Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"Stopping Offshoring"--Uh oh, Merchantilism Is Back!

A colleague at DevX posted an editorial back in 2004, "Offshoring: It's Not Too Late To Change," arguing that we should, basically, outlaw offshoring on the grounds that it was hurting US programmers, and the Indians weren't competing "fairly" because their salaries were lower and they didn't have all the governmental obligations we imposed (that would be news to the Permit Raj, wouldn't it?). Americans, he asserted, can compete with anybody--but not if they are charging a fifth the price! (See

An astounding set of assertions; medieval merchantilism returned almost unphased by the intervening 300 years of prosperity. I'm afraid I ranted a bit:

This is just standard liberal balderdash, justifying action because we are hurt, seeing in the market and human forces some conspiracy that must be stopped at any price, justifying special interest pleading, a harkening back to protectionist rhetoric that crops up at every crisis since the Middle Ages.

Citing the numerous past and current infringements by government on the market and on liberty is not justification for more such infringements. The idea that government politicians and bureaucrats (for God's sake!) are the forces of goodness and social justice who will protect poor us from the evil corporate masters--well, that's just willful naivete. When you castigate corporations for not being good, for not considering the consequences of their actions, for not bearing in mind societal costs--well of course they are guilty of all these things. That's not the question -- the question is, WHO will you nominate as the masters to manage these societal goodnesses -- the effing government, for all that's holy? What a joke! Have you learned nothing?

This is about getting the power of government to side with you, instead of someone else. A hundred years ago companies lorded it over employees because when the employees tried to organize and take advantage of the forces of the marketplace, the government sided with the corporations and sent out the cops to shoot the union organizers, and passed laws attempting to stop the market in its march toward improved working conditions. Fifty years later, the government didn't suddenly come to its senses and become a neutral arbiter, a societal force for good that ensured that nobody was hitting anybody but things would be decided peacefully-- no, the government *changed sides*! Now it's the union bullies who hurt people and the cops who stand by and do nothing to protect people and property and the peace while they do it. And the laws are used to create sinecures for favored groups of workers--harming not only their companies, but other workers and the customers, not to mention the marketplace.

But you aren't calling for the government to stop meddling and handing favors to special interests when you complain of, for example, the agricultural subsidies which of COURSE go to gigantic corporate farmers -- you don't want them to stop doing that obvious inanity-- no, you just want to use it to justify you're getting some -- you just want them to do the same thing for *your* special interest. And for the same reason: You'd rather the government protect you from your customers, clients, and employers, than have to deal with them yourself. Well of course you would! So would everybody! That's understandable. What I don't understand is why that makes your position so moral?

Where is it written--and who wrote it, and when did they write it, and who the hell do they think they are--that once you've established yourself in an enterprise or a field of study or a specialty--that the government guarantees you won't have to compete for that against anybody ever again? That society *owes you* that job, that salary, that good living, that life direction? Or if you are a company making, let's say, RAM chips, that nobody can compete with you so well that they threaten your business? Where the hell is that written? If a developer is losing a job to some Indian who will do roughly the same job for a fifth the price--why is it suddenly society's role to intervene and prevent this guy from having to defend his job? Prevent a situation in which this developer is going to have to go into a new profession? Why? Because he's an American and the other guy is Indian? How about if somebody in New Jersey is willing to work for less than somebody from California--shall we stop that inconvenience to the California developer? Oh yes--we should! There are regular attempts to prevent companies from moving themselves and their jobs out of state!

So now the government becomes, in the eyes of the great liberals, those who launched the great revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries against the dead hand of government--that government becomes the guarantor of No Change! You find a profession you like? Fine--register with Washington and nobody can take it away from you!

Think I'm kidding? France and Germany have nearly that situation right now. Booming economies, too, I notice!

Once you put that notion into action, it's everybody's ballgame. People line up to get protection, make-goods, stop their bosses and then their neighbors from inconveniencing them. Corporations are right at the front of the trough, too -- and why not? You've established the rules of the game: The government is there to prevent anybody from getting in your way, competing "unfairly" for your job, moving your job, painting their house a color you don't like (as happened in my town recently), and there's no end to it. The government is the arm of society for forcing people to Do The Right Thing. Which is fine--as long as they properly understand what The Right Thing is.... or until they foolishly elect a Republican into office... or a Hitler, or a Taliban.

Welcome to the bullying society.

(And then try to take away from the government that power you conceded to them for your own interests. Hah.)

I have an alternative suggestion (for dealing with poor countries). If other countries are poor, let's end our tariffs and other unfair blockages that prevent them from selling us stuff and improving their condition. We've got more of those than almost anybody, GATT notwithstanding. Let's stop subsidizing sugar beet farmers in New Orleans so Jamaicans can sell us sugar and get off the dole. Let's stop subsidizing tobacco farmers and let them go find another kind of job. Let's stop subsidizing rich companies and engaging in "unfair competition lawsuit" farces that are nothing but opportunities for politicians to sell votes. Let's stop sending foreign aid billions to the governments who run such oppressive countries that the poor can never rise up because the rich there own the government. Really own the government, not this mere shadow of the thing we like to tease ourselves with here.

And for God's sake please stop to think that every time you suggest empowering the government to do another wonderful good, there are those awful companies you disdain so much with their lobbyists lining up in Washington to pervert your intentions and turn them against you, and against smaller competitors--and the pols are happy to let them. And when, as surely you must, you suggest using the government to attack evil corporations, please bear in mind that rich people and rich corporations know how to defend themselves in the long run, but an empowered government is empowered forever--even when it has corrupted itself and turned its attentions to you. Remember that this good thing can be bad too --the Jim Crow laws were designed to prevent black people from offering their services cheaper than white laborers and through employer *greed* undermining segregation. I remind you that Smith's great insight into markets is that they do not create good from the intentions of the actors.

Jeez, I can't believe I'm reading this kind of self-righteous drivel from you. You'd think that a hundred years of liberal nostrums turned to dust in our mouths would have taught intelligent people something. Apparently not.

The Editor in Chief of DevX, Lori Piquet, urged me to post the remarks as a reply to his essay, and I responded:

That's all i need--a discussion. Russell did respond, taking the standard liberal positions. Our problem is that we disagree at the most fundamental level - what is the role of government in a free society? He thinks it's to do whatever is convenient and helpful; whatever, as he puts it, is in "our" interests. The entire history of self-interested government moves him not a whit. Such naive faith in activist government simply depresses me--it was against this exact notion of the role and duty of the ruling classes that the US government was set up with an entirely different approach -- one that Russell and everybody who believes as he does -- and that's nearly everybody, because it's so wonderful to be able to have the government force goodness on everyone and fix everything and pay for everything -- have completely abandoned. Which is fine -- except they don't even *know* they have abandoned it. They aren't aware of it in the first place. They don't know that this exact same argument went on for the entire 18th century, with yards of books and tracts written arguing all sides.

It just makes me tired. There is always a fresh generation eager to put its hands on the efficacious levers of a powerful government--and there always will be--fanatically attentive to the shortcomings of every private individual, yet completely oblivious to the endless horrors of activist government, they are on every school board, every zoning commission, every condominium association, every high school student government, bright-eyed, intelligent, and as ignorant as newborn babes. But by God, they know power when they see it, and they have plans for it. Yes, they have plans.

The Founders did an amazing job of wrenching our ancestral society 180 degrees around from the notions of paternalistic government that had ruled for ten thousand years, and the respect for the individual and suspicion of government overreaching they inculcated lasted a hundred years. How can we ever reclaim that heritage? I don't know. I wish I knew.

But forums on topics like this are just a tiresome raging of ignoramuses, and you can't be writing corrective essays every day. I'm sorry I bothered to respond to him -- plainly, judging from his response, he is immovable in his righteous view.

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