Posts tagged with: free trade

SONY DSCJapan and Australia recently signed and passed a trade agreement that abolishes or reduces some tariffs on their highest grossing trade items: beef and dairy from Australia and electronics from Japan. State officials as well as the media have branded this a “free trade agreement;” however, this is actually an example of a “Preferential Bilateral Trade Agreement.” While this is not as desirable as free trade agreements are, it is certainly a step in the right direction. Trade is almost always mutually beneficial provided that neither party is coerced ­­­­­– if it were not, then trade would never take place. Because of the international success of free trade agreements in that region, China is being forced to keep up by becoming more competitive in the international market.

Early this month, China met with South Korea to begin drafting a new bilateral trade agreement. The result is the Won-Yuan trading market in Seoul, which will be complete by the end of the year. This will enable South Korea to trade with China and not rely upon the dollar to do so, thus accelerating trade between the two countries. Up until this agreement passed, the Korean Won was not directly convertible to the Chinese Yuan, requiring the two countries to find another currency as the medium of exchange, specifically, the U.S. dollar. The agreement illustrates that China is increasing the economic freedom of the country in an attempt to boost its wealth and trade efficiency. Acton’s director of research, Samuel Gregg recently discussed transitions to more economic freedom and the ensuing religious freedom that comes with that. Gregg states:

Once you grant liberty in one area, it’s hard to preclude freedom from spreading to other spheres. Economic liberty, for instance, requires and encourages people to think and choose freely. Without this, entrepreneurship is impossible. It’s challenging, however, to limit this reflection and choosing to economic questions. People start asking social questions, political questions, and, yes, religious questions. And many Chinese have decided Christianity is the answer to their religious ponderings.

China has the experienced benefits from economic deregulation experiments, such as in Hong Kong, and the country as a whole seems to be headed down a very similar path. Liberty in China has had a direct connection to economic improvement. The government seems to have had a proclivity to allow such freedoms in order to attain wealth. By lessening trade restrictions, they are crafting a tomb for their socialist regime.

Thanks to the trade act, China is allowing for religious freedom to take hold as Gregg points out. China is still one of the most religiously repressed countries at this time, which is continued only due to the government’s power over it.  With the wane of the Chinese government’s power, there will be a more vibrant religious and cultural exchange that comes naturally with trade.  When there are multiple faiths and ideals, ideas are challenged and thoughts are provoked. Truth is often the result, and liberty follows, whether it be economic, cultural, or religious. In this particular instance, North Korea sees the trade agreement as an attack.  One stratagem countries such as North Korea employ is isolation. The North Korean people know little more than what the government tells them, and they are only aware of the culture that the government deems appropriate.

The days of the Chinese socialist state are numbered. Chinese people are ready for change, as can be seen in their willingness to adapt to more Western methods of thinking and ideals such as the growing respect for personal liberty and free markets. If China is careful about the transformation, and realizes what is happening; it could become one of the wealthiest countries in physical capital, knowledge, culture, and liberty. It remains a country to keep a careful eye on over the next decade.

comparativeadvantageNote: This is the latest entry in the Acton blog series, “What Christians Should Know About Economics.” For other entries in the series see this post.

The Term: Comparative advantage

What it Means: The ability of an individual or group of individual (e.g., a business firm) to produce goods or services at a lower opportunity cost than other individuals or groups.

Why it Matters: There is a story of the distinguished British biologist, J.B.S. Haldane, who found himself in the company of a group of theologians. On being asked what one could conclude as to the nature of the Creator from a study of his creation, Haldane is said to have answered, “An inordinate fondness for beetles.”

When we examine creation to uncover what it reveals about the character of God, one of the things we discover time and time again is the Creator’s fondness for diversity. Like Haldane, we can see this by looking at biology (e.g., there are more species of beetle than birds or mammals combined). But we can also find it when we turn to economics.

A primary example of God’s enthusiasm for diversity is the concept of comparative advantage. While the definition of the them makes it sounds dull and wonky, comparative advantage is a beautiful, theologically profound norm of creation.

Fully appreciating the nuances of the ideas requires timely reflection. But understanding it can be achieved when a few minutes. In this brief video, economist Donald J. Boudreaux does a masterful job of explaining how, when combined with trade, comparative advantage improves human communities.
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If you’ve raised multiple children, you’ve dealt with sibling bickering, particularly if said children are close in age. With a three-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl, both just 13 months apart, our family has suddenly reached a stage where sibling play can be either wholly endearing or down-right frightening. Alas, just as quickly as human love learns to bubble up and reach out, human sin seeks to stifle and disrupt it. If that’s too heavy for you, “kids will be kids.”

twotoddlersfightingThe areas of contention vary, but most of it comes down to that age-old challenge of sharing, or, as others might frame it, the classic economic problem of scarcity. There is only one fire truck, one soccer ball, and one Buzz Lightyear, even when, in reality, there may be two or three or four. If Toddler X wants to play with Toy Z, no matter how many alluring gizmos and gadgets sit idly by, Toddler Y will all of a sudden long for Toy Z as well. Did I mention the Fall of Man?

My wife and I have done our best to teach proper behavior, maintain order, wield discipline accordingly, and love and hug and encourage along the way. When it comes to sharing, it’s no different. We promote generosity, emphasize patience, teach to inquire politely about the prospects of “collaborative consumption,” seize items when peace is rendered impossible, enforce property rights and ownership where fair and applicable, and so on.

Yet, as any parent knows, toddlerhood is characteristically suited to making a mockery of one’s parenting philosophy, whatever it may be. Just when you think you’ve trained your child to sit quietly when silence is appropriate — teaching manners, establishing authority, setting boundaries, padding the circumstances with (sugary) incentives, etc. — junior will kindly decide that he’d rather forget about all that and shout something about lavatories or Dad’s big bald head. (more…)

becomingeuropeBecoming Europe, the latest book from Acton’s Director of Research Samuel Gregg, has been reviewed by Books & Culture: A Christian Review. Theodore Roosevelt Malloch, a research professor at Yale University’s Center for Faith & Culture, begins his review with a series of question, including, “Will entrepreneurship vanish in America, as it has, more or less, in Europe? And what will be the moral and political costs of what Gregg describes as ‘reduced freedoms’?”

Malloch notes how Gregg walks the reader through most of Europe’s long-standing desire to provide full employment and “to preserve the market from its own inherent instabilities“: (more…)

Samuel Kampa recently reviewed Victor Claar’s monograph, Fair Trade? Its Prospects as a Poverty Solution. Kampa begins by commenting on how quickly the “fair trade” moment has gained popularity, especially among the college and post-college aged, but also in the church community. He says that young people “are doing one thing right: expressing sincere concern about world poverty.  If this concern can be channeled into effective action, great things can happen.  Of course, effective is the key word.”

First, he offers a short list of reasons, given by fair trade advocates, why the fair trade movement is necessary:

1) Many farmers and workers in the international community receive very low prices for foods and commodities and are forced to live on less than $2 a day.
2) Many of the foods that Western consumers eat have been harvested by grossly underpaid farmers and workers.
3) The fact that Western consumers benefit at the expense of impoverished farmers and workers is both unfair and morally undesirable.
4) Agencies like Fair Trade USA guarantee fairer prices for crops and commodities, vastly improving the quality of life of farmers and workers.
5) Fair trade products are more expensive than non-fair trade products, but fair trade farmers and workers are receiving fairer prices.
6) Fair trade materially benefits the lives of impoverished farmers and workers at little cost to the consumer.
7)  Therefore, consuming fair trade products is morally preferable to consuming non-fair trade products.

Kampa explains Claar’s conclusions about fair trade: “Far from improving the lot of the poor, fair trade actually hurts non-fair trade farmers, keeps fair trade farmers in relative poverty, and diverts money from more efficacious charitable endeavors.” Kampa offers the two main critiques against the movement from the monograph as: “(1) Fair trade economically damages non-fair trade farmers. (2) In the long term, fair trade does more harm than good to fair trade farmers.” He then points out that “if true, [these two critiques] damage premises 4-7 in the pro-fair trade argument outlined above.” (more…)

Trade and Mutual AidIn the forthcoming issue of Comment magazine, I examine how free trade orients us towards the good of others. In doing so, I argue against the value of pious banalities and cheap slogans. I include examples like, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” or, “When goods do not cross borders, armies will.” The latter is often attributed to Bastiat, and while it captures the spirit, if not the letter of Bastiat’s views, the closest analogue is actually found in Otto Tod Mallery: “If soldiers are not to cross international boundaries on missions of war,” wrote Mallery in 1943, then “goods must cross them on missions of peace.”

I was struck by the disconnect between ideology and reality, or between idealism and realism, in an anecdote from a recent foreign policy speech from Sen. Rand Paul. As Paul notes,

In George Kennan’s biography, John Gaddis describes President Clinton asking Strobe Talbot “why don’t we have a concept as succinct as ‘containment.'” Talbot’s response [was] “that ‘containment’ had been a misleading oversimplification; strategy could not be made to fit a bumper sticker. The president laughed… “that’s why Kennan’s a great diplomat and scholar and not a politician.”

I guess that’s also the reason that I’ll never be a politician, either. As Lord Acton observed, “Every doctrine to become popular, must be made superficial, exaggerated, untrue. We must always distinguish the real essence from the conveyance, especially in political economy.” The key for responsible governance is not to lose sight of the complexity that lies behind popular exaggerations and conveyances.

As I argue in “Trade and Mutual Aid,” the temptation to rest easy with simple formulas to complex problems is common, but must be resisted: “Divorced
from a more comprehensive conception of the human person and social flourishing, an uncritical reliance on free trade to solve the world’s problems can well become destructive.” Even so, I conclude, “Free trade is a system that imperfectly, and yet with some measure of success—as Bono and countless others are beginning to recognize anew—orients us toward the good of others.” In the course of this piece, I draw on a variety of sources, including Frédéric Bastiat, Adam Smith, John Calvin, Johannes Althusius, Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, Pope Paul VI, and Friedrich Hayek.

To get your copy of the Comment issue on the topic of persuasion, including my piece on the fundamental persuasive nature of exchange, “Trade and Mutual Aid,” subscribe by March 1. You’ll also find content from new editor James K.A. Smith, Anne Snyder, Jim Belcher, Ashley Berner, Jonathan Chaplin, Marilyn McEntyre, Janet Epp Buckingham, D. Bruce Lockerbie, Calvin Seerveld, Natalie Race Whitaker, and Nicholas Wolterstorff.

Blog author: jsunde
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
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Work: The Meaning of Your LifeI recently pondered what might come of the global economy if we were to to put God at the forefront of our motives and decision-making. The question came as a reaction to Tim Keller, whose recent book calls on Christians to challenge their views about work. By re-orienting our work to be a “servant” instead of a “lord,” Keller argues, we will actually find more fulfillment in the work that we do.

Keller’s main point in the video I discussed was to caution against our human preferences for idol carving. Although this is a valuable word of warning, it’s also worth noting that in a more basic sense, our work is already service.

The extent to which this is practically true will depend on a variety of factors — the type of work we’re doing, the type of economic system we’re engaged in, the levels of cronyism, artificiality, and misinformation in the economic environment that surrounds us — but by and large, our work is concentrated on actually fulfilling the particular needs of particular persons. As Lester DeKoster writes in Work: The Meaning of Your Life: “Work is the form in which we make ourselves useful to others.”

Through this understanding, perhaps a clearer way of expressing things is that work is less about whether we’re serving and more about who we’re serving. At the core, this simply rehashes Keller’s original point, prodding us to ask ourselves whether we’re serving God or something else (i.e. anything else). But beyond this, in those rougher, hazier areas of human discernment, it also empowers us to ask some other productive questions.

For example, in examining the ways in which trade and exchange impact human relationships across broader society, DeKoster contrasts life in the African bush with life in Western civilization, noting that the primary difference lies in work: “The bush people have to do everything for themselves. Civilization is sharing in the work of others.”

As DeKoster goes on to explain:

Our working puts us in the service of others; the civilization that work creates puts others in the service of ourselves. Thus, work restores the broken family of humankind… Through work that serves others, we also serve God, and he in exchange weaves the work of others into a culture that makes our work easier and more rewarding…As seed multiplies into a harvest under the wings of the Holy Spirit, so work multiplies into a civilization under the intricate hand of the same Spirit. (more…)

If you haven’t joined us for this lecture series yet, there’s still time! The final live session for the Globalization, Poverty, and Development AU Online series, Fair Trade vs. Free Trade, has been postponed. This means that you now have a few extra days to catch up on the lectures that we’ve already held before joining us next week for Victor Claar’s lecture on Tuesday, December 18, 2012.

Also, if you’re interested in learning more about topics related to development, trade, globalization, or human flourishing, be sure to check out the recently released DVD Series from our friends at PovertyCure.

On Nov. 28, the Canada-based Fraser Institute released the eighth edition of its annual report, Economic Freedom of North America 2012, in which the respective economic situation and government regulatory factors present in the states and provinces of North America were gauged.

Global studies of economic freedom, such as the Heritage Foundation’s 2012 Index of Economic Freedom and the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World 2012, rank the United States and Canada as two of the most economically free countries in the world. But, as data from the North America report shows, not all sections of the countries are experiencing an equal level of economic freedom and it is important to look at areas in which this falters.

States and provinces were evaluated and ranked within three categories: 1) Size of Government; 2) Takings and Discriminatory Taxation; and 3) Labor Market Freedom. The Canadian province, Alberta, claimed the top spot as most economically free, followed closely by Delaware. New Mexico placed 59th, making it the least economically free state, followed by Prince Edward Island of Canada, notching the rank of least economically free area in North America (between the United States and Canada).

The Economic Freedom of North America 2012 report draws a clear link between prosperity and economic freedom, through a comparison of states and provinces. “In the United States, the relatively free Georgia does much better than the relatively unfree West Virginia. In Canada, British Columbia, where economic freedom has been increasing in recent years, has been experiencing considerably greater growth on a per-capita basis than Ontario, where economic freedom has been decreasing in recent years.” (more…)

Poverty, development, and stewardship tend to be topics both of discussion and personal reflection as we are reminded to count our blessings around this time of year. If similar ideas have been on your mind, you may be interested in Globalization, Poverty, and Development, an AU Online lecture series that explores the theme of human flourishing and its relation to poverty, globalization, and the Church in the developed world. Join Mr. Brett Elder, a director at Acton Institute and creator of the NIV Stewardship Study Bible and Dr. Victor Claar, a professor of economics at Henderson State University, for online sessions scheduled for Tuesday, December 11 and Thursday, December 13 at 6:30 pm EST.

Everyone who registers for the Globalization, Poverty, and Development series (or subscribes for an All Access Membership) has access to the recordings and resources shared on the course page. This means you can still register for the course even if you won’t be able to join us for the live sessions. Visit auonline.acton.org for more information and to register.