Good thing for the United States, or bad?

At the end of the day, it’s a combination of “Shining City on the Hill” with Bush & Co’s insight on Iraq.

First off, though: What do you reckon the trade balance is between, say, New York and Idaho? Texas vs. California? Nevada vs. New Jersey? Is anybody in the vast, near-absolute free trade area that is the United States genuinely and deeply disadvantaged by it, in the long run? If they are, haven’t we made a Hell of a big mistake two centuries and a quarter ago?

The existence of total free trade between Louisiana and Massachusetts, without either of them being made poorer by it, constitutes evidence if not proof that the same thing is possible between the US and China, or India, or Madagascar for that matter. It’s just a bigger field, that’s all.

The truly unique thing about the United States, something near-forgotten in the latest stupid developments, is our discovery that any number can play, and everybody can have fun. If your neighbor gets richer, it doesn’t mean you get poorer except in relative terms. It’s not a zero-sum game, except in short term effects — which can, in fact, be painful, but the more we learn about real economics (rather than idealized theories) the more we find out that it’s kind of like ripping adhesive tape off a sensitive spot: best to get it over with and get on with the program.

And — most, if not all, of our present troubles are down, at the end, to jealousy and covetousness. People who don’t have what we’ve got, what we take for granted, are understandably envious of it, and that’s a fertile ground for demagoguery. Consider a Brazilian favelista, walking barefoot through raw sewage to get to the communal water tap. He is, in point of actual fact, no worse off than a poor Roman two millenia ago, but that Roman didn’t have an American “poor person” to compare himself to. How hard is it going to be to convince Senhor Mathao that the Yanquis stole all the good stuff? More importantly, how hard is it to get Hassan Abd-ul-Jabbar of that? This is the real, deep reason Bush “went to Iraq”. No, we can’t turn Iraq into Fifties America, but if we could, or even could get partway in that direction, would we be safer or in greater danger? The question answers itself.

The transitions get mismanaged, to be sure, and as we get to know more we may be able to reduce the trauma; and there needs to be some redress in cases like massive subsidy, as with Airbus and the steel industry. Nevertheless, I firmly believe that if, for instance, Mexico stood in the same relation to the United States as Alabama does to Pennsylvania, both Mexicans and Americans would be better off.

Does that mean I’m a one-worlder? Sure. I just don’t think anybody ought to be in charge of the one world.

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