Trade Barriers and Moral Luck

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Economist Steve Landsburg, writing in Forbes, gets at the ugly moral underbelly of protectionism. It's one thing to expect government spending to be in the service of those who pay the taxes, he notes, but:

the labor market isn't like that at all. When General Motors hires an American in Detroit or a Mexican in Ciudad Juarez, the rest of us are not footing the bill. And that makes it none of our business. Nor should we want it to be.

I hold this truth to be self-evident: It is just plain ugly to care more about total strangers in Detroit than about total strangers in Juarez. Of course we care most about the people closest to us-our families more than our friends and our friends more than our acquaintances. But once you start talking about total strangers, they all ought to be on pretty much the same footing. You could say you care more about white strangers than black strangers because you've got more in common with whites. Does that make it okay to punish firms for hiring blacks?

I don't know that I exactly agree—I might be more concerned with the flourishing of some strangers than with others' for a variety of reasons that don't seem prima facie morally ugly. But they're still, of course, my reasons, and I don't expect to be entitled to force others to share them. And if anything is a vulgar, morally arbitrary reason for compelling someone to do business with me rather than someone else, it's surely that the someone-else lacked the good sense to be born in my neighborhood.

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  1. The problem with the mindset behind protectionism is that somehow, American workers were repeatedly told that they have a right to employment, and the companies that do the hiring owe them a living. When a company outsources its work instead of giving it to domestic labor forces, it is considered an act tantamount to treason. Which, in a state-controlled economy, I guess it would be.

    The brutal reality is, of course, is that companies, regardless of where they’re based, don’t owe their employees a damned thing. The only obligations to which they’re bound are stockholder dividends and future stability, period.

    It sucks if you’re an assembly line worker in Detroit, but that’s how free markets are supposed to work.

  2. I don’t know Julian, you say you don’t “exactly” agree, but I’m curious of where exactly is that disagreement? Could you come up with an example of where you might care more about some strangers than others in a way that is, in some principled way, different than caring more for whites than blacks? I mean, yes, I suppose you could say ‘I care more for innocent victims of crime than the criminals’ or something like that, but that’s quite irrelevant to any trade policy issue and that isn’t an “accident of birth” at any rate. It seems that accidents of birth shouldn’t carry moral weight in some politically correct ways but not in others.

  3. A person’s views on protectionism make a good friend filter. It they’re for it, I’m against them. No need to waste time being friendly with someone that believes they are owed something by the world. They’ll never make a good friend, they’ll just try to claim that you owe them something for knowing them. Since I’ve learned to make this distinction, I’ve had better friendships.

  4. I would never use politics to filter out friends. I find that method extremely distasteful.

  5. Paging Lonewacko! Paging Lonewacko!

  6. I’m with SPD…that’s sounds like a pretty silly approach to making friends. Although we don’t know just how low is your tolerance for disagreement, on its face it seems pretty shallow.

    As for the issue under discussion, although I have my disagreements with some aspects of free market thinking, the one area I have never had any trouble with is the stance on protectionism.

    Subsidies and obstructive tarrifs are as counterproductive as they are hypocritically anti-capitalistic.

  7. “It is just plain ugly to care more about total strangers in Detroit than about total strangers in Juarez.” There are perfectly reasonable, non-bigotted justifications for believing that the well being of your fellow citizens matters more to you than the well being of people in other countries.

    Total strangers in Detroit pay to keep the highways I drive on paved, the air traffic control towers staffed, and the cops walking around my city. They also join the Army that keeps the King of England from taking my stuff.

    I don’t actually care more about people in Detroit than in Juarez, and I’m not a big fan of barriers to foreign goods, but it’s perfectly reasonable to conclude that the well being of people in Detroit promotes my self interest more than the well being of people in Juarez.

  8. Joe,

    Excellent point and well stated…but unfortunately leaves out the Juarez side.

    Taking the flip-side of that argument, hiring peole in Juarez keeps them from crossing a dangerous border to take American jobs, keeps them from growing cocaine and pot, gives them money to by goods made by the good folks in Detroit.

    And certainly, there’s another flip-side to THAT flip-side.

    The ultimate and relevant point is that using the law to enforce protectionism has perils.

    Markets have the potential to respond in creative ways to needs on all fronts in a variety of areas. Making laws that can’t be easily or quickly undone are often ill-fitting and poorly concieved and frequently create more problems than they are intended to solve.

    For example: Sure, Michael Moore might’ve shamed politicos to force Roger Smith to stay in Flint. All that would have happened is that Smith would’ve had to hit up the guv’mint for millions of dollars because noone wanted to buy an overpriced GM truck when they could by better and cheaper down the block at Toyota.

    As always…beware the law of unintended consequences…

  9. We care more about those with whom we have the most in common, or with whom we have a commonality of interest.The less we have in common with someone, the less we care about them.

    States are founded for the protection of their citizens’ mutual interests. Hence we have every right to expect that our fellow citizens will care more about us than about foreigners. More to the point, we have an obligation to consider the needs of the Detroit auto worker before the needs of the Mexican auto worker, whether we “care” about these people or not.

  10. It sucks if you’re an assembly line worker in Detroit, but that’s how free markets are supposed to work.

    I’m sorry, but _The Grapes of Wrath_ is always going to be more moving than _Atlas Shrugged_. And it’s statements like this that explain why.

  11. “it’s perfectly reasonable to conclude that the well being of people in Detroit promotes my self interest more than the well being of people in Juarez.”

    And since white people, on average, make more money than black people and therefore pay more income taxes to help “keep the highways I drive on paved, the air traffic control towers staffed, and the cops walking around my city” it’s perfectly reasonable to conclude that the well being of white people promotes my self interest more than the well being of black people.

    Both are perfectly reasonable and both are perfectly morally repugnant.

  12. I’m a dogmatic free-trader, but I don’t buy this line of argument. Governments take better care of their own people than they do of foreigners. That’s part of the definition of a government.

    Somebody got murdered in Juarez last night. Should the Detroit police devote resources to solving it and preventing future murderers, or should they just stay in Detroit and exclusively take care of people there?

  13. Brian,

    I don’t think that statement translates to a black/white thing very easily and your point is a little forced.

  14. I’m sorry, but _The Grapes of Wrath_ is always going to be more moving than _Atlas Shrugged_.

    And Animal Farm is more frightening than Frankenstein. I still don’t support protectionism.

  15. “Taking the flip-side of that argument, hiring peole in Juarez keeps them from crossing a dangerous border to take American jobs, keeps them from growing cocaine and pot, gives them money to by goods made by the good folks in Detroit.”

    Well, first, why should we care about stopping them from growing cocaine and/or pot? But that’s another thread…

    What this misses is that the point of the article is NOT a pragmatic one that somehow throwing the people in Juarez a bone to keep them out of our hair is a reason for free trade, but that the people in Juarez are PEOPLE with the same moral standing as the people in Detroit. Sure the people in Detroit pay to keep our military and roads intact and therefore they should get the benefit of the military and the highways – we don’t need to build highways in Mexico. But all that is irrelevant to whether the government should coerce private entities to do business with only certain approved populations. There is simply no moral distinction between forcing you to buy American and forcing you to buy white.

  16. Brian Courts,

    “And since white people, on average, make more money than black people and therefore pay more income taxes to help “keep the highways I drive on paved, the air traffic control towers staffed, and the cops walking around my city” it’s perfectly reasonable to conclude that the well being of white people promotes my self interest more than the well being of black people.”

    That’s not reasonable at all. If a black American’s income rises, he will pay more for the cops and the roads that I depend on. If a Mexican’s income rises, the cops and roads I use won’t get any better.

    If you’re going to try to hide logic this shoddy behind a race card, you’re going to have to chew the scenery a little more, or people brains might not shut down as you require.

  17. I don’t think that statement translates to a black/white thing very easily and your point is a little forced.

    Nice assertion madpad, but try pointing out a principled difference. It is generally more helpful if you’re going to take the time to disagree with someone’s argument to actually point out how it is wrong rather than simply say so.

  18. “But all that is irrelevant to whether the government should coerce private entities to do business with only certain approved populations. There is simply no moral distinction between forcing you to buy American and forcing you to buy white.”

    The question at hand isn’t about government coercion, Brian. Are you ok with government coercion that completely ignores race and nationality? No? Then stop muddying the waters, and try to focus.

    Do you believe the government of the United States should value the interests of people from other countries as highly as it values its own citizens?

  19. “There is simply no moral distinction between forcing you to buy American and forcing you to buy white.”

    Well now hold on there, pardner. No one’s talking about forcing the purchase, it’s about discouraging outsourcing by making it more awkward, expensive, and disapproved than it is at the moment.

    Discrimination on the basis of nationality is different than discrimination on the basis of race.

    Is discrimination on any basis whatsoever absolutely wrong?

    Of course not. Discrimination is an essential part of choice. It doesn’t need to be a bad thing. The fact that it can and often is a bad thing doesn’t mean you can never discriminate on any basis.

    Someone who won’t hire someone is discriminating against that person. On the basis of race etc it’s wrong. But there are bases on which it is perfectly acceptable, and probably virtually necessary.

    National solidarity is much different than race solidarity as well. Wanting to strengthen your country is not reprehensible. To be sure, a given method might be ineffective.

    As human beings we care in inverse proportion to proximity and commonality– not only or even primarily spatial, but emotional, social, etc. I don’t understand how this can be thought of as immoral in principle.

  20. Joe, where to begin with you… Your condescension has once again outpaced your thoughtfulness, but I suppose we shouldn’t expect otherwise.

    First, since your friend the progressive income tax means that the higher income people pay by far the vast majority of federal income taxes, if you are going to create a policy to raise more income taxes by either giving preferences to whites or blacks, you should stick to the former. Better to raise a $80,000 a year worker to $100,000 than a $30,000 $50,000 if your only moral guide is tax revenues to the US Treasury – which it seems to be. Are you really so clueless that I even need to explain this? So even in your purely pragmatic case my point holds.

    But, like madpad, you miss the entire point of the argument that, pragmatic tax revenues aside, it is morally wrong for the government to compel your or I or General Motors to prefer one person to another solely on the basis of an accident birth.

  21. A bunch of people here are missing the important caveat, both in the original article in my post: Obviously it makes sense for *government services funded by citizens* to benefit the people who finance them. (I’m looking at joe, Mark, and digamma here.) That’s different from supposing that there’s some distinct special virtue of folks born here that entitles them, in some coercively enforceable way, to the special affection, aid, and cooperation of the similarly born. There’s a difference between reciprocity and chauvinism.

    Brian: Well, there are all sorts of traits that might earn a stranger greater affection. I’m going to be more favorably disposed, f’rinstance, to a stranger I’m told has a taste for Nabakov and volunteers as a tutor at inner city schools. The kinds of traits, in short, that might lead you to want to turn the stranger into a friend if you ever met. Or at least to wish them well if they’ve got other traits that make them bad company.

  22. The ‘it’s not about coercion’ crap is ridiculous – of course it is! What the hell else is it when the government tells you who you can and cannot do business with? And that is what protectionists want. Geez, is it that hard a concept. That bigger moral issue goes to the heart of the protectionist case. Do you think we’d even care about this debate if it wasn?t really about protectionist policies?

  23. Brian,

    My…you’re an angry fellow aren’t you?

    Joe just nicely summed it up for me so I won’t belabor (sp?) it.

    But since you seem almost desperate to make race fit into an argument about protectionism, I think you DO have a point…but not where American blacks are concerned.

    Making the point AGAINST protectionism is the fact that agricultural subsidies have had a tremendous negative impact on Africa.

    Is that a race issue?

  24. “No one’s talking about forcing the purchase, it’s about discouraging outsourcing by making it more awkward, expensive, and disapproved than it is at the moment.”

    So the customs agents just politely ask importers to pay tariffs?

  25. Julian, that’s a fine point and I don’t disagree with it. I guess I had a narrower take on Landsburg’s argument that when it comes to government instituting policies that treat readers of Nabakov differently than readers of Clancy, or more specifically that would give greater moral standing to one than the other.

  26. And that is what protectionists want. Geez, is it that hard a concept.

    With all due respect, Brian, we all understand what protectianism is and many on this board (including myself) feel it’s in general a bad thing.

    Where we’re disagreeing with you is your assertion that “it’s perfectly reasonable to conclude that the well being of white people promotes my self interest more than the well being of black people.”,

    NO ONE has even implied this and most of us are objecting to your lame 1+1=3 attempt to make it seems as if we have.

  27. “Is that a race issue?”

    No, again you’re arguing pragmatic effects rather than the moral point made my Landsburg. And why do you single me out as angry? I simply responded to Joe’s insults in a rather reasonable way I would think…

  28. I absolutely agree with the moral arguments against protectionism. There is no fundamental moral difference between trade or migration barriers and straight out apartheid.

    That said…

    Do you believe the government of the United States should value the interests of people from other countries as highly as it values its own citizens?

    There is a false dichotomy here.

    Protectionism is not only immoral: it is simply and plainly bad for everybody, both in other countries and your own.

    Whenever something can be produced more cheaply, for whatever reason, the world is better off. When a better crop strain is discovered that lowers the costs of raising a bushel of wheat, the world is better off. When a factory automates to halve the cost of making a widget, the world is better off. When a better computer language is designed to increase the leverage of writing software, the world is better off. And when the 3000 cars selling for $13,000 made by 3000 workers in Detroit becomes 4000 cars selling for $12,000 made by 4000 workers in Juarez, the world is better off.

    Particular people or particular industries or particular neighborhoods might be hit hard, but the benefits accrue to many, many times more people. And when you run the numbers, the net result is always positive.

    If your argument for protectionism is based on tax receipts, of all things, you will lose it simply based on the economic benefits of free trade.

  29. “NO ONE has even implied this and most of us are objecting to your lame 1+1=3 attempt to make it seems as if we have.”

    Um, yes, Joe said it wasn’t about coercion (read protectionism) and that is what I was responding to. So sorry, wrong again madpad.

  30. No, again you’re arguing pragmatic effects rather than the moral point made my Landsburg.

    I was? Since I attached no obvious moral or pragmatic conotation, how would you know?

    For the record, I didn’t see Joe’s response to you as insulting. He just pointed out that your attempt to assert that some were endorsing some sort of racial protectionism was shoddy.

    I happen to agree with him.

  31. So let me ask you madpad, since you say it’s 1+1=3, where am I wrong? Explain how it’s morally different if I dislike someone from Bangladesh than if I dislike someone in Detroit because they are black? The fundamental point of Landsburg’s argument is that there is no difference and I simply agreed with that. The natural conclusion is that the government should not coerce a private entity to engage in making that moral distinction. If a private entity wishes to make that distinction, fine, that’s their choice. Now if you want to talk about the consequences of tariffs or subsidies or price supports or whatever, fine but that is totally irrelevant to the point at hand.

  32. Um, yes, Joe said it wasn’t about coercion (read protectionism) and that is what I was responding to.

    Nooo….check yourself…

    To Joe’s statement: “it’s perfectly reasonable to conclude that the well being of people in Detroit promotes my self interest more than the well being of people in Juarez.”

    YOU Responded:
    And since white people, on average, make more money than black people and therefore pay more income taxes to help “keep the highways I drive on paved, the air traffic control towers staffed, and the cops walking around my city” it’s perfectly reasonable to conclude that the well being of white people promotes my self interest more than the well being of black people.

    This wasn’t you responding to any statement by him on coersion. YOU made an bizarre leap to shoehorn in a racial overtone that was neither implied or endorsed.

  33. madpad, you still haven’t made a case for why the reasoning was shoddy. I already refuted joe’s point that it was (scroll up). Cleary a preference for whites, to the extent that it further exaggerates their income advantage relative to blacks, would result in more tax revenue than a preference for blacks (due to the progressive income tax). So the government is reasonable to prefer white workers to blacks. I made this absurd point as an analogy to joe’s point that somehow preferring Detroit workers would benefit us by increasing tax revenue so it was reasonable to do so. So, I repeat, where was my analogy wrong?

  34. Ugh, madpad, do I have to keep this up?

    joe: “The question at hand isn’t about government coercion, Brian. “

  35. Your argument WASN’T about “how it’s morally different if I dislike someone from Bangladesh than if I dislike someone in Detroit because they are black?”

    YOU took Joe’s disagreement with Landsburg and tried to turn it into a defacto endorsment of racism.

    He, I and others called you on it and now you’re being a jerk about it.

  36. So its morally wrong for me to choose to buy a Chevy on the basis I think it will help my fellow American, and therefor myself and my family, more than if I were to purchase a Nissan? Or does the moral issue only arise when the government legislates in ways to influence my decision to favor local producers? Ignoring which particular human benefits from what actions, is there a moral issue involved in making the decision to import goods from all over the world, and increase energy consumption/pollution, rather than buy that which is produced locally? A reasonable person could argue it is. But they could also argue its morally wrong to own a cabin cruiser. Am I an amoral sick bastard for purchasing a fine steak dinner for myself, friends, or family when there are people with nothing to eat in Korea?

    There might have been a point in there somewhere…

  37. “NO ONE has even implied this and most of us are objecting to your lame 1+1=3 attempt to make it seems as if we have.”

    Ok, madpad, if what you meant no one implied was that it was about protectionism / coercion then I have dealt with it – joe did state that and I took exception to that, somewhat after the original debate started.

    If on the other hand you meant that nobody had implied what I stated, “it’s perfectly reasonable to conclude that the well being of white people promotes my self interest more than the well being of black people.”

    Then I say, yes people have unintentionally implied this, for the reason that there is no principled distinction between what I said and what joe said. I await your explanation of the difference.

  38. And, seriously madpad, I do not think I’m being a jerk about it, I totally stand by my point. I do so with no real animosity to any of you. Yes, sometimes these debates get heated and once in a while insulting, but really I don’t take any offense when it’s over and I hope you don’t either – I just want the argument dealt with and not just dismissed by saying it’s wrong.

  39. SPD,

    The brutal reality is, of course, is that companies, regardless of where they’re based, don’t owe their employees a damned thing.

    Unless they have a contract stating otherwise. 🙂

    __________________________________________

    Anyway, I am still waiting for Cathy Young, er, I mean thoreau to chime in.

  40. Brian,

    I’m not going to pretend that racism in any form doesn’t exist and I’m not going to suggest that SOME folks feel exactly as you stated.

    But to assert that he implied something because YOU see no “principled distinction” is pretty callow.

  41. Unless they have a contract stating otherwise.

    Very true, GG. Which is why a number of American companies tend to relocate their factories to… how do I put this?… less contract-intensive nations (*cough* Mexico! *uncough*).

  42. Brian,

    I can see your point. Doing something just to get the argument out there has its merits, I guess.

    And your argument IS a point to consider. As if I didn’t already have enough to think about…

    No harm, no foul, Brian. Enjoyed the rowe.

  43. “I am still waiting for Cathy Young, er, I mean thoreau to chime in.”

    LOL!

  44. What? No Lonewacko yet??? Dude’s slipping…

  45. Total strangers in Detroit pay to keep the highways I drive on paved, the air traffic control towers staffed, and the cops walking around my city. They also join the Army that keeps the King of England from taking my stuff.

    There’s some truth to that, joe. But I would maintain the marginal benefit of the wellbeing of one’s countrymen versus foreigners comes nowhere near explaining the passion that many people have for preferring the wellbeing of their countrymen.

  46. One of the good things about an absence of trade barriers (and an absence of government coercion in general) is that it better allows our values to be expressed thru our actions.

  47. The best trade barrier is the fence to keep the people from mobbing the twenty five cent beer stand!

  48. And just what would the Lonewacko likely say about this matter?

  49. If we really thought that Cathy Young and thoreau were the same person, we could just ask thoreau to figure out if it was true.

  50. Furriners r bad. Thay cum hear n tayk hour jobs so thay kan fede thayr famlees. Wee nede big wal at bordur.

    lw junyer

  51. madpad et al,

    The black-white analogy was in the article; it was not originally offered by Brian Courts.

    In any case, I don’t think he’s trying to say that those who support protectionism are racists, but rather that the twisted logic they use to support protectionist policies could just as easily be used to support racist ones.

  52. Brian, you big reading comprehender you:

    “Um, yes, Joe said it wasn’t about coercion (read protectionism) and that is what I was responding to.”

    No, Brian, look at the quote you snipped: “The question at hand isn’t about government coercion, Brian.”

    “The question at hand…” Did you see that part? As in, the topic under discussion, the particular point we’re trying to get at. (Thanks, by the way, Mike P, for typing out those points that everyone here already understands).

    bigbigslacker gets at it another way – if trade barriers are wrong because they discriminate, (and not just for the harms they do in practice), then private decisions based on the desire to spend locally are equally immoral. You in the back, please notice the way that two issues are related to the question, but only one is the topic of the debate. Write that down. It will be on the test.

    So, is it wrong for me to want to buy locally grown eggs to support my state’s chicken farmers?

  53. (Thanks, by the way, Mike P, for typing out those points that everyone here already understands).

    You’re welcome, joe. I just wanted to make sure no one got away with smuggling in a concept like, say, …

    Total strangers in Detroit pay to keep the highways I drive on paved, the air traffic control towers staffed, and the cops walking around my city.

    …without some rebuff.

  54. So, is it wrong for me to want to buy locally grown eggs to support my state’s chicken farmers?

    Ah, the crux of the matter.

    I don’t think it’s wrong. It is your choice. I certainly don’t think it’s rude or evil. I sometimes do the same.

    But a utilitarian argument might indicate that you should buy your eggs from the poorest state — or country — you can, since those farmers will more greatly value the marginal money and patronage. Much like the way some people partronize companies that sell only family grown coffee.

    I think Rick Barton said it well:

    One of the good things about an absence of trade barriers (and an absence of government coercion in general) is that it better allows our values to be expressed thru our actions.

  55. “I don’t think it’s wrong. It is your choice.”

    A choice can’t be wrong? You recognize the crux of the matter, and you ducked, dude.

    It’s funny that you quoted Rick on values – you were arguing above that valuing people based on their proximity to you is immoral discrimination, akin to racism. I consider racism to be evil when promoted by an individual, or by a state. You, on the other hand, are arguing that when an individual discriminates against foreign producers, it is not wrong or even rude, but when a state does so, it is not only pragmatically unwise, but also immoral as discrimination.

  56. I already answered the coercion part, try reading a little closer – yes the question at hand is intimately tied with coercion. Do you think it was just an exercise in morality? RTFA – Why do you think Landsburg argues that there is no moral difference, using Kerry’s protectionist statements turned into racial ones to make the point. Gees, is it really that hard to grasp what this is all about? So I guess your snide reading comprehension remark just makes you look even worse. You tell me how it’s not about coercion now joe…

  57. We shouldn’t care about people in Detroit any more than we care about, oh, say…Iraqis?
    For example, if the people of Detroit were opressed by a ruthless dictator, we should oppose U.S. government intervention?
    Is that the ‘correct’ libertarian position these days?
    Just asking….

  58. madpad writes: “Taking the flip-side of that argument, hiring peole in Juarez keeps them from crossing a dangerous border to take American jobs, keeps them from growing cocaine and pot, gives them money to by goods made by the good folks in Detroit.”

    Except, the jobs in Juarez might still suck pretty bad, so the Mexicans will still seek alternatives, either here or elsewhere.

  59. Brian Courts writes: ” So the government is reasonable to prefer white workers to blacks.”

    Only if the government takes a very short-term view.

  60. Jon H, I wouldn’t disagree – but my point was that it is immoral, not to debate whether it is a pragmatic policy, short or long term.

  61. You, on the other hand, are arguing that when an individual discriminates against foreign producers, it is not wrong or even rude, but when a state does so, it is not only pragmatically unwise, but also immoral as discrimination.

    Yes. That is exactly what I am arguing.

    I do not know your reasons for buying local eggs. They may be, by my judgment, good, indifferent, silly, rude, or evil. But it’s your choice — not mine, and not the state’s — to make, and no one should force you to make it one way or the other.

    That is not ducking the question. It is merely separating the sphere of the state from the sphere of the individual, the sphere of compulsion and prohibition from the sphere of choice.

  62. Is it better to purchase a Chevy built in Canada or a Honda built in Ohio? Is it better to buy a Nissan built in Tenn., a Toyota built in KY?

  63. Oh and while were at it let’s just return to joe’s other snide little point that my use of the racial analogy was shoddy reasoning.

    Let’s see, first in joe’s case we have it being “perfectly reasonable to conclude that the well being of people in Detroit promotes my self interest MORE than the well being of people in Juarez” (emphasis mine). I say, replace people in Detroit with whites, and replace people in Juarez with blacks and the principle is no different.

    Then joe responds along the lines of blacks pay taxes too so my logic is all shoddy. Well let’s let him say it: “If a black American’s income rises, he will pay more for the cops and the roads that I depend on. If a Mexican’s income rises, the cops and roads I use won’t get any better.” Well gee, that would be a great point joe, except that it is not only wrong, it’s irrelevant!

    First, let’s take the wrongness. You claim rising income for blacks results in more tax revenue (the liberals ultimate measure of morality it appears) which somehow invalidates my point (it doesn’t, but for the sake of argument, let’s give ya the benefit of the doubt for now) but so does rising income for Juarezians, if that’s what they’re called. What do you think they’re going to do with all the dollars we send them – burn them for heat? Those dollars are going to either buy goods from the US or get invested back in the US one way or another which is going to result in income and, guess what? Taxes! Now is this going to be more or less taxes than in the racial analogy? Who knows, that’s an empirical question we could debate forever, and it would depend on the type of preferences, investments etc. but, it is entirely beside the point. But let’s just pretend for a second of that after all the numbers are crunched, that it does in fact turn out that the “buy white” policy is better for my self interest – is that a valid rationale for caring more about the well being of whites than blacks? Certainly not, it would still be immoral. Yet you offer no other rationale for caring more about those in Detroit than those in Juarez.

    The fact that your statement attempting to refute my “shoddy” logic is just plain wrong would normally be enough and we could just stop there, but since you are so insistent on throwing in gratuitous little insults with ever point you try to make, I might was well go on to point out the utter irrelevance of your recent attempt. The whole crux of your argument rests on the notion that it is “reasonable to conclude” that the well being of people in Detroit serves your interests MORE than the well being of people in Juarez. So whether or not blacks pay any income tax at all, if whites pay MORE income taxes it could well be “reasonable to conclude” that the well being of white people will serve my interests MORE than the well being of black people will, regardless of the simple fact that they do pay taxes. So pointing that out means absolutely nothing! Since your rationale in the first place rested solely on the empirical point that it is “reasonable to conclude” the well being of group A promoted your self interest more than the well being of group B, there is still no difference.

    All of this is really beside the point -whether something is moral or immoral does not rest on some weighing of economic issues like who pays taxes and how much. Slavery was not wrong because it was bad economic policy – it was wrong because it’s immoral. When something is immoral you don’t even need to look to the economic issues, you can just be done with it. Likewise, it is simply wrong to prefer one stranger to another based on nothing more than a quirk of random birthplace and/or homeland, and it’s wrong to prefer one person to another simply because of a random quirk of pigmentation whether or not, in either case, it is reasonable to conclude that doing so serves your self interest.

    So I stand by my “shoddy” reasoning in claiming that you offer no difference between the two scenarios that carries any moral weight. The thought of you calling my reasoning shoddy when you defend yours with such a lame argument as “blacks pay taxes too!” is just sweet irony? gotta love it.

    To everyone else, sorry for the length and snide tone of this but sometimes you just have to spell things out. Also, to anybody who is going to quote me in a later post, please don’t do it out of context in a way that makes it look like I am arguing that it is reasonable to prefer whites to blacks or any such nonsense – nothing could be further from the truth – it was used simply as something unquestionably immoral for the sake of comparison.

  64. OK folks, what Brian and Mike P are doing above is called “staying on message.” The argument about the American government having a particular responsibility for Americans isn’t good ground to fight on, so they doggedly insist on arguing about the practical effects of trade barriers, and the fact that those barriers are enforced through government coercion. You two are almost ready for Meet the Press.

    On the merits, however, you’re still wrong, Brian. The fraction of the income the Juarezian workers spend on American stuff (which will end up producing tax revenue) is much smaller than the entire income of the Detroit workers. Of course Mexican workers don’t burn money for heat – they spend most of it on goods and services provided by other Mexicans. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – it’s quite nice, really – but it doesn’t pave my roads and pay my cops.

    “Yet you offer no other rationale for caring more about those in Detroit than those in Juarez.” That’s because I don’t “care” more about people in Detroit than people in Juarez. I consider there to be a greater benefit to me in promoting the well being of people in this country than in others. It has nothing to do with my feelings about different people.

    “if whites pay MORE income taxes it could well be “reasonable to conclude” that the well being of white people will serve my interests MORE than the well being of black people will, regardless of the simple fact that they do pay taxes.” Um, no, because increasing the incomes of black Americans results in their paying more taxes. It’s probably silly of me to repeat this oft-made point yet again, since you’ve igonored it every other time it was made, but what the hell.

  65. You guys are STILL arguing about this?

    Listen, Brian…I cut you some slack yesterday after you explained your desire to “get the argument out there.” I agreed there was merit in that.

    Unfortunately, you’re so focused on this as a race issue that your point is becoming muddled.

    As near as I can figure out:

    You DON’T like protectionism as it connotes coersion [GOT IT].

    But if someone can choose based on THEIR perception of how that choice might affect them, it’s bad. [DON’T GOT IT]

    …because the same argument can be used to support a racist preference of whites over blacks. [WAY DON’T GOT IT]

    It’s one thing to prefer this over that, for whatever reason. And yes, it is accurate to say that racists prefer their own race over another race.

    Joe made a pragmatic assertion based on his perceptions. Yes, racists can use a similar logic to justify their views. So what. One does still not EQUAL the other.

    Though I admire your attempt (you’ve certainly fought hard for it) you’re simply wrong to assert that this is a de facto justification for racism.

  66. Brian,

    Just because there may be no morally measurable differences between the two scenarios does not make them morally equal arguments.

    Indeed, this is an apples to oranges comparison.

    Prefences based on local impact are not the same as preference based on skin pigment. Just because one can attach economic weight to both does not mean that one means the other.

    Joe could just as easily have said “…it’s perfectly reasonable to conclude that the well being of [black] people in Detroit promotes my self interest more than the well being of [black] people in Sudan.”

    It’s fundamentally the same statement with the same intent. Is THAT racist?

  67. As a side note, I prefer to buy produce grown in the US rather than elsewhere. I think it is important that the US be able to grow sufficient food to be self supporting, rather than depend on other countries who may or may not be able to supply food at some point in the future. Even if it is more expensive. Others may choose differently.

    Today people complain about our dependence on foreign oil. It would be much worse to worry about our dependence on foreign wheat.

    I suppose this makes me a bad person….

  68. The fraction of the income the Juarezian workers spend on American stuff (which will end up producing tax revenue) is much smaller than the entire income of the Detroit workers.

    I thought you said that everyone here understands these things.

    The US is not richer only by the money the Juarezians send back to the US. Using numbers from my example above, the US is also richer by $3,000,000 plus some fraction of $1,000,000 plus the jobs that the 3000 displaced Detroit workers are now employed doing. It’s a pathological case indeed where all these benefits do not result in higher tax revenues.

    But the theory of comparative advantage is not at all obvious, nor is it taught to anyone not looking for it. The evils of racism, on the other hand, are taught to children from a young age.

    So, while there is little excuse to behave in a racist manner, there is much more excuse to behave in a protectionist manner. You could want to buy local eggs because you live in a rural area and buying your neighbors’ eggs helps keep your neighborhood bucolic. You could want to buy in-state eggs because you have a mistaken understanding on the accrual of benefits from trade. Or you could want to buy American eggs because it is the only way to exercise your sublimated racist tendencies against all them furriners.

    The first of these reasons is a fine reason. The middle one is mistaken, but very common. The last one is as bad as racism itself.

    Of course, when government puts up barriers for any of these reasons, it is unquestionably bad. But you all know that already. Now please convince the 100,000,000 voters who don’t.

  69. All I know is that if those jobs are moved from Detroit to Mexico then the economy of Mexico will improve and I will find the price for my pot, cocaine and hookers has increased.

    Buy American!

  70. Seems like a lot of arguing over very little. Whether or not it’s correct to think that the wellbeing of Detroitites helps fellow Americans more than the wellbeing of Juarezians, just the fact that someone might sincerely believe that demonstrates that it’s not inherently or necessarily racism or the like that motivates an American rooting for the Detroitites.

    That said, I think it’s safe to say that the amount of good a Detroitite’s well being might do other Americans compared to a Juarezian’s is likely small enough that an accurate reading of self-interest would make prefering the Detroitite’s well being a fairly minor issue. So for Americans to have more than a passing preference for a Detroitite’s well being is likely based on either a poor understanding of economics or…NATIONALISM. Also, the small potiential (financial) self-interest of prefering a Detroitite’s well being would likely be more than wiped out by protectionism.

    The comparison of the moral implications to prefering the well being of one’s own race is interesting and complicated. If one really felt that the well being of one’s own race versus another race was in one’s own benefit (for whatever reason) would that necessarily be racism? I think there’s reasons to say both yes and no. I think I’ll spare my brain the pain and not pursue it any further….

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