Friday, August 04, 2006

Trade not MAD creates Smithian Wealth

One of the problems with debating the ideas of Islamic authors is the issue of their reaction to criticism. If I disagree with a contributor. brought up as I have been, in the circumstances of political, religious and academic freedom, I do not expect to be charged with heinous crimes, or worse punishment, for my disagreement.

With the outer fringes of Islam their reaction to dissent, both within and outwith their own community is, frankly, murderous. So when an Islamist author rants about ‘Western’ values and expresses beliefs that are not what we practice, but accuses us of something evil and historically responsible for every sin a people can commit, there is a slight hesitation in case his passionate ire is directed towards this western critic.

These thoughts crossed my mind while reading and article by Abid Ullah Jan, ‘Understanding Tony Blair's Desperation’, in Media Monitors Network (4th August, 2006). Here is a paragraph from it which caught my attention:

No one can deny that first there was up-front colonialism, then there was covert colonialism hiding under the cover of Adam Smith free trade and covert destabilizations, and now a hyper-colonialism is planned under the cover story of reconstruction and the same unequal free trade rules. The bottom line is always the same, lock the world into monopoly capitalism’s legal structure (Adam Smith free trade and exclusive title to nature’s wealth and technologies), hold down the price of labor, control the price of commodities through overproduction (relative to needs [determined by purchasing power] of monopolized markets), through those low wages prevent the development of consumer markets on the periphery of empire, and thus siphon the wealth of the world to the imperial centers of capital".

Poor Adam Smith! Abid sweeps him up in a tirade that is as far as one can get from what he wrote about in the 18th century. Smith wrote long before ‘monopoly capitalism’ (in fact long before ‘capitalism’, a word invented in 1854 to describe the new phenomenon, then gathering force in the UK and elsewhere).

He had no part in colonialism, overt or covert, and regarded wars, especially for trivial ends, as anathema to his sole concern, which was about how a country – all countries! – could create conditions for the growth of their economies to progress towards opulence for all of their populations, especially the vast majority who, in poorer countries, remain poor, not because others are ‘rich’, but because their economies do not create the wealth to eradicate poverty.

The Wealth of Nations is not, and never was, a book about how to make Britain or any other country or region ruler of the world, a perspective constantly repeated by Abid, who appears to see conspiracies everywhere, in which ‘Bush and Blair’ apparently front for hidden forces somewhere, who intend to conquer the world for some nefarious purpose, though why is not explained.

Whatever one thinks of Bush or Blair, and many citizens of their respective countries do not feel required to worship them or not to criticise them; in both cases they demit office in turn over the next two-three years. Two new people will be elected peacefully to their jobs. The same cannot be said of most of the countries in the United Nations, whose rulers are immovable.

In the West we can and do discuss our history and severely criticise, sometimes fundamental, aspects of it. This seems not to be the way of Abid, who in a very long article, covering many centuries, does not have a single line, or phrase, of criticism of a single Islamic state’s history, and certainly not of Islam. I find that strange, and a little frightening.

True, he chides Bush and Blair for the existence of allies, like Musharef and Saudi princes, and for the problems of the Middle-East, especially for the existence of Israel, a land populated in the main by a Semitic nation of Jews, whose forefathers and mothers were in that land a thousand years and more before Islam.

Smith’s arguments for free trade were not about enslaving other countries. Countries that trade freely do not impoverish each other. Smith was clear on this. That the United States and the European Union are Protectionist entities, and do not practise free trade, has nothing to do with Smith’s advocacy of Free Trade.

What the developing countries need is not more war and strife (Somalia is the most recent classic case of ‘Man’s Avoidable Destruction’, or MAD, and what is going on in Gaza, Lebanon and Israel, is a longer lasting version of MAD), nor even so-called ‘aid’. They need trade, both with the rest of the world and with each other (the latter only 10 per cent of their current trade because each imposes high tariffs on its near neighbours).

Trade helps to create wealth – not gold, diamonds and currency – that is, it creates the growth in the ‘annual produce of the necessities and amusements of life’, as Smith put it. This raises people out of poverty; nothing else will.

I could go on but I fear it is talking to a person who does not listen. He is so convinced of his own rightness on everything, he sees conspiracies everywhere, he hates others with passion, including apostates within his religion and people of other religions too, he has found a ‘mission’ which he will not let go until the whole world agrees with him.

The only comfort, for this Westerner, is that he will end up disappointed, despite all the MAD he and his true believers inflict on others in the meantime.


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