Friday, March 13, 2009

Has free trade harmed the USA?

My old and respected friend Keith Burgess Jackson says that free trade has been a disaster for the U.S. I would like to look briefly at some ways in which that is true and some ways in which it is not true.

What I imagine Keith has in mind is the peaceful and largely self-sufficient existence America had in the 50s. In Australia too the 50s are often remembered as a golden age and it was a time when Australia had extensive tariffs that blocked a lot of foreign trade. One of the attractive aspects of that era was diversity (in the non-Leftist sense, among whom it seems to mean "blacks"). Practically everything was made in the home country so there were a great variety of occupations at work and that offered a wide range of opportunities for job-seekers.

Now whole industries have crossed the ocean to China so the industrial scene is much less variegated than it was and America is heavily dependant on other countries for many important things -- not forgetting oil.

I am actually old enough to have a clear memory of the 50s and I sometimes wish that we could go back there. Life was simpler and everything was more "human". People did things rather than machines doing them. When you rang up a firm you were always answered by a person rather than some infernal answering machine which asks you to press buttons. That must seem like an impossible dream to some young people today.

The other side of the argument is however very simply expressed: lower costs. I bought myself a "3 in one" the other day (printer, scanner and photocopying machine all in one). I remember when such machines first came out that they were selling for around $900. The one I just bought cost me $29 -- and it works brilliantly. It is of course made in China to an American design. And I am mightily pleased at the increased convenience my new machine has given me.

And look at the much-reviled Wal-Mart, China's major American outlet. It has bought all sorts of goods to within the purchasing power of poorer Americans because of the low prices it asks.

So are all those low prices worthwhile? I think they are, despite my happy memories of a different past. Low prices affect us all every day, one way or another.



The article below is off the beaten track compared to what I usually put up but I agree with it so thoroughly that I want to share it. I have been to India three times and have often been tempted to go and live there. Instead I have several polite Indian gentlemen living with me here in Australia and I fly the flag of the Republic of India from my flagpole

In my family, dad's the travel guru. Anything you want to know, he'll tell you (or he'll find out - or he'll make something up). Like the song from the annoying ad, he's been everywhere, man. He was born in Australia, grew up in Hong Kong, went to school in Scotland, then joined the merchant navy to work on ships. If a country's got a coastline with some sort of pier attached to it, you can pretty much guarantee my dad's been there. So when one day, somewhere in the middle of a rollicking travel tale, he piped up and announced there was one country on earth that everyone should experience, I listened up.

"It's ridiculous buddy, crazy," he said. "You might love it, you might hate it. But everyone should go ..." ... to India." It probably took about 10 years from then for me to actually make it there. And dad was right.

I loved it. I hated it. I felt sheer joy, and frustrated anger. I saw sublime beauty, and indescribable filth. Everything that's good, bad (and in between) about travelling, I found in India. No one leaves the subcontinent untouched (usually physically as well as metaphorically). No one jumps on the plane out, shrugs their shoulders and goes, "Yeah, it was alright." It's a place that leeches into your bones, for good and bad reasons.

I don't usually write about single destinations, but I've felt moved to pen something about India for some time, especially since the terror attacks in Mumbai, and a little film that's got everyone talking. It seems like those attacks, the sight of all those slums, plus the worsening security situations in neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh, will start to turn people off travelling to a country they'd probably be a little hesitant to visit in the first place. But don't give up on India yet.

A trip to India is not really a holiday - not in the traditional "relaxing" sense, anyway. Each day you wake up, dress, then take a moment to steel yourself before flinging open the doors and letting India back into your life. All of a sudden it's all honking horns, wandering cows, rickshaw wallahs, chai wallahs, smog, touts, open sewage, wafts of spices... And that's just the hotel lobby.

India will drive you nuts. Nothing happens the way you've been brought up to expect it should. You soon find out that everything's negotiable, and a little baksheesh will get you a long way. Strangers approach you. Hundreds of strangers. Some genuinely want to talk to you, and find out what the hell you're doing in their town, and how the hell Zaheer Khan can get Ricky Ponting out. Some want to run up and touch you as a dare from their mates. Some, if you happen to be female, will go ahead and touch you anyway. Some want to be in a photo. Some want to know your entire social and financial history within five minutes, with the intention of perhaps offloading an excess daughter. Some genuinely want to rob you, or talk you into a scam, or sell you a carpet. Your rickshaw driver will want to take you to his cousin's marble emporium.

Men urinate in side alleys. Slum-dwellers take their morning dump beside the train tracks. Everyone cleans themselves [after defecation] with a jug of water and a left hand.

The Taj Mahal will bring a tear to your eye. So will the slums. The nouveau riche flout their money with abandon. The poor beg for a piece of it. People laugh, cry, clap and cheer in movie cinemas. The stars dance ridiculously.

There are pristine beaches in Kerala, and corpse-ridden rivers in Varanasi. There are snow-capped Himalayas, and camel-riding-tourist-ridden deserts.

The food is often indescribable - mainly because you have no idea what you're eating. Old men at street carts sell snacks that would rival any Michelin-starred chef's creations. You eat with your right hand. You smear spice-laden gunk over your face as you attempt to wolf down a thali. You sip steaming fresh chai in rickety huts with men who've done so every day of their lives, and will do for the rest of them.

You talk about cricket. You talk about cricket. And you talk about cricket. And it's impossible to get bored. I've spent a month in India, and barely scratched the surface. I met people who'd been there six months and still didn't think they'd properly taken it in. I'll definitely be going back there. Hopefully, with my dad.




US official: Obama won't cut off military aid to Israel: "U.S. President Barack Obama will not cut the billions of dollars in military aid promised to Israel, a senior U.S. administration official said Wednesday. The $30 billion in aid promised to Israel over the next decade will not be harmed by the world financial crisis, the official told Israel Radio. He spoke on condition of anonymity."

Utah, Hawaii, Wyoming top "happiness" poll: "Looking for happiness - it's family-friendly communities for some, tropical paradise or the rugged West for others. A survey of Americans' well-being, conducted by Gallup in partnership with Healthways and America's Health Insurance Plans, gives high marks to Utah, which boasts lots of outdoor recreation for its youthful population. Speaking of outdoor recreation, the islands of Hawaii took second place and Wyoming was third in the poll that rated such variables as mental, physical and economic health."

UK: Web founder's "snooping" warning: "The integrity of the internet is under threat if online 'snooping' goes unchecked, one of the web's most respected figures has told Parliament. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, said browsing habits could now be monitored as if someone had put a `TV camera in one's room.' Laws must be better enforced to ensure such 'sensitive' data was not misused for commercial gain, he added. . Parliamentarians are worried about technology allowing firms to track which websites people visit and to share the information with companies for the purpose of sending what is known as `behavioural advertising.' Google has become the latest firm to launch a system to send advertisements to web users based on their online activities."


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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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