Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Trading With The Enemy

CNN seems to imply that allowing Americans to sell cigarettes, brassieres and bull semen to folks suffering under the Islamofascist regime in power in Iran since the Carter era is evidence of political hypocrisy.

I beg to differ.

As mercantilist competition of earlier centuries illustrates, trade is tantamount to war. In this enlightened era in which we like to preach free trade, we have anything but free trade. When the Soviets were still the major bogeyman for Americans, the US' staunch anti-Communist allies in Japan were so wary of US as a threat to domestic rice producers that it seized (purportedly on grounds of national security) the few kilos of specimens an American exhibitor had brought to a Toyko trade show. You know, several little clear boxes with labels like "long grain" and "for sushi" or the like. If buyers knew rice grew in Texas for a few bucks a pound, they might not want to pay through the nose for the produce of Japanese farmers that, to maintain price competitiveness, was protected with an 800% import tariff.

Yes, 800%.

The United States maintains import tariffs, too. The question isn't whether the US will protect domestic producers, but which producers and in what percentage. A look at the tariff on sugar, for example, shows that not only do we tax it strangely (for example, Congress levies a greater tariff against an import of cane sugar than it does against beet sugar), but there's a lot of energy being spent figuring out what sugar tariffs do to its price over time. Carl Hiaasen's excellent Florida-set fiction includes some hilarious hijinx caused by sugar barons and their lobbying efforts; I wouldn't recommend the movie, but read the book. The things domestic lobbies accomplish ....

Who is allowed to bring what into a national market and at what price is a big deal to people in the market, and to people trying to sell into the market. Trade isn't an academic matter. There are some financial heavy-hitters who regard dependence on foreign-produced commodities as a serious threat (Pickens views petroleum imports for energy as such an albatross that he's investing in alternative energy.)

So CNN has figured out that over the last eight years, America's biggest export to Iran is addictive poisons for recreational use. When last I heard, Iran was the enemy. (UPDATE: one of this cycle's remaining U.S. presidential candidates gets this joke, though he probably lost political correctness points for spelling it out while the camera was rolling.) Iran's current regime had been so cast since overrunning the US embassy in Tehran in 1979 (even if the invasion was unconnected with the government, the new government's later conditioning of captives' release on political accommodations by the United States unequivocally ratified and endorsed the action), then subsequently parading the corpses of US servicemen who died in an ill-coordinated interdepartmental rescue mission. Jimmy Carter's museum web site paints these events in a slightly different light that I present, and I link it in the interest of equal time. Some of Iran's attacks have been pretty clever. However, Iran's Islamofascist government has not merely confined its attacks to other tyrannical regimes, but have targeted the interests of democratically-aligned targets. Doubt that Iran's agents work to undermine neighboring democracies is quenched by Iranian reprisals for thwarting its agents and admissions by co-workers. One would be unsurprised to learn that, despite official positions on the matter, efforts against various Iranian efforts have resulted in some activity that resulted in chasing Iranian agents home to Iran.

Of course, the US position is that it is against the government in power in Tehran, not against the people whose efforts to oust them have been thwarted by systematic efforts to ensure only Islamic fundamentalists have any chance of appearing on the ballot. For example, U.S. Secretary of State Rice has discussed opening a bureau in Tehran modeled after the one in Cuba, for cultural contacts and processing visas but not for diplomatic contacts. This would be immediately attributable to a propaganda effort, except that no U.S. administration has had a competent propaganda campaign since Truman threatened to continue using atomic bombs to end the capacity of Japan to wage war, after he'd dropped the last one he could order dropped. The probable intent of a new bureau in Tehran is to process visas for dissedents and businessmen whom the US would like to encourage in the view that the US is a great place to do business and to give talks about how life sucks under what passes among Islamist tyrants for an Islamic caliphate.

If the Japanese want to suck down Marlboros -- or if Americans can work out how to market them successfully, there will always be some folks who think addictions are about supply and not demand -- at the same time as they fight tooth and nail to beat Americans in the marketplace, let them. When I say tooth and nail, I mean the Japanese government made sure the most modern production mechanisms were affordable and that container ships the US were cheap to build by providing capital to Japanese industrialists at reduced interest rates, on the backs of Japanese taxpayers whose national debt per capita swelled far past Americans' own crazily-mounting Cold War debt. Life in Japan was so stressful one could buy insurance against, and get paid benefits for insured losses from, death due to overstress due to overwork. The Japanese even have a one-word name for this risk: karoshi. Hundreds of claims are paid each year for karoshi. That's not claims made, that's claims proven.

And still, Japanese somehow live longer than nearly anyone else. So on those smokes: no harm, no foul, right?

Americans rail against dollars for petroterror, or how SUVs fuel terrorism, or the like, so they should be entitled to smirk when they hear about some distant tyranny sucking down cigarettes, bull semen, and anything else Americans can produce at will. Assuming Americans have some dog in the fight, sales are bullets in an economic war and should be withheld only for cause.

If Iranians want to buy American bull semen, how does this harm Americans? There's even a propaganda angle in there, if Iranians need to order out to America for quality semen.

1 comment:

WmZ Harris said...

How ironic it is that the world's biggest Jerk-offs have to import semen.