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War And Trade

Caeli: Hi!
Elliot: Hi, Caeli.
Caeli: Why are we at war?
Elliot: Because people want to kill us.
Caeli: Why do they want to kill us?
Elliot: What difference does it make?
Caeli: Maybe we could reason with them, or stop pissing them off.
Elliot: We've tried to reason with them. It hasn't worked. I'm not saying it's impossible. But apparently we don't know how.
Caeli: Maybe we were almost at a breakthrough.
Elliot: There aren't any signs that we were.
Elliot: As far as pissing them off, and why they want to kill us, there are mixed messages coming from various places. The Western media would have us believe that our cultural imperialism and colonialism, and arrogance, and stuff like that is to blame.
Caeli: What does that even mean?
Elliot: Theoretically it means that we should not meddle with other countries, and certainly not try to control and exploit them. But the left advocates all sorts of intervention in other countries. It isn't actually isolationist.
Caeli: Not controlling and exploiting other nations sounds good.
Elliot: Sure. No one disagrees about that.
Caeli: Then what's the argument about?
Elliot: Suppose an American company opens a factory in a third world country. They offer work for 20 cents an hour. They make a profit. Some people say this is exploitation. Others say it's just offering people an opportunity, and if they didn't consider it an improvement, they wouldn't take it.
Caeli: What do you say?
Elliot: No one is forced to take these jobs. They want to. That's not exploitation, it's free association and free trade. If anyone actually is forced to take a job, that actually is wrong and, more to the point, criminal.
Caeli: Some people say that they are forced to keep the job, even though they don't want it, because they have a family to feed. They have no choice. The big company is taking advantage of their circumstances. Is that exploitation?
Elliot: By force, I meant if the company sends thugs to beat up people who quit their job. If you're "forced" to keep your job in order to continue being paid, that is not exploitation.
Caeli: These people are in such bad circumstances. What should be done?
Elliot: They will be paid higher wages when there is more competition for their labor. The more people that want to hire them, the more leverage they'll have. So, if they start more local companies, then foreign companies will have to offer higher wages to get any workers. And if more foreign companies come to "exploit" them by offering jobs, they will compete with each other and wages will go up.
Caeli: So you're saying if people would just shut up and encourage more big, American corporations to build factories in third world countries, that would be a huge step towards solving the problem, and towards making those areas richer. And by contrast, opposing those projects keeps wages down, and hurts the people that the protesters supposedly care about.
Elliot: Yes, you've got it. But bear in mind that there are other obstacles those people face.
Caeli: Like what?
Elliot: Violence. Not by visiting Americans, but by other locals. And by their own governments. And their governments confiscate and squander wealth.
Caeli: Why do they elect such bad leaders?
Elliot: In many cases, they don't elect them. They live under tyrants who took power by force. In other cases, they don't know better, or none of the other candidates looked better, or the guy made false promises and fooled them.
Caeli: What should be done about that?
Elliot: If we spread democracy to those countries, and helped establish good political traditions, that would help. They don't have a lot of things we take for granted, there. Respect for human rights is not ingrained in their culture, nor is the idea that interactions should be voluntary.
Caeli: Do you advocate meddling like that?
Elliot: Not really. I'm just saying that if you want to help those people, that would help. Not much else would. For example, giving them money is little help, because their governments steal it. Or the people themselves squander it, because they aren't knowledgeable about how to use wealth efficiently and effectively.
Elliot: If there was an intervention that was popular enough and well thought out enough to get a hearing in American political debate, I'd almost certainly be in favor of it. But I don't spend my time telling people that what we really need to do is go help Africa.
Caeli: Should we care if Africans have it rough? Or is it not our problem?
Elliot: It isn't our problem. When people say American companies are taking advantage of these people's circumstance, that's silly. We didn't create their circumstances. All it really means is that they are willing to trade with people who don't have much. That's far closer to kindness than exploitation.
Caeli: Is it kindness?
Elliot: Nah. It's profitable. It's just trade. Free trade helps everyone involved.
Elliot: Continuing on, it does matter if there are people in the world in bad conditions. They are humans beings. People matter. It is not our responsibility. But if we can help, that is a perfectly good thing to do. And if we can help at a profit, that's even better. That's a good reason to prefer helping them through trade and offering jobs (which is a form of trade) instead of through government intervention, which is paid for with taxes, and not designed to make a profit.
Caeli: What about charity? That's not profitable.
Elliot: Voluntary charity is a thousand times better than involuntary (government) charity. My only concern is how effective it is. Is it really doing much good for the amount of money spent?
Caeli: What's fair trade?
Elliot: Fair trade is a doctrine that says free trade is good sometimes and bad sometimes. It opposes any trades that people don't like. For example, minimum wage laws are a form of fair trade. What those say is that any trades where someone's labored is valued less than a minimum amount are illegal.
Caeli: How do they choose the minimum amount?
Elliot: However much money they feel people "need"? I don't know. I guess whatever is politically feasible.
Caeli: What are the effects of minimum wage laws?
Elliot: They make it illegal for unskilled people to get jobs. If your labor is worth less than the minimum, you can't sell it. Unless you can get someone to overpay you.
Caeli: Why is it overpaying?
Elliot: Labor has a market rate. It's governed by supply and demand. The more people want to purchase a hour of a certain type of labor, the higher the wage for that hour of work, because sellers are in a good bargaining position. The more people want to sell those hours, the lower the wage, because buyers are in a good bargaining position. The more other people you could trade with instead, the better deal you can ask for.
Caeli: That sounds like basic economics.
Elliot: Yeah, it is. Or it should be. So, labor has a price that it's worth. If you set the minimum wage law too high, now that can't be sold.
Caeli: What if it isn't set too high?
Elliot: If it's set so low that it doesn't exclude any trades, then it has no effect whatsoever. The only possible effect of minimum wage laws is to make certain trades illegal.
Caeli: That sucks. It especially hurts unskilled people, who were supposed to be the beneficiaries of fair trade. What do people want them then?
Elliot: First, they can't handle the idea of unskilled people. They don't want anyone to have to live on very little money, so they just try to ban it. They like to imagine there is plenty of money to go around, and the only problem is greedy capitalists.
Caeli: I thought the problem was people who have little skill, so they don't create much wealth.
Elliot: Indeed. And that isn't exactly a problem, anyway. If we had free trade, these people would have better, richer lives than their parents did. And they'd quickly move up in the world. Of course they'd like to be rich now. But most of them will be happy to work their way up, if given a chance.
Caeli: Do minimum wages help some people who get paid them?
Elliot: Yes. A few people benefit. But mostly it just destroys jobs, by making many jobs illegal. However, it does create an artificial scarcity of labor for certain jobs, and thus raise the price.
Caeli: Price raising? So it works?
Elliot: Of the people who would have been paid below minimum wage, some lose their jobs entirely, and some are paid more. That isn't exactly working. But it's worse. Consider the ones who are paid more. That money has to come from somewhere. It comes from employers. A lot of these employers are small businesses who don't have extra money. The owners have to work longer hours because they can't afford to hire enough help. And they raise their prices. If prices go up, being paid more isn't as helpful. Most people lose out.
Caeli: That sounds like a big mess.
Elliot: Indeed. When you forcibly prevent free association and free trade, that makes a big mess. Free trade always involves two parties who want to be there, and who both think they are benefitting. Who could object to that?
Caeli: Fair trade advocates.
Elliot: :)
Caeli: Hey, weren't we discussing the war?
Elliot: We're at war because people want to kill us. Some people in the West think this is because of unfair trades, racism, cultural insensitivity, and so on. But that's false. If you listen to the people who want to kill us, that's not what they actually say.
Caeli: What do they say?
Elliot: They frequently say that they hate Jews and Christians, and want to subjugate and kill them, and force Sharia on them. And they believe that America is Satanic. And keep in mind that this isn't just terrorists, these are standard things that Imams say at religious services, and leaders say on TV in Arabic.
Caeli: What's Sharia?
Elliot: Very strict, Islamic law. It's nasty stuff. For example, women are treated like dirt and are stoned for adultery.
Caeli: How can people who make a fuss about opposing racism and sexism in our culture stand for something like that?
Elliot: That's a good question. If you can get them to answer it, I'd love to hear.
Elliot: So, what else do the terrorists say? Here are some of their generic bullet points:
  • They (meaning Jews and Crusaders) are Conspirators who have been, and are, responsible for all the woes of Muslims and they are planning much worse. (If you believed that of someone, wouldn't you want to kill them too?)
  • They (Jews and Crusaders) are corrupt in that they are promiscuous, their women are whores, they are materialistic, they gamble, they trade with interest, they don't kill their homosexuals, etc...
  • They love life, while Muslims love death. (Here, the underlying allegation is that, being corrupt, there is nothing they will risk their lives and comfort for, and hence they are destined to be defeated.)
  • They attacked us and occupied our lands and oppressed our peoples, and we want bloody revenge.
  • They do not follow Islam.
Elliot: The men who committed the 9/11 attacks said that they were mad about Bosnia.
Caeli: What happened in Bosnia?
Elliot: We used military force against Christians to defend Muslims.
Caeli: Why are they mad about that?
Elliot: Who knows. It doesn't make sense. Perhaps because they are ignorant. I think what's going on is our enemies hate us first, and make up excuses second. Whether the excuses are coherent doesn't make much difference. The West apologizes for the terrorists and makes up more Western-friendly excuses, and their own people know that it's all just different ways of saying "death to the infidels".
Caeli: What are some facts I should know?
Elliot: First, let me warn you: this stuff is unpleasant. It involves death and suffering, and callous disregard for life.
Caeli: I think I better hear it anyway.
Elliot: They have textbooks in schools in the Arab world with maps that don't have Israel. They indoctrinate their children with lies and hate. There was an incident where a school was on fire. Some girls tried to leave. Not so fast. The religious police caught them: they didn't have enough clothing covering them. It was improper. So, the religious police sent them back into the fire to die. Fifteen girls died. These cultures we are dealing with don't value human life like we do. Especially not female life.
Caeli: That's so awful.
Elliot: Yeah. It also makes it implausible that the real reason they want to kill us is because they are upset about some incident we caused. They cause worse incidents, themselves, all the time.
Caeli: If they don't value life, and won't be reasonable, what can we do? Surely we can't just kill all of them.
Elliot: Careful with "can't". We could. It's within our power. But, we rightly do not want to. Not everyone is part of the religious police, or a terrorist. People are full of contradictions. They cheer the 9/11 attacks because Americans were hurt, worship Osama for his great success, and also believe the US government or the Jews were behind the attacks. That's a contradiction. Sometimes they don't care for life. But other times they do. A lot of them would like a better life if they knew how to have it. A lot of them would be happier living in peace.
Caeli: There's an argument which says that Arabs aren't cut out for democracy.
Elliot: That's racist. Arabs are just as capable of being free and democratic as white people.
Caeli: Then why don't they have democracies?
Elliot: Bad traditions, bad culture.
Caeli: What can be done?
Elliot: Use force as necessary, to defend ourselves. But also use persuasion, and spread knowledge. Like everyone, they are capable of improving.
Caeli: Is defensive force good enough? We can't wait until they attack before we do something. It's too late then. People will be dead.
Elliot: By defensive force, I don't mean waiting and retaliating. I mean taking whatever measures are necessary to defend ourselves. It's whatever policy is required to keep us safe. If that means making attacks against people who are a threat, but who haven't attacked yet, so be it.
Caeli: Can we really tell who's a threat before they attack?
Elliot: In many cases we can. There are such things as terrorist training camps, weapons depots, meeting rooms, bunkers, fortified positions, and monetary backers. Those are all good targets. Without them, the terrorists are much weaker.
Caeli: How could someone object to attacking any of those?
Elliot: If a terrorist training camp is not within our borders, people say that States should be sovereign, and to let the local government deal with it.
Caeli: What's wrong with that?
Elliot: Nothing if they do it. Everything if they don't.
Caeli: If they won't get rid of terrorist training camps within their borders, and they ask us not to, aren't they aiding terrorists?
Elliot: Yes.
Caeli: And isn't that justification to invade?
Elliot: Yes.
Caeli: This stuff doesn't seem that hard.
Elliot: That's what I always say.
Caeli: If we invade, won't innocents be hurt?
Elliot: Yes. That's unfortunate.
Caeli: Is it not wrong?
Elliot: If hurting innocents was always wrong, no matter what, our hands would be tied. One terrorist straps babies all over his body, and he's invincible. He kills whoever he wants. And if property counts, all he has to do is steal a robe. If we shoot him, we damage someone's property.
Caeli: What's the right attitude, then?
Elliot: Take reasonable steps to minimize collateral damage, such as never aiming at innocents. But do not take any steps that are suicidal.
Caeli: Suicidal?
Elliot: If a step would kill Americans then that's no good. We shouldn't kill ourselves. Not ever. Not even one person.
Caeli: Would you kill 40 Iraqis to save one American?
Elliot: We don't face decisions like that. We face decisions about what policies to have. The policy I suggest would actually save countless lives. People would very quickly stop screwing with us. Any terrorists would be completely unwelcome anywhere. The civilian populations would be highly motivated to do something about them. If they don't, we will.
Caeli: What if they weren't unwelcome?
Elliot: Then those people are aiding terrorists. That doesn't mean we'll target them on purpose. But if they decide to sleep next door to a terrorist, and die in a bomb blast, that is no disaster.
Caeli: What about today? People die as collateral damage. They didn't make the terrorists completely unwelcome. Do they deserve it?
Elliot: Things are murky today. We try very hard to protect people. Frequently even people that concretely aid terrorists. But certainly people who are only complicit, and don't do anything about terrorists, or help in minor ways. By protecting their ability to help terrorists, we encourage them to do so, and we prevent it being clear who is guilty or not. This ambiguity is the largest cause of collateral damage.
Caeli: So by being so nice and so forgiving, we actually encourage people to push the limits and come very close to being a threat to us that must be forcibly dealt with?
Elliot: Exactly.
Caeli: That reminds me of earlier. Protesting free trade, in an effort to help poor people, actually hurts poor people.
Elliot: Yeah. Good intentions don't guarantee good results.
Caeli: Nice talking.
Elliot: Bye.

Elliot Temple on October 22, 2006


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