A Better Peace?

Like any patriot, I’ve got a problem with this:

U.S. manufacturers say they’ve learned to compete against China’s lower wages. What they can’t compete with are government subsidies that enable China to sell some finished products for less than the fiber alone costs in the United States.

The difficulty is in the solution. I’ve got my reservations about such manifestations of internationalism:

In an effort to mitigate the possibility of the Chinese dumping textiles, several members of Congress have called for the International Trade Commission to monitor Chinese textiles more closely now that the quotas are expiring. …
She initiated a case with the WTO to get China to stop its allegedly unfair trade practices, but it probably will be up to the incoming Obama administration to decide whether to file a formal case. China would face sanctions, such as penalty tariffs, if it didn’t agree to stop violating trade rules.

No doubt, international organizations help to smooth the flow of history, and they probably do much to avert war. I wonder, though, at the cost of history with no sharp edges, as I wonder who benefits most from negotiated peace. The former will yield no satisfying answers until an edge pokes through the veneer and we all observe how well the tear heals. The answer to the latter would seem to be “the aggressor.”
An aggressive nation like China will seek ways — in front of and behind the podium — to influence votes on any relevant council, and the outcome will be the imposition of various members’ desires. On the other hand, if the United States acted alone, explicitly matching China’s nakedly self-interested actions, the Chinese market would be harmed, and escalation would be its call.
In general, I think our state-to-state federal system works because national patriotism exists. There is no such emotion, and no fortified culture, behind international federations. In part for that reason, they bind the hands of those who follow the rules and hesitate to trip up those who do not.

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Sabina's Hat
Sabina's Hat
15 years ago

It might be that the benefits from international organizations like the WTO flow disproportionately to “aggressor” countries like China. That doesn’t mean that the U.S. doesn’t benefit as well. After all, the main motivation behind international free trade is the realization that trade is not a zero-sum game. The impulse to think that if China (or any other country) benefits from a trade agreement then we are not is a vestige of protectionist thinking.
This idea is why it is not necessary for there to be an analogue to patriotism in international federations. Since freer trade is generally good for all countries, national self-interest provides the motivation to comply.
Of course, you still need to enforce these agreements. This is why the WTO can be useful. It provides a way short of military force to punish free riders on the international system. That seems like a positive thing for non-aggressor countries, but evidently you disagree.

Justin Katz
15 years ago

My support for a free market system goes without saying. My point, here, is that difficulties arise on the international scene when one nation attempts to cheat by subsidizing its own industries, and the bulk of the thoughts expressed herein have to do with possible ways in which other nations can deal with that.
In one direction, the U.S. (for example) could fight fire with fire, leaving it up to China whether to escalate. Unregulated, this approach would quickly spill out of the economic sphere, potentially into the martial one.
In another direction, we’ve got the “international community” approach, which has its own problems. The basic impulse of this post is to warn against the excessive faith that Westerners appear to place in global organizations. We need to remain pragmatic about their function.

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