On Libertarianism & China: Two Perspectives

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Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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  1. Avatar DensityDuck
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    the problem everybody keeps having with China is that people from liberal democracies are used to being able to openly tell the government to piss off, and they’re used to non-liberal-democracy governments being relatively powerless and lacking the consent of the governed so black markets or simple defiance are both options. This means you can roll in with stuff that people want and they’ll buy it, and they’ll also pay attention to your exciting sexy pretty energy and the liberal-democracy culture that produces and perpetuates it. In China, though, you have a strong authoritarian government and people who at least accept its legitimacy when they don’t enthusiastically participate in it, and also a very strong sense of nationalism; meaning that if you say “let me tell you about gay rights” then the ones who say “tell me more” will be killed, and the ones who say “no thanks, bye” and will be perfectly happy without your blue jeans and nylons and rock-and-roll.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird
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    It’s one thing to say that the old Washington consensus got China wrong. It’s another thing entirely to conclude that the exact opposite approach is warranted—and let’s be clear, that is what the Trump administration wants us to believe.

    Reading this, it feels very much like: “It’s one thing to say that we got it wrong. It’s another thing entirely to conclude we should have done something different.”

    It’s the old “we were right to be wrong, our opponents were wrong to be right” move.

    I think that “Libertarianism” is probably the wrong lens to view the problem through (CHINA SHOULD LEGALIZE POT!) but “The Enlightenment”, for lack of a better term, worked pretty well for a handful of reasons and one of those handful of reasons was the whole “we can talk about things that make powerful people uncomfortable” ideal.

    Not because it was always lived up to (it wasn’t) but because it was lived up to occasionally.

    And that tended to lead to progress. Like, for real progress.Report

    • Avatar InMD in reply to Jaybird
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      It’s the ‘we were right to be wrong’ thing that needs to be taken out into the light of day, and really stared at in all its terrible short sightedness. Our elites have pretended for far too long that there’s no cost to outsourcing democratically agreed upon costs of making our country better to some far away out of sight out of mind place. It’s about time the bill comes due.Report

    • Avatar Doctor Jay in reply to Jaybird
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      I like this. I note that there are more than a few people out there claiming that The Enlightenment was stupid and it didn’t work.

      The thing is, though, that you don’t change people’s minds by punching them. There are plenty of people from China who live here in the US, and in general, they like Enlightenment ideas. But they don’t necessarily trust Americans to not get all racist on them.

      Which is why I think we need to continue to pursue a multilateral policy as regards China.Report

  3. Avatar Brandon Berg
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    The central task of the Communist Party of China, he urges, is “building a socialism that is superior to capitalism, and laying the foundation for a future where we will win the initiative and have the dominant position.”

    Calling it now: It’s going to be extra-strength capitalism, but they call it socialism.Report

  4. Avatar Chip Daniels
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    I’ve mentioned before how we who grew up in the 20th century could only see things through the lens of the epic struggle between Marxism and liberal capitalism.
    Specifically that the choice was a binary between two political ideologies which were themselves an inseparable suite of both political and economic ideas.
    Authoritariansim/ Command Economy, or Liberalism/ Market Economy.

    And you could talk about them interchangeably, the way people just assert that socializing the water supply would lead inevitably to authoritarian politics, or that allowing markets would inevitably lead to liberal politics.

    The second part was what we heard a lot of, in the early days of China’s move away from a command economy. We heard that it was inevitable that once people got used to being able to choose from a dozen different types of toothpaste they would demand to choose from a dozen different political parties.

    So far, China has confounded that logic and thrown our framework of how we view geopolitics into confusion.

    They aren’t a market based economy like the ones liberal democracies have- They still have a lot of command and control- and yet they can still deliver prosperity the way we did.

    What is disconcerting for us Westerners is that if today there were a Kitchen Debate between Xi and Trump, its not entirely clear who would put forward the most persuasive case.

    Which I guess is Drezner’s point, that our ambivalence towards China is really a reflection of our own insecurity.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Chip Daniels
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      They aren’t a market based economy like the ones liberal democracies have- They still have a lot of command and control- and yet they can still deliver prosperity the way we did.

      I feel like I spend a lot more time pointing this out than I should have to: On a per-capita, PPP basis, China is about as rich as Mexico. It’s economically important because has a population of 1.4 billion, not because it’s unusually wealthy. Partial liberalization has allowed China to rise far above the standard of living it suffered through under Mao, but it’s not close to being on the same level as liberal capitalist economies.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Brandon Berg
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        Why does that matter?

        Chinese citizens don’t gaze longingly at our washing machines and automobiles, and they have a much more optimistic view of their future than Americans do.

        Which is the thing I spend more time pointing out that I should have to:
        If Americans are so wealthy, why do we feel so poor, and have such a sour view of our children’s future?Report

        • Avatar North in reply to Chip Daniels
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          Probably because Americans don’t worry that if they publicly express their displeasure with aspects of the status quo that they don’t like that someone will kick in their door and send them to a camp or, at the very least, impose harsh economic penalties. I doubt that the rank and file Chinese workers are that gung ho about their present or future; they just are far away and from from free to express their qualms.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to North
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            Is there any evidence that the Chinese Government treats their citizens any more harshly than the American Government? Trump has murdered thousands with his response to Coronavirus, for example!

            Wait, that might be the best example.

            Um… we complain about the Chinese cracking down on protesters in the 80’s, but the US government cracked down on Occupy Wall Street and that’s *CELEBRATED*.Report

            • Avatar North in reply to Jaybird
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              Well some US local authorities gives some Muslims trouble about building mosques. I suspect the Chinese Uighurs‎ would really like for that to be the extent of their mistreatment by the Chinese Government.Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Jaybird
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              Nearly my entire career has been representing Chinese asylum seekers. You can get in serious trouble in China for merely suggesting that maybe the government shouldn’t be so hard on Falun Gong practitioners.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to LeeEsq
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                I was going to write something about how you’re only talking to resentful people who have left and not the happy people who actively decide to stay but I can’t really tap into it the way that… erm… “others” have proven able to.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to LeeEsq
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                Lee, would it be fair to say that China is like most authoritarian regimes, where there is a sizable majority who enjoy a life relatively peaceful and content, while there is a minority, people like the Uighurs and Tibetans who feel the oppression most keenly?

                In other words, not all Chinese people experience the regime the same way, just like how not all Russians or Americans experience our society the same way?Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to North
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            I’m not seeing any news about China that suggests the Chinese people are that unhappy with their authoritarian state.

            I wish I was.
            But I’m not.

            My metric for this is like what we had during the Cold War, where we had a steady stream of defectors telling us tales of mass disaffection, of sullen people grudgingly complying.
            But are we seeing that now?

            How many Chinese students come here and defect? How many are slipping over the border with India, or fleeing in rickety boats to Japan?

            What’s unsettling to me is that even after all this, all around the world, liberal democracy seems to be in retreat.

            Not collapsing before goosestepping armies; It is being abandoned as people eagerly rush to the embrace of authoritarianism.Report

            • Avatar North in reply to Chip Daniels
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              The number of Chinese who emmigrate out of China is a pretty big number. The number of non-Chinese who immigrate into China is a really small number. The Chinese, unlike the Soviets, don’t seem to make it enormously hard to get out of China, beyond the weight of raw economics.

              I think that we probably need to wait a couple election cycles before we can start saying definitively that authoritarianism is on the rise and liberal democracy is waning.Report

            • Avatar InMD in reply to Chip Daniels
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              i think the ones that want out and have a skill seem to generally be able to get out. I also wouldn’t use China as an example of the retreat of liberalism. It’s never been there to begin with.

              Like all things liberalism is something people have to want. Our culture generally wants at least some level of it. Our big mistake is assuming every culture is like ours.Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Chip Daniels
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              Ther Usshanka show on YouTube is interesting because of it. Its hosted by a Gen X Soviet that now lives in the United States. He grew up in an ordinary working class Soviet family and talks about what ordinary life was like in the USSR. His family never really questioned the system or had a problem with it. They just accepted it the way things were.Report

            • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Chip Daniels
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              I’m not seeing any news about China that suggests the Chinese people are that unhappy with their authoritarian state.

              Hong Kong says what?

              Seriously, you are relying on Chinese media to say that the Chinese people are not unhappy. This flies in the face of actions such as in Hong Kong, other regions without traditional Mandarin control, the murder of Uighurs and so on. The Chinese students who come here are from families who have profited from the totalitarinism currently being practiced. A totalitarianism more akin to feudalism than socialism.

              Disidents such as Ai Wei Wei abound, and there is a whole list on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Chinese_dissidents
              And those are just the notable ones. Others, such as those murdered in Tiananmen Square don’t get a heading on the US internet.

              Chinese peoples are currently the third largest immigrant group in America, with untold numbers of illegal immigrants. To make that journey, still an ardous and costly venture, while leaving family and friends behind, speaks volumes, and much louder than claims that people are abandoning liberal democracy.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Aaron David
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                See my question to Lee.

                As I’ve said before, authoritarianism is popular.

                Like, really really popular. That’s how it gains power in the first place!

                Authoritarians maintain power by providing enough happiness to the dominant group, while crushing the minority group ruthlessly.

                And history shows us that in a depressingly large number of situations, people kinda like this state of affairs.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chip Daniels
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                Like, really really popular. That’s how it gains power in the first place!

                Authoritarians maintain power by providing enough happiness to the dominant group, while crushing the minority group ruthlessly.

                Hmmm. If it’s so so popular why does it require crushing minority groups to maintain power?Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Stillwater
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                Good question.
                If white majority rule was so popular, why did they need to prevent the Negro minority from voting?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chip Daniels
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                Good question.

                Thanks. Could you answer it?Report

              • Avatar Walter Daniels in reply to Stillwater
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                History shows us that even when people have a numerical majority, they still feel the need for laws to repress the minority.

                Why?
                I don’t know. But that’s how it is.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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                Yes, but surely you must admit that a country with authoritarian censorship laws makes statements such as “I’m not seeing any news about China that suggests the Chinese people are that unhappy with their authoritarian state.” fairly uninteresting.Report

              • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Chip Daniels
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                Yes, people with the whip hand love having it. But China is a country of over a billion people. Not everyone has that whip hand, and there is a ton of evidence that those who are getting whipped don’t like it.Report

              • Avatar Walter Daniels in reply to Aaron David
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                Food for thought, friend.

                Food for thought.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Aaron David
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                This is why crushing the minority is important; it lets even the part of the majority that’s poorest and least powerful feel like they’re in control.Report

              • Avatar Slade the Leveller in reply to Mike Schilling
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                Hmmm, I wonder which other great power state this could apply to.Report

              • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Slade the Leveller
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                New York?

                California?Report

              • The Confederacy wasn’t a great power, but this explains armed support for slavery even though relatively few people could afford them.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Mike Schilling
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                even though relatively few people could afford them.

                If memory serves, industries which had slavery or supported slavery was a scary percentage of their economy.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Dark Matter
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                If memory serves, industries which had slavery or supported slavery was a scary percentage of their economy.

                Yes, and not even _that_. You didn’t have to be related to any sort of slavery thing to realize it would badly impact you if it went away.

                It’s like someone coming in, right now, and proposing that all assembly lines go away. I don’t own an assembly line, or work in any manner involving an assembly line. But that clearly that would badly impact me and the prices I pay…just like everyone else.

                That’s what ending slavery did. Of course, it also created a lot of jobs…and also we often sorta ended up with black people in sharecropping and stuff that _basically_ was slavery-with-slightly-less-beatings.

                But the slave states, and actually the entire US, took a hit. Slavery is _really_ good for the economy, especially if ‘the economy’ only counts the non-slaves when averaging how well people are doing.

                But…we stopped doing that, because that’s inherently dishonest. And it’s not like there’s some huge authoritarian government that forces people to work for low wages, kills them if they complain, and then ships things, but we pretend that’s totally separate from us and don’t count them as part of our economy, because if we did we’d have to admit some rather disturbing truths…damnit, this post somehow ended back on the original topic. What the hell?!Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to DavidTC
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                It’s like someone coming in, right now, and proposing that all assembly lines go away.

                VERY good analogy.

                Slavery is _really_ good for the economy, especially if ‘the economy’ only counts the non-slaves when averaging how well people are doing.

                No, it just seems like it is. Slavery means you have a SERIOUS upper limit on how productive you can be and has a ton of other distorting effects.

                You need to have guards, chain manufacturers, hunters for escaped slaves, legal machinery, etc to keep things going. None of these people work for free, but their activities are not value added.

                The modern equiv is members of a bureaucracy whose only reason to exist is to fight with another bureaucracy. This is why we have the absurd difference in price between pet healthcare and human.

                In addition the institution of slavery has huge political/social power and various productivity improvements/new technology and so forth would be avoided because they’d “cause problems”. Every new thing is evaluated on how it affects slavery, which means you miss a lot.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Dark Matter
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                The modern equiv is members of a bureaucracy whose only reason to exist is to fight with another bureaucracy. This is why we have the absurd difference in price between pet healthcare and human.

                Uh, the modern equiv of slavery is…the various forms of forced labor that still exist.

                …wait a minute. Did you just compare the health insurance industry to _slavery_.

                I mean…forget what I said, I’ll go with that analogy!Report

          • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to North
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            There is a lot of evidence that suggests people grow used to the political systems they grow up in pretty easily. This is true even for immigrants. I know people who immigrated here, got citizenship, but still think trial by jury is nuts. Whereas I think it is sacrosanct.

            And it is a big country with a large population. There are also plenty of ex-pat Americans who proudly proclaim they are glad they left here because of all our shortcomings in their eyes. Often these people go to Canada and Europe.Report

            • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Saul Degraw
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              An example of this might be the differences between Hong Kong and the mainland regarding China’s ruling tendencies.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Will Truman
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                Or mainland China and Taiwan. There’s a reason Taiwan scares the PRC spitless and it isn’t a military one.Report

              • Avatar gabriel conroy in reply to North
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                Are we really so sure it’s “scare[d] spitless”? Te PRC wants to assert it’s claim, but is it really “scared” by ROC?Report

              • Avatar North in reply to gabriel conroy
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                The attention and effort the PRC lavishes on not only keeping Taiwan within conceivable reach of pulling them into their orbit but also trying to influence Taiwanese internal politics in a direction favorable to the PRC AND the lengths they go to prevent Taiwan from being recognized as its own state by anyone anywhere is not really commensurate with any military threat nor is it commensurate with any military or political goal of forcibly conquering it. It suggests a genuine fear of who the Taiwanese are and what they do.

                If anything, the easiest way to get Taiwan back into the fold would be to either smother it with open trade deals and diplomatic nicey-nice and try and lure it back with honey or lull it into complacency and then seize it in an opportunistic military strike. But that’d require way too much cultural back and forth with people who are, in essence and by the Chinese’s own assertion, Chinese and are currently not only living but flourishing with a liberal democratic government. That’s not ideologically feasible. The Chinese know very well that Taiwan may not be a military threat but ideologically it’s a potentially deadly poison.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to North
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                Agreed with all of that, but I’ll add that Taiwan is probably useful as an enemy. Something to point to and proclaim China’s being a victim in the world order. Something physically weak.

                They’re what abortion is to the religious establishment, a safe enemy you can use to rally the troops.Report

              • Avatar gabriel conroy in reply to North
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                I guess it’s a potato, potahto thing. I don’t see that as “fear” so much as I see it as trying to expand its sphere of influence. But I haven’t been keeping up to date on what China does or doesn’t do.Report

            • Avatar North in reply to Saul Degraw
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              Yeah I do not want to end up stuck holding the brief that says “The Chinese people loathe their government and simmer with barely repressed desire to overthrow it”. I don’t believe that about the Chinese.

              I’m just observing that pointing out that one group of people kvetch loudly about their country while the other group do not may not be a useful measure of their country’s relative popularity when the latter group faces real and severe threat of punishment if they complain loudly and the former group does not.Report

        • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Chip Daniels
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          Chinese citizens don’t gaze longingly at our washing machines and automobiles, and they have a much more optimistic view of their future than Americans do.

          Cite? There’s an awful lot of evidence that when Chinese citizens get wealthy enough they long for the same things that Americans do: detached dwellings, less sharing of common space (washing machines for all! big screen TVs every day instead of movie theaters once a week!), and personal transportation options. There’s substantial evidence that those are near-universal human goals.

          The compliment is almost certainly true. Americans can, at least subconsciously, connect the dots. The easier it is to see a future of — or at least greater risk of a future of — fewer square feet and less personal transportation, the more sour the outlook.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Michael Cain
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            Yeah. Unless things go really bad, in thirty years the Chinese are definitely going to have washing machines everywhere.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Michael Cain
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            I want a citation for that claim too. As recently as a few years ago the punditocracy was celebrating the rise of China’s middle class as force for increased liberalization of that country’s economy as well as its politics. The idea was that the increased standard of living would create new expectations, including not only more choices in the marketplace but more local control via democratic institutions. That last bit may have been pie in the sky, but the other part isn’t.Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Michael Cain
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            What I mean is, Chinese people don’t gaze at the American lifestyle with envy the way they did in the Mao era.

            Our counterparts in China, guys who were born in the 1960s, have vivid memories of starvation, and the horrors of the Cultural Revolution. They dreamed of one day being rich enough to eat meat three times a week and ride a bicycle.

            Today that guy probably worries about his cholesterol and drives a car. He is confident that this children will live a life unimaginably wealthier than he did.

            And mostly, he doesn’t feel that his nation, his ethnic tribe has any reason to feel second best to anyone in the world least of all the Americans.Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels
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          Because we pushed all our work to China.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Oscar Gordon
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            Interesting use of the word “pushed”. Not very long ago all the free-marketeer types at the OT argued that it was markets, and rational decision-making, and an expression of freedom, that so many US jobs naturally flowed to China, and that all the folks who wanted those jobs to stay here were the ones doing the “pushing”.Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Stillwater
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              ” Not very long ago all the free-marketeer types at the OT argued that it was markets, and rational decision-making, and an expression of freedom, that so many US jobs naturally flowed to China”

              reeeeeeelly?

              now it’s my turn to ask for a cite, I think.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to DensityDuck
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                Well, for one thing, the claim I made is definitional to the concept of free markets. For seconders, we had an labor symposium where this topic was discussed extensively, with both union-pressure and governmental restrictions on trade were viewed as obstructions to the free-flow of goods and services.

                honestly, I’m surprised you’re challenging me on this when it’s literally the core belief of free-market advocates.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater
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                The best example that I was able to find of that sort of thing was here… but I think that the statement is stronger if you went with “Not very long ago all the free-marketeer types” and not “Not very long ago all the free-marketeer types at the OT“.

                The former is easy to argue. Heck, Dizzy Drezzy in the OP admits as much.Report

              • Avatar InMD in reply to DensityDuck
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                I think the argument is at the very least implicitly made every time someone says the cheap consumer goods we get is worth the trade off in loss of onshore manufacturing, quality of jobs, etc.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to InMD
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                IIRC, it’s an accounting identity:

                We get cheaper goods, which frees up money for investment.
                The dollars we pay to foreign nations come back as consumption or investment.

                And if you sympathize with the American worker who’s lost his job to outsourcing, you value him more than the foreign worker that’s replaced him, you racist you.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Mike Schilling
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                The economic consensus is free trade is an amazingly good thing for the economy and without the virus we’d have full employment.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Dark Matter
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                With only one trillion dollars in deficit spending to pump that up.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Mike Schilling
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                This is like me pointing out that Gravity is a law and you replying that people can jump up and down. You being right doesn’t change that I also am.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Dark Matter
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                The economic consensus is free trade is an amazingly good thing for the economy

                It depends on what you mean by ‘the economy’. Free trade connected our economy with theirs, it’s completely dishonest to just measure ours like it’s some sort of independent thing when it’s dependent on theirs.

                And…their economy sorta got worse. Or at least their situation. Yes, they have more stuff, but…to produce that stuff, they have all sorts of restrictions and outright authoritarianism and murder and…China joining the industry age is also called the ‘Great Leap Forward’ and killed tens of millions of people.

                Oh, but that ‘doesn’t count’, as this, that was communism, I guess. We’re only looking at capitalism and how successful _we_ are, right?

                Except…if communism over _there_ is required for our economy over _here_ to work, we don’t get to randomly exclude them from our consideration because they’re communist!

                Any economy would look good if it had another economy that it hooked too and was it sucking dry, with the permission of the ‘owners’ of that economy but with no actual choice by workers.

                See my comments about the US’s slavery, above, which was also really good for the economy of white people.Report

              • Avatar gabriel conroy in reply to DavidTC
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                You obviously know more about Chinese history than I do (I’ve only taken a few classes as an undergrad), but I understand that the Great Leap Forward was more about collectivization than industrialization, not that the two are necessarily distinct. I don’t know how much of the collectivization was agricultural and how much was industrial (in the sense of manufactures).

                The “capitalist” China we’re talking about now seems to be more a product of the liberalizing reforms from 1979 onward. The current communism is (I think) an outgrowth of that liberalization than it is of the GLF variety or the Cultural Revolution variety.

                Again, I assume you know much more about China than I do, so please correct me where I’m wrong.

                ETA: to be clear, I don’t think I’m addressing most of the other points in your comment. I think I’m mostly addressing the GLF. And again, maybe I’m misunderstanding either the GLF or the point you were trying to make.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to DavidTC
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                It’s equally true that the economic consensus is that highly regulated trade is an amazingly good thing for the economy.

                We could also say that the economic consensus is that a stable political structure with an efficient and trustworthy legal structure is an amazingly good thing for the economy.

                And we could say that the economic consensus is that a society of high trust and collaboration is an amazingly good thing for the economy.

                The reason we can say all these things in such confidence is that they are all present to different degrees of the most powerful economies of the world.

                Asserting that “free trade” does this or that ignores the fact that “free trade” itself has a long list of prerequisites, government regulation being one of the most important.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
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                Asserting that “free trade” does this or that ignores the fact that “free trade” itself has a long list of prerequisites, government regulation being one of the most important.

                Actually no. The economic consensus is the more regulated trade is (i.e. the less free), the worse (or less good) it is for the economy which is imposing those regulations.

                That’s counter intuitive, it’s also a thing.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter
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                You need to show your work on this.
                You are asserting a linear relationship; that more regulation is worse, less regulation is better, always without limit.

                That seems like a spectacular claim, in need of spectacular evidence.Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to Chip Daniels
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                A quick set of counterexamples on free trade is things that we don’t want freely traded: Ivory, rhino horn, heroin, fentanyl, crack, meth, sex slaves, shoulder-fired missiles, atomic weapon designs, copyrighted (pirated) materials, etc.

                Those provide counter-examples to “always better off” and get people thinking about the possible exceptions or situations where free trade might be detrimental to one or both parties. That’s progress, and opens up questions like “Would Britain really have been better off if they sold Rolls Royce, Hawker, and Supermarine to Germany in 1937, or are we discussing an ideal planet of spherical cows?”Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to George Turner
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                A quick set of counterexamples on free trade is things that we don’t want freely traded: Ivory, rhino horn, heroin, fentanyl, crack, meth, sex slaves, shoulder-fired missiles, atomic weapon designs, copyrighted (pirated) materials, etc.

                These are all examples of things we don’t want to exist, at all. “Making the countries internal markets more efficient” is totally irrelevant if it’s a banned product.Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to Dark Matter
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                So that’s the initial exception to the universal rule. California might make an economic argument that folks are better off if pot is cheap, or taxed. But is this true? And if that is true, wouldn’t they be even better off if they imported cheaper weed from Mexico?

                What about things a country just wasn’t smart enough to ban? Would perhaps cigarettes fall into this category? Is a country better off if everybody starts smoking?

                And then you have a range of arguments about economic independence, which I alluded to regarding the Rolls-Royce, Spitfire sale. Trade is more efficient, unless your trading partner gets cut off by U-boats or decides to drop bombs on you. So now the economic model is clouded by risk and exposure to extortion and leverage by bad actors, or foreign monopoly situations where one planet controls all the spice.

                My goal with these lines of argument is to show that unthinkingly saying “always better off” is not nearly as wise as “usually better off, depending on the exact nature of the trade.” After all, that’s how we make our decisions in our personal lives. Few would say “always better” to have a mechanic fix your car or a chef prepare your food. Most would weigh those market options against DIY solutions, sometimes just so they don’t become completely dependent on others who can’t always be counted on, as we see during the current crisis.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to George Turner
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                says:

                My goal with these lines of argument is to show that unthinkingly saying “always better off” is not nearly as wise as “usually better off, depending on the exact nature of the trade.”

                This is true from a certain level, the problem is creating the political/legal machinery to review “the exact nature of every trade” instantly takes us to places were we don’t want to be.

                It’s not that the arguments you’re making against trade are wrong, it’s that they’re almost always made in bad faith by people who want serious protectionism and gov intervention for their narrow interests.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                You need to show your work on this.

                When it comes to trade the basic rule of thumb is “more is better”. When we start talking about regulations we almost always mean “things we impose for political reasons to pass this bill and have more FT”.

                We dress that up in fancy terms like “fair trade” when what we mean is “politically important industries are protected”.

                So all of the in-class examples of regulations of trade were efforts to reduce the level of trade, which is by definition less efficient and therefore bad.

                The theoretical best level for trade is basically what we have between states where “regulation” means things like “banks clearing each others checks” and not “this product can not be shipped across state lines because it would hurt local manufacturing”.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter
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                says:

                So wouldn’t you agree that trade requires as a prerequisite, government regulation of some degree?

                Meaning, there is a boundary at which reducing regulation hurts trade?

                What makes this such a critical thing for us to understand, is that almost all “free trade” agreements contain thousands of pages of regulations, of both the “banks clearing each others checks” variety, and “not this product because it would hurt local manufacturing” variety.

                And even more critical, the difference between the two is not obvious and self evident.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                Meaning, there is a boundary at which reducing regulation hurts trade?

                Sure. Turn that question around to our internal economy and we find that getting rid of the fire department was tried and found to be a bad thing, and building highways needs the gov’s ability to force people to sell their houses. Similarly bank regulation has been a good thing.

                However the expectation should be that any specific page of regulation isn’t there to help banks process funds, and the level of political pain for that sort of thing is roughly zero, so the arguments over that sort of thing should be relatively easy quick and painless. If the argument isn’t easy, quick, and painless then for all the talk about it “not being obvious”, it’s probably obvious.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                That seems like a spectacular claim, in need of spectacular evidence.

                Let’s just check the black letter definition of “Free Trade”.

                Free trade is a trade policy that does not restrict imports or exports. It can also be understood as the free market idea applied to international trade….

                Free trade policies may promote the following features:
                Trade of goods without taxes (including tariffs) or other trade barriers (e.g. quotas on imports or subsidies for producers).
                Trade in services without taxes or other trade barriers.
                The absence of “trade-distorting” policies (such as taxes, subsidies, regulations, or laws) that give some firms, households, or factors of production an advantage over others.
                Unregulated access to markets.

                https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_tradeReport

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter
                Ignored
                says:

                But of course, what “distorts” trade is often a matter of perspective and opinion.

                For example, corn is subsidized here in America; Is that a distortion of the market?
                Or does it merely facilitate the market, and make it more stable and increase the flow of trade?
                Taxpayers build a new harbor and rail line to the cornfields; Again, a distortion or facilitation?

                Most of what government does, like roads and infrastructure and even simple policing, is intended to create a safe place for trade to be conducted.

                “Distortion” is a falsity, premised on the idea of some naturally occurring marketplace free of government action, when in fact so such thing could possibly exist.

                Its the economic version of the “Noble Savage”, where people supposedly lived in an Edenic state prior to the intervention of society.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                But of course, what “distorts” trade is often a matter of perspective and opinion.

                No, it’s a matter of math.

                For example, corn is subsidized here in America; Is that a distortion of the market?

                Yes.

                Taxpayers build a new harbor and rail line to the cornfields; Again, a distortion or facilitation?

                Also a distortion in the same way that building a new football stadium is. For perspective, energy/oil companies have built their own transportation hubs (although a strong argument can be made that this isn’t possible without gov help via eminent domain).

                Having said that, trains and harbors are legal, not controversial, and a one off.

                Most of what government does, like roads and infrastructure and even simple policing, is intended to create a safe place for trade to be conducted.

                This is like saying “most of what the tax code does is raise money for the gov”. The “raise money” part could be reduced to a few pages, the multiple telephone books of additional regulation is for creating distortions.

                “Distortion” is a falsity, premised on the idea of some naturally occurring marketplace free of government action, when in fact so such thing could possibly exist.

                This is an attempt to claim everything is a distortion, therefore nothing is, therefore your favored distortions are acceptable.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Dark Matter
                Ignored
                says:

                The thing that people don’t get is that distortions are not inherently bad. Having a house is a “distortion” of the world’s natural state of there not being houses, but nobody’s going around saying “oh, this house is a distortion, clearly this is disrupting the optimally-efficient state of this field“.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to DensityDuck
                Ignored
                says:

                distortions are not inherently bad.

                When it comes to trade, “distortion” means “the economy has less money because it’s less efficient”, which translates into “people as a whole are poorer”.

                Typically we think of that as “bad”.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Dark Matter
                Ignored
                says:

                ” “people as a whole are poorer”.”

                You assume that the maximum is an absolute. What if it’s local?

                And besides, if you’ve spent (potential) money making you and your fellow citizens’ lives better, I don’t know if I’d describe the result as poorer.

                I mean, if I live in a tent instead of building a house, then I can get really really excited about the amount of money I’ve got in the bank that I didn’t spend on a house, but I’m still living in a tent.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to DensityDuck
                Ignored
                says:

                if you’ve spent (potential) money making you and your fellow citizens’ lives better, I don’t know if I’d describe the result as poorer.

                That example doesn’t describe the problem. Take money and buy a house, the money isn’t gone, it’s just transformed.

                Reduce the efficiency of the economy and the money simply disappears. It’s like withdrawing that money from the bank and burning it. Free Trade expands that analogy to everyone in the economy. Make clothing cheaper and you’re putting money into the household of every who buys clothing; Make clothing more expensive and you’re subtracting money from every household.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Dark Matter
                Ignored
                says:

                “Take money and buy a house, the money isn’t gone, it’s just transformed.”

                until the housing market goes down and now the money is gone.

                “Make clothing cheaper and you’re putting money into the household of every who buys clothing”

                or maybe clothing is expensive but everyone has a job and the money to buy it, instead of everything’s cheap and we’re living on the dole (and then the global supply chain shits itself because of a new Asian flu and suddenly it doesn’t matter how cheap the shit was yesterday because the shelves are empty today, and dudes like you are telling us that fifty bucks for a case of bog roll is just The Market Efficiently Allocating Resources.)Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to DensityDuck
                Ignored
                says:

                until the housing market goes down and now the money is gone

                This is so completely wrong in so many ways

                The money is not gone. It is now in the pocket of the next buyer of the house, who will purchase it for less money, and keep the difference in value.

                Plus, the original owner’s loss in value is only loss of money if and when he sells the house. A drop in valuation is not a loss of actual money. He was living in the house when it was worth 1,000,000, and he is still living in it now when it is worth 500,000. He still has the same house. He has a potential future loss, but as long as he stays put, he hasn’t loss anything.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to J_A
                Ignored
                says:

                “the original owner’s loss in value is only loss of money if and when he sells the house.”

                Inherent in a statement like “money isn’t gone, it’s just transformed” is the idea that the transformation can be reversed without noticeable loss to the transformer. If I have to wait around for the market to come back to get the same money I paid in, then that’s not true.

                Besides, given that you’re basing your free-market reeeing on the incalculably infinite value of potential money, at most times in the country’s history I could have lived in a tent and bought stocks with the money and come out better in absolute-dollar terms, so when you buy a house, you really are losing money.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to DensityDuck
                Ignored
                says:

                Inherent in a statement like “money isn’t gone, it’s just transformed” is the idea that the transformation can be reversed without noticeable loss to the transformer.

                No. If you have purchased an asset that can go up or down in value then you have also purchased “risk”.

                But there is no “risk” in protectionism. You will cost money from the economy.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Dark Matter
                Ignored
                says:

                “If you have purchased an asset that can go up or down in value then you have also purchased “risk”.”

                oh, wait, so now it can be a money-losing act for me to buy a house? Weren’t you just telling me how all that was only transforming money? (setting aside the fact that now you’re telling me about how I can lose money by buying a house, which was what I said in the first place, so, congratulations you’ve agreed with me!)

                “You are arguing against a Economic Theory (capital “T”), that is the current consensus.”

                At no point in this discussion have I argued differently, sir. I certainly understand that regulations and restrictions result in a smaller absolute number of dollars in the world than might be theoretically possible. I’ve never said that wasn’t true.

                Where I’m going is, maybe it’s not all about the immediate absolute number of dollars. Maybe a society with protectionist trade policies and food-supply regulations that focus on resiliency rather than aggregate-efficiency-of-input will have a smaller number of absolute dollars, but will experience less disruption when confronted with rapid changes in global supply and demand.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to DensityDuck
                Ignored
                says:

                Weren’t you just telling me how all that was only transforming money?

                Transforming money into risk is a legit thing, thus the difference between buying lottery tickets and setting money on fire.

                Maybe a society with protectionist trade policies and food-supply regulations that focus on resiliency rather than aggregate-efficiency-of-input will have a smaller number of absolute dollars, but will experience less disruption when confronted with rapid changes in global supply and demand.

                The first problem is for this to work you’d need a political system that focuses on “resiliency” rather than politics.

                The second problem is this set of policies is what North Korea claims to be striving for, however the result is both a lack of money and a lack of stability.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to DensityDuck
                Ignored
                says:

                or maybe clothing is expensive but everyone has a job and the money to buy it, instead of everything’s cheap and we’re living on the dole…

                You are arguing against a Economic Theory (capital “T”), that is the current consensus. It’s up there with the Theory of Gravity or the world being round. We have many centuries, hundreds of thousands of experiments/researchers/etc of observations on the why/how/what of this, it’s well understood.

                It’s possible we’ll find out that the Earth really is Flat and every observation we’ve made of it being Round is wrong, but that’s not the way to bet.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter
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                says:

                If the test for a distortion is that people are poorer, then by this metric most government trade actions are not distortions.

                Were people made richer or poorer because of distortions like agriculture subsidies and public harbors?

                The interstate highway system, and publicly financed airports together were a massive distortion to the American economy that destroyed the passenger rail system. Yet did this help or hurt the economy?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                I don’t know. Will addressing Global Climate Change cost more money than the short-term gains provided by the Highway System put into your pockets?

                If it will, they were robbing Peter to pay Paul and pointing out how much better Paul is because of the distortions is kinda besides the point, isn’t it?Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                You don’t know if the highway system helped the economy?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                It’s like a heroin addict talking about how much heroin helped their life by pointing out how they had a perfect day yesterday because of it.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                You sound like a crunchy Green talking about how our industrial processes are not sustainable, and are going to kill us in the long term.

                Which I think is groovy, but then, I would wouldn’t I?Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                If the test for a distortion is that people are poorer, then by this metric most government trade actions are not distortions.

                The word “most” is very subjective. Put some examples there on what you think is “mostly” happening.

                Were people made richer or poorer because of distortions like agriculture subsidies…

                Poorer.

                Were people made richer or poorer because of distortions like public harbors?

                A harbor is an investment in infrastructure. The gov tends to do that well, the way to bet is it is a fine investment in productivity for the future. If it’s a bridge to nowhere then we’re in boondoggle land.

                However I’m not sure where you’re going with this. We don’t spend years at the trade negotiating room talking about roads, bridges, and harbors. They’re not considered distortions from an agreement point of view and mostly people don’t care.

                If we have international football leagues then maybe we’ll enter the world of making agreements that cover cities building football stadiums and giving them to the team and we’ll be better off for it, but we’re not even close to that.

                Your example of infrastructure distorting trade was a product specific harbor built with taxpayer money. Yes, it’s a distortion, just like the football stadiums. It’s the gov’s job to build infrastructure for everyone and not try to pick winners and losers.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter
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                says:

                Ok so at least we agree that some distortions are good.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to DavidTC
                Ignored
                says:

                It depends on what you mean by ‘the economy’.

                We have had multiple centuries to work out the definition and the mechanics of how/why FT is a good thing.

                it’s completely dishonest to just measure ours like it’s some sort of independent thing when it’s dependent on theirs… …to produce that stuff, they have all sorts of restrictions and outright authoritarianism and murder and…China joining the industry age is also called the ‘Great Leap Forward’ and killed tens of millions of people.

                The Great Leap Forward resulted in economic destruction to the point of mass starvation. Our economy trading with theirs happened long after that had ended. China would have been FAR better off without the great leap.

                Any economy would look good if it had another economy that it hooked too and was it sucking dry, with the permission of the ‘owners’ of that economy but with no actual choice by workers.

                FT helps both sides by making both sides more efficient. “Sucking dry” is fine emotional rhetoric but has no basis in reality.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Dark Matter
                Ignored
                says:

                “FT helps both sides by making both sides more efficient.”

                and efficiency is just so great. Wait, China’s refusing to ship that crate of N95 masks I ordered? Why? We have a Trans-Pacific Partnership and everything! They have to ship it, that was our agreement!Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to DensityDuck
                Ignored
                says:

                A) We don’t have a TPP. The USA pulled out of it. If we had a TPP we could perhaps be getting gloves and masks from Malaysia, for instance.

                B) China was never a part of the TPP. The idea was to create a block that would counterbalance China and create/strengthen alternative supply chains, so we would have more trade options.

                C) The math proved, in the XVIII century, that Free Trade makes both societies that engage in Free Trade richer -in the aggregate. That doesn’t mean that every single person of both societies will come out ahead, just that the net sum of winners and losers will will be net winners in both societies.How the winners and losers are distributed internally in each society is a different issue

                I thought conservatives and libertarians were perfectly fine with letting inefficient players fail, creative destruction, the invisible hand, etc. But there’s nothing to stop them from joining liberals in fighting for a welfare safety net. And I’d be happy to consider joining them in considering safety limits on trade.

                Instead, they seem to be asking to make us all -in the aggregate- poorer.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to J_A
                Ignored
                says:

                I don’t disagree with your points, other than to register my distatse for phrases like “Free Trade” or its twin, “Free Market” since they become meaningless shibboleths and used arbitrarily depending on the circumstances.

                For example, a trucking company calls the government building a highway system an example of a “useful infrastructure investment”; A railroad company calls it “socialist picking of winners and losers”.
                An agreement that allows an international court to override a local government zoning decision is part of a “Free Trade” agreement;
                Asking for international laws on environmental protections is shackling the free market.

                And so on.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to J_A
                Ignored
                says:

                Fine, you don’t like TPP, insert whatever Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Economic Sphere term you’d like, the point is that it doesn’t matter what agreements or treaties or joint plans anyone has signed when they have the stuff and they figure their need for it is greater than you being mad will cost them.

                “I thought conservatives and libertarians were perfectly fine with letting inefficient players fail…”

                Nothing in that says we shouldn’t spend money to prop up a less-than-mathematically-optimally-efficient outcome because we like it better (of course, if you allow that intangibles can have value, then isn’t not hard to show that “liking it better” can have a value in utility calculus and therefore a system where everyone’s happier is the mathematically-optimally-efficient system.)

                The problem comes when someone tells everyone else that it’s a moral duty to spend their money on that person’s preferred system.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to DensityDuck
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                says:

                If we’re allowed to use backwards looking moves, then I’d like to purchase last week’s lottery ticket and have it honored. BTW if it’s a pandemic you’re retroactively worried about the easier and cheaper solution would have been to just restock our mask supply like we didn’t do after… bird flu(?)

                More seriously, if you have a good reason why to make everyone poorer, put it on the table. There are corner cases where we step in; We don’t allow trading that involves slave labor or child labor. I can easily picture exceptions for “blood diamonds”. If we don’t trust the Chinese to not put back doors into all of their electronics that would be another example.

                However the first move to sensible policy should be the understanding that YES, protectionism makes everyone poorer while FT makes everyone richer.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Dark Matter
                Ignored
                says:

                “if it’s a pandemic you’re retroactively worried about the easier and cheaper solution would have been to just restock our mask supply”

                I commented on this elsewhere and you just saaaaaaailed on by it, so, I’m not sure why you’re bringing it up again.

                “if you have a good reason why to make everyone poorer”

                except you aren’t making “everyone” richer, shithead, you’re making a couple of impossibly rich dudes even more impossibly rich and pretending like that means something to the rest of the fucking country.

                “There are corner cases where we step in”

                haw

                I love the way people like you act, where you go on this super-angry tear then all of a sudden you’re like “oh yeah actually we can do the thing you said, no problem, there are actually good reasons to do that”

                because what you just said there about “corner cases where we can step in” is exactly what I have fucking said from the get-goReport

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Dark Matter
                Ignored
                says:

                We have had multiple centuries to work out the definition and the mechanics of how/why FT is a good thing.

                You do realize that free trade with China isn’t possible, right? Because China is not a free market, especially at the corporate level. I mean, at street level, it’s somewhat free. But a random Chinese guy can’t just start a company and sell things on the international market…it’s very top down, there’s a system they have to be in.

                FT helps both sides by making both sides more efficient.

                ‘Efficiency’ is a gibberish word when applied to economies. What exactly are you measuring? State your inputs and your outputs.

                For some absurd reason, a lot of people have decided that how successful an economy is should be measured by the mount of money being raked off the top by the people who have laid claim to ‘owning’ everything, while also demanding absolutely no ‘unnecessary’ leakages of money around the bottom or sides. That is better for $10,000 to go into investor pockets instead of employee pockets.

                And you _call_ this efficiency. That’s not efficiency. Your goals do not make sense. I know it feels like they should make sense, but they do not. There’s not particularly any reason we want the economy like that, and plenty of reasons we don’t.

                “Sucking dry” is fine emotional rhetoric but has no basis in reality.

                There’s really only one example of ’emotional rhetoric’, and that’s the phrase ‘free trade’, which is completely meaningless. Oh, there probably were some example, where two mostly villages next to each other had different costs of making different goods, one grew rice better and one grew wheat, and they both were better off making what they were good at and trading for the other.

                But…it’s utterly nonsensical when talking about an authoritarian economy with forced labor that we mostly use for manual labor.

                Most of the people who don’t like ‘free trade’ don’t have any problem with trading with Germany, or England, or Japan…you know, actual free countries.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to DavidTC
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                says:

                You do realize that free trade with China isn’t possible, right? Because China is not a free market…

                Irrelevant. That’s one of the really counter intuitive parts of Trade. The benefits of FT go to the party which is the freer, the gov stepping in hurts their country more than their trading partner. Which means Trump’s various anti-trade actions have hurt us more than them.

                ‘Efficiency’ is a gibberish word when applied to economies. What exactly are you measuring? State your inputs and your outputs.

                “Net Welfare Gain”, i.e. the blue triangles on the graph labeled #2 and #4. https://www.economicshelp.org/trade2/benefits_free_trade/

                However that’s clunky and confusing. “Efficiency” is a fine word when one of the problems with tariffs (etc) is “inefficiency” (point #8).

                a lot of people have decided that how successful an economy is should be measured by the mount of money being raked off the top by the people who have laid claim to ‘owning’ everything…

                When we made clothing cheaper, it put hundreds of dollars into the pockets of every household in the US. That helped the poor more than the rich. There are tons and tons of those sorts of examples Expensive necessities hurt the poor more than the rich. Inefficient markets tend to hurt the poor more than the rich. Increasing productivity is one of the big ways (perhaps even the only way) to increase wages.

                Your goals do not make sense. I know it feels like they should make sense, but they do not.

                You are pointing to your own ignorance and proclaiming the scientific consensus can’t be right.

                there probably were some example, where two mostly villages next to each other had different costs of making different goods, one grew rice better and one grew wheat,

                One village being better at making stuff has nothing to do with free trade. The gains come from different comparative advantages.

                Example:
                Village #1 can take one unit of R (resource) to produce A or one unit of R to create B.
                Village #2 can take one unit of R (resource) to produce 2A or one unit of R to create 10B.

                So Village #1 sucks at everything.
                It is STILL great for Village #2 to focus on creating “B” and to trade for “A” from Village #1.

                Scale that down to one family and the smart/strong plastic surgeon is probably better off hiring someone to do his lawn so he can focus on doing more plastic surgery even if he’s better at mowing his lawn than the teenager he’s hired.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Dark Matter
                Ignored
                says:

                shorter Dark Matter:

                “dollarsgoup morebetter, DOLLARSGOUP MOREBETTER!”Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to DensityDuck
                Ignored
                says:

                Let me sum up the counter argument:

                The trade policies of North Korea are what we want to do because they’ll work better than what we have. We want to do this in spite of the scientific consensus because of feelings.

                “Scientific Consensus” is a non-trivial phrase. Arguing against FT is to Economics what arguing the World is Flat is to Geology.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Dark Matter
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                says:

                “You say we should invent airplanes? Nonsense! The theory of gravity is irrefutable, and clearly the only reasonable response is for all of us to stay on the ground! Anything else would simply cost too much.”Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to DensityDuck
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                says:

                I don’t understand your analogy.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Dark Matter
                Ignored
                says:

                Irrelevant. That’s one of the really counter intuitive parts of Trade. The benefits of FT go to the party which is the freer, the gov stepping in hurts their country more than their trading partner. Which means Trump’s various anti-trade actions have hurt us more than them.

                You: ‘“Sucking dry” is fine emotional rhetoric but has no basis in reality.

                Also you: Yes, of course the Chinese regulation of their economy so they can supply us things cheap hurts their country.

                Hey, here’s an idea: If a bunch of wealthy people are getting _paid by us_ to do something that hurts ‘their country’, by which we really mean ‘most of the people in the country’, that’s an unethical thing to do. It doesn’t doesn’t matter that it helps us.

                For the longest time, we had the excuse that exposure to our economy would make China freer. This…is not happening, mostly because China is a _competent_ authoritarian system instead of the ‘collection of stupidity run by lunatic paranoid ideologues’, like most of the previous authoritarian system. And they’re very good at not exposing the Chinese people to us.

                And without that excuse…we don’t have an excuse.

                “Net Welfare Gain”, i.e. the blue triangles on the graph labeled #2 and #4. https://www.economicshelp.org/trade2/benefits_free_trade/

                You read that page? I will quote from it: “Under a system of perfectly free commerce, each country naturally devotes its capital and labour to such employments as are most beneficial to each. This pursuit of individual advantage is admirably connected with the universal good of the whole.” -David Ricardo

                Note the term ‘a system of perfectly free commerce’. And then explain how a system that includes China can possibly be classified as that?

                When we made clothing cheaper, it put hundreds of dollars into the pockets of every household in the US. That helped the poor more than the rich.

                I know, it’s almost as if having _another country_ do our gruntwork, we’re better off! I mean, honestly, you have a point. I mean, what would be really nice is if we could get them in this country working at those wages, or even no wages at all! If in addition to goods, they could produce all the services also! We’d be so rich!

                Of course, as I said…’we’ are not an economy. Our economy is us and everyone we do free trade with. The US does not have an ecomony. The US and China have a shared economy.

                And China is not better off.

                There is a reason we have companies get called out for, and having to make sure (or at least pretend to make sure) that they aren’t using _slave labor_ to make their products in China. Because that is an option in China.

                And importantly…labor is fungible. Slave labor, as you just agreed with me a different thread, makes everything cheaper, including things in that economy not made with said slave labor. We can say ‘Slaves didn’t actually make this particular thing from China that we’re buying off the shelf’, but that economy has slaves making things in it, and things our supposed non-slaves use, and they can only get paid at the wages they’re getting paid because slave labor exists.

                One village being better at making stuff has nothing to do with free trade. The gains come from different comparative advantages.

                Example:
                Village #1 can take one unit of R (resource) to produce A or one unit of R to create B.
                Village #2 can take one unit of R (resource) to produce 2A or one unit of R to create 10B.

                So Village #1 sucks at everything.
                It is STILL great for Village #2 to focus on creating “B” and to trade for “A” from Village #1.

                Meanwhile, village #3 can take one unit of R to create 20B, because the leader of village #3 bought guns using money from village #1 and threaten to shoot everyone else in village #3 if they didn’t didn’t make that much B.

                It kinda is weird how they’re doing so much better, but I guess that’s way free trade works! And it’s completely absurd for people in village #1 to complain about this….don’t they understand how much free trade has benefited them! (Well, they don’t have any jobs making things anymore, but…stuff is really cheap, so that hardly matters.)

                You keep trying to argue that ‘we’, meaning the US, is ‘better off’ from Free Trade. You are correct, generally speaking. I’m not arguing that. (Although I do take issue with the nonsensical ‘efficiency’.)

                I’m arguing that’s a stupid definition of ‘we’, because in a system of free trade, there are, by definition, other countries involved. And if you want to know if something is good or bad, you have to judge the entire system.

                And free trade with China, does not, _on average_ produce a net benefit. It only produces one _in the United States_, while seriously harming the Chinese people. Because honestly, not only does that promote slave labor, but their entire government would probably collapse without US dollars pouring in.

                And it’s the same with Saudi Arabia, and all sorts of places we have ‘free trade’ with, that are not, themselves, free. We are propping up dictators so we can, to paraphrase you, ‘make clothing cheaper and put hundreds of dollars into the pockets of every household in the US’.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to DavidTC
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                says:

                Hey, here’s an idea: If a bunch of wealthy people are getting _paid by us_ to do something that hurts ‘their country’, by which we really mean ‘most of the people in the country’, that’s an unethical thing to do. It doesn’t doesn’t matter that it helps us.

                This is letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. The Chinese are better off if they have jobs and increase the value of their economy. That let’s them afford not only food but other things up the well being ladder.

                Granted, they’d be much better off if they didn’t have a repressive government however our involvement mostly makes their lives better off.

                Note the term ‘a system of perfectly free commerce’. And then explain how a system that includes China can possibly be classified as that?

                This is again making the perfect the enemy of the good. “Perfectly free commerce” is the ideal, not having that isn’t an excuse for letting the protectionists run wild.

                The US and China have a shared economy.

                This is like saying my example Plastic Surgeon has a shared “economy” with the guy who mows his lawn. There’s not a lot of meaning in there.

                And China is not better off.

                Before China was trading they were engaged in mass murder/repression of their own citizens via starvation/etc. North Korea still does that.

                free trade with China, does not, _on average_ produce a net benefit.

                The real world alternative to China the trader is North Korea’s system, which China has actually tried and got the same results.

                The Chinese people, for all their problems with their government, are better off richer. That lets them afford food, medicine, and so on. Their government does NOT become LESS repressive if the country is poorer. That just means the same thugs are in charge but the people starve.

                As for the long term the Chinese government thinks they’re stable until they’re not, and that the various ideas created by technology and the distribution of information that is part of technology are serious threats to their rule. They’re probably right.

                I think what they’re doing now is workable only because people remember just how bad it used to be… but that may have a limited self life.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Dark Matter
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                says:

                “This is letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. ”

                All throughout this conversation you’ve been telling us that these are Immutable Laws Of The Universe Like Gravity, Scientifically Proven To Be Inassailably Valid.

                Now it turns out that it’s utilitarian and situational?

                lol.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to DensityDuck
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                says:

                All throughout this conversation you’ve been telling us that these are Immutable Laws Of The Universe Like Gravity, Scientifically Proven To Be Inassailably Valid.

                Yes. That means pointing to your own ignorance is unlikely to refute the absurdly large mountain of evidence we have.

                Now it turns out that it’s utilitarian and situational?

                “The Perfect” would be “we trade with a China that has reformed its own markets, doesn’t abuse its own people and so forth” and this makes both of us richer.

                “The Good” is “we trade with China as it is” and this makes both of us richer.

                I don’t understand what is “situational” about that.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Dark Matter
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                says:

                And I should probably mention the big limitation to FT that DavidTC is dancing up to.

                FT helps the economy in multiple ways.
                We don’t always want that.

                If we actively WANT to damage the economy then FT is a bad thing and we prevent it. When ISIS had a country(ish) we prevented them from selling oil.

                So war is the big stand out exception. There are a few others, they’re extremely rare.

                Personal Inequality isn’t an exception because the poor get hurt more than the rich if products are more expensive and are helped more than the rich if they’re cheap.

                Now regional inequality is an issue. The Coasts are richer in no small part because they trade more, their various port cities create a lot of economic activity which generates more and so on.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Dark Matter
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                says:

                The Chinese are better off if they have jobs

                You’re just going to keep skimming right past that ‘forced labor’, aren’t you?

                Also…how do _you_ know what conditions are like for the average Chinese person? It’s very clear the government is willing to lie to us.

                and increase the value of their economy.

                Economies are not real things.

                Granted, they’d be much better off if they didn’t have a repressive government however our involvement mostly makes their lives better off.

                Our involvement _pays for_ that repressive government.

                “Perfectly free commerce” is the ideal, not having that isn’t an excuse for letting the protectionists run wild.

                You keep thinking the opposite side of this is ‘protectionists’. Protectionists care about their own production at the expense of their own consumers. They assert that higher priced goods that are local, should be int he market over cheaper, foreign good.

                I haven’t made a single protectionist argument.

                My argument is that the joint US-China economy is actually not that good, has incredibly levels of wealth dispartity (And I thought just the US one was bad!), along with actual slavery and the government blatently operating as a authorititarian command economy run by oligarces…and the people in the US part of that economy just pretend that doesn’t count because it’s happening in the other part of the economy, which we desperately pretend is completely unrelated to us.

                This is ‘Let’s offshore torture to Gitmo’ level logic, or maybe ‘Hand them over to Pakistan so they can torture them’. It’s not really part of the US, we can’t be held responsible for it.

                I mean…you want a fun hypothetical? Let’s pretend that, when the US was formed, there was no compromise between the slave and free states. So instead of one nation, we got two, but they pledged both free trade with each other and a joint defense pact, one that has held up. There never was a civil war, or anything like that, the two nations have stayed mostly in lockstep in foreign policy, working almost as one nation, with open borders (Well, for white people) this entire time.

                And…in fact, it works _really_ well, because the people in the Northern States of America get all sorts of cheap food and cloth and later assembly-line products and everything, from the Southern States of American…and they can focus their effort on skilled labor, (Because they can’t compete with slavery.) and they can pat themselves on the back because they don’t have slaves…which they hate, but surely _their free-state example_ will, someday, convince the Southern States of American to become free! In fact, they’re going to buy a t-shirt saying that. Handing money to the Southern t-shirt factory slaveowner who uses that money to make sure the politicians there continue to support slavery.

                This is like saying my example Plastic Surgeon has a shared “economy” with the guy who mows his lawn. There’s not a lot of meaning in there.

                Uh…there isn’t a lot of meaning, but I suspect it’s in entirely opposite direction you mean.

                No one would try to talk about the ‘plastic surgeon’ economy. The plastic surgeon gets 99% of his money from non-plastic surgeons, and then spends 99% of his money on non-plastic surgeons.

                I.e., the plastic surgeon is tied to his local economy, and it’s nonsensical to talk about just his economy, or even just the ‘medical economy’.

                Just like China and the US have their economies _so_ tied together it’s nonsensical to talk about them independently.

                The Chinese people, for all their problems with their government, are better off richer. That lets them afford food, medicine, and so on. Their government does NOT become LESS repressive if the country is poorer. That just means the same thugs are in charge but the people starve.

                Um…if the thugs can’t work people to death in the factories to make things for export…they will probably will stop having them do that. Having them continue to make iPhones with no one to sell them to would be rather stupid…or at least they’d sell them to the Chinese and they’d have iPhones at least.

                And China doesn’t need to ‘afford’ food. China has plenty of food. It’s the fourth largest food exporter in the world. Those farms are not going to magically disappear. There are plenty of countries that do not make enough food to feed themselves. China is not one of them.

                Before China was trading they were engaged in mass murder/repression of their own citizens via starvation/etc. North Korea still does that.

                Fun fact: China illegally buys a bunch of coal from North Korea, one of the ways they’re funding the North Korean government. (North Korea _is_ one of the countries that can’t feed itself.)Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to DavidTC
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                says:

                The current existence of China has pretty much demolished any argument that makes an appeal to “free trade” or “free markets”.

                China has demonstrated conclusively that a tremendous amount of wealth can be generated by Unfree Trade, and Unfree Markets.

                The markets in China are highly regulated, and tightly controlled, just in different ways than we are familiar with here.

                Since there is not a liberal democracy, the rules are not written down and applicable to everyone equally; the rules are an opaque network of political favoritism and cronyism, bribes and favor brokering.

                So the Chinese markets work in the sense that wealth is created and people become prosperous, but not in a market system we would recognize as “Free”.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                So, um… would you think it might be a good idea to have factories in our country instead of having them in China?Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Maybe?
                I honestly can’t say, since I have no idea what it would take to make that happen.

                I can imagine a couple of guys sitting on barstools in Flint in 1972, hypothesizing about what Nixon’s trip to China might mean, and getting all excited about the prospect of selling Chevys to a billion Chinese.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                Well, if you don’t know what will happen if we stop, perhaps we’d best outshore *MORE*.

                That will let you continue to have cheap stuff while giving speeches about how capitalism Just. Doesn’t. Work.

                I can imagine a couple of guys sitting on barstools in Flint in 1972, hypothesizing about what Nixon’s trip to China might mean, and getting all excited about the prospect of selling Chevys to a billion Chinese.

                As a Michigander who grew up in Canton, Michigan (think “Plymouth” if you don’t know where Canton is) and whose Grandfather lived in Flint, lemme tell ya:

                If you can imagine that, your imagination is spectacular.

                My experience of such gentlemen is that they were… what’s the word we use today? I suppose the nice one is “isolationist”.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                I didn’t just invent that line about “selling Chevys to a billion Chinese”- I read that line verbatim from a Time magazine article about the Deng regime’s liberalizing actions.
                Because at the time, the prospect of a new untapped market with a billion new customers was enticing to American businesses.

                Back when I was a conservative, my favorite debating point with leftists was that the marketplace was an ecosystem, where it constantly responds to stimuli, evolving and mutating into new forms.

                I still like that analogy!

                But the point is that we can’t easily predict the consequences of markets any more than we can predict how the introduction of a new species can affect an ecosystem.

                So if we somehow introduced a lot of mechanisms intending to move manufacturing back to America, I’m not certain what the outcome would look like.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                Oh, you read it? In Time Magazine, you say?

                Because I lived there in the 70’s. My family lived there in the 70’s.

                I guess there’s no way to measure who’s right, then.

                Better outsource more people to offshore more companies to China.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to DavidTC
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                says:

                You’re just going to keep skimming right past that ‘forced labor’, aren’t you?

                Yes. Just like I’m also excluding the USA’s racism, various companies which abuse their workers by not allowing bathroom breaks and so forth.

                Unless you’re trying to claim forced labor in China is still very widespread it’s nutpicking. It’s like trying to claim Ahmaud Arbery is the typical case in our justice system and this should set the tone for our international relations.

                Also…how do _you_ know what conditions are like for the average Chinese person? It’s very clear the government is willing to lie to us.

                Try going there and looking around. My parents have done so, it was pretty easy before the virus. It’s fair to say the Chinese government lies, it’s absurd to claim there hasn’t been VAST progress in the life of the average Chinese.

                Economies are not real things.

                This is like saying money, jobs, and products aren’t real things.

                Our involvement _pays for_ that repressive government.

                There is indeed an argument that giving any money to the Chinese gov, even by indirect methods by increasing their tax dollars, taints us ethically.

                The problem is when we count dead bodies and other horrible actions like forced labor, the current Chinese
                gov with our involvement has gotten MUCH less repressive.

                This is ‘Let’s offshore torture to Gitmo’ level logic, or maybe ‘Hand them over to Pakistan so they can torture them’. It’s not really part of the US, we can’t be held responsible for it.

                The baseline comparison for China is NOT “no torture and no repression” communist utopia without our involvement. The baseline is what China looked like before we pulled them into the world economy.

                …from the Southern States of American…and they can focus their effort on skilled labor, (Because they can’t compete with slavery.)

                You… are claiming the South would still be using slaves now without a civil war?

                Slavery is so unproductive the rest of the world has gotten rid of it. In the modern era the number of farm workers rounds to zero as a percentage of the population and they’re highly skilled. The South would be free today.

                China and the US have their economies _so_ tied together it’s nonsensical to talk about them independently.

                According to the census we trade more with Mexico than with China, so are we one economy with them too?
                Do you want to stop trading with Mexico too because of it’s mistreatment of minorities?
                We’re also a sniff away from trading as much with Canada (more by some measurements), so them too?

                In terms of total trade China looks to be less than a fifth of what we do, so are we tied together with the rest of the world?

                https://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/statistics/highlights/top/top2002yr.html

                Um…if the thugs can’t work people to death in the factories to make things for export…

                To what degree is this a problem?

                Big picture the Chinese government is trying to stay in power by giving economic growth to its population. In exchange for prosperity the people are expected to avoid politics and ignore that they’re being politically repressed. You’re trying to suggest the Chinese people as a whole are little more than slaves and are constantly being worked to death. There’s a disconnect between those two world views.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter
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                says:

                Slavery is so unproductive the rest of the world has gotten rid of it.

                This is patently false.

                First, slavery, real chattel slavery still exists around the world.

                https://www.theguardian.com/news/2019/feb/25/modern-slavery-trafficking-persons-one-in-200

                Second, American slavery was always different in that it was yoked with racism and therefore didn’t need to make economic sense because it satisfied the human desire to feel better than others.

                Even today, many Americans deeply want to repress people of color so as to enjoy that benefit. Were it not for the persistent struggle of civil rights activists, people of color would still be living in Jim Crow conditions. Not because it needs to make sense, but because it makes some people feel better about themselves.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                American slavery was always different in that it was yoked with racism and therefore didn’t need to make economic sense because it satisfied the human desire to feel better than others.

                Trying to claim economics wasn’t the backbone of slavery is farcical. At the time of the civil war, slavery was involved in a scary percentage of the GDP and exports. DavidTC’s comments about outlawing assembly lines is a wonderful analogy.

                real chattel slavery still exists around the world.

                Yes and No. Limit “the world” to the economics of the first and 2nd world nations and you’re looking at a world where it’s uneconomical to enslave farmers or have slave markets.

                To picture a South which still has slavery you need to picture a South which is has had very little economic development in the last 150 years.

                Your link is also pulling together numbers from multiple problems and trying to claim that they’re all the same. 15 million people are in forced marriages. We can call them slaves if we want but it’s not related to the American South’s slavery experience (i.e. “chattel slavery”) nor do forced marriages form the economic backbone of society. Ditto sex trafficking, it’s a problem but not the same problem.

                Were it not for the persistent struggle of civil rights activists, people of color would still be living in Jim Crow conditions. Not because it needs to make sense, but because it makes some people feel better about themselves.

                This is an effort to claim every politician trying to suppress the other side’s vote is a return to Jim Crow. It’s also attempting to claim Jim Crow was just as bad as slavery.

                When we look at Blue Cities in Blue States run by Solid Blue people, we can easily see levels of segregation and the various other issues that we expect only from the Deep South. So are the liberals hard core pro-slavery racists or is the problem something else nowdays?Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter
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                says:

                Your claim was that slavery is so unproductive modern economies in the rest of the world have gotten rid of it.

                This is false on both counts, that a) it is unproductive and b) the rest of the world has gotten rid of it.

                B) is false because forced labor clearly exists in many parts of the world; Niggling over the precise boundaries between forced sex work and forced agricultural work doesn’t change the basic fact.

                A) is not so much false as irrelevant. Human history tells us that people engage in racist laws and structures regardless of whether it makes sense, and in fact, often engage in it when it actually costs them more than otherwise.

                For example, it never really made economic sense to refuse to serve black customers; But people did it anyway, and often would prefer to live in a poorer segregated society than a wealthier integrated one.

                The observed behavior of white liberals proves this point.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                Your claim was that slavery is so unproductive modern economies in the rest of the world have gotten rid of it.

                Yes. Granted, there are parts of the world that don’t have modern economies. However this thought experiment had the North and South as different countries which otherwise are more or less the same as they are now.

                Niggling over the precise boundaries between forced sex work and forced agricultural work doesn’t change the basic fact.

                “Forced sex work” is illegal everywhere where there are functional governments, certainly in the first and 2nd worlds. There are places which don’t have functional governments, we weren’t pretending the South would be one of them.

                people did it anyway, and often would prefer to live in a poorer segregated society than a wealthier integrated one. The observed behavior of white liberals proves this point.

                I think your “wealthier integrated society” isn’t a realistic evaluation of the situation or the problem.

                I put my kids into a school system to maximize their changes of success. This means minimizing their exposure to resource sucking dysfunctional children/families. When most middle-class parents do the same thing, this concentrates poverty. Concentration of poverty has multiple side effects that make things worse, reduction of opportunity, removal of positive role models, etc.

                Calling that “racist” is attaching the wrong label to the problem and results in conversations that aren’t useful. It implies that all we have to do is educate people that racism is wrong. The Blue people already know this and still the issue exists.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter
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                says:

                1. Plenty of modern economies have coerced labor.
                2. People engage in the coercion of others even when it isn’t productive economically and in fact will pay handsomely for the privilege.Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                Like California forcing independent contractors to get a standard hourly-wage job at a company where HR can berate them all day?Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                Plenty of modern economies have coerced labor.

                Coercive labor is work a person does for another person (or for the state) under compulsion, receiving little or no recompense. The most common forms of coercive labor are slavery, corvée labor, serfdom, and debt peonage. (Google).

                So I guess I don’t understand what you’re talking about. Are you claiming Slavery is still a thing in any first world nation?

                People engage in the coercion of others even when it isn’t productive economically and in fact will pay handsomely for the privilege.

                This is vague. Can you give me a few examples of what you’re talking about?Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter
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                says:

                I notice how your parameters are shifting from “the rest of the world” to “first world economies”;

                But OK, lets agree that in the 2nd and 3rd World economies various types of coerced labor exist.

                How about the 1st World?

                Well, almost all of them are defined as “1st World” because they have such niceties as rule of law and universal suffrage and respect for human rights, so yeah, it is exceedingly rare to find instances of coerced labor.

                But not impossible. Just a few years ago the feds busted a sweatshop in El Monte California where the workers were imprisoned and forced to work against their will.
                https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Monte_Thai_Garment_Slavery_Case

                But hey, its against the law, right? Well that’s true, but its a bit like saying murder doesn’t happen because its against the law.

                Slavery happens all across the world. Sometimes openly, sometimes covertly, but it happens, every single day.

                As for the last part, we have vast volumes of examples of people refusing to do business with a hated ethnic group, even when it would benefit them financially.
                The legal and sometimes physical structures of racism like redlining, separate entrances, separate restrooms and such never made any financial sense;

                People literally paid double just to drink from a different water fountain or go up a different staircase.

                Even right here, where you and I live, people- good white liberal people- will often pay much more for a young white French au pair than a middle aged Mexican nanny. It never makes any financial sense. But it makes people feel better.

                But its called “privilege” for a reason- the ability to consider yourself part of a superior tribe or caste is a luxury, something people enjoy very very much.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                I notice how your parameters are shifting from “the rest of the world” to “first world economies”

                Since we’re assuming the South is a first world nation, that seems like the appropriate comparison.

                But hey, its against the law, right? Well that’s true, but its a bit like saying murder doesn’t happen because its against the law. Slavery happens all across the world. Sometimes openly, sometimes covertly, but it happens, every single day.

                In the old South, the total value of the slaves was roughly equal to the total national income, and roughly a quarter of all capital in the nation. My expectation is the economic impact of Slavery on the old South was more than half of their GDP.

                Currently the economic impact of slavery as a percentage of GDP rounds to zero, not only in our country but in every first or second world country. Claiming it still exists doesn’t change that.

                The civil war happened because the South interpreted “no slaves” as “half of their GDP is burned to the ground”.

                Workers’ incomes have gone up massively since the civil war, real basic economics says that’s because our productivity has gone up. Slavery looks like it’s productive but fundamentally that’s wrong. Countries that get rid of slavery do much better economically. It turns out that free workers, even with 18th century technology, are more productive than slaves. https://www.econlib.org/archives/2014/09/ending_slavery.html

                To picture a modern South which is still dependant on Slavery as a backbone of their economy is to picture a modern South which is ABSURDLY poor by modern standards. Forget 2nd world, we’re into the outback of 3rd world.

                If the removal of slavery depended on ethics and not economics, it would still be in use as an economic backbone in various parts of the world. The major religions’ holy books are pro-slavery (because they were written in times when that was the culture).Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter
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                says:

                History shows us that the economic value of slaves has very little to do with people’s desire for them.

                The Confederates were crystal clear on this point, that regardless of the economics they were willing to kill and die to be able to enslave others.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                The Confederates were crystal clear on this point, that regardless of the economics they were willing to kill and die to be able to enslave others.

                “Regardless of the economics” is not a claim that works well with “half of the GDP”.

                History shows us that the economic value of slaves has very little to do with people’s desire for them.

                Sex slavery is non-economic at its root. Excluding that, that’s a weird view of history considering how much progress we’ve made, and how much richer we’ve become because of it.

                There’s a strong element of Darwinism here. A society that is poorer because they allow slavery is going to be at a serious disadvantage over the long run.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter
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                says:

                A society that is poorer because they allow slavery is going to be at a serious disadvantage over the long run.

                Absolutely! And its equally true that authoritarian, illiberal regimes are at a disadvantage in the long run.

                And yet…this doesn’t change the desire for slavery and authoritarianism and illiberalism.

                So without rigorous enforcement against it, slavery would still be prevalent in America today, regardless of whether it made financial sense or not.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                So without rigorous enforcement against it, slavery would still be prevalent in America today, regardless of whether it made financial sense or not.

                Just like in the rest of the 1st/2nd world.

                Oh wait. Is it just us who are morally evil or is that everyone?

                And if it’s everyone, why are there no first or even 2nd world economies which have slavery beyond a rounding error? Can you think of anyone who has gotten rid of it and then brought it back without burning the country down?Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter
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                says:

                …why are there no first or even 2nd world economies which have slavery beyond a rounding error?

                Because of rigorous enforcement throughout the 1st and even 2nd World?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                Because you can get almost all of the benefits from slavery and almost none of the costs from just having illegal immigrants do it.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Make all of them legal with a pen stroke and they’ll have access to the legal system and will be much less subject to abuse.

                They should not have to choose between reporting that they’ve been raped and avoiding deportation. There are lots of other problems as well.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Dark Matter
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                says:

                Make them legal and they cease to be of use to the people that need the cheap labor.

                Like, immediately.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                The reason they exist at all is their definition of “cheap” is very different from ours.

                Think of all the problems they have here, then understand that their alternatives back in their own country are worse.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                Because of rigorous enforcement throughout the 1st and even 2nd World?

                Why would they do that? I think you’re reversing cause and effect.

                I don’t think you can have a 1st/2nd world country without getting rid of slavery. Not because of the ethics, because of the economics.

                So in our thought experiment about the South, either they got rid of slavery or they’re a 3rd world nation with extremely low productivity rates.

                If it’s the later, then decade after decade, they stared at their rich Norther neighbour and chose to stay poor so that they can keep their slaves. Just like um… I can’t think of any country with a working government which has done that.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter
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                says:

                “Why would they do that?”

                There is no “would” here.

                They do that.

                It is an empirical fact that all 1st and 2nd world nations rigorously enforce their laws concerning human slavery.

                And then there is this:
                “I can’t think of any country with a working government which has done that.”

                Look at North Korea staring at its rich southern neighbor.

                Any corrupt and oppressive regime anywhere in the world, staring at its richer 1st World neighbors.

                Yes, nations all around the world choose to remain poor just to keep their privileged elite privileged.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                Any corrupt and oppressive regime anywhere in the world, staring at its richer 1st World neighbors.

                Even by 3rd world nation standards tolerating slavery is a ticket to poverty.

                Look at North Korea staring at its rich southern neighbor.

                Great example. I hadn’t realized slavery was among it’s problems. 4% of the population are slaves.

                Ergo it’s happened, but we should be picturing a modern slave owning South as having North Korean levels of prosperity.

                Which brings us back to me thinking that the South, as a democracy, would have given that up in the last 150 years even without the civil war. I suppose they could have given up democracy instead.

                To be fair “giving up slavery” doesn’t means “happy bunnies for everyone”. They could have had a genocide on the way out.Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Stillwater
              Ignored
              says:

              IIRC one of the things that make China attractive is the fact that the WTO (and many Western governments) have been treating China as an emerging economy, which it hasn’t been for a long time now, but people still act as if it is.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Oscar Gordon
                Ignored
                says:

                The thing that made China attractive was abundant cheap labor.Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                China can also offer massive kickbacks, and cheap labor that you can have crushed. Normally the worst you can do to problem employees is fire them, which often just isn’t that satisfying.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                And the relaxed environmental regulations. The EPA basically made anything involving chemical processing extremely expensive where it wasn’t straight-out illegal (as well they should have done; 1,1,1-TCE and hexavalent chromium aren’t good for you) but China doesn’t give a shit about that kind of thing.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Oscar Gordon
                Ignored
                says:

                Is Panama an emerging economy? I think we will all agree it is. The Panama City skyline looks like Hong Kong. The rest of the country, less so.

                GDP per capita Panama 15,575.07 USD (2018)

                GDP per capita China: 9,770.85 USD (2018)

                Most of China looks more like the rest of Panama that it looks like Hong Kong. It is an emerging economy. It is just a very, very, very, big emerging economy.

                I don’t disagree that China’s size matters, making it unlike any other economy in the world. But we must not forget that China’s government would very much like their country get to be at least as prosperous as Panama

                China is very muchReport

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to J_A
                Ignored
                says:

                China wants to be an emerging economy, then it can act like one. Emerging economies can’t afford to build islands in order to expand their territory.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Oscar Gordon
                Ignored
                says:

                Two islands were built in front of my mum’s apartment in Panama City

                She even bought binoculars to watch the process because, for several years, it was riveting to follow up the process.

                Building islands is actually fairly low techReport

              • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Oscar Gordon
                Ignored
                says:

                IIRC one of the things that make China attractive is the fact that the WTO (and many Western governments) have been treating China as an emerging economy

                What does that mean? Do emerging economies get exemptions from certain treaty provisions?

                And in what sense is China not an emerging economy? You mention land reclamation, but land reclamation has been practiced since the Middle Ages, so it’s not really a sign of a particularly wealthy economy.Report

              • Avatar gabriel conroy in reply to Oscar Gordon
                Ignored
                says:

                an emerging economy, which it hasn’t been for a long time now, but people still act as if it i

                And they’ve been acting that way for a long time, at least since the bulls who advocated for a “China market” circa the Boxer Rebellion.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Chip Daniels
      Ignored
      says:

      For me, at least, it’s not so much the ascent of a non-capitalist world powerhouse. Their ascent has been due partly due to marketing up! And I am sure that they will find some balance between market and controlled economy just as the rest of the world has. Maybe theirs will be more on the control side than ours, but so what? That assumes they don’t hit the same growing pains that Drezner alludes to, which I think is quite possible regardless of their economic system.

      Nah, what concerns me is not the ascent of a non-capitalist world power, but of such a thoroughly (for lack of a better word) Trumpist one. Combine that with a sheer size that may make it hard for the rest of the world to disregard, and at least a base-level of competence… I’m not sure the world’s institutions are any more prepared to deal with that than the US media was to deal with the ascent of Trump.

      I think one of the biproducts of this whole thing is illustrating it quite clearly.Report

      • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to Will Truman
        Ignored
        says:

        I’m not sure China is Trumpian at all. From what I’ve seen, what’s different from China’s approach to other “controlled” economies is their focus on controlling who/what get’s capital rather than attempting to control who what get’s produced. At a bit more like Putin, except rather than a land-grab of existing estates, think of it as gated access to capital to experiment in markets. What’s different, say, from Western capitalism is the nature of the gates.

        The genius isn’t controlling production, its controlling capital.

        If China “breaks” it won’t be a revolt of labor, it will be a revolt of Capital… which I think some people think is inevitable; however my studies of history suggest that the revolt of the elites is inevitable in the way that the earth getting hit by a catastrophic meteor is inevitable: statistically insignificant until overwhelmingly likely. Either way, policy makers thinking they are influencing the Meteor are greatly deceived. Meanwhile, they benefit by being allowed to navigate the gates.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Marchmaine
          Ignored
          says:

          Both China’s approach and Trump are about viewing things through the prism of leverage. Economics is only a part of it, but from economics the connection is a strong belief in a zero sum world economy. Which is their approach to the rest of the world from a non-economic standpoint, too.

          I agree they have a lot in common with Russia. Their numbers make them more formidable and more of a problem than Russia.

          This is starting to feel like concurrent story arcs in 24.

          It’s not just their relationship with the rest of the world. China’s relationship with its people is one of the things Trump admires. Pretty explicitly in the sense of Tianenmen Square, but more abstractly too. While his party is trying to make this about the Chinese government, he has mostly nice things to say about Xi. He likes all the bad guys, but along with Russia, China is probably the best template.Report

          • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to Will Truman
            Ignored
            says:

            I can see where you’re coming from… maybe it helps folks to see China as Trumpian. I guess it strikes me as backwards that we have a fully functioning and growing Jianpingian success story that Trump maybe lusts after. But sure, fair enough… chalk it up to rhetorical differences and all that.

            But, I’m still not sure I’d describe China’s approach as zero-sum… as you say its leverage and game-theory; I’d suggest they see (and prove) that there aren’t Libertarian Immutable Laws of Economics and Human Nature… but rather rules and incentives that can be leveraged; thumbs on scales; clubs to be opened; gifts to be shared. The goal is to own the gates… the pie can get as big as it wants, those inside the gates a profligate as they desire. That’s the 50-yr goal… change the rules, not pick the winners. Picking the winners leads to the Thucydides Trap… owning the rules? That’s co-option of the other team’s elite.Report

          • Avatar gabriel conroy in reply to Will Truman
            Ignored
            says:

            If this is about Trump, I agree he’s a bad president and should lose reelection. But China will China regardless of who’s president.

            It’s not surprising to me that the leadership of the CCP wants to “leverage” whatever it wants to leverage. It would surprise me if they wanted to take over the world.Report

        • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Marchmaine
          Ignored
          says:

          From what I’ve seen, what’s different from China’s approach to other “controlled” economies is their focus on controlling who/what get’s capital rather than attempting to control who what get’s produced.

          It’s worth pointing out that controlling capital sorta like that was called ‘feudalism’ when Europe did it, and it was very successful for a very long time. It wasn’t exactly the same, the only capital back then was really land, but…it was close.

          As long as you can actually operate society as a pyramid, and distribute some level of power to lords, who control the serfs, it works. Especially if the serfs have some moderate level of freedom to _pick_ their lords, allowing a release valve and letting the ‘extremely abusive lords’ lose and eventually get punished from the top due to failure, but making sure the even the ‘good lords’ don’t pay too much or allow too much freedom.

          It basically took an extreme labor shortage due to the Black Death to end this.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Will Truman
        Ignored
        says:

        You touch on something else, which is that the driving dynamic in the rise of global authoritarianism is primary ethnic chauvinism; China contains multitudes of different ethnic groups yet only the majority is considered legitimately “Chinese”; and the ruling Russian government has adopted a white ethnic Christian identity to consolidate power.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Will Truman
        Ignored
        says:

        “[W]hat concerns me is not the ascent of a non-capitalist world power, but of such a thoroughly …Trumpist one.”

        People with a lot of social capital have problems reacting to someone who doesn’t operate in the social market. It’s the inverse of the rich guy who doesn’t understand that you can’t buy cool.Report

    • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
      Ignored
      says:

      They aren’t a market based economy like the ones liberal democracies have- They still have a lot of command and control- and yet they can still deliver prosperity the way we did.

      The way we did? My expectation is that our poor are better off than their poor, our middle class is better off than their middle class, and all of us are better off for not needing special permission to breed.Report

  5. Avatar North
    Ignored
    says:

    I would say diversifying our source of low skill labor input trading partners would be a major step and that was what Obama was up to with the TPP before 2016 knocked all that akimbo.Report

  6. Avatar Saul Degraw
    Ignored
    says:

    Oh the fever dreams of libertarians who seem to think we can all be ultra-independent yeoman and who shit the pants at the thought of “collectivization.”

    The idea that capitalism/market economies go hand in hand with liberal democracy and civil liberties is wrong and it was wrong before the People’s Republic of China became Communist in name only. There are lots of soft authoritarian countries out there that manage to superficially look like Western democracies on the surface with capitalism and consumer goods/spending and civil liberties but the government can still censor speech it dislikes. They just tend to be more selective about it.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw
      Ignored
      says:

      Reading some libertarian thinkers is rather interesting because they seem to think we can create a society of independent yeoman where every person is their own master and does everything for themselves with the wealth and luxury provided by bigger capitalism. The idea that the vast majority of people are always going to be employees doesn’t set well with them.Report

  7. Avatar Brent F
    Ignored
    says:

    I”m not sure how skilled the Chinese really are at exploiting democratic divisions. My most recent experience was the full court press they made to try and legitimate their kidnapping of two Canadian citizens to try and extort the release of a Huawei executive which was laughably hamfisted and guaranteed to put the government in a position where they couldn’t agree to their demands regardless of what they wanted. Recent efforts in Sweden and Australia also seem to have backfired

    In general, the Chinese influence machine has gotten high handed and thuggish. Their recent corona propoganda has been pretty inept too.

    By comparison, I’d say the Russian campaigns I’ve seen are a lot more effective, although they have the advantage of not really having much by the way of positive goals. They just find a flashpoint and start handing out matchsticks and gasoline to idiots.Report

  8. Avatar Chip Daniels
    Ignored
    says:

    This is astonishing., courtesy Josh Marshall:

    China’s national news service mocking and ridiculing America as inept bumblers.
    https://twitter.com/XHNews/status/1255734356728922113

    Not the barely-suppressed envy or rage of the Communist era, but the smirking confidence of a nation without insecurity.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
      Ignored
      says:

      Oh my gosh! That’s Amerophobic!Report

    • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
      Ignored
      says:

      World Health Organization (WHO)
      Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in #Wuhan, #China 6:18 am · 14 Jan 2020·Twitter Web App

      https://twitter.com/WHO/status/1217043229427761152

      Maria Van Kerkhove of the WHO told in a press briefing that “it is possible that there is limited human-to-human transmission, potentially among families, but it is very clear right now that we have no sustained human-to-human transmission (wiki)Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter
        Ignored
        says:

        I’m less interested in noting that the China News Agency is full of crap, so much as the painful truth of their depiction of the American government as a bunch of incompetent whiners.

        When I was a kid we used to snicker and mock the bizarre Chinese signs and slogans ( “Smash the capitalist running dogs of imperialism!”)

        They were weak, and ineffectual, while we were competent and self-assured and capable.

        Now I imagine Chinese kids watching the sniveling petulant toddler in the Oval Office and smirking at the absurd slogans (“Fake News!”).Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
          Ignored
          says:

          I don’t want to note how they lie; I want to note how they’re agreeing with me!Report

        • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
          Ignored
          says:

          Now I imagine Chinese kids watching the sniveling petulant toddler in the Oval Office and smirking at the absurd slogans (“Fake News!”).

          Imagine them in what you would call poverty, with no brothers or sisters because their parents couldn’t get a license to reproduce. You also need to imagine their parents and grandparents as very short, not because of genetics but because food was very rare.

          The situation is stable there because the communists of the current generation have produced “prosperity”… i.e. they burned down the economy so the point where people starved, so things are MUCH better than they used to be.

          Which is to say they’re repressing their people less than they did.Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter
            Ignored
            says:

            And they still point and laugh.

            I remember in the 1908s, when Italy was the very epitome of political chaos and disfunction, they elected a porn star to the Legislature, and i could only shake my head and wonder how they could let things get so effed up.

            America will forever be the nation that elected a deranged petulant manbaby to the highest office.That video of world leaders standing around, and being recorded by a hot mic making jokes at our buffoonish leader, will always be mentioned in the history of our times.

            Other nations have always hated, feared, loved and admired the American government. We were seen as the heroic leader, the swaggering tyrant, or a beloved friend.

            But we were never the class idiot.Report

            • Avatar George Turner in reply to Chip Daniels
              Ignored
              says:

              True, but we finally got fed up with all that an elected Donald Trump instead. Unemployment plummeted, especially among minorities, and the GDP soared. The US stood tall again instead of obsequiously bowing to Premier Xi and the Saudi Crown Prince.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to George Turner
                Ignored
                says:

                @ George

                You forgot the sarcasm tagsReport

              • Avatar Andrew Donaldson in reply to George Turner
                Ignored
                says:

                Xi has had President Trump do everything but say his name as he worked him over. MBS openly mocks Trump in everything other than English language outlets. Sorry that isn’t a convenient truth in your current viewpoint in life.Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to Andrew Donaldson
                Ignored
                says:

                We are virtually at war with China over the South China sea, which Obama and Biden handed to them because they gave Biden’s ne’er-do-well kid a billion dollars to play with.

                And Trump’s trade war had many people glued to the ceiling and screaming that he was destroying our farmers because he wouldn’t back down.

                The last time Obama flew to China they made him go down the back stairs on Air Force One, which was a grave insult that left world leaders cackling with laughter.

                Nobody took Obama seriously because he wasn’t a serious person.Report

              • Avatar Andrew Donaldson in reply to George Turner
                Ignored
                says:

                noted how nothing you just said changed the facts of my statement. Xi hasn’t had to change anything he has planned due to his ability to work the current President Donald John Trump. Because there is nothing you can say that will change that fact.Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to Andrew Donaldson
                Ignored
                says:

                I guess you never wondered why protesters in Hong Kong wore MAGA hats. Maybe they know something.Report

              • Avatar Andrew Donaldson in reply to George Turner
                Ignored
                says:

                Again, point of fact is Xi Jinping works Trump at will. George goes look at this squirrel. Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to Andrew Donaldson
                Ignored
                says:

                Yeah. Xi demanded that Trump slap all kinds of trade sanctions on China. Xi demanded that Trump ditch all the trade deals that favored China. Xi demanded that Trump ban Hanwei’s 5G networks. Xi demanded that Trump challenge him in the South China sea by sending endless US freedom of navigation armadas, including US aircraft carrier strike groups. Xi demanded that Trump threaten China with a trillion dollars in sanctions.

                Xi is apparently a very strange man who likes wearing a gimp suit.Report

  9. Avatar gabriel conroy
    Ignored
    says:

    Maybe this is covered in the comments above, which I haven’t read (but will), but…

    ….what is China’s presumed endgame here? I don’t see Chinese communism as the expansionist thing that Soviet communism was. Yes, it sucks to be Korea and southeast Asia. I don’t see the CCP calling for world revolution or funding fifth columns in the west. They have missiles, so that’s always a dangerous thing. But it seems that any conflict between the US and China would be over the US’s actions in east Asia, not over a Caribbean island or a divided city to which we made commitments.

    I understand China abuses human rights. That’s bad. Maybe we should rethink our trade policies. I lean more toward team freer trade than team restriction, but values are values. But any reckoning of “values” has to include material well-being, and more of the Chinese (to my very limited knowledge) seem to benefit materially from freer trade than not, even though politically they are still unfree by my and most of our definitions of freedom. (I’ve relinquished any hope, if I ever had any, that trade liberalization means peace, but it might mean a modicum of being better off materially.)

    I’m very reluctant to take a “hawkish” stance toward China. I don’t know what that means, exactly. I hope it doesn’t mean military confrontation, which will result in no one (or very few) attaining “freedom.” I get that better communication and cooperation might have helped us address covid19 better. But “hawkishness” is too strong an approach.

    One of my big fears is that we’ll return to an era of restrictionism and even autarky (or attempts at autarky). And while I admit that our current situation suggests to me the importance of shoring up certain national industries, I believe we (me and you, the royal we, and the national we) will all be worse off in that situation.Report

  10. Avatar gabriel conroy
    Ignored
    says:

    Having read the Drezner piece in its entirety and skimmed the rest of the Greer piece (and read most of the comments here), I think Drezner has the better of the argument. in part because he stipulates to most of the facts that Greer relies on and in part because preaching the gospel of liberalism (either “libertarian” 19th-century liberalism or whatever counts as liberalism today) needs to be balanced against the possible.*

    I’m not 100% opposed to anti-China hawkishness. I’m only about 70% opposed. I presume the “hawks” aren’t advocating an invasion a la Iraq or a trade war of the shooting kind. They probably intend something like more robust protections for Taiwan, S. Korea, and Southeast Asia, more pressure to let Hong Kong keep its quasi-special status, more assertive complaints about China’s treatment of Uighurs, Tibetans, and dissidents, and maybe more trade restrictions.

    If done poorly, though, most of the above could lead the US into another land war in Asia. It might “win” such a war (depending on one’s definition of victory), but any victory would be costly. I’m with Drezner in warning against another Smoot_Hawley reaction.

    *I guess you could say that about any kind of gospel.Report

  11. Avatar Chip Daniels
    Ignored
    says:

    Anne Applebaum in The Atlantic:
    The Rest of the World Is Laughing at Trump
    https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/05/time-americans-are-doing-nothing/611056/

    To be absolutely crystal clear: I am not praising China’s efforts. I am simply calling attention to the fact that, in a world where people laugh at the American president, they might succeed. Inside the bubble of officials who surround Pompeo, it may well seem very brave and cutting-edge to use the expression “Wuhan virus” or to call for bigger and bolder rhetorical attacks on China. But out there in the real world—out there in the world where Pompeo’s boss is perceived as a sinister clown, and Pompeo himself as just the sinister clown’s lackey—not very many people are listening. Once again: A vacuum has opened up, and the Chinese regime is leading the race to fill it.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Chip Daniels
      Ignored
      says:

      Well, the good news for us is that while China auditioned to fill the vacuum they faceplanted too. Their initial response was unimpressive. They sent medical supplies to Europe… and it didn’t work. While we were saying “Wuhan Virus” they were accusing us of bring the plague originators. Competence, honesty, generosity… they have failed where we have and at least arguably moreso. Even if you argue that they failed less than us, it’s going to take more than that to fill the vacuum.

      So… yay I guess?

      (I don’t disagree with any of her criticisms of the US though, and most of the problems that Trump is creating.)Report

  12. Avatar Prof Walter Block
    Ignored
    says:

    I’d like to submit an op ed to you. how do I do so?

    Top Ten Contemporary Academics Helping The Political Right (#8)
    http://www.poletical.com/academics-helping-the-right.phpReport

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