I feared posting No No NAFTA? was going to leave me soaked like the proverbial child pissing into the wind. My position on free trade did bring some negative comments; however, it didn’t raise as much fury as I thought it would.
In spite of the fact that most of my friends in manufacturing (including myself) have been battered by foreign competition, I drove on recklessly to proclaim that free trade was good for us overall even though some can get stung by free trade consequences. I didn’t come upon this position based on how nicely I have fared (I haven’t) because of free trade, I did so after reading and studying as much as I could about the subject deferring to experts in economics and history (in spite of my disagreement with Mr. Pat Buchanan, a scholar I respect).
No matter how much I would like to be protected by some government intervention, I understand how government intervention always comes at a cost, and that cost is almost always greater than the value acquired by the intervention. Whether specific or not, some element of our society will pay for bureaucracy’s efforts to protect some other segment of society. Sometimes bureaucracy will make arbitrary decisions clearly unfair to some specific group and charge it off to necessity required for the greater good. Quite fine if you’re not in the group sacrificed for the greater good.
The masses seem to interpret these government interventions reasonable because they always affix the costs to citizens other than themselves. Most often these costs are spread amongst a great number of people in society and the benefits go to relatively few. Because these costs are generally small and spread amongst so many, they pass under the radar and cause negligible dissatisfaction.
These costs are transformed into benefits to lucky recipients via some government subsidy or via exclusive access to some valuable market.
I suppose I would be all for trade barriers and subsidies and regulations if I somehow could benefit from this government intervention, however, all my experience shows me that I (and most in the middle class) never seem to be the beneficiary of these policies. Worse, stack intervention atop intervention and we build a government offering far more to its citizens than it has the ability to pay for. Currently, interest on our national debt consumes 8% of the total budget.
As much as foreign competition beats the crap out of me, under free trade I have the chance to figure out how to compete using my own ingenuity to be excellent and smarter than foreign competitors even though they have the huge advantage of low wages and few government regulations.
When I lose because government is going to take things away from me for my own good , my only recourse is to slip green backs into the pockets of those politicians capable of providing me with preferential treatment. Thing is, I don’t have the green backs, and I don’t know any influential politicians. Foreign trade doesn’t seem so ominous all of a sudden.
Considering government’s promise to protect me, I am reminded that income tax was introduced only for the richest Americans in 1913 at 1 to 7% and America was assured it would never affect the middle class. As for tariff of foreign goods, I don’t want to be forced to pay arbitrarily high prices for these products because some union thinks janitors ought to make forty-five dollars an hour.
Hearing Barack Obama promise to help all the stupid homeowners who purchased overpriced housing, and in many cases with no money down, I fear that being a responsible homeowner with plenty of equity, it is me that presidential hopeful is going to call on to fund his program. I am also reminded of the occasional griping my grandmother would indulge describing her Social Security benefits.
Because there was some sort of budget shortfall (imagine that?) in Social Security, a bureaucrat arbitrarily decided that everyone born in 1918 would receive lower payments come retirement age.
My grandfather, who was born in 1915 received higher Social Security payments than my grandmother did even though he made less money and paid less into the system than did my grandmother. Likewise, some of grandma’s friends born in the twenties also received higher payments even though many paid less into the system than she.
Since my grandparents were divorced, my grandmother got to see her Social Security benefits go disproportionately to my grandfather and his new spouse thirty-four years his junior, and subsequently, my uncle fifteen years younger than me. My grandfather passed away last year, but my grandmother-in-law just a few years older than me will get his Social Security checks.
My grandmother always called the people born in 1918 the gap babies because those Americans were capriciously selected to receive reduced Social Security benefits. A lifelong Democrat, she couldn’t bring herself to tell me the unadulterated truth; the government arbitrarily screwed the citizens of 1918.
When all is done someone has to pay for government’s interventions, who do you think it will be? The sturdy laborer working forty plus to take care of his family, or the CEO who regularly plays golf with your state’s senators?
My grandmother never played golf.
Copyright 2008 Jim Pontillo