Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Non-Nationalism: A Vision of the Future

I have a vision of the future in which a person l move us closer to this state are to be preferred to those policies that move us away from this state.

We are told that we must fear people from other countries – that we must hate them and lock them out of this country because, if they are allowed in, they will destroy everything that we value.

I am of the opinion that a human being is a human being, regardless of what part of the planet he or she lives on. Yesterday, I wrote about the success of China (and of the possible consequences of China growing into an economy that is five times more powerful than the American economy).

This is not a matter of watching the United States crumble and decay until it falls to China’s level. It is a matter of watching China succeed and grow until it reaches America’s level. I am happy that more and more people in China are able to enjoy things that Americans have enjoyed for quite a while. I am happy to see China grow out of a system where 20 million people can starve to death in a year because of a failed government policy.

I would like to see the African, the Arab, the Central American, and the Pacific Islander enjoy those things as well. It is hardly fair, and it is hardly moral, to cheer policies and programs that have the effect of making Americans $100 better off, if its price is to destroy the lives of 1 billion people elsewhere in the world.

I have said that this is a vision for the future. One of the types of objections that I often read to these types of suggestions reads, “If we were to adopt these policies today, the results would be chaos. There would be pandemonium, mass hysteria, a disaster of biblical proportions as the Anti-Christ is summoned to try for world domination!.

The argument, “If we were to adopt your policy today without changing anything else, the consequences would be disasterous,” is a phony objection. There is no possible way that such a policy could be adopted tomorrow without changing anything else. The policy is one to be worked for over generations in the hopes that, some day, it would be implemented. But it would be a ‘some day’ in which other things have changed as well in order to accommodate these changes.

Desires overall will be better fulfilled because people will have more options available for fulfilling those desires. Every time we build a wall or create a barrier, we block people from the fulfillment of their desires. Their desires tell them to ‘do X’. However, they find that X is blocked due to political boundaries. So, they must select a next-best alternative; one that fulfills fewer or weaker desires. So, we have a prima-facie argument against walls and political barriers, just as we have a prima-facie argument against declaring a person guilty in a court of law. The burden of proof rests on those who would argue for the necessity of the wall, not those who would argue against it.

This is not to say that such a burden of proof cannot be met – that barriers are not necessary in some cases. To carry the analogy further, the fact that the burden of proof is on those who would argue that the accused is guilty does not mean that this burden cannot be met and nobody can be declared guilty of a crime.

So, it is no objection to this posting to assert, “I can think of an instance in which a wall should be required.” Indeed you can, and so can I. Think of my property line as a boundary that you may cross only with my permission (except that you have implied permission to cross the boundary long enough to ask for my permission). These walls are useful, because they give each person a realm of security and privacy where they can work towards the fulfillment of their desires without interference. There are some barriers that we simply have to learn to live with.

However, in the long run, barriers between nations make no more sense than barriers between states. The weaker these barriers become – the more freely we can pass between them – the better off we are, provided that certain conditions are met. The better the job we do at creating the circumstances where barriers are unnecessary, the more freedom we all have, and the better off we are as a result.

One of the conditions that we should meet is to reject the idea that we must fear the person from Mexico or from China or from India – that we must fear the possibility that they could take our jobs and ruin our livelihoods. To be honest, I am more likely to lose my job to somebody from California or New York, then to somebody from Chile or New Guinea.

However, I am not impoverished by the fact that they can come here and take my job without barriers between us – because I can go there and take their job as well. The free flow of people across state borders gives all of us more options – both within our own states, and in other states.

It’s also the case that the open borders mean that any employer in Colorado is free to pick up and move out to some other state – some place where wages or taxes are low. Yet, I do not seem to be suffering as a result. Instead, just as some industries can leave if they want, others are free to move in.

The result has not been the ‘race to the bottom’ that we have been taught to fear. It is not the case that the poorest states have pulled the rest of the states down to their level. Instead, we have all benefitted. Our standard of living can only be explained in terms of open borders wealthier states pulling the poorer states up to their level. The result has been a country where the standard of living (at the state level) is quite uniform across the country.

This is what good people have reason to hope for on an international level – wealthier countries pulling the poorer countries up to their level, and prospering together as the American states have done.

This is, as I said, a vision of the future. It will not suddenly spring into existence tomorrow – entirely or in part. So, objections to the thesis that these changes ought to be adopted immediately are moot. ‘Ought’ implies ‘can’, and the only thing that can be done in this case is to work towards such a goal, one step at a time.

And the first step is simply to realize that we go a lot further when we try to help each other and value each other’s success, then we go when we are struggling to find new and creative ways to get in each other’s way and dragging each other down.

I will not live to see the day. Still, hope that some future generation will enjoy the freedom to move among countries and to freely find a home for herself wherever she is most likely to find happiness. If such a future should come to pass, then I regret the fact that I must miss it.


Anonymous said...

I don't think the states are a good economic example. There and too many commonalities. From the shared currency, the federal economy, to shared regulations, and shared culture. Immigration from one state to another isn't all that comparable to immigration between nations, especially as it concerns economics.

Also, are you claiming that economics is a zero sum game? You say, It is hardly fair, and it is hardly moral, to cheer policies and programs that have the effect of making Americans $100 better off, if its price is to destroy the lives of 1 billion people elsewhere in the world. This doesn't seem to apply to immigration as is your topic and seems, I can't speak for our original intent, to be saying that capitalism is not only a zero sum game but is inherently exploitative of other countries. Is that what you intended to say?

anton said...

Hi Gang:
I would like to "enter" a widely accepted statistic into the discussion.

It would take more than 7 planet earths to sustain a US American life style for all of our planets people.

US America's admired position has been largely accomplished by its exploitation of countries and peoples.

Which bodes a question, "What country would Haiti, Iceland, Ireland, etc. etc. exploit to achieve a similar life style?"

Anonymous said...

"We are told that we must fear people from other countries – that we must hate them and lock them out of this country because, if they are allowed in, they will destroy everything that we value."

this is the biggest crapola i've ever heard. we are told this by who?

anton said...

re: crapola

Try Lou Dobbs, but then again, he has been known to "alter" his stance to punctuate his pieces.

Want more?

Anonymous said...

that's a name, not an example. you havent said exactly *what* he said.

Sheldon said...

I wholeheartedly embrace your vision of a future where nationalism is of less importance.

However, I find it incredible that you write in this and the previous post as if China's incredible economic development doesn't have such monstrous social and ecological consequences.

And many of these have tragic consequences for a large portion of the Chinese people.

For example the huge number of coal fired power plants that are built in China every year, and the damning of the Yangze river that has displaced thousands. Worker health and safety laws that are pathetic etc..

Meanwhile a few get super rich, and a relatively small middle class develops. While at the same time the society is ruled by an authoritarian one party state.

I know that you have written about the issue of externalities, yet you seem to be oblivious to them here.

And Anton touches on another pertinent issue, that American economic life is unsustainable as well. As we are just learning now as the whole nation whines about food and gas prices.

Furthermore, we have had "a race to the bottom" as working peoples real wages and security have declined since the 1970s.

While I share your hopes for a non-nationalistic future, I am skeptical that capitalist globalization can lead to a positive one.

Emu Sam said...

Hans Rosling (advisor to UNICEF and similar organizations) had some things to say about world wealth and health at the 2006 TED talks, which have been made available here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHhdNEKwN50

I particularly note the growth of the middle class world-wide, and how wealth distribution is starting to represent a normal curve - which is approximately how you'd expect it in a fair life. Furthermore, the worldwide standard of living is rising. I really recommend watching the video, it has some good humor and great facts. It's one of a series each 5-10 minutes long.

The discussion here also reminds me of a book, "Travels of a T-shirt," by Pietra Rivoli, an economist who was struck by the haranguing she listened to one day about how T-shirts were made by children under twelve chained to their stations for eighteen hours a day without breaks, and other hyperbole. So she decided to look into the truth of the matter.

Standards of living and working conditions frequently are not up to the standards in the US. But they're not as bad as we sometimes imagine. Furthermore, people take those jobs because they're the BEST jobs available to them. They're not slaves. Nike and Wal-Mart are offering better wages to people (at that level of training, etc.) in China and Africa, than people in China and Africa are offering their compatriots. Furthermore, they have a choice to leave those jobs if they want to.

Sheldon said...

"They're not slaves. Nike and Wal-Mart are offering better wages to people (at that level of training, etc.) in China and Africa, than people in China and Africa are offering their compatriots. Furthermore, they have a choice to leave those jobs if they want to."

Oh, how nice! Unfortunately reality is a bit more complicated. Number one, Nike and Walmart generally don't directly employ people in factories in China. They contract with manufacturing companies, who must deliver the goods at the lowest price possible. Many rural people flow into these Free Trade zones in China and enter into employement arragements that can best be described as identured servitude. So slight step up from slavery, very slight.

I recommend the film China Blue to get a glimpse as to how this plays out.


Speaking of myths of the developing world. Seems some people think that people in the developing world were just hanging around with a begging bowl until a corporation showed up to give them a job.

However there are processes that undermine indigenous economies and create these reserve armies of labor desperate to work in factories.

Take Haiti for example, which grew most of its own staple crop of rice until 1980. Then, under pressure from the World Bank and the IMF, they lowered their tarifs, which undermined Haitian self-sufficiency in agriculture.

So depsite being able to find an up-side for capitalist globalization, is there an even better and more just model of developement for the third-world?

And why should we consider it just that huge amounts of wealth be accumulated by the few just because those who labor to create that wealth receive a few crumbs from the table?

anton said...

I agree with your concerns. Your question is not that difficult to answer. Unfortunately, most US Americans don't like the answer.

"Accumulation of wealth is the US American dream and only counts if you never get dirt under your finger nails." How many people in the Western World actually touch the products that create their income? The greater the distance between them and the product, the greater the disparity! US America is a country made up of "middle men", "brokers" and "coupon clippers". Unfortunately, there will come a time when there will be no need for middle men, nothing to broker and no coupons to clip.

You asked "who said it", not what they said. I'm glad to answer your questions, I just wish you could remember what you asked!

anticant said...

For a revealing glimpse of how US companies operate abroad you should read "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" by John Perkins.

Lippard said...

Alonzo: Well said. You may want to familiarize yourself with the writings of Will Wilkinson on this subject, he has written a great deal about it. A few recommended pieces are "Questions for Particularists", "Who Matters?", and "Morally Bogus Debates".

Anton: "It would take more than 7 planet earths to sustain a US American life style for all of our planets people." What's the evidence for that claim, given that as developing countries mature, they reduce their population growth, increase their energy efficiency, and reduce their pollution output? Is energy the alleged resource that would require 7 planet earths?

Emu Sam: Rosling and Gapminder are great sources for real data about developmental statistics, very clearly presented.

anticant: I read Perkins' book, and don't believe much of it is true. See Daniel Radosh's commentary.

Lippard said...

anticant: To be precise, it's not Daniel Radosh's commentary, but the sources he links to. I think Perkins' book on shape shifting seriously impairs his credibility.

anton said...

Jim Lippard:

First, remember that the quote said an "American lifestyle". It didn't mean the lifestyle experienced by your poorer citizens! It referred to the lifestyle to which most people in the world aspire, at least the lifestyle of middle class America!

Unfortunately, I read the article pertaining to "7 worlds" in the sixties, long before the Internet, but the message stuck with me. It was most likely published before you were born.

Are you just being stubborn? I suspect that you need all the "facts" so you can go through the mental exercise of "proving them wrong".

If you want to get involved, take the space occupied by the average middle class US American; multiply it by the number of people in the world. Take the power consumption, take the potable water, take the carbon dioxide footprint, take the need for storing waste, etc. etc. etc.

Try using Google. Alonzo did!