8 votes

Is PRISM an argument for Protectionism?

According to the fundamentalist dogma of free trade, nations have no interest in protecting or fostering the independence of their own firms and industries. Everything, it says, should be determined by the competitive process of the free market, without any regard for borders, national interests, the autonomy of essential industries, or any other factor.

Isn't PRISM and the Snowden leaks one more example of an instance where nations and political units do have a real, demonstrable interest in having at least some industries operating in their borders, under their law, and outside the dominance of some external political power?

People in other countries who desire to ensure the integrity and privacy of their communication networks have an interest in having domestic firms independent from the American government, regardless of what the market decides are the best firms in the industry (ISPs, social networks, search engines).

Google or Facebook may be the best at what they do, but because of political realities, it might be in the interest of other nations to foster a diversity of unprofitable or less profitable competitors that can operate outside of the United States.

While it is true that the market can also offer independent alternatives with security and independence of information, it offers no guarantee of their success. They might fail, in the market, to garner a profit or a wide user base. That is the nature of the market. It does not guarantee any outcome other than the success of the more profitable firms.

A nation might decide as a matter of public policy to promote alternatives to telecom behemoths that the market has crowned as the best, regardless of considerations of profit or loss. It can decide that there is a higher standard than market success and act to impose that standard.

The Broader Principle

The principle established by this example is that some priorities trump free market competition -- having certain industries outside the scope of control or pressure by a foreign government is just one instance.

If country A has certain standards of privacy of information, it needs to foster and protect companies in such industry without regard to market factors. The market -- the consumer -- will not necessarily value this priority, even if "the people" do actually and sincerely value it on the level of political consciousness. Not every value can be expressed economically, or be effected through the price system.

Sometimes the competitive forces in the market deny an outlet to political considerations. We compartmentalize politics and shopping in different mental spheres. This is the simple reality. We believe some things are to be determined on a political level, and that belief influences how we act.

How many of us stop eating chicken if we hear about the mistreatment of chickens on factory farms? How many of us investigate in detail the labor conditions in the distant places where the products we buy come from? There are serious practical and logistical problems in expecting the mass of consumers to make their shopping decisions on the basis of political concerns.

How Broadly Can the Principle Be Applied?

Once the principle is established that some priorities trump purely market determined outcomes, and that there are higher standards than the economic consideration of price and quality, than the whole terrain is opened up to other applications of the same principle.

For instance, if country A has certain standards it applies in the law in regard to pollution, waste disposal, or labor conditions, then isn't it appropriate to limit free trade to those countries and companies which also adhere to the same standards of behavior? Those who operate outside said standards can obviously make the same product at a lower cost, all else being equal, and so profit at the expense of those others who adhere to the common standards. They gain advantage by engaging in behaviors deemed harmful.

So why is the market verdict of better price/product a higher standard than that of the integrity of privacy, or the respect for some agreed upon human rights, or the moral issues of abuse of labor and abuse of the natural environment?

Would free trade trump all moral considerations, to the extent of endorsing trade with firms and countries that permit chattel slavery? The line clearly exists -- where is it drawn?

The Fundamental Question

What makes economic profit a higher standard and higher authority than other value judgments, as expressed through the law? Are there not things above the economic plane, which need to be decided on the political level?

Final judgements of value are subjective, and are above the market process. The market process is a means, and cannot decide ends. It can certainly have moral content and spring from moral principles. It can also spread habits of mind, manners and behavior that are morally beneficent.

Or, potentially, it can spread their opposites, and promote a negative leveling of culture to the lowest common denominator of consumer demand and profit. It can eliminate something essential like investigative journalism simply because it is hard to turn a profit from in comparison with other alternative uses of capital at media firms. The consumer does not demand investigative journalism, apparently.

The market is morally neutral, and whether it promotes a better or worse moral condition or level of culture is up to the judgement of each person. The market, as such, is a necessary institution based on the existence of private property, which is so rooted in human nature that it could never be truly eliminated. No political order with any wisdom would try to do so. But to what extent the market is allowed to decide the character of any given industry or civil institution is a political choice. Ultimate values are decided subjectively, and are not subordinate to the choice of the consumer.

To Round it Out with a Concrete Example

Suppose I am an Icelander. Does my right as an individual to purchase services from top companies like American ISPs trump my countries' interest in having ISPs operating outside the control and legal reach of American secret courts and NSA wiretaps?

What measures can a small European government like Iceland's legitimately take in order to ensure it has its own ISPs, supposing that the pure market outcome deems them unprofitable or inferior to American ISPs?

The same question can be asked in regard to firearms firms, and many other industries essential to a nation's ability to act independently from international bullies and snoops, and to defend itself in a last resort scenario.

So then, if it is legitimate for a nation, through its political and legal system, to prop up, subsidize, or protect x industry, or to tax, exclude, or otherwise handicap its competitors, then doesn't that principle extend to other areas? If so, how far? And why?

Can't citizens in country B decide that their industries, in adhering to certain conditions deemed moral or necessary, operate at a disadvantage to sweatshops or polluters outside their borders, and so deserve a level playing field via some legal restrictions on the competition of those outside the same set of standards?

Think of the principle in war, that signatories to the Geneva convention will be obligated to treat the uniformed prisoners of other signatories according to certain standards, which do not apply to non-uninformed, non signatories. If this principle applies in war, why not also in trade?

Red Herrings

Surely the constitution is no argument against protection, anymore than it is an argument for unrestricted movement of labor and populations across borders; America has engaged in protection for a variety of purposes, as well as immigration controls, since the founding.

Let's hear some good arguments, preferably ones that do not rely on blanket claims about the unlimited freedom of individuals to do whatever they want, whatever the cost to society, its laws and institutions.



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The way the US takes over countries is

through lending and aid. Refusing these two is sufficient and requires no authoritarianism.

we use invasions, coups, we

we use invasions, coups, we finance and arm rebel gangs, we finance "color coded" astroturf political movements, we bribe and blackmail compromised political figures, we make promises if X party is elected and Y party deposed... often we simply have our own, closely aligned corporations dominate the major industries of a small country. in an entirely open political environment, political office is for sale to the highest bidder. financing the major political parties of other countries is 'free speech' and 'human rights.' a

yes, we use aid and loans, in some cases. there's more than one way to run an empire.

to actually make the statement that 'aid and loans' is "THE" way america takes over countries boggles my mind. how are you able to make a statement that you should easily know is far from the truth? what happens in your head to make that happen? the answer would fascinate me.

Government should be subject to the will of the people

and not the other way around.

If the government wishes to curb some behavior or consumption of some service or good, the government should try to do so through informing the public and leave the final decision to the people. This falls along the same lines as the drug war. Just because the government thinks something is bad doesn't mean it should be able to impose its will on the public.

The types of things you discuss happen under government as well. In addition, slavery is the least efficient means of production. Do you suppose a farmer could make more profit using slaves rather than using modern farm equipment?

what is the 'will of the

what is the 'will of the people'? a referendum with 51%? we already have elections and popular assemblies at every level of government. people's opinions are formed by information, whether it be propaganda and media, or discussions and argument like a post on a forum.

the question is what should the people will, what should their will be...? and, should they use public policy to influence the market in ways that consumers won't do on their own? the example i used was a small country, iceland, not having control over their communications/privacy because the consumers and market might not guarantee independent domestic telecoms. is it in the interests of small countries to subsidize or protect domestic alternatives to telecom giants subject to NSA spying?

should japan continue to guarantee that it has aircraft companies outside the capital controls or tax authority of US gov? is protection justified in some cases or not?

Regarding slavery, I mentioned it in passing and made no mention of its economic efficiency. There are obviously still many tasks which the market employs manual labor for, despite automation. Whether a system of slavery could under-price free labor is a theoretical question and not resolved by anecdote or statistical information of some instances of slavery. if it is theoretically possible, then the principle applies - should free trade include users of slaves?

The "will of the people"

is the will of individuals acting in the market.

No protectionism should not be used as I've already stated. I'll repeat myself:

If the government wishes to curb some behavior or consumption of some service or good, the government should try to do so through informing the public and leave the final decision to the people (acting in the market).

Prohibition/Protectionism does not work anyway. How many people stopped buying Apple products when it was reported that labor conditions were reported to be bad in factories overseas? Should the government shut down Apple in your opinion? How good do you suppose the working conditions are in meth factories in Mexico? Has prohibition/protectionism made any difference in that case? Further, do you suppose if prohibition of drugs ceased that those working conditions would improve? It has been reported that Coca-Cola has employed violence in other countries to prevent the formation of unions. Should Coca-Cola be shut down? Do you think any government would shut down Coca-Cola?

Protectionism doesn't work.

If the Icelandic government wants to make a difference in civilian privacy, it can inform the people of alternatives that exist. To the contrary, it shouldn't take measures to restrict access to Facebook or the like.

you're correct, very few

you're correct, very few people make their shopping decisions based on political concerns. they express their political concerns through their political activity, in their efforts to influence public policy.

that's the whole point. sometimes people have to act through the law and public policy to create conditions that consumers won't create through their shopping decisions.

the question is, to what extent should the market be influenced by public policy when the consumer chooses not to value privacy, or some other fundamental value.

your answer is never, the consumer is always right no matter what, whatever outcome is produced by the market is inherently correct. that is your religious belief, politics has no role in society at all. i get that, you're an anarchist. i just disagree.

Through protectionism,

governments tend to make things worse.

For instance, (the guise of) protectionism is what has caused the current loss of privacy. The answer to problems being caused by governments is not employing more of the same types of policies causing the problems in the first place.

One doesn't have to support anarchism to realize this.

how did protectionism cause a

how did protectionism cause a few giant telecoms based in the US to dominate internet traffic everywhere?

i thought you were openly anarchist i didn't mean to misrepresent.

The problem isn't that a few giant telecoms...

based in the US came to dominate internet traffic. If they provide a better service to the people than other players in the market, then so be it.

The problem came when the government forced an alliance upon these companies for data mining operations under the guise of protecting Americans from foreign threats - ie the same types of policies you are condoning to solve these types of problems. Those types of policies will only cause more problems - not less.

Suppose the Icelandic government decided to censor the entire internet in the name of protecting its people from spying. Then, the government would have a monopoly on available information. Governments are never completely benign. Sooner or later that power would turn into a tool of tyranny causing the Icelandic lose a great deal of freedom as a result.

but where do you get the idea

but where do you get the idea of censoring the entire internet from my comments. i said a small country might have an interest in fostering or subsidizing or protecting a small uncompetitive ISP subject to domestic laws and outside of foreign influence. if you're an elected official in Panama, and you can't use the internet without American intel reading your emails, how can you possibly take your position seriously? Of course your first priority should be to develop a secure infrastructure for communications, even if that violates the virginity of the platonic Ideal of the free market.

if that requires a temporary subsidy or legislation capitalizing a domestic firm, until it could become competitive, that's more important than religious observance of a ideological Dogma.

by providing them

by providing certain companies, via "protection", with exclusive control over the INTERNIC.

I use Blue Wave, but don't expect one of THEIR silly taglines.

did that happen?

did that happen?