OK, Dr. Joanne Howe’s report on the China Free Trade Agreement is brilliant and extremely accurate. No, I haven’t actually read it, but not reading it didn’t stop Mr Turnbull from dismissing it or Andrew Robb as describing it as “not worth the paper it’s written on”. One doesn’t need to read something to dismiss it. Think Christopher Pyne’s proud declaration that he hadn’t read “The Gonski Report”.
I may actually get around to reading the report on the Chinese Free Trade Agreement. After all, I read just about everything. I even read the Liberal’s “Real Solutions” booklet which was mainly full of problems. In fact, it can be summarised by simply stating that the fundamental problem is that we have a Labor Government being run by a woman, whatsmore!) and the solution is to vote us in. As Tony and Joe used to say ad infinitum, “We have a plan”, and when that wore thin they developed it a bit further and said it was for “Jobs and Growth”. When it became clear that it was their own jobs and growth that they were talking about, even their own party realised that it was time for a change.
Anyway, I was reading the Fairfax Fluff this morning and apart from an opinion piece stating that it was only Muslim young people who were joining IS which completely ignores a couple of non-Muslim boys who went and joined, I was most taken with the editorial, “Trans-Pacific trade deal has tremendous potential”.
It began with an economics lesson:
“The fundamental reality driving economics, politics and public policy is scarcity – there are unlimited wants but limited means.”
So far, so Year Eleven Economics. Of course, the trouble with this truism is that, like all truisms, it often moves from the indisputable part to a justification of what the speaker actually wants.
“Not everyone gets what they wants, so you’ll just have to compromise and go and see the movie I want to watch!”
Or to use a more recent example.
“There are limited means in the economy so the well-off can’t afford to pay any more tax on their superannuation, but you need to cut your penalty rates so that businesses can work 24/7, just like 7/11!”
Similarly, the editorial jumped from this economics lesson to the rather interesting proposition:
“Most of the industrialised world has come to the conclusion that open markets provide the best outcomes for the biggest number of people.”
Now this is an interesting statement for a number of reasons. The first being that it excludes the non-industrialised world, but still has the qualifier, “most”.
However, it’s when we start to think about this in terms of the generalisation that we realise that it’s not just full of qualifiers, but a bald-faced lie. Granted that they are primarily talking about free trade between countries. Nevertheless, even the TPP doesn’t completely open the markets between countries, it just makes them slightly freer. And, as has been pointed out so many times, it makes corporations so much freer to sue governments when their profits are threatened.
Of course, the idea of “the best outcomes for the biggest number of people” is an interesting concept in itself. Slaughtering everyone in Florida and distributing their wealth equally to the people of Cambodia would also provide the best outcome for “the biggest number of people” but there are all sorts of moral and ethical issues as to why this isn’t a good idea.
But it’s the whole idea of how we perceive economics that most intrigues me. Like this particular editorial has done, we reduce it to a simple concept and then jump from that concept – whether it’s true or simply a belief – to make a whole lot of judgement calls which often move so far away from the concept that we don’t realise the journey we’ve been taken on.
We’re persistently told that free markets are the best by governments who insist – often quite correctly – on a whole range of restrictions. Why can’t I sell alcohol to ten year olds? Why can’t I start my own pharmacy and dispense medicine without all the red tape of requiring a prescription for certain medications? Guns, I’m not allowed to sell them from the back of my car. In fact, why can’t I turn my house into a nightclub and pump out loud music till the wee hours of the morning?
There’s a whole range of restrictions that we all consider reasonable before we even start to look at the ones about which there could be an argument for “freer markets”. (OK, when I say “all”, I’m ignoring David Leyonhjelm whose views seem a bit extreme when compared to moderates like Abbott and Trump).
For years we’ve been removing tariffs and eliminating subsidies in certain industries. The idea is that it’s the “best outcome for the biggest number of people”. This may well be true.
But I have a few truisms of my own. And one of them is when someone says, “Trust me, and don’t listen anything that’s questioning what I want to do, because I don’t”, it’s time to to ask for the evidence.
And when the government’s own modelling suggests that the China Free Trade Agreement will only bring about 6,000 extra jobs, claims made by Mr Robb seem a little far fetched.
Yeah, trust me. Don’t listen to those unions. They’re just racist and they’re concerned that Chinese workers will improve the prosperity of this country so much that people will realise that the unions never did anything for the workers of this country.
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