Union Public Policy Class

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Archive for the month “September, 2012”

In Defense of Women

My comment about how women’s ethical stances on certain issues are sometimes different than men’s was taken with a little disagreement. I did not mean that men and women’s views of right and wrong were different, because, if we are all Christians, we should have the same views of right and wrong that Christ gives in the Bible. If we’re talking about non-Christians, then men and women have basically the same kind of conscientious ideas of right and wrong – i.e. murder is wrong, stealing is wrong, prejudice is wrong, cheating is wrong, etc.

However, where men and women’s ethical views differ is on issues that are a little gray in nature. Those gray area issues may not have a specific “this is right” or “this is wrong” biblical answer – so how do we know what is right? I would argue that one’s gender, and the environment one grows up with because of their gender, can be a measuring tool for gauging ethical decisions.

Think about it this way, using abortion as an example. Perhaps both Christian men and women should, in following the Bible, be against abortion. However, the man can talk all he wants about how women should never have an abortion, but the man can never truly understand what it will mean to the woman to have to carry an unwanted child for nine months. The woman physically, mentally and emotionally bonds with the child during that time. For women, who seem to be always deemed “the weaker sex,” the emotional pain during pregnancy and separation anxiety after the baby is born could be too much to bear. And all the while, the man sits back and tells the woman that she made the right decision, when he cannot fully comprehend how difficult the women’s decision actually was to make.

This scenario can be applied to several other birth-related bioethical issues, including contraception and in vitro fertilization – the men cannot possibly have the same ethical viewpoint on these matters as women do. I’m not saying I think abortion is right, every woman should be on contraception, or every single woman who becomes pregnant through IVF should bring eight babies to term. I am saying that women are much more sensitive to these kinds of issues than men because they usually are about our bodies. It’s easier for me to see the opposing side to these bioethical issues because there’s a possibility I could go through these scenarios someday. It makes me more sympathetic to women who make choices my male counterparts don’t agree with. I just wanted to say that a woman’s life experiences really do influence how ethical choices on gray area issues are made, and our differing opinion should never be counted out.


Stem Cell Research

Ok guys, let me start this with the caveat that I am in no way objective on this topic. I have cerebral palsy, so I see stem cell research of all kinds both embryonic and otherwise as a way that science might one day be able to regenerate the damaged part of my brain, thus healing me. Yes this is an extreme long shot because there has been so little research done. 

Before I go any further let me say that I am unsure what I believe about whether or not an embryo is a human being. Yes I know that all of you are going to grill me for it in the comments section, so I am prepared for that, but that does not damage the argument that I am about to make. During his administration, Bush refused to fund stem cell research at all, which is expected, but what really got me is that he also refused to allow research to be done on frozen embryos that were going to be disposed of otherwise. While, as I stated above, I am not exactly sure how I feel about an embryo being a person, I find it hard to believe that Bush chose to allow them to be disposed of rather than turning them over to scientists and allowing them to do research on them. 

Grant brought up the point that the progress seen in adult stem cell research is lightyears greater than that with embryonic research and he is correct, but I would contend that we should allow the government to at least fund research on embryos that would otherwise be thrown away and see if we could then make some progress because it honestly has not been widely funded to this point, so I believe that those statistics are somewhat skewed. 

Again, I realize that to some of you any form of stem cell research is absolutely repulsive and to you I say happy commenting. I am not posting this to be controversial, but rather to spark a discussion. Fire away. 

Mormonism: America’s Islam (1 of 3)

“‘Mormonism is America’s Islam’ that’s a Grant quote right there.” So here I am to defend another controversial statement I made. I said it then and I hold to it now. Mormonism is America’s Islam. Do not misunderstand me; I am not suggesting that Mormonism has a doctrine of Jihad. Mormons never hijacked planes. Nor am I saying that they will lead to the same ends. Muhammad saw Gabriel in 610 A.D.; Joseph Smith’s vision occurred in the 1820’s. They have vast social and cultural differences.
While I could spend pages and pages of writing discussing the shared similarities from a doctrinal perspective, politics is the issue here. In order for me prove whether or not Mormonism is America’s Islam, I must first demonstrate that both religions share consistent goals, produce the same effect, and grow in a similar fashion. (This post shall be split up into three sections so as to not dominate the whole wall at once).


Islam and Mormonism concern themselves with earthly success.

1. In Islam the warriors of God go straight to Heaven without question. Therefore martyrdom for Allah creates a covenant between the all-powerful God and his servant. Many Mormons hold to the idea that later in life at the highest level of heaven a true believer may be able to rule his own set of worlds. Unlike Islam, Mormonism is less clear about the weighing mechanism of heavenly reward. Some subsets of Mormonism believe that through a polygamous relationship, women can achieve a higher heaven.
2. Mormonism and Islam value community. One might even say they overvalue community. According to one report, a Muslim’s number one reason for divorce is their relationship with their in-laws. The Republican platform portrayed Romney as a communal man. The one unchanging attribute of Mitt Romney (besides his facial expressions) is that he is a consistent Mormon. According to several studies, Mormon birth rates are higher than those of other faiths, with the exception of Islam. In my own neighborhood back home there lives a Mormon family of thirteen. Stability of the family is an essential part of building community. Even furthering this idea, the Mormons also host their own private food banks in Utah. These well-organized food banks play right into their heavy emphasis on community.
3. Their faiths are both action oriented. Considering their fundamental tendencies, this may sound contradictory, but one actually leads to the other. Fundamentalism denotes with it an idea of provability. Consider the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Westboro “Baptist Church” for more examples closer to home. One must prove his or her own faith by his works. If their works are not evident there is no faith. Both Mormonism and Islam have a religion that relies heavily on specific actions (tithing, alms giving, regular worship, and loyalty to certain countries). For Islam they abstain from alcohol, Mormons add caffeine and smoking to the list.

Both Islam and Mormonism seek political power

  1. Mormonism views the United States of America as the new Israel. America is her founding country. The prospering of Mormonism entails the prospering of America. They would seek to preserve and keep safe their beloved country. Thus one can extrapolate the importance of national security. Though the location is smaller in size, Islam protects Mecca for the same religious principles.
  2. What then is sacred about America? America is an ideological triumph, therefore they view our Constitution as a document divinely inspired. The law of the land is god’s law. Islam created their own law system based on the Qur’an and teachings from imams. Both Mormonism and Islam seek to rule others through their divine laws. The differences being that Mormons are most influential in the country that already has their “divine” law. Therefore Mormons would seek a way to help enforce their divinely inspired laws.
  3. Over the years Muslims have claimed historical locations and pronounced them holy sights. Mormons not only believe that Jesus came to preach in America. They also believe He will return to the little town of Jackson, Missouri. America takes center stage in their eschatology. Therefore America takes center stage in their time before the end.

Unlike other faiths that glorify community the Amish, the Mennonite, and Buddhism (to some extent), neither Mormonism nor Islam have an aversion to the government. In fact they take active roles in their government. Government and religion are mixed; in fact Islam and Mormonism necessitate the integration. This leads to mounting tension as the ruling officials begin to see themselves not just as civil servants but leaders endorsed by God.

America is Uniquely Positioned for Free Trade

This is a response blog to Seth Brake’s excellent post on the need for moderation in free trade. If you haven’t read it, take the time to do it because he makes some great arguments – and you won’t understand my post unless you do.

Seth’s post broke down into two main points: protectionism is necessary to ensure a stable economy during wartime and the economic power of America is a result of her strong military.

To the first point: the industries of agriculture, manufacturing, and entrepreneurial conquests must be protected.  What Seth took us through was a general look at an economy and a marketplace.  I’ll take us through a more detailed and specific description and then make my point.

People need to survive.  If people are dead, we have no society.  To live we must be able to eat.  Therefore agriculture is the basis of society.  No food = no society.  We will consider agriculture to be the cornerstone of the marketplace.  Let’s create a fictional society where everyone is a farmer and they all harvest enough food to feed themselves but no more.  They are subsistent.

Once food is established, there comes a need for manufacturing.  For instance, a farmer one day designs a tool that helps him harvest more corn.  He can then grow more food than he needs.  He can harvest enough food to last him a week in a single day.  He does this, working one day and resting for six.  However his neighbors see he has leisure time and want the same thing.  So the farmer who made the tool decides to spend his six free days making more tools that he can sell to the other farmers.  This business is so profitable he is able to spend all his time making tools, charging other farmers in corn for his product.  In this way, he is fed while not working directly in an agricultural career.

Carry this concept out to the whole society and you really have something.  Farming is no longer a job for each person to worry about because a few can produce enough for many.  This frees people to manufacture tools or services they can sell for food so they can survive.

Here we have the general marketplace.  There is the production of food, the ability to innovate, and the production of manufactured goods that increase capital.  Seth’s argument in short, is that this process should be protected by a government.  If any one link of this were broken, the economy, and therefore society, would fall apart.  I agree with him that this is necessary, however I believe in America, the need for the government to be the protector is unnecessary.  Allow me to explain.

We are the bread basket of the world.  If you look at the logistics of America, we have more land mass that is agriculturally viable than any other country with the possible exception of China (not totally sure on that one).  Because of this, our country has the natural ability to produce agricultural products (food) more efficiently than our global competition.  We don’t need the government to protect this industry because it isn’t threatened by foreign competition.

Because our cornerstone of the market is inherently protected, we have a natural protection of manufacturing too.  America is one of the richest land masses in terms of natural resources.  We have fossil fuels, timber, precious metals, base metals – most all the resources needed for a diverse manufacturing economy.  Our manufacturing in America hasn’t decreased because of our natural circumstances, but because we have allowed for legislation to gum up the works.  We have labor laws that restrict work hours and force a minimum wage, or taxes that hinder production.  When we are then subjected to a global economy that consists of countries that don’t have these restrictions, we lose out because we’re not the most efficient.  It then becomes cheaper to ship products in from China than to make down the street, despite the added cost of shipping. By adding tariffs to “protect” our manufacturing, we’re just adding more barriers to an efficient economy.  (See my post on tariffs for my views there)

So long as we have a marketplace that rewards innovation that increases capital, there is no need for protectionism in that sector either.  If a business model is better than the status quo, it will succeed.  Now, I must be clear when I talk about a business model.  There have been businesses that on paper were more efficient than their competition and should have, by all rights, succeeded; but they didn’t.  There are many factors that go into the success of a business.  To name a few: market conditions, supply lines, marketing, public sentiment, branding.  An efficient model can still break down somewhere along the line.  But if it does, then it wasn’t the best model.  Only the best survive.  By protecting a new business you gum up this process and weaken the economy.  Capital is wasted on products or businesses that are failing – capital that could be invested into a new venture that might work.

Now I approach Seth’s second point: our military involvement is necessary to promote our economy.

I absolutely agree with Seth on this one.  He has laid out an excellent picture of how our economy works and how our naval superiority is integral to America’s economic dominance.  However, there was an underlying assumption in Mr. Brake’s point – the system is working.  You see, if the system were working, I’d have no place to complain about it.  I agree that the system works the way he said it does – our military ensures a dollar hegemony that keeps our economy secure.  But what was failed to be mentioned was the upkeep of such a system costs more than it produces.  How can I say this?  Because we have a debt of over $16 trillion dollars.

What I propose the solution is may not be what some of you think.  I think there is an incredible need for military superiority.  The problem with the use of our military is that our currency drives the need for such extensive coverage.

Let me take a step back.  The dollar is a fiat currency.  We all know that, but do we know how that shakes out in the global economy?  Let me explain my understanding of it.

Much of the value of the dollar comes from people using it as the basis of trade.  Spicer mentioned OPEC during his presentation.  Well, OPEC trades in dollars. This is important because all industrialized countries buy oil from OPEC.  That means the largest markets trade for one of the biggest commodities in U.S. dollars.  This creates a hegemony, or controlling influence, for the dollar in the global market.  This gives the dollar a theoretical backing.  So long as countries are buying oil, the dollar will have value.  So long as countries continue to trade in the dollar, it will have value.  This is how Seth’s system works and why his point that we need a strong military to continue these lines of trade is correct.  I like to take a step back and propose a system that can work without the need for as expensive a naval fleet.

It all starts with the currency.  It’s why Ron Paul wants us to go back to the gold standard.  If our currency were based on a relatively stable commodity, the trade of goods in the dollar would occur because of the economic soundness of the dollar inherent to its base, not because our military backs it.  Furthermore, Americans would not be subjected to the whiles of the market as we do now.  If gas prices increase, the dollar is weakened because fewer people are trading in the dollar.  If the global marketplace hits a recession the dollar will be critically hit and inflation would be crazy (we’ve avoided that thus far because of Fed policies – I’ll talk about that come Oct. 2nd).  Gold is hard to come by and it is universally valuable.  That makes it hard to inflate and easy to trade.

The combination of a more secure currency and the natural economic advantage of America promotes a free market.  Seth’s point on war is a valid one, however.  If there were a war on American soil, the natural production power of America would be compromised.  In this sense, we need some protection from the government.  So instead of having out Navy spread throughout the world, we could just encircle the land mass of America so that no foreign threat could oppose us.  In this sense, America is also uniquely positioned.  In a sense we are an island.  We only have two bordering countries and neither one of them represent a major threat to us (though our borders with them should be a major concern and must be defended).  If we had a tight line of ships in the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean, as well as the Gulf of Mexico (coupled with a secure Southern border) we wouldn’t have the threat of a secret attack from the East, West, or South.  Positive relations with Canada would help secure our Northern border (though a defense infrastructure is a good idea).  People argue this is impossible which in the current system it is.  But if we stopped spending money on building defenses for other countries half-way across the world, the project seems much more attainable.

This whole argument is applicable only to America.  As I’ve said, we are naturally positioned to accomplish this feat.  There are very few things manufactured abroad that couldn’t be manufactured in America, and I will leave the door open for the government to have minimal incentive programs to ensure industry in those limited sectors.  I desire for America to truly be the leader of the world – politically, economically, and socially.  We’ve allowed for the government to dampen the power of the collective public, but I believe there is a path we can tread that leads to greater prosperity.

Advice to the Disillusioned Christian

J. R. R. Tolkien is best known for his Lord of the Rings, but his world stretches much deeper than that. Even before he wrote the tale of Frodo and the War of the Ring, Tolkien had written several myths and legends about his world. These were later published in other books, but the reason I bring it up is because there is a quote from the Silmarillian that I believe can be instructive to Christians thinking about politics. It is easy to become cynical looking at the political realm and many are tempted to give up on politics. It is true that all man does will be tainted by sin and that no political system or candidate will ever be a completely good solution to the problems faced by the world, but does that mean we should forsake politics entirely? In the Silmarillian, the Elf Turgon is seeking to found a city, but has been presented with the fact that he and his kind are cursed in Middle Earth and that all he does will come to ruin. Then he receives this divine advice:


“Longest of all the realms of the Eldalie shall Gondolin stand against Melkor. But love not too well the work of thy hands and the devices of thy heart; and remember that true hope of the Noldor lieth in the West and cometh from the Sea”


Will even the best political systems eventually become corrupt? Probably. Will there ever be a candidate who is the perfect Christian leader? Probably not. Is there even such a thing as Christian politics? Doubtful. But this does not mean that the good society is not worth fighting for. With this in mind, there are three things Christians looking at politics should recognize.


The first is to recognize that the Kingdom of God cannot, and never will be, created on earth through politics. No matter how good a theory or model is, it will never create Utopia. Man is still living under the curse of the fall, and God’s kingdom will not be realized through elections, but through the very-undemocratic Lordship of Christ. Any attempt to bring the kingdom of God through politics is closer to blasphemy than piety.


The second thing the Christian should recognize, however, is that good can be done. Yes, every political system is doomed to collapse eventually, yes, every work of man is tainted with the fall, and yes, just about every politician will be corrupt, but there are some policies that are better than others. Some leaders are more likely to create good laws than others. As Christians, we have a responsibility to be salt and light to our culture, and part of that means caring for our society. When the Jews were in exile, God commanded them through Jeremiah to “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29: 7). While this advice was given to a specific audience, there are principles from it we can apply to living in a society that is not necessarily Christian. We should care about those around us. If we are to love our neighbor, how can we do that without also wishing that their society be better? 1 Peter 2:17 even suggests a kind of reasoned patriotism when Peter reminds Christians living in Rome to “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the Emperor.” At the time, it was and would increasingly become common practice to worship the Emperor. Obviously a Christian could not do this (and many were killed for refusing to do this), but they were still told to honor the pagan, corrupt, sinful Emperor because the society and government were put in place by God for a reason. Living in the United States, we could edit the last line to “honor the government,” but the implication is the same. We know that our institutions and society are imperfect, never to be perfected, but it is worth fighting to make them better.


The final thing I urge Christians to recognize is that we should vote. We should carefully and prayerfully examine the choices presented us in these tiresome elections and vote for those who would guide society in a positive direction. We should vote out of love for our neighbor, because the future of our society affects everyone. We should vote out love of the society in which God has planted us; what better thing could happen to a society than to have a community of those with a relationship with God who seek His Will voting in it’s elections? We should vote for the policies that are most likely to lead to an improved society with the understanding that the society will never get there. We should have no fear of elections and their outcomes, for “those [authorities] that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1), and we should show deference and respect to even the most wicked, corrupt politician, because God has put him in place for a reason. This should bring both responsibility and relief to the Christian: We have a responsibility to care for our society, but the comfort of knowing God is in control. Please do not forsake our society. Read, research, and vote, but as Tolkien wrote “love not too well the work of thy hands.”


Vaccinations and Religious Exemptions

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention and differing state laws require children to receive about 20 vaccinations before they enter into the public school system. These vaccines stop common childhood diseases like mumps, measles, rubella, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, and polio. However, about 20 states allow for something called “philosophical exemption” from these required childhood immunizations, meaning the parents have the freedom to refuse vaccinations for their children. All states allow for medical exemptions and almost all allow for exemptions based on religious beliefs. Essentially, this is the way these states accommodate the parents’ religious freedoms when it comes to the health and wellness of their children.

What does this mean? In Vermont, it means a lot. There is state legislation in process right now that will end the philosophical exemption clause. Many Vermont parents are furious over the thought that the philosophical exemption to vaccinate will be taken away from them. They say it goes against Vermont’s state motto – “freedom and unity” – and takes away their individual choice.

On the other side of the issue, both federal and state public health officials are arguing for the public health benefit of having a high percentage of children vaccinated from common diseases. Because of the philosophical exemption, there has already been a documented increase in pertussis, or whooping cough. The state saw more than 100 cases of pertussis, which is easily preventable with a vaccine, but can be deadly without one.

Vermont records show that the percentage of kindergardeners with all the required vaccines decreased from 93 percent in 2005 to 83 percent in 2010. Nearly six percent of the children enrolled in Vermont public schools have some kind of vaccination exemption.

But, Vermont is only one state of 50. What does this mean for the country as a whole? If the Vermont legislation stands, could more states continue to eradicate the rights of parents to make the ultimate call on their child’s health? Regardless of if you think vaccines are a godsend or a health hazard, this is the United States – a country where we are supposed to respect the individual’s right to choose. I personally think all children should be required to have certain vaccinations, but I also think it’s important for the state to accommodate for others’ religious reasons. There is a gray area where it’s hard to say whether the state should have authority over parents’ rights to their children’s health, especially when they use the religion card as an excuse. However, I really think the child’s health should come over the parents’ religion.

Heaven on Earth

Since our kingdom isn’t here on Earth should we as Christians worry about making an impact on our government? Or should we wait for Christ to come back and establish his throne and in the mean time try to make converts?

I think this is an interesting question especially since Islam has a big influence on the government in societies where it is heavily practiced. What would our lives and government be like without religious influence? Should we as Americans take the advice of Rousseau’s civil religion from The Social ContractRousseau would argue that religion is a good and necessary thing for society stating that “at first men had no kings but gods”. Is there a need for a god of every society and if so how do we determine who or what that god is?

I don’t think religion can ever be removed from society nor do I think that removal of religion would be a good thing. If fact we know from the book of Acts that persecution or attempts to remove Christianity only made it expand. So how do we as Christians make an impact in our society in love while at the same time realizing that there is so much more to come?

Religious liberty v. Child rights

I wanted to make a post to go along with Grant’s presentation the other day on the idea of separation ( or lack there of ) of the Church and State. One of the issues that I have really been struggling with working out has been the outlawing of circumcisions to be performed on newborns for religious reasons. On the one hand, there is this idea of where does the state draw the line on what is “legal” for religious liberty? This reminded me of the Smith decision on Native Americans using an illegal, hallucinogenic drug called peyote in their religious ceremonies. This is because this is an example of the government being able to determine what a religion CANNOT do. This goes along with this idea of outlawing circumcision. This is another example of government stating what can and cannot be allowed under religious liberty clauses. However, as I began to think more on this topic, I found there to be a major difference between the ideas do to the fact that the child cannot consent to this kind of “religious coercion” and “body mutilation” (at least how the opponents of circumcision would put it).

This second area of concern for me is this “age of consent” thinking in religion. How is the government able to say when a child is able to make a choice like this if it is based on a religion. It’s reminds me of the early colonies and the idea of having a “conversion experience”, and if you did not have one of these experiences then you could not become a member of the Puritan church. Well, it’s a similar principle here except the government is telling you when you are old enough to have these “experiences.” What if someone is the age of 10 or 12? Would he be barred from having the ability to have the procedure done?

Lastly, I struggle with people being anti-circumcision on the basis of the rights of the child, but the person also is pro-abortion. Here’s why. Science has told us that a human is a human form conception.When the 23 chromosomes from the mother and 23 chromosomes from the father combine, a cell with 46 chromosomes is created. This cell can now only be a human being if unaltered. However, in the case of abortion, the child seems to have no rights. I believe that the child inside the womb should have the same rights inside as outside. However, I am conflicted in the fact that the I also believe that the parents should have the right to raise their children how they see fit including their child’s religious upbringing.

Moderation in Trade Freedom

I love the free market. This may make me a nerd, but my heart beats faster when I see a graph reach equilibrium or see money multiply peacefully and everyone involved better off. I’m the sort of guy who will trade candy with you, not because I want your candy, but because I love seeing specialization and comparative advantage at work in tiny models. With this said, however, I must recognize that, like most guilty pleasures, the free market is not a solution to all international problems. There are, tragically, times when the right solution is not free trade. I say this with the understanding that when a voluntary exchange is made both parties are well off. I say this with the understanding that theoretically a system with freer trade is one hundred percent of the time more efficient and productive than a system more controlled trade. Yet free trade is not a panacea. So to this end, I will touch on three ways in which free trade is not always the right solution, or not always a replacement for other kinds of power. This hurts but sometimes the truth hurts. My relationship with free trade must be an honest one; we can’t keep lying to each other.

First and foremost, there are real, legitimate reasons to limit trade. Some nations have absolutely no comparative advantage for growing crops, they are limited on land and aren’t that good at it in the first place (Japan, for example). In a free trade regime, such a nation would simply import all of their food. This would make everyone in the nation slightly more wealthy, and their children wouldn’t have to take field trips to farms. Everyone is happy. Until there is a war. If this seems ridiculous to the reader, I urge you to consider that living in our time of relative Pax Americana we have forgotten how frequent and devastating war has been in the past, and how every hour of peace should be looked upon less as a norm and more as a gracious gift of God to an undeserving humanity. We have nukes, one might say, we have the UN, we have America! How could there ever be war? I entreat anyone making this argument to remember the swiftness with which international systems change. Trade barriers to protect domestic agriculture are important, even though I freely admit that they make the system less efficient and everyone in the world slightly less wealthy. Furthermore, it isn’t just a war that could render domestic agriculture necessary, almost any large crises could put strain on food importation. It also puts a remarkable amount of control in the hands of whoever happens to be driving, protecting, or watching your rice boat. So although it pains me to say it, agriculture must be protected.

Treading deeper into the waters of protectionism, I now turn to manufacturing. I understand that complaints about outsourcing have weak economics to defend them, every job that goes overseas also means cheaper stuff all around, so the effect is both positive and negative, I understand that. You can even take the wind out of the emotional argument by saying that they person overseas can tell a sob story about not getting a job just as much as our laid off worker can tell a sob story about losing a job. It doesn’t make it easier to deal with, but the argument isn’t all that helpful for our purposes. However, there is a legitimate reason to protect industry domestically: conflict again. Having already dismissed idealistic claims of our new era of peace, it is now important to remember that a nation without manufacturing and heavy industry simply cannot well wage war. Even a peaceful war (peaceful in that mostly people overseas died instead of at home) like the Cold War relied in many ways on the domestic manufacturing ability of each nation. Combined with agriculture, research and development, and training, manufacturing plays a huge role in determining a nation’s ability to fight. Yes, nations have survived by importing weapons before, but no one wants to be in that position (and it’s a bad way to win a war, you might end up selling your overseas bases like the UK http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lend-Lease ). As inefficient and impoverishing as it is, protection of manufacturing is extremely important in any time of crisis, and I again repeat that the crisis doesn’t even have to be a war to require manufacturing, it is simply the most likely given man’s propensity to “politics by other means” (to quote Clausewitz).

Finally (and this one causes me the most grief to admit), there are times when the protection of infant industries can necessitate a degree of protectionism. I say this with the caveat that nine out of ten times this excuse is employed it does more harm than good and ends up setting one of the nation’s industries laughably behind the times (look at cars in India before the ’90s). With that said, however, a nation must start somewhere. It is not healthy for a nation’s economy to be entirely dependent on foreign corporations, and some developing nations are simply not very good at anything yet. A natural resource based economy is a cycle that is hard to break, and almost every major powerful economy today got its start with a small amount of protectionism (most of which was harmful, but some of which appears to have been necessary). This reason for protective polices, however, is the most likely to be abused and the least useful for a very developed and strong economy like the United States (especially in non-vital industries).

Having examined the areas where even the most proud free-marketeer should check his zeal, there remains some misconceptions to examine. There is this idea that a strong economy coupled with free trade translates into global power, and that the US could maintain influence by scaling down her military and liberalizing her trade. Unfortunately, there are three reasons why this is a light form of pure poppycock, and all of them stem from the role of the military in relation to the free market: Without the military there would be no market power.

The US is primarily a trading power, in many ways we have inherited the old British Empire in the seat we inhabit. The US economy runs on trade, the higher the volume of trade in the world, the more US power grows. North America has become the global center of trade and finance. Much like the Empire from whom America inherited the position of trade power, the US maintains a mind-bogglingly massive force to sustain this international regime. First and foremost, the US Navy enables trade to occur on our terms. There is a reason that the US has more aircraft carriers than the rest of the world put together (even more if you count amphibious assault carriers): we need them. The result of the dizzying size of the US Navy is that the world’s oceanic trade routes are free and relatively safe. It is all but impossible to cut off any seaborne trade without the blessing of the United States (note that when Iran threatens to close of her own straight, the US sends ships). This is reinforced by absolutely massive military bases all over the world enabling other sorts of deployment and control. It would seem puzzling that the US would be so full of good will to spread freedom and democracy and other happy sounding words if it was ignored that the US thrives on trade. The fact of the matter is that the US economy relies on the US military, and the US military is in turn fed by the strong US economy (and debt).

The US military also performs an amazing diplomatic service. It is worth noting that no other nations have much of a navy to speak of. US allies can count on US Navies, especially if they keep US Naval bases in their ports. The US may not be the world’s policeman, but she is certainly the ocean’s lifeguard. There is an enormous incentive to do whatever the United States wants if you depend on the US for naval power, and what the US wants is trade.

More navy means more strategic alliances.

More strategic alliances mean more trading partners.

More trading partners means more wealth.

More wealth means more navy.

It is also important to remember that there is no other guarantee that trade will continue besides the US military. Yes, other nations benefit from the global trade regime, but no one benefits as much as the US, and American control of trade is an incredible advantage in any issue of economics or diplomacy. Could a strong dollar and strong economy have influence? Yes, but if the US does not have a foot in every market, there is no guarantee of future trade growth and globalization. If the US relies entirely on the strength of her economy to effect the world, the ball is no longer in her court. America’s every action would only be in reaction and any change in global trade could cut the US economy to the quick (such as a major oil shipping route closing unexpectedly).

Finally, there remains the argument that when nations are sufficiently economically linked, war becomes less and less likely. This variation of the Kantian “Democratic Peace” theory holds that nations who depend on each other for international trade are unlikely to go to war, making military less important than open trade. Unfortunately for humanity, this has often proven not to be the case. Recall that similar arguments were made on the eve of the first world war. Yes, many European nations were economically interdependent, but circumstances changed and war overcame even the tightest economic bonds. The fact is that circumstances change and events take place. Economic peace will never fully eradicate wars. There will come times when desperation leads nations to either bite the hand that feeds them or take economic damage in the short term for perceived long term victory. Nothing in the international political system remains constant, and one year’s economic allies may be the next year’s political enemies. It is true that economic interdependence can overcome some conflicts, but it is foolish to assume that it will overcome all.

In summation, I still value the free market, and in nine out of ten cases I would love more free, more open trade with the nations of the world (especially as an extension of US influence and soft power), but trade restrictions are not an evil that must never be considered. There are times when trade restrictions are necessary, and times when they must be pursued.

Tariffs Don’t Boost the Economy

There is something that bothers me about much of the thinking Spicer shared with us today. It is that the economy can be controlled through government interaction.
This foundational thought is what provokes governments to enact tariffs, embargoes, or special taxes on imports and exports (tariffs). The argument is rather simple. America produces cars – let’s say for $5,000 each. Consumers are willing to pay the price and purchase lots of cars, creating a business that the government gets to tax. But one day Korea comes forward with a car of their own and they sell it for $4,500. Some consumers do not like the Korean cars because they are too small, others prefer to support the American car for patriotic reasons, but a portion of consumers who had previously bought American decide that the Korean car is acceptable and purchase it. The government notices two things: 1) they don’t get as many taxes from the American car company because it no longer sells as many cars and 2) it cannot tax the Korean company for the products created outside America’s borders.
“This will not do!” cries the government. “We are losing revenue and jobs. What are we to do.”
Thankfully a witty man offers a solution “You simply tax the Korean products before they get to market.”
This seemed quite wise so the government did just that. They taxed each imported car an additional $500, making the price equal to American cars. While some people still bought Korean, the government offset their revenues with the tariff and some new jobs were recreated in the American car company.
“Problem solved!” says the government. “Thank goodness we were so smart.”
“Wait!” cried a voice, “you don’t see what you’ve done. You are hurting the people.”
The government is confused. How could they be hurting the people. They are bringing in as much revenue as they used to and the spending flow is what it used to be. According to their economists calculations, things are good.
The voice sighed and began to explain to government the invisible capital they lost. See, when Americans spent only $4,500 on a car, they kept $500 more than if the Korean cars didn’t exist. They could choose to do many things with this $500.
It could be that one man simply spent the $500 on a television. The government would still get revenues from the purchase and there would have been more production in the economy (people previously could not afford a $500 television when they were spending $5,000 on a car).
Perhaps one family wanted to save the money for their child’s college fund. This money grew over time and eventually created a highly educated individual – a whole lot of capital. What’s more, the bank was able to lend money out – backed by the $500 – to a perspective business owner. The owner has a good business plan and is able to successfully sell his product. By this act of saving, there has been created the immediate profit of the business owner, the profit of the bank, and the creation of more potential capital in the college graduate.
“But what about the jobs we lost!” cries the government.
The voice continued it’s explanation.
Yes, because there was a drop in sales, the American company had to fire 200 employees. This was regrettable for the 200 employees who no longer had a job, but it ensured that the American company could continue to make a profit. And the 200 former employees are not just sitting idle. Some of them decided to pick themselves up by their bootstraps and start their own business. They created a solid business plan and received a loan from the bank – thank goodness interest rates were low! – and made a living in that manner. Others still found employment with the Korean company. See, with the booming business the Koreans had in America, they figured out a way to make their cars for a slightly more expensive price than in Korea, but they saved money in shipping. So they opened up a factory in America and needed employees to work the line. Thank goodness there was already a workforce of trained car manufacturers!
Free markets have a way of managing themselves. There are many factors that go into it, not just the price of a product. However one of the key components to the marketplace is capital. Capital cannot be increased unless new raw material is found or manufacturing processes are made more efficient. When the government interferes with this process by propping up specific industries, they lose out on the potential capital that could be gained otherwise.

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