Crumb Trail
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Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Oliver Kamm comments on politics, economics and culture with such clarity of thinking and writing that you want to agree with him.

"Of course poverty kills, and bad trade policies are an important contributory factor. Developing countries need to trade in order to lift themselves out of poverty. Strategies of import substitution and indicative planning proved a disastrous dead end for sub-Saharan African countries such as Tanzania (and indeed for European countries such as Ireland, whose economic performance has been transformed by openness to trade and foreign direct investment). But the most damaging trade policies are those that arise from domestic distortions within the poor countries themselves, not the destructive protectionism practiced by rich countries.

Given that Stephen [Pollard] is arguing for correct economic policies – the elimination of tariffs and subsidies – does it really matter that his analysis of Third World poverty is partial? Yes, it does. Campaigning against rich-world protectionism as if it were the cause 'directly [of] the death of the poorest of the poor', apart from being founded on a mistake, damages Third World development by lending weight to the economic fallacy that it is 'unfair' to expect developing countries to liberalise their trade practices while they face rich-world protectionism."

Kamm supports his assertions with references and gives the general impression of broad knowledge of his subject, a rarity in commentary by both professional journalists and amateur pundits who most often give the general impression they have cut and pasted together a collection of hastily googled and poorly understood fragments.

I fully agree that it is an economic fallacy to assert "that it is 'unfair' to expect developing countries to liberalise their trade practices while they face rich-world protectionism". But, as noted in my earlier post Crime and Punishment, it is typical human behavior that some have argued is a hard wired attribute connected to fundamental capacities for cooperation, altruism and general sociability. It is a human truth even though it is an economic fallacy.

This may be a classic example of the "is" and "ought" paradox. That humans naturally tend to act against their own best interests in response to instances of perceived unfairness by others doesn't mean that they ought to do so. It may be our nature to behave resentfully and seek revenge even though we sustain damage ourselves, but we can choose to behave sensibly, we are not wholly determined by our natures. The ability to defer gratification of impulses is part of that same package of social capabilities we come by naturally, though it is one that must be nurtured to come to full flower and is most often associated with age and maturity rather than youth and vigor. I suspect that every parent understands this truth and that others may find the idea more difficult to grasp.

posted by back40 | 9/10/2003 12:18:00 AM


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