Be Angry at the Sun, Hillary, if These Imports Anger You

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19th century French libertarian economist and journalist Frederic Bastiat's "Candlemakers' Petition" has remained a favorite free trader's reductio ad absurdum against protectionism–it features candlemakers demanding that the government protect their industry from all the free imported light being dumped on their shores by the sun, which destroys their ability to fairly compete. A sample:

If you shut off as much as possible all access to natural light, and thereby create a need for artificial light, what industry in France will not ultimately be encouraged?

If France consumes more tallow, there will have to be more cattle and sheep, and, consequently, we shall see an increase in cleared fields, meat, wool, leather, and especially manure, the basis of all agricultural wealth.

If France consumes more oil, we shall see an expansion in the cultivation of the poppy, the olive, and rapeseed. These rich yet soil-exhausting plants will come at just the right time to enable us to put to profitable use the increased fertility that the breeding of cattle will impart to the land.

Hillary Clinton, as David Boaz has alerted us over at Cato's blog, has embraced a similar petition of the candlemakers–this time only against Chinese candles. Candlemakers–some from the state she represents–just won from the Commerce Department a 108 percent tariff against their Chinese competitors. But the logic beyond it is the same. Thankfully, given the nature of the principles implicit in their choices, most politicians are incapable of choosing principles and applying them rigorously. (Excepting the principle of "I need to get re-elected," natch.)

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  1. What can one say other than that the irony is palpable?

  2. “No, not while my greatest nemesis still provides our customers with free light, heat and energy. I call this enemy…the sun.”

  3. I’d be a lot more outraged by this if I knew for sure that the Chinese candlemakers were not employing slave labor.

  4. I’d be a lot more outraged by this if I knew for sure that the Chinese were not going to use the wealth they gain for military expansion in the future.

  5. For years Man has yearned to destroy the Sun.

  6. “and especially manure, the basis of all agricultural wealth.”

    Has Bill explained this fully to Hillary?
    (Has she explained to Bill all she knows about pork bellies?)
    ………
    “For years Man has yearned to destroy the Sun.”

    Montgomery Burns,
    Are you referring to Al Gore’s prior incarnations?
    If Al had always been a naturist, even in earlier lives, would he still be so anal about global warming?
    I’m thinking, during the Ice Age, humans were hampered displaying their manliness like a turkey spreading his tailfeathers.
    What say ye, Herrick?

  7. Can we shoot Hillary into the sun?

  8. No one ever lost a national election underestimating the American people’s understanding of economics.

  9. My candle burns at both ends
    It will not last the night
    But ah, my friends and oh, my vast right-wing conspiracy foes,
    As long as it lands my dumpy ass in the White House in ’08 I really don’t give a flying fuck!

  10. No one ever lost a national election underestimating the American people’s understanding of economics. – Ken S.

    William Jennings Bryan managed to lose as Democratic nominee three times.

    Kevin

  11. Ask me now
    I understand the words that [Hillary] said
    I kick the rocks beneath me
    I [scream] at the sun

    Save your wax and recycle it.

  12. OOS wrote: “Doanh nghiep Doanh nghiep Doanh nghiep Doanh nghiep Doanh nghiep Doanh nghiep Doanh nghiep”

    This is what I call progress — we can now receive spam from Vietnam!

  13. Those damn Vietnamese spammers are stealing our jobs! And they’re all on welfare!

  14. I’d be a lot more outraged by this if I knew for sure that the Chinese candlemakers were not employing slave labor.

    Our government has no right to impede trade between willing partners, regardless of the source of the product. If your neighbors are buying candles that are demonstrably produced by slaves, your beef is with your neighbors, and you may act accordingly, or do nothing at all.

    I doubt that more than a tiny percentage of China’s exports are produced under coercive conditions. Free people produce more efficiently than slaves. The economic boom in China indicates that even the Chinese are finally waking up to this fact.

  15. I’d be a lot more outraged by this if I knew for sure that the Chinese candlemakers were not employing slave labor.

    Our government has no right to impede trade between willing partners, regardless of the source of the product. If your neighbors are buying candles that are demonstrably produced by slaves, your beef is with your neighbors, and you may act accordingly, or do nothing at all.

    I doubt that more than a tiny percentage of China’s exports are produced under coercive conditions. Free people produce more efficiently than slaves. The economic boom in China indicates that even the Chinese are finally waking up to this fact.

  16. Our government has no right to impede trade between willing partners

    If the candles are produced by slave labor, one of the partners is clearly not “willing”.

  17. Ed –

    What Rhywum said plus

    Ed said: I doubt that more than a tiny percentage of China’s exports are produced under coercive conditions.

    No one said this. Jennifer only alluded to candles possibly being made by slave labor.

  18. One does wonder, though, whether or not promoting a free market might ultimately effect China’s inhuman treatment of its people since economics and politics are so closely related. I’m not arguing anything, just wondering whether that could make dealing with slavers more acceptable when the government’s not involved than when it is– especially if we’re going to deal with them anyway.

  19. The workers, slaves or not, are not the partners referred to. They don’t have any more say in who the company they “slave” for trades with than I do in whether or not my company buys computers from Dell or telephones from AT&T. The willing partners are the companies engaged in trade. A company may decide they do not want to buy anything from a company whose labor practices they disaprove of, but I don’t think the government should step in and outlaw or slap a tarrif on the transaction. Are we able to outlaw or tax transactions from specific Chinese candle makers? Or do the penalties apply to transactions with Chinese firms not using slave labor as well?

  20. agentalberta,

    Would you have a problem with someone buying tapes of pedophile rape scenes, if he was into that sort of thing?

    Both the buyer and the producer are willing traders.

  21. joe:

    I can’t presume to answer for agentalbert, but I can give you two answers.

    The hardcore libertarian answer: the tape has already been made so no further damage can be done by someone buying it.

    The decent human being answer: the purchase of the tape will only encourage the production of more such tapes, so it must be banned.

    Hopefully I won’t be forced to turn in my decoder ring based on my characterizations, but that’s the way I see it.

  22. The harder core libertarian answer is that, not being an adult, the child consented neither to the production nor the distribution of the tape. Further trade in the tape can be prohibited just as with any stolen property, with punishment proportional to what was stolen — which in this case is quite a lot.

    Bringing it back to presumed slave labor, trade in nonconsensually produced goods is trade in stolen property, the labor being what was stolen.

    The question is whether the characterization of some Chinese labor as slave labor is accurate. A system where questionable crimes results in incarceration where the only means for survival includes working for a pittance might qualify. But those trying to prohibit trade in such goods must make a reasonable case that it is indeed nonconsensual labor. Furthermore, they must be legitimate agents of the presumed slaves’ interests. US labor unions, for example, don’t qualify as agents of Chinese laborers’ interests.

  23. Are some people afraid to make moral decisions for themselves, or do they think so little of our fellow consumers? If I know something was constructed from slave labor, I can choose not to buy it. I know a guy who can get me sweet Harmon-Kardon Speakers for real cheap. Should I care how he got them?

  24. Furthermore, they must be legitimate agents of the presumed slaves’ interests. US labor unions, for example, don’t qualify as agents of Chinese laborers’ interests.

    Ah, so even if there is conclusive, irrefutable proof that a given factory uses slave labor, you’re allowed to ignore this fact if the wrong person calls attention to it? How very convenient for those who wish to make or save a buck via slave labor.

    Do you think the old New England abolitionists should have minded their own damned business, too? They were certainly not agents of the slave’s interests. Who would have qualified as such, do you think?

  25. Ah, so even if there is conclusive, irrefutable proof that a given factory uses slave labor, you’re allowed to ignore this fact if the wrong person calls attention to it?

    If there is “conclusive, irrefutable proof” that a given factory uses slave labor, I would think that agents more legitimate than the industrial competition would appear to make the case.

    Should the Christian Coalition be able to prohibit adult video production and trade on the grounds that a woman’s appearance in such degrading media is itself prima facie evidence that she was coerced into it?

    Do you think the old New England abolitionists should have minded their own damned business, too? They were certainly not agents of the slave’s interests

    They weren’t? I was educated in public schools, so I might not have the full story here. It is my understanding that the principal abolitionists were human rights advocates mostly working on their own money or that of independent foundations. They were not, for example, cotton farmers in Pennsylvania whose biggest complaint against slavery was that they had to pay their labor a wage.

  26. They were not, for example, cotton farmers in Pennsylvania whose biggest complaint against slavery was that they had to pay their labor a wage.

    Even if they were, so what? From the slaves’ perspective, I’d think that whether or not they were free would matter more than the motivations of those who would free them.

    I find it ironic that on a libertarian chat board, someone is arguing that altruism, not the profit motive, is the only acceptable motivation for wanting another human’s freedom.

    Should the Christian Coalition be able to prohibit adult video production and trade on the grounds that a woman’s appearance in such degrading media is itself prima facie evidence that she was coerced into it?

    If you honestly don’t see for yourself why this analogy doesn’t hold up compare to actual forced slavery, I doubt I or anyone else could change that.

    If there is “conclusive, irrefutable proof” that a given factory uses slave labor, I would think that agents more legitimate than the industrial competition would appear to make the case.

    I’d like to think so too, but given that this country gave “Most Favored Trading Status” to China knowing full well what its human-rights record was, I don’t think that we’re going to stop trading with them on that regard. Too bad.

  27. Jennifer – do you really think it would help all those slave labourers (just to give you the benefit of the doubt on that, since I don’t know one way or the other) to stop trading with China? I highly doubt it.

  28. The Chinese most definitely maintain a forced labor camp system. Just Google up the term “laogai”. It has a charming meaning, similar to Arbeit Macht Frei.
    Whether engagement or disengagement is the best way to deal with this type of human-rights issue is an open question, but let’s not pretend this isn’t happening.

  29. Jennifer – do you really think it would help all those slave labourers (just to give you the benefit of the doubt on that, since I don’t know one way or the other) to stop trading with China?

    Perhaps not, but at least the slave owners won’t be getting rich off of my money. As for the original topic of this thread, I can’t get worked up over a proposal to limit trade with a slave country, and I’m always shocked when lovers of freedom justify trading with the slaveholding Chinese because, well, look at all the MONEY we save! (Nobody said that here; I’m thinking more of previous threads.)

    The Chinese DO use slave labor; of that there is no doubt. There was a “Brickbat” a few months ago talking about how people accused of being in Falun Gong are used as slaves to make made-in-China Christmas lights, and I devoutly hope that some of those slaves were able to figure out how to wire the lights so that they start fires; God knows if I were a slave I’d do anything I could to make my owner and his customers suffer.

    I don’t know whether the candlemakers resort to slavery, but since there is no way of knowing which Chinese goods were made by free people and which were made by slaves, I try to avoid all things Chinese on general principle. Once the country stops using slave labor and committing other human rights violations, I’ll be the first one to go out and buy a bunch of cheap Chinese stuff.

  30. I find it ironic that on a libertarian chat board, someone is arguing that altruism, not the profit motive, is the only acceptable motivation for wanting another human’s freedom.

    Advocates secured by the actual aggrieved persons would of course be the very best agents, and they probably would operate on the profit motive. I was presuming that neither southern slaves nor Chinese prisoners could or can readily enlist their own advocates.

    Also, not knowing any Chinese laborers in this situation, I don’t know whom they would want representing their interests and whether they would think trade restrictions will help their situation.

    If you honestly don’t see for yourself why this analogy doesn’t hold up compare to actual forced slavery, I doubt I or anyone else could change that.

    The analogy is not comparing the two laboring classes. The analogy is comparing the motivations of those who would claim to help the two classes.

    Just because someone makes an argument saying something is wrong does not mean that something is wrong. And, in this case, the claims that a significant amount of Chinese production meets the standard of slavery mostly come from the same people who would say that because Indonesians can’t afford the Nikes they produce, they are being unfairly exploited.

    Can you point out better advocates?

  31. Just because someone makes an argument saying something is wrong does not mean that something is wrong. And, in this case, the claims that a significant amount of Chinese production meets the standard of slavery mostly come from the same people who would say that because Indonesians can’t afford the Nikes they produce, they are being unfairly exploited.

    I did a cursory check through the Website laogai.org, and while they do claim that China uses a lot of forced labor I couldn’t find any complaints about low wages in Nike factories.

    Are you saying that the Chinese do not use slave labor?

  32. Are you saying that the Chinese do not use slave labor?

    I’m saying I don’t know. I know the allegations, but I don’t know enough facts to know whether they’re true.

    I’ll take a more detailed look at that laogai.org site. But I’ll also note that I couldn’t find anything in a quick look at amnesty.org. Got any others?

  33. From the BBC:

    As for using “slave labour” to conquer the world’s markets, prison goods are in fact thought to play a very minor role in China’s exports – if only because their quality is too low. While some prison officers may be lining their own pockets, the system as a whole runs at a loss.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4515197.stm

    ______________________________

    Of course this sort of observation fits into the general pattern of observations about prison labor (the Oxford History of the Prison has a nice discussion of the matter) that is that it does not often play a significant role in the economic life of a nation. And this is for obvious reasons associated with motivation, low esprit de corps, etc.

  34. Everyone,

    You know, I see the word “slave” used in a lot of H&R discussions, and it seems to me that there is no clear agreement regarding the term’s meaning.

    Orlando Patterson suggests the following characteristics for slavery:

    (1) It is a type of “personal domination.”

    (2) The slave lacks “independent social existance.”

    (3) A slave is in a “perpetual condition of dishonour.”

    Patterson, Freedom: Vol. 1, pg. 9 (he takes the “definition” from his earlier work Slavery and Social Death).

  35. Oh so official domination is OK?

    To me, the definition of slavery is quite simple:

    One is the victim of slavery when one is being forced to labor against his or her will for someone else’s benefit.

    So, if you take a low paying job because you need the money, you are not a slave.

    If you take a low paying job because someone will shoot you if you don’t, you are a slave.

    It does not matter who is pointing the gun, the guy living next door, or a police officer sent by the local draft board.

    The act dictates whether a crime is taking place, not the social/political status of the actor.

  36. tarran,

    “Personal domination” can come from a person or a state.

  37. In striking down slavery, a tariff would be too unwieldy. It would hit all producers equally, and would thus not be an incentive to stop the coercion. Now if we could just find a way of punishing only the bad guys…

  38. Most of the Roman Candles I purchase are made in China. I hope they aren’t affected by this.

  39. Tangential but of interest to you libertarains…

    A hidden downside to privatization

    The Becker-Posner blog is discussing a deal to sell the Indiana Toll Road for $3.8 billion. An overlooked cost to privatization is that privatization saps the quality of government employees if the more ambitious can quit and go into identical jobs in the profit-making sector.

    We’re paying the price in Iraq where our best $30,000 per year sergeants are quitting the Army and returning to Iraq as $150,000 per year Blackwater mercenaries. The taxpayer is out $120,000 per year, and the Army, which does the real fighting, loses its best men. Not surprisingly, it also undermines morale in the Army. We never did this before, and there was a good reason we didn’t: it’s nuts.

    As more things get privatized, and the differential in pay between government jobs and privatized jobs balloons, then we run ever more into the problem of the clueless (the government overseers) trying to keep an eye on the clever (the privatized operators). The raping of California by Enron and friends after the foolish deregulation of energy in 1996 is a classic example.

    If you look at the high quality of government work from, say, the Panama Canal through Apollo 11, compared to the poor effectiveness of government undertakings in recent years, you’ll see evidence that privatization is undermining government effectiveness.

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