Monday, May 12, 2003
Sent: Monday, May 12, 2003 8:30 AM
Subject: Help me out?
Xxxxx and I have been having a fight about the war and politics and I can hold my own, but I need your help with this one. Please explain why he is dead wrong? Can you?
Which finally brings me to something about which I feel very strongly. In my travels I encounter many impoverished people including children who, before they are very much older, will probably end up in prostitution and crime so that they can provide for their parents and families. Today, rural poverty throughout Asia and Africa is, in the main, directly attributable to the failure of the Bush administration and, to a lesser extent, the EC to live up to their obligations to eliminate agricultural export subsidies which allow Western farmers (at $1 billion a day) to undercut millions of poor producers in the Third World. This is an affront to the principles of fairness and fair trade on a massive scale. Talk about a weapon of mass destruction! All very noble to get rid of Saddam but I think if people could see the results of American and EC protectionism they might begin to see through the hypocrisy of "the freeing of Iraq".
First of all, any discussion of export subsidies for farmers is, one would have to say, a total non-sequitur for the invasion of Iraq. To me it sounds like the kind of admission of defeat where you don't admit defeat but instead change the subject.
“Today, rural poverty throughout Asia and Africa is, in the main, directly attributable to the failure of the Bush administration and, to a lesser extent, the EC to live up to their obligations to eliminate agricultural export subsidies which allow Western farmers (at $1 billion a day) to undercut millions of poor producers in the Third World.”
My answer is long and rambling, but not nearly long enough.
I can walk into any grocery in America and I see Chilean grapes, Turkish dates, Mexican avocados, Guatemalan bananas, Italian olive oil. Certainly there are price supports in America, but the USA is the freest food market in the developed world. EEC protectionism is far more pervasive. Having said that, as a free-market person I believe that all protectionism is wrong and it only hurts consumers. But it’s not protectionism that turns third world farmers’ daughters to prostitution. It’s two things:
1) Local governmental corruption and complicity (absence of the rule of law) and
2) Atrocious economic policies (absence of a market economy)
There are any number of places in the world where there are child prostitutes, either with the direct complicity of the national government (I can get on a plane to Havana tomorrow and have my choice of a wide variety of 11-year-old boys or girls), or corrupt local officials, as in much of Asia. The rule of law is at least as important as macroeconomics in determining wealth and poverty. Where there is no rule of law, no contract is enforceable beyond the degree with which you are prepared to use violence.
Andrew Vacchs, the novelist whose fictional detective hunts pedophiles for a living, describes two different types of villages that he sees in certain parts of rural Thailand: Those with children, and those without. The ones with children are the ones that armed themselves when the pimps arrived, kind of like The Seven Samurai. The ones without children are the ones where they didn’t arm themselves. This is what the absence of the rule of law means.
Blaming poverty in Africa and Asia on people thousands of miles away is not only specious but it begs the question…why are some places in the region wealthy and others are brutally poor? Why is that? (If you recall, PJ O’Rourke’s magnificent book Eat the Rich was entirely devoted to this very subject, and I would recommend it to anyone who legitimately wants an answer to this question and not simply bash America).
In 1962 South Korea was an underdeveloped country, with a GNP on a par with Ghana. Today it’s part of the developed world. Taiwan was similar. In one generation, trade with the American market lifted a billion Chinese out of poverty. These countries didn’t whine about American price supports. They (or rather the entrepreneurs in these countries) simply figured out what Americans wanted, and they sold it to them. There were alternatives: Poverty, starvation, and the North Korean variant, cannibalism. But instead, these newly developed countries figured out what the world wanted to buy from them, and they made it. That’s the essence of the free market: It works around trade barriers.
The bottom line is that no one has the right to demand that the world economy conform to their skill set.
The fact is, rural farming in the Third World is highly inefficient and much too labor-intensive. Rural populations are declining everywhere, not just in the underdeveloped world, as farming becomes more efficient. The demographic upheavals that send the sons and daughters of farmers to urban areas are not the fault of evil American plutocrats.