Saturday, April 21, 2012

Trade, and Tradeoffs

Pretty basic rant, spurred by a comment-section I should never have gotten myself bogged down in.

When there are accusations of what American businesses have done in other countries, and how we have ripped them off or exploited their resources, I always wonder what the speaker thinks the role of that country’s government was.  At least over the last 60 years, was this not a government the UN recognised as representing the nation?  Prior to that, was it not at least some sort of recognised entity that other nations were bound to deal with?  Didn’t they have the general right to negotiate on behalf of their people?  Perhaps the tradeoffs (assuming that the accusers acknowledge that there were tradeoffs at all) looked different then.  Who do they think Americans should have dealt with instead?

I’m sure we have broken agreements, or skirted them.  Well, that’s worthy of condemnation, certainly.  And we may have been deceitful in making the agreements – that should be right out as well.  But this whole idea that if anyone made more money than someone thinks they should, the default assumption is that this was exploitation doesn’t seem well thought-out.  There’s an inconsistency here.

If one thinks that a lot of these governments are not properly representing their people, then why do we think they should have a vote at the UN? Who do you think we should be calling on the phone instead?  If the Elbonian government in 1962 thought a mining deal with Amerizinc was in the country’s best interest, wasn’t that their call to make?  If we now say they were always corrupt nepotists representing only a few families*, wasn’t that Elbonia’s problem to fix, not ours?  What do they think we should have done about that?

There may still be plenty to legitimately criticise Amerizinc about.  I am objecting to the mindset that fails to recognise that economic decisions are always tradeoffs that need to be seen in their context, not through the prism of what we think later.  Because what we think later usually involves looking at only one side of the scales: wars or coups or deaths from poverty that we think could never have happened because they did not happen in this scenario.  It’s rather like resenting all the money you spent on insurance because of things that didn’t go wrong after all.

*Like that narrows it down


Sam L. said...

Another example of 20-20 tunnel-vision hindsight.

Texan99 said...

It's always sad when the people living nearest the valuable resources don't benefit much from their extraction. But the resources were never going to be valuable unless someone who knew how came and extracted them and put them to a use that the locals had no idea how to implement. And as you say, if the locals themselves don't share the wealth that the resources bring in, that's a problem with the local arrangement. It's very tempting to say we ought to do something about that, but we generally don't have the appetite to do that militarily. We're not interested in letting the locals emigrate en masse and join us here. We don't usually have any useful suggestions to make at all. I think it's just a way for people here to adopt cheap attitudes of superiority.

As for the UN, it can bite me.

james said...

To be fair, there were some times in South America where the scuttlebutt is that US businesses managed to replace the local government. But I can't think of any recent cases.

Texan99 said...

True enough. It's an ugly thing to intervene only to install an even worse government.

Sam L. said...

Texan99, the UN definitely wants to bite you. Teh rest of us, as well.