Quotulatiousness

December 9, 2017

The Trudeau sideshow in China

Filed under: Cancon, China, Economics, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Colby Cosh on figuring out why Justin Trudeau’s trip to China didn’t end in the glory he and his handlers were clearly anticipating:

My favourite part of the fair has always been the sideshow. And when it comes to Justin Trudeau’s official visit to China, the sideshow definitely turned out to be the most interesting part of the proceedings. Interpreting the outcome of the visit involves a certain amount of old-fashioned Kremlinology, applied to both sides, but it seems fairly clear that Trudeau was gulled into providing Chinese leadership with some celebrity glamour in exchange for a big pile of nothing on Chinese-Canadian trade.

He came to China with hopes for progress on a future trade deal that would involve China accepting new labour, gender, and environment standards. But he collided with the newly aggressive Xi Jinping doctrine — a change in the official Chinese mood that insists on the country’s superpower status. China-watchers know that over the past year, in a process that culminated at the 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress in October, China has become more explicit, and more chauvinist, in claiming to pursue an independent, indigenous alternative model of economic and social progress.

[…]

Western commentators on China have, for a long time, had an implicit vision of a re-emerging bipolar world, with China in the old place of Russia as an ideological challenger to Western democracies. Xi is taking them at their word. China’s aspirations are no longer to follow or imitate the West, but to out-compete it on its own terms, without any of the untidy, politically dis-unifying elements of Western life — independent universities, newspapers that aren’t trash, multiple political parties, and the like.

Given this background, Trudeau arguably arrived in China at exactly the wrong moment. Formal talks on a China-Canada free trade agreement would have been the first ever between China and a G7 country. It turned out that there was more value for Xi in slapping the hand of friendship. The Global Times, an organ of the party’s People’s Daily newspaper network, published a cranky English-language editorial in the midst of Trudeau’s visit.

The editorial attacked the “superiority and narcissism” of Canadian newspapers, as an alternative to jabbing the prime ministerial guest in the eye personally. But it is easy enough to read between the lines. “Trade between China and Canada is mutually beneficial, more significant than the ideology upon which the latter’s media has been focusing,” wrote the tabloid’s editor, Hu Xijin. “When Canada imports a pair of shoes from China, will Canada ask how much democracy and human rights are reflected in those shoes?”

If Trudeau had been hoping to wipe away memories of his embarrassing stunt at the TPP negotiations by a Pierre-Trudeau-like Chinese breakthrough, the Chinese government clearly saw him coming a few thousand miles away and ensured that no such PR coup would be allowed.

November 5, 2017

QotD: Explaining comparative advantage

Actually, it’s dead easy. No math, no arithmetic. It is in fact the soul of common sense. But you have to understand that comparative advantage is the principle of cooperation, as against competition. The word “advantage” gets us thinking of competition, which is perfectly reasonable in our own individual lives — we do compete with other businesses or other writers or whomever. But the system as a whole, whatever it is, does well of course by cooperating, in business or science or family life. It’s not all we do, admittedly. We also compete. But within a household or a company or a world economy the job is to produce a result in the best way, cooperatively. If you are running a household or a sports team or a world economy, you would want to assign roles to the various contributors to the common purpose sensibly. It turns out to be precisely on grounds of comparative advantage.

Consider Mum and 12-year old Oliver, who are to spend Saturday morning tidying up the garage. Oliver is incompetent in everything compared with Mum. He cannot sweep the floor as quickly as she can, and he is truly hopeless in sorting through the masses of rubbish that garages grow spontaneously. Mum, that is, has an absolute advantage in every sub-task in tidying up the garage. Oliver is like Bangladesh, which is poor because it makes everything — knit goods and medical reactors — with more labor and capital than Britain does. Its output per person is 8.4 percent of what it is in Britain. So too Oliver.

What to do? Let Mum do everything? No, of course not. That would not produce the most tidied garage in a morning’s work. Oliver should obviously be assigned to the broom, in which his disadvantage compared with Mum is comparatively least — hence “comparative advantage.” An omniscient central planner of the garage-tidying would assign Mum and Oliver just that way. So would an omniscient central planner of world production and trade. In the event, there’s no need for an international planner. The market, if Trump does not wreck it, does the correct assignment of tasks worldwide. Bangladesh does not sit down and let Britain make everything merely because Britain is “competitive” absolutely in everything. And in fact Bangladesh’s real income has been rising smartly in recent years precisely because it has specialized in knit goods. It has closed its ears to the siren song of protecting its medical reactor industry. It gets the equipment for cancer treatment from Britain.

Comparative advantage means assigning resources of labor and capital to the right jobs, whatever the absolute productivity of the economy. It applies within a single family, or within a single company, or within Britain, or within the world economy, all of which are made better off by such obvious efficiencies. Following comparative advantage enriches us all, because it gets the job done best. Policies commonly alleged to achieve absolute advantage lead to protection — that is, extortion, crony capitalism, and the rest in aid of “competitiveness.”

Dierdre N. McCloskey, “A Punter’s Guide to a True but Non-Obvious Proposition in Economics”, 2017-10-16.

November 2, 2017

QotD: Free trade versus modern “Free Trade” agreements

Filed under: Economics, Environment, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Once upon a time, free-trade agreements were about just that: free trade. You abolish your tariffs and import restrictions, I’ll abolish mine. Trade increases, countries specialize in what they’re best equipped to do, efficiency increases, price levels drop, everybody wins.

Then environmentalists began honking about exporting pollution and demanded what amounted to imposing First World regulation on Third World countries who – in general – wanted the jobs and the economic stimulus from trade more than they wanted to make environmentalists happy. But the priorities of poor brown people didn’t matter to rich white environmentalists who already had theirs, and the environmentalists had political clout in the First World, so they won. Free-trade agreements started to include “environmental safeguards”.

Next, the labor unions, frightened because foreign workers might compete down domestic wages, began honking about abusive Third World labor conditions about which they didn’t really give a damn. They won, and “free trade” agreements began to include yet more impositions of First World pet causes on Third World countries. The precedent firmed up: free trade agreements were no longer to be about “free” trade, but rather about managing trade in the interests of wealthy First Worlders.

Eric S. Raymond, “TPP and the Law of Unintended Consequences”, Armed and Dangerous, 2016-04-12.

October 1, 2017

Deirdre McCloskey on the rise of economic liberty

Samizdata‘s Johnathan Pearce linked to this Deirdre McCloskey article I hadn’t seen yet:

Since the rise during the late 1800s of socialism, New Liberalism, and Progressivism it has been conventional to scorn economic liberty as vulgar and optional — something only fat cats care about. But the original liberalism during the 1700s of Voltaire, Adam Smith, Tom Paine, and Mary Wollstonecraft recommended an economic liberty for rich and poor understood as not messing with other peoples’ stuff.

Indeed, economic liberty is the liberty about which most ordinary people care.

Adam Smith spoke of “the liberal plan of [social] equality, [economic] liberty, and [legal] justice.” It was a good idea, new in 1776. And in the next two centuries, the liberal idea proved to be astonishingly productive of good and rich people, formerly desperate and poor. Let’s not lose it.

Well into the 1800s most thinking people, such as Henry David Thoreau, were economic liberals. Thoreau around 1840 invented procedures for his father’s little factory making pencils, which elevated Thoreau and Son for a decade or so to the leading maker of pencils in America. He was a businessman as much as an environmentalist and civil disobeyer. When imports of high-quality pencils finally overtook the head start, Thoreau and Son graciously gave way, turning instead to making graphite for the printing of engravings.

That’s the economic liberal deal. You get to offer in the first act a betterment to customers, but you don’t get to arrange for protection later from competitors. After making your bundle in the first act, you suffer from competition in the second. Too bad.

In On Liberty (1859) the economist and philosopher John Stuart Mill declared that “society admits no right, either legal or moral, in the disappointed competitors to immunity from this kind of suffering; and feels called on to interfere only when means of success have been employed which it is contrary to the general interest to permit — namely, fraud or treachery, and force.” No protectionism. No economic nationalism. The customers, prominent among them the poor, are enabled in the first through third acts to buy better and cheaper pencils.

[…]

Indeed, economic liberty is the liberty about which most ordinary people care. True, liberty of speech, the press, assembly, petitioning the government, and voting for a new government are in the long run essential protections for all liberty, including the economic right to buy and sell. But the lofty liberties are cherished mainly by an educated minority. Most people — in the long run foolishly, true — don’t give a fig about liberty of speech, so long as they can open a shop when they want and drive to a job paying decent wages. A majority of Turks voted in favour of the rapid slide of Turkey after 2013 into neo-fascism under Erdoğan. Mussolini and Hitler won elections and were popular, while vigorously abridging liberties. Even a few communist governments have been elected — witness Venezuela under Chavez.

August 4, 2017

Harry Potter and the Economic Segregation of Muggles

Filed under: Books, Economics, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

Published on 3 Aug 2017

Harry Potter contains a ton of incredible lessons about society, authoritarianism, and the power of love and individualism in the face of people who would exclude others based on group identity. But something people don’t think about as much are some of the economic lessons that we can draw from a world segregated into wizards and muggles.

On this episode of Out of Frame, we take a look at what the world might look like if magic and non-magic people were actually allowed to trade and interact with each other without the Ministry of Magic obliviating and arresting people for it.

For a transcript of this episode and more engaging content, visit:
www.FEE.org

July 19, 2017

“The Economics of Trade” | THINK 2017

Filed under: Britain, Economics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on Jul 17, 2017

What exactly is Free Trade and is it always the best policy?

Professor Don Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek discusses the morality of capitalist exchange and its inherent advantages.

June 26, 2017

“Ah, the Comeau case. Schwisberg says it could change everything – knock down all the barriers”

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Liberty — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

It’s ridiculous that 150 years into Confederation, and we still don’t have free trade within Canada:

If you’re on vacation abroad somewhere this summer and find yourself explaining to people over dinner what makes Canada so unique and special, use the story about Gerard Comeau and his beer run back in 2012. There is no more Canadian story than that.

Comeau is a Canadian who, looking for the best bargain he could, drove to a Canadian town a few miles from his home in Canada, bought 14 cases of beer and three bottles of liquor from Canadian beer and liquor stores, then returned to his home. In Canada.

A squad of plainclothes Mounties with binoculars, it turned out, had him under surveillance, according to his lawyer. On his way home from the Canadian town to his Canadian home, he was intercepted and handed a ticket for $292.50 by uniformed Canadian officers who then seized all the alcohol he’d purchased.

His Canadian crime: his beer run had crossed one of Canada’s internal borders. He’d driven from New Brunswick into Quebec. As far as New Brunswick was concerned, that made him a smuggler.

Sixteen other people were charged that day in the same sting operation, but Comeau had more spine than most and fought the ticket. Some smart lawyers from Ontario and Western Canada got involved, and – my god, I love it when things like this happen – he won.

A New Brunswick judge ruled that the province’s law against importing alcohol from other provinces violated the Constitution Act, Sec. 121, which states: All Articles of the Growth, Produce, or Manufacture of any one of the Provinces shall, from and after the Union, be admitted free into each of the other Provinces.

The ruling shocked New Brunswick and most of the other provinces, which consider Sec. 121 to be one of the most horrible and un-Canadian sentences in the Canadian Constitution, something that should be ignored at all costs.

May 7, 2017

Canada-US trade relationship, visually

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Economics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

With all the talk (mostly from President Trump) about abandoning existing trade relationships like NAFTA, it’s worth looking at just how closely related the US and Canadian economies are (below the fold, because the graphic is yuuuuuge):

(more…)

May 6, 2017

Supreme Court to review Prohibition-era inter-provincial alcohol regulations

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Alan White reports that the Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hearing an appeal of a New Brunswick court decision:

The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear an appeal of a New Brunswick court ruling that declared it unconstitutional to limit the amount of alcohol someone can bring into the province.

At the centre of the case is Gerard Comeau of Tracadie, N.B. He was acquitted by a provincial court judge of exceeding provincial importation limits on beer and liquor that can be brought into New Brunswick.

Comeau was charged in 2012. RCMP had stopped him after he entered New Brunswick from Quebec with 14 cases of beer and three bottles of liquor. New Brunswick’s Liquor Control Act sets a personal importation limit of 12 pints of beer or one bottle of alcohol or wine.

Provincial court Judge Ronald LeBlanc ruled the liquor restriction was unconstitutional because Sec. 121 of the 1867 Constitution states products from any province “shall … be admitted free into each of the other provinces.”

Lawyer Ian Blue, who acted as part of Comeau’s defence team on behalf of the Canadian Constitution Foundation, says the case stands to have major implications.

Blue said the federal and provincial governments are currently discussing trade matters pertaining to NAFTA, milk marketing boards, softwood lumber tariffs, but “they’re not looking at this Comeau case.”

“This Comeau case, with the Supreme Court decision, could have more profound effects on interprovincial trade barriers than President Trump could,” said Blue. “That’s how important this case is.”

May 3, 2017

Softwood lumber, again

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Economics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Last week, Megan McArdle provided a quick look at the son of the bride of the revenge of the softwood lumber dispute monster:

According to American lumber producers, this is because of the nefarious subsidies the Canadian government has granted to its timber producers. In America, most softwood timbering takes place on private land, and the lumber is priced to recover the full cost of owning and maintaining many acres of trees. In Canada, forest resources tend to be owned by the government, which sets “stumpage fees” (the cost for cutting down a tree, which used to be assessed per stump and is now usually assessed by board feet or cubic meters [PDF]).

The American producers complain that these fees are set too low, providing an unfair subsidy for Canadian timber, especially because British Columbia (which has a lot of timberland) bans the export of Canadian logs, so that American lumber mills are unable to get in on this sweet, sweet deal.

For variety, American producers occasionally also complain that Canada is “dumping” (basically meaning that a country is selling goods in a foreign market below the price at home. Since this is — except in rare cases such as pharmaceuticals — a stupid business practice, accusations of dumping tend to exceed actual instances by a healthy margin.)

[…]

The history of litigation on this is long, rich and arcane. Since the 1980s, the U.S. and Canada have been locked in a cycle whereby the U.S. complains that Canadian softwood lumber is too darn cheap, complaints are filed with various entities, and eventually both sides decide it’s easier to come to some sort of settlement rather than subject everyone to another endless hearing on the minutiae of the lumber industry. Then an agreement expires, American lumber producers say “Now’s our chance, guys! We’re going over the top!” and the magical cycle of birth and death, conflict and resolution, begins once again in the forest lands.

When trade bodies get around to ruling, those rulings are often mixed: “Yeah, okay, maybe there’s some subsidy in there somewhere, but you Americans are wildly overreacting, so cool it with the huge tariffs.” Which was basically my take on the dispute in 2004, when I last covered it. Research does not reveal any good reason to revise that view, especially because Canadian stumpage has evolved somewhat over the years. British Columbia now uses auctions [PDF] in its coastal forest areas, which should tend to drive the price of stumpage there to par with the world market.

We should also note that any subsidy, however bad for American softwood lumber producers, is actually good for the vast majority of Americans who do not work in forestry. This morning, people were throwing wild numbers around about how much a tariff would increase the price of a house or a box spring. I’d take those numbers with a hefty dose of salt, but undoubtedly, they will drive the price of softwood lumber products up somewhat, which means less money in the pocket of you, The Modern American Consumer. So even if American timber producers were completely right and their tariff were warranted, the American consumer would suffer.

April 20, 2017

QotD: Free trade versus freer trade

Filed under: Economics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

No trade agreement is necessary for a government to adopt this ideal policy [true free trade]. And because real-world trade agreements universally fail to achieve complete free trade, real-world trade agreements are universally less than ideal. Each such agreement can and should be criticized for failing to achieve an ideal that is economically not only possible, but easily economically possible and immensely beneficial.

But political realities being unavoidable – and freer trade being superior to not-freer trade – freer trade is an acceptable real-world outcome. In my assessment (as in the assessment of many others), most so-called free-trade agreements make trade freer. (A more-accurate name for them would be “freer-trade agreements.”) And for this reason such agreements deserve the support of proponents of free markets if the only plausible option is the status quo of not-freer trade.

For free-market proponents to oppose freer trade because it isn’t fully free trade is akin to opposing cuts in marginal tax rates because the proposed cuts don’t eliminate taxes altogether. It’s akin to opposing legalization of marijuana if not all drugs are legalized. Or akin to a refusal to join with, or to support, those who oppose raising the minimum wage on the grounds that those opponents aren’t actively working for a complete abolition of minimum wages.

It is true that NAFTA, WTO agreements, TPP, and other such bilateral and multilateral freer-trade agreements leave in place many trade barriers and specify the always-too-slow timing of tariff reductions. But these arrangements are no more instruments of “managed trade” than are government policies that prohibit the sale of some drugs, sex, and body organs – and impose taxes on the sales of all other goods, – instruments of “managed consumption.” While I argue for eliminating all of these promotions and taxes, if such elimination isn’t politically feasible, then any move to reduce the number of prohibitions and the rate of taxation will make market freer and, hence, worthy of the support of proponents of free markets.

Don Boudreaux, “Bonus Quotation of the Day…”, Café Hayek, 2016-11-22.

February 15, 2017

CANZUK gets a boost from the Financial Post

Filed under: Australia, Britain, Cancon, Economics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Andrew Lilico discusses the potential benefits to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK if these countries work on forming a four-way free trade deal:

The idea of CANZUK begins with a free-trade agreement, free-movement area (the freedom to live and work in each others’ countries) and defence-partnership agreement. O’Toole favours all three of these main planks, and he’s right that it all makes perfect sense.

The CANZUK countries, working closely together, would make a formidable contribution to world affairs. They would have the largest total landmass of any free-trade zone. They would collectively constitute the fourth-largest market in the world, after the U.S., EU and China.

Their combined military spending would be the world’s third largest, well ahead of Russia, and on European Geostrategy’s geopolitical power index, the CANZUK countries collectively have a strength around 70 per cent of that of the U.S. — and nearly twice that of China or France. With a combined global trade footprint nearly twice as big as Japan’s, the CANZUK countries would have substantial influence in opening up global markets and guiding global regulation across a range of issues from banking to shipping to the environment.

What makes CANZUK a natural union is perhaps self-evident. Canada, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand share a similar culture, similar values, and analogous legal, business and social systems that allow us to get along easily and interchangeably. (The term CANZUK was originally a term diplomats used to refer to these four countries because of how frequently they would vote the same way at the UN.)

Most of the main issues our political parties focus upon are instantly comprehensible to anyone from another CANZUK state. Our laws and constitutions share many features, making trade deals and mutual regulatory recognition a relatively straightforward matter. Our citizens enjoy a roughly similar per capita GDP (which is just not true of the other Commonwealth nations with similar constitutions) and face few hurdles in integrating into another CANZUK country’s labour market. Our societies are peaceful and orderly.

February 11, 2017

Ici Londres: Protectionism never works

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on Feb 8, 2017

February 10, 2017

Gadzooks! It’s CANZUK!

Filed under: Australia, Britain, Cancon, Economics, Pacific — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Ted Campbell is touting the benefits of a trade pact among the “other” Anglosphere nations (Canada-Australia-New Zealand-United Kingdom):

First, I am a committed free(er) trader. My reading of history is that free(er) trade always leads to greater peace and prosperity and that, conversely, protectionism usually paves the way for recessions, depressions and wars.

Second, the time seems ripe. Given the global trade situation ~ Brexit, Trump, the demise of the TPP, etc ~ and given that Canada (and Australia and New Zealand, too, I guess) and Britain are interested in a free(er) trade deal it might be an opportune moment to hit the pause button, briefly, and engage in four way negotiation since we are, all four, likely to have very similar aims. Canada has, probably, reached tentative and tentatively acceptable agreements with Australia and New Zealand in the TPP negotiations and we have made equally tentative and acceptable agreements with Britain during the CETA negotiations. It shouldn’t be beyond the wit of men and women of good-will to broaden and deepen those agreement for the mutual benefit of all four partners. (Although Mr O’Toole’s professed support for supply management may be a problem as it is, I think, one of the things we agreed to sacrifice for the TPP and it, ending supply management of the egg and dairy sector, is a long standing Australian/NZ demand.) It might make it easier for all four of us to deal with America, the ASEAN nations, China, the European Union and India, amongst others if we are reasonably united, homogeneous trade block of four friendly nations with a population of (Dr Lilico’s figures) 128 million people, a combined GDP of $(US) 6.5 Trillion, and global trade worth more than US$3.5 Trillion (versus around US$4.8 T for the U.S., US$4.2 T for China, or US$1.7 T for Japan).

Militarily, the four might find some grounds for further and even deeper cooperation ~ ideally, in the long term, on shared defence requirements definition … deciding, in advance, to harmonize operational requirements for “big ticket” items like ships, aircraft, tanks and electronics … and then, whenever politically possible, to enter into combined, multinational procurement exercises to leverage the advantages of the greater size of the combined requirement for lower prices. This is a possibility that is fraught with political difficulty but which could deliver real, measurable financial benefits to all four countries.

Equally, the four nations, acting in concert, perhaps with Singapore added, too, might be able to exert more and better influence on e.g. United Nations peacekeeping operations.

February 8, 2017

Seeing the elephant (economic edition)

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Stephen Gordon says it’s a dangerous fantasy to think that the Canadian economy could cope with a Prime Minister who tries to “get tough” over Il Donalduce‘s trade concerns:

Pierre Trudeau once described the Canadian relationship with the United States as “like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered the beast … one is affected by every twitch and grunt.” It is now Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s bad luck – and ours – to be bunking down with a surly and irascible elephant.

It’s worth dwelling on just how asymmetric the economic relationship is between Canada and the United States. It’s sometimes pointed out that Canada is the largest market for U.S. exports, and that’s true as far as it goes. But U.S. dependence on the Canadian export market is an order of magnitude smaller than Canadian dependence on exports to the U.S. Exports of goods and services to the U.S. accounted for 22.8 per cent of Canadian GDP in 2015; U.S. exports to Canada were only 1.9 per cent of U.S. GDP.

There’s not much that could or should have been done to reduce this dependence on the U.S. market. All the factors that determine the volume of trade flows — physical proximity, market size, linguistic and cultural ties, similar legal systems and so forth — all point to the U.S. It’s always been a good idea to promote trade links with other countries, but the U.S. would still be our dominant export market even in a world in which the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership were already in place.

So it really doesn’t make sense to think that a Canadian Prime Minister can “stand up” and “fight back” against U.S. sanctions, or that Canada’s bargaining position would be somehow strengthened if another person were running the government. The trade numbers would still be the same.

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