Free Trade, China, and US workers by mattsteinglass
February 28, 2007, 11:55 am
Filed under: China, Economics, United States

Ah, the blogosphere. At TPMCafe, Jeff Faux and Brad DeLong have gotten into a spat: Faux says free trade is only in the interests of America’s ruling class, but hurts American workers by sending their jobs to China. DeLong asks why he should morally privilege the welfare of $40,000-a-year American workers over $1200 $3000-a-year Chinese workers, who obviously need the jobs more. Faux says free trade doesn’t really help the Chinese workers, either, but Ezra Klein points out that Faux just claims this by fiat and doesn’t really make a case. Then Dave Sirota goes ahead and makes the case that free trade doesn’t really help 3rd-world workers…by claiming that the fact that investment is turning from China to Vietnam as Chinese labor costs rise shows that free trade doesn’t really help Chinese workers in the long run either. Whew.

To the point: Sirota makes a bad, logically flawed and evidentially under-supported case. In a key example, he cites a year-old BusinessWeek article, claiming it shows that “rural China’s potential growth would be undercut by new “free” trade policy with Communist Vietnam, where wages, human rights and environmental stadards [sic] are even lower than in China.” But that’s not what the BusinessWeek article said at all. It just said wages and real estate were cheaper in Vietnam, and that companies like to diversify operations to different countries in order to spread risk. In fact, “human rights and environmental standards” are not “lower” in Vietnam than in China. (Human rights are pretty intricate, and saying they are “lower” in Vietnam than in China is like saying that democracy is “lower” in the US than in Japan. It approaches the meaningless.) And wages and real estate are cheaper in Vietnam because Vietnam is poorer than China — about 10 years behind on the capitalist growth curve. No doubt that will equalize out over a few decades, as Vietnam maintains its 8%+ growth rate while Chinese growth slows.

Anyway, the upshot is that the freer trade agreements that have been negotiated in the past 20 years have been good for some countries and bad for others, but to argue that they have not been good, or will not be good, to East Asian countries like China, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam is basically impossible. People in China and Vietnam were starving before they started exporting to the US. Vietnam had over 50% malnourishment. It’s a cliche to say that they all have cell phones now – in fact only about a quarter do, but that’s growing every month – but half of them have motorbikes, and they’re all gorging themselves on pork. You simply cannot make the case that free trade has not done vast good in the Far East, lifting hundreds of millions of people out of abject penury; and whatever harm it may have done to US workers pales in comparison.


News Flash: Bin Laden Quotes Quran! by mattsteinglass
February 27, 2007, 11:39 pm
Filed under: Islam, Netherlands

Anne Applebaum has an irritating column today in Slate praising Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I like Ayaan Hirsi Ali (to the extent that one can be said to “like” a media personality one has never met), partly because she speaks Dutch with a level of idiomatic correctness which I am unlikely ever to attain despite being married to a Dutch woman, and partly because she weds contrarian aggression and graceful hauteur in a fashion I really, uh, dig in chicks. (Viz. the wife.) But Applebaum singles out her most questionable qualities for praise — the qualities that demand indulgence rather than admiration. Here’s a line that really bugged me:

After Sept. 11, 2001, horrified by some of the things Osama Bin Laden was saying, she reached for the Quran to confirm a hunch: “I hated to do it,” she wrote, “because I knew that I would find bin Laden’s quotations in there.”

Why does Applebaum have to take, as a sign of Ali’s great bravery, her willingness to consider the idea that Islam is inherently pro-terrorist? I mean, I know why Applebaum does this, but it really, really bugs me that she does. Let’s put it this way: something suggests to me that Torquemada probably quoted the Bible, on occasion.

Today’s Vietnam Analogy (No. 3) by mattsteinglass
February 26, 2007, 3:39 pm
Filed under: Iraq, United States, Vietnam

Snuol, Cambodia after US bombing raid

Snuol, Cambodia after US bombing, 1970

Fallujah, Iraq, March 1970

Fallujah, Iraq, March 2005

I’m some days late on this, but Andrew Sullivan has an excellent post noting William Odom’s terrific (as usual) appearance on the Hugh Hewitt show, where Hewitt tries to make us believe that pulling out of Iraq now would lead to genocide in Iraq, just as pulling out of Vietnam (according to Hewitt) led to genocide in Cambodia. Odom makes mincemeat of the argument. Sullivan focuses on Odom’s extraordinary analytical claim that by the late ’60s, the U.S. in Vietnam was essentially carrying out the Soviet policy objective of containing China:

I’m saying the big scare in Southeast Asia was that there will be a whole group of countries that became pro-Soviet bloc, and pro-Chinese. Well, two more went communist, but they were not pro-Chinese. We were pursuing a war to contain China, the Soviet policy had become containing China. We were presenting a half a million U.S. troops in pursuit of Soviet foreign policy objectives. Right now, we are pursuing al Qaeda and Iranian foreign policy objectives in Iraq.

Matthew Yglesias picks up on Sullivan’s reference and pursues it to a new article in Canada’s The Walrus by the dean of Cambodia experts, Ben Kiernan. Kiernan notes that an analysis of Air Force records made public in 2000 shows that Cambodia was bombed far more heavily by the US than anyone had previously thought:

The still-incomplete database (it has several “dark” periods) reveals that from October 4, 1965, to August 15, 1973, the United States dropped far more ordnance on Cambodia than was previously believed: 2,756,941 tons’ worth, dropped in 230,516 sorties on 113,716 sites. Just over 10 percent of this bombing was indiscriminate, with 3,580 of the sites listed as having “unknown” targets and another 8,238 sites having no target listed at all.

Odom shares the view which all reasonable historians hold of the US’s role in the Cambodian genocide: massive, indiscrimate US bombing slaughtered large numbers of Cambodian peasants, forcing them off their land, turning them viciously against their government, and paving the way for the Khmer Rouge’s victory. So Odom might have responded to Hewitt by noting that they agree: Richard Nixon bears a large measure of the responsibility for the Cambodian genocide. (Hewitt, absurdly, thinks it happened because the US pulled out of Vietnam, which was Nixon’s policy. Odom and Kiernan, rightly, think it happened in part because the US carpet-bombed Cambodia, which was Nixon’s policy.)

As for the analogy, this time there’s no need for you to draw it yourself; Kiernan does it for you.

The data demonstrates that the way a country chooses to exit a conflict can have disastrous consequences. It therefore speaks to contempor­ary warfare as well, including US operations in Iraq. Despite many differences, a critical similarity links the war in Iraq with the Cambodian conflict: an increasing reliance on air power to battle a heterogeneous, volatile insurgency.

Now arriving at Gate gate paragate parasamgate… by mattsteinglass
February 26, 2007, 3:05 pm
Filed under: Buddhism, Vietnam

Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh arrived in Ho Chi Minh City on Feb. 20. There is way too much that might be said about this, but I will just leave you to enjoy the sight of a world-renowned Zen Buddhist teacher coming back to his homeland, where a lot of Buddhists are very excited about his visit, and some others, well, less so.

Tet: A Moveable Forest by mattsteinglass
February 17, 2007, 11:10 pm
Filed under: Vietnam

Found myself stuck in traffic for about 15 minutes Thursday on Yen Phu street, completely surrounded by kumquat and peach-blossom trees — perched on the backs of bicycles, motorbikes, for sale at roadside, being toted by overburdened ladies, etc. Suddenly a thought occurred to me: a practical method for combatting global warming? Require every motor vehicle to carry its own carbon-sequestering shrub? Flowering, ideally, for highway beautification purposes?

Just a thought. Anyway, a few views of Tet in Hanoi, that mad season when every member of the populace rushes lemming-like to acquire fruit-bearing vegetation, lest they dishonor themselves, their family, friends, and anyone who has ever been associated with them…

Girl Carrying Peach Blossoms

Girl carrying peach blossoms on Au Co

Then there’s the extraordinary “have your picture taken in front of this clinically insane Hallmark diorama” stuff along Thanh Nien St., near Tran Quoc pagoda.

Santa Chua Tran Quoc

Today’s Vietnam Analogy (No. 2) by mattsteinglass
February 15, 2007, 3:44 pm
Filed under: Iraq, United States, Vietnam

Khe Sanh 1968Khe Sanh, Feb. 1968

Baghdad CH-46 Feb 2007 Baghdad, Feb. 2007

…the U.S. news media trailed behind public opinion — and Congress lagged even farther. The legislature’s main instrument was its constitutional authority to appropriate money for the war, but senators and representatives repelled by the Vietnam conflict consistently balked at using that prerogative, lest they be charged with shunning their patriotic obligation to furnish funds to the fighting men in the field. …During the seven-year span from July 1966 through July 1973, Congress recorded one hundred and thirteen votes on proposals related to the war. But its first limitation on U.S. military activities in Southeast Asia was not imposed until 1969 — a restriction on American troop deployments in Cambodia and Laos — and it directed its full opposition to a continued commitment in the region only in August 1973, when it voted to stop all bombing throughout Indochina. By then, the U.S. combat forces had been withdrawn and the American prisoners of war held in Hanoi had come home; the argument that “our boys” needed support had lost its validity.
— Stanley Karnow, “Vietnam: A History”, P.504

You draw the parallels.

Elementary, My Dear Watson – And Completely Insane by mattsteinglass
February 15, 2007, 9:44 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Dick Cavett in today’s NYT:

I have this story from none other than the great Basil Rathbone. (Sorry, youngsters. Google him or forget it.) I hope it doesn’t sound too strange to confess that, even as a kid, I had a sort of crush on Rathbone. I can’t detect any erotic element in it; I just wanted to look, talk and act like he did.

Ummm…that would be yes, it sounds too strange. But consider your blog, Mr. Insane Former Celebrity Talk Show Host, a must read.