlorn hope, as current experience with structural unemployment in the USA has already shown.

Nevertheless, despite the weakness of the case for even more free trade, the intention of the TPP is to ensure that the developing and emerging nations will remain on the teat of the West for intellectual property for as long as this can be sustained, thus keeping them relatively poorer than the West.

First Mover Advantage

Any newly emerging nation would know that an existing first-mover-advantage is very difficult to overcome. It was an issue faced in the USA during the 19th century, when the cloth and clothing manufacturers on the US east coast found that they could not compete on a “level playing field” with the British manufacturers. Those politicians in the US who wanted to build up a US manufacturing industry argued for the imposition of tariffs. Eventually the advocates of the so-called American System, which involved introducing tariffs, won the political argument, and the USA went on to become a manufacturing power-house. As a consequence, UK manufacturing dominance came to an end. It was a hard-fought fight, even though it is obvious to us now that the advocates of the American System were in the right.

China has its own strategies for overcoming first-mover-advantage. This involves a combination of tariffs, subsidies and other protective measures to support its developing and established industries. It is also claimed that the Chinese use industrial espionage and the blatant stealing of secrets to leap-frog the hurdles standing in the way of developing high-tech industries. The TPP is designed to counter both of these, at least within the developing nations that are signatories to this deal.

So, if tariffs and cheating are not open as a means of overcoming first-mover-advantage what are the options for developing nations? If anyone knows what they are, please comment on this post.

Fraudulent Arguments for Free Trade

Advocates for Free Trade often argue that it lifts poor nations out of poverty. This is only partially true; and has a very limited impact. The wages in Bangladesh for textile workers have increased from $1 day to $2 day as a result of increased exports of finished garments. Yet any attempt to push wages higher, towards Western standards, is met the fierce resistance from the textile manufacturers. They probably use the argument that an increase in pay like that will make them noncompetitive. So unless Bangladesh can come up with new industries in which they can compete, so that there are other opportunities for the Bangladeshi people to gain work at higher pay, it looks like the future for wages in Bangladesh is likely to stop at a maximum of $5 day.

Also, the advocates of Free Trade are unlikely to be the workers who will be the first to be displaced in Western nations. If Western nations can claim to be virtuous by opening their industries to fierce competition from Asia (and from Mexico and South America), it is not the advocates of this policy that will bear the cost: it is the ordinary workers on those nations. These are the workers who are unlikely to get jobs in the “winner-takes-all” high tech jobs, such as in Apple and Google.

Another fraudulent argument for Free Trade is to cite China as a shining beacon. Certainly it has benefited from the opening of trade in Western nations. But it has made the most of this situation by protecting its own industries at the same time. With this protectionism (and possibly cheating as well), it is unlikely that China would have been able to move hundreds of millions of workers from farms to the cities. It is not Free Trade on its own that has helped China to develop. It also required the Chinese government to look after the interests of its own people.

TPP is a Moral Fraud

The TPP is advocated on the basis that it will help developing nations to develop. In fact, what it is designed to do is to entrench privilege. This is not the privilege of entire nations, but rather the privilege of corporations. It is not privilege of all corporations that is being protected: it is the privilege of those corporations that have an edge that makes them the best in the world.

I don’t want my world to be come a place in which only the “very best” or most successful have a reasonable share in its abundance. I want a world in which everyone has a fair chance of success, and a reasonable opportunity for each to share in the success of his or her own nation. That is why agreements like TPP are an anathema to me, along with anything that reduces the power of democratic governments to shape their societies according the needs and aspirations of their own peoples.

Do you agree?

Tariffs are not a curse-word

If international trade is to be of benefit to every nation upon the earth, then tariffs must come back into our economic vocabulary.

Tariffs are not evil

Tariffs are a supplement to the automatic stabilizer of an exchange rate. They help iron-out the development disparities within a nation and are necessary if a national government is determined to do whatever it can to ensure that there are jobs for people of every skill and education level.

If handled correctly, tariffs will have two results. While all imported goods will be more expensive, some sectors of the economy that would otherwise die without tariffs will survive. The question to be considered is, “What is the trade off for more expensive imported goods?” The answer should be, “Jobs for those who would not otherwise have jobs!”

The corollary of imposing tariffs is, “What is the trade off for cheaper imported goods?” The answer has been, “Jobs will be lost, with no sign of them ever been regained!” For those who are skeptical about the “never” aspect of this answer, just consider the Enclosure Laws in England in the 17th-18th century. They resulted in 100 years of chronic unemployment and poverty in England. This is not just a historical aberration. Modern attempts to fix the structural imbalances of Western economies via monetary policies, have not worked. Here is a prediction that is beginning to be recognized as true in the world of Central Bankers: they will never work! BoJ’s “decision” to aim for 10 year interest rates at 0% must soon be recognized as nuts!

Rather than Tariffs being “evil,” it is the zero tariff objective of the WTO that is evil, and has brought on the unremitting distress of the current economic situation.

Tariffs will not end World Trade

Re-instating tariffs will not end globalization, or world trade. It will just regulate that process and restore economic control to national legislators.

Even if every nation imposed a 20% tariff on all imported goods and services most items of global trade would continue. This is because the Real Advantage held by some nations in the production of those goods and services will mean that trade in those goods and services will continue.

Take an example of simple manufactures. Australia buys most of its clothing from China and Bangladesh. Even at retail, a T-Shirt often costs only $A6. With a 20% tariff it will cost $A7.20 (if the margins stay constant). No-one will notice!

Take an example of complex manufactures. The NSW government is planning to buy trains from South Korea, because they are less expensive than Australian-made trains. Also the history of train-manufacture in Australia has been fraught in recent times. It is quite unlikely that a 20% tariff would change that decision, although it would impact the dynamics of the decision-making process a little. Once again, since the decision is likely to be unchanged, and the cost will only be 20% more (rather than, say 40% more if made in Australia) then no-one will notice.

Tariffs will Save Jobs

Although, under the scenario I have painted, the introduction of tariffs, even at the relatively high level of 20% on all goods and services, would not end world trade, in other areas it will mean that domestic production can continue.

In cases where the imported cost is currently less than 20% below the locally manufactured cost, a 20% tariff would mean that local manufacture will be preferred over imported supply. For an Australian example we can look at steel manufacture. Here the existing South Australian plant is balancing on the brink of being uneconomic. A 20% tariff would change that situation overnight.

Tariffs will Restore Prosperity

Most Western nations are now consumer societies, where most jobs are created by providing goods and services for other consumers. However, for consumer societies to work, there must be jobs for everyone, for everyone is a potential consumer. Here potentiality is converted into action by having money, and for most of us money comes from having a job.

The USA is the most telling example of the failure of this principle because of defective economic orthodoxy. Here we see the impoverishment of US “Middle Class” since the 1980s. This has followed the zero-tariff ideology pushed by the economic elite. This ideology was even supported by the Democratic President, Bill Clinton, and also by the Republicans. The consequences of the Democratic Party’s acceptance of this bogus theory is now being felt on the streets of their impoverished cities. Since Hillary Clinton also believes that America should continue down the same path upon which her husband set the country, there will be no saving American cities if she is elected. Just more ringing of hands and ineffective “black lives matter” protests.

The elite pushing zero tariff policies now has its own world body, namely, the World Trade Organization. That body, and those who support it, can take the majority of the credit for the current economic malaise impacting on the West. Its malign influence is now spreading to emerging nations, since they are finding limited scope to sell their goods. This has happened because the consumer/worker in the West has been crushed by the trade policies of the US.

The same elite who pushed for zero tariffs are now “subtly urging” the WTO to making it more difficult for UK to leave the EU. The best outcome of that talk could be for the UK not to join the WTO and for the UK to prosper without its dead weight of WTO rules around that nation’s neck.

Tariffs are better than Quotas

While quotas can have a place in food production, since it is natural objective of every nation to maintain a large measure of self-sufficiency in food for cultural and defence reasons, tariffs are more economically efficient than quotas. This is because they allow the market to establish a close-to-optimal division of labour between economic sectors.

Quotas are not economically efficient. They can result in much higher prices of now-scarce goods, even leading to a doubling of prices. They can also result in super-profits for importers who have a licence to import up to the quota level, since they are now dealing in scarce goods. Of course, that can be partially compensated by using an auction system for selling the licences to import.

Sectional Impacts

There will be downsides in using trade controls via tariffs for those sectors of the economy that are very heavily dependent upon exports. This, too, will require a balancing act by the national government in order to ensure that no sector of the economy is unreasonable impacted by the introduction of tariffs. This can be done via rebates for the tariffs embedded in their exports, and by targeted measures designed to offset the extra costs that they have to bear compared with producers in other nations. It is worthwhile to address all such matters, since everyone in the nation benefits from a cohesive society in which everyone has the realistic chance to obtain a job.

Democratic Capitalism & 21st century economics

Democratic Capitalism is the way forward. Capitalism + empowered democracy is the key to restoring economic fairness throughout the world.

George Cooper

Recently, George Cooper, in his Money, Blood and Revolution (2014), and in his new Fixing Economics (2016), explained that the economic leveling tendency of the twentieth century was a result of the processes inherent in democracy itself. While capitalism is intent on increasing shareholder returns, other forces tend to reduce these returns. Obviously, competition between firms is a contributing factor in this process, but Cooper was able to show that democracy plays a major part.

Whereas capitalism can be expected to improve the wealth of those at the top of the economic pyramid, Cooper argued we should not ignore the fact that, in a democracy, the majority of the people actually have the power to elect those who favor their own cause. For Cooper, this has resulted in taxation being used to redistribute income, most notably seen in the impact of inheritance taxes in England. Other welfare measures meant that those at the bottom part of the pyramid shared in part of the economic prosperity of the nation. Even wage policy can help to share the wealth.

Therefore, on Cooper’s model, capitalism helps to improve the economic value of each person’s labour and effort, and democratic forces ensure that this increased value is spread more fairly between capital and labour.

Trade policies

The relatively fair income distribution of the 20th century has come under direct threat with the beginning of the new millennium. The gap between the rich and the poor has increased in all developed and undeveloped nations, whether they are democratic or not. The old mechanisms are no longer working, and there is little chance that this will change unless there is a change in our economic thinking.

The first thing to accept is that nations are in competition with each other. We do not live in a world which can be realistically governed as if national borders do not exist. They do, and most ordinary people (if not the elites running the show at the moment) want them to continue. Most people value many of the unique aspects of their own national culture and situation. Most people would like the economic situation of their own nation to improve. They are prepared to co-operate in order to achieve that result, and look to their own national government to advance the economic welfare of their own nation. Democratic governments that ignore that imperative do not get re-elected.

The economies of western nations are out of balance, with currently unresolved structural imbalances, and difficult to resolve unemployment issues. These can be fixed, but the first thing is to win the argument against the dominant economic theory, Ricardo’s Comparative Advantage theory. This theory has meant that “tariffs” has become a curse-word. Yet tariffs should be in first line of defences for any national government seeking to advance the economic interests of its own people, particularly when faced with chronic unemployment.

Tariffs are a necessary part of any nation’s economic weaponry, and are certainly essential if the forces that are pushing nations to more and more inequality are to be countered. I say, put democracy ahead of a failed economic theory.

Democratic Capitalism

The economic model of Democratic Capitalism recognizes that capitalism is the engine for economic development. It will deliver economic benefits that neither socialism (of the Sanders and Corbyn type) nor communism (of the Venezuelan and Cuban type) is able to deliver. Yet the 21st century has shown that capitalism needs controls, excised via democratic processes, to ensure that it serves everyone, not just those in control of capital.

It is time that we clearly recognized the two most important economic drivers in a modern economy, Democracy and Capitalism, and stopped toying with dysfunctional alternative models.