Saturday, February 25, 2006

Bad Luck

The Wikipedia entry for Mao's Great Leap Forward cites this article, by Henry C. K. Liu in the Asia Times, as a source. It is part two of a series comparing Abraham Lincoln and Mao Zedong. This article actually doesn't mention Lincoln; it rather defends the Great Leap Forward, which was sort of the Chinese equivalent of Stalin's Five Year Plan. During this period, millions and millions of peasants died from starvation because of famine and various other reasons. Let's see what Liu has to say about it, hmm?
There would have been no deaths in the 1961-62 famines if not for the US embargo...
In 1963, the Chinese press called the famine of 1961-62 the most severe since 1879. In 1961, a food-storage program obliged China to import 6.2 million tons of grain from Canada and Australia. In 1962, import decreased to 5.32 million tons. Between 1961 and 1965, China imported a total of 30 million tons of grain at a cost of US$2 billion (Robert Price, International Trade of Communist China Vol II, pp 600-601). More would have been imported except that US pressure on Canada and Australia to limit sales to China and US interference with shipping prevented China from importing more. Canada and Australia were both anxious to provide unlimited credit to China for grain purchase, but alas, US policy prevailed and millions starved in China.

Ah, so the mass starvation was the Americans' fault for the embargo. (Never mind the evidence that Mao continued exportation of rice during this period.) And, quoting from a European China scholar:
"All in all, therefore, the nationwide enumeration of 1953 was not a census in the technical definition of the term"; the separate provincial figures show indeed an unbelievable increase of some 30 percent in the period 1947-1953, a period of heavy revolutionary struggle. (p 93-94) My conclusion is that the claim that in the 1960s a number between 17 [million] and 29 million people was "missing" is worthless if there was never any certainty about the 600 millions of Chinese. Most probably these "missing people" did not starve in the calamity years 1960-61, but in fact have never existed.

Not only was the mass starvation caused by Americans, it didn't even happen. The whole millions of death thing is a complete myth! Furthermore:
To describe Mao as a dictator merely reflects an ignorance of the true workings of the Chinese Communist Party. The failures of the Great Leap Forward and the People's Communes were caused more by implementation flaws rather than conceptual error. Bad luck and a US embargo had also much to do with it. These programs resulted in much suffering, but the claim that 30 million people were murdered by Mao with evil intent was mere Western propaganda.

Even though it didn't really happen and it was all the Americans' fault, whatever leftover deaths can be blamed on "bad luck."

Now, let's go ahead and take this assertion that mass starvation was propaganda at face value. Though he cites an author who says that it didn't even really happen, throughout the rest of the article he repeatedly makes the concession that there were numerous deaths. Let's set a low figure at 8 million. That sounds fair, right? It's not in the "tens of millions." How about a high figure of 17 million, which is normally accepted as lowballing? (Never mind Jung Chang's theory that the 30 million number is also lowballing - she puts it as 38.) How can you look at those numbers and still not think, "Holy shit, what a disaster"? And a disaster that Communist countries had already seen before. This whole Five Year Plans thing has a tendency to kill millions of people. Why is that? American embargos? No, this is simply the inevitability of central planning, for various reasons. But that's not the point of this entry. Rather, I intend to address this unbelievable paragraph near the end of the article:
Neo-liberal globalization has caused poverty for three-quarters of the world's population, which brings it to more than 3 billion. At least 3 percent of these victims die prematurely of starvation, bringing it to 90 million, mostly children who died from malnutrition. That statistical evidence is more scientific than the alleged 30 million deaths in China.

Globalization is worse!

All right. I'll take this slowly.

1) Neo-liberal globalization has not caused poverty. See, I can make unsubstantiated claims, too.

2) "That statistical evidence" does not exist anywhere except in the minds of anti-globalization proponents, as far as I can tell. In fact, "statistical evidence" shows the exact opposite trend: Free trade and lower death rates are, in fact, correlated (PDF). And, unlike Liu and other anti-globalizationers, proponents of free trade have a tenable theory to explain this phenomenon: Trade creates wealth. The mercantilist idea that exchange is, ex ante, always a zero-sum game, on which dependency theory is founded, is nonsense that should have been erradicated from any reasonable mind ages ago.

3) There is an enormous inconsistency in this argument. Can you find it? Here, I'll leave you a big blue paw print:

Which system of thought encourages embargos and tariffs?

That's right, his argument actually blames the U.S. for causing millions of deaths by not being more open to free trade - with which I can agree; resisting it is a horrible policy - and then blames free trade for causing millions of deaths by causing poverty. Or something. He doesn't really explain the mechanism for that second one, because it's completely outside of reality.

Without that "causing death through poverty" thing, anti-globalizationers are left with 2 other arguments: They oppose it because it causes inequality (though not necessarily poverty), or they oppose it because they don't like McDonald's. Since it's correlated with lower infant mortality rates, death rates, etc., the argument is that we should let people in other countries die to preserve their McDonald's-less culture and to keep people from getting rich. It is a despicable theory on every level, and Liu epitomizes the ignorance, inconsistency, and indecisiveness of those who hold it when he proclaims that mass-starving peasants, intentionally or not, for the sake of "equality" can be justified with the term "bad luck."

Edit: I neglected one more anti-globalization notion: environmentalism. I'll have more to say on this later, perhaps. Perhaps not. For now I'll leave it up to Boudreaux. Read more.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Nationalism

The argument goes that we - the United States as a whole, I guess, though it's important to remember that businesses and individuals trade with each other, not countries - are losing jobs because we are "outsourcing" them to other countries. If we - this time, the U.S. government - want to reduce unemployment, we should enact laws preventing big corporations from screwing American citizens out of jobs. Now, I have heard people on the right make this argument, but I don't think I'm wrong in saying that it's predominately the focus of the Democratic party; the charge is that Bush, in refusing to advance any such isolationist laws, is pulling favors for his big business cronies, etc.

Now, there's an assumption in this argument: these jobs are good. They're good for the people who have the jobs and they are good for the economy - if they weren't, people would argue for the elimination of such jobs, I would hope. There are (very wrong) theories out there that all international trade between developed and undeveloped economies is bad, but that is not the argument implicit here. I have heard few proclaiming that Indians are suffering because they have these jobs; no, it is Americans who could do the same jobs yet are unemployed that suffer. Likewise, there are theories that all international corporations are deceptive, evil entitites whose unscrupulous methods should not be condoned. This argument might be implicit here, but no charge is being made that these corporations are harming Indians or those they hire in other countries. No, these jobs are a positive good, and it is Americans who are suffering and Indians (or others) who are prospering at our expense.

Now. The United States is the richest country in the world. We have an amazing infrastructure, social saftey nets, production, etc., all of which prevent poverty from sucking in our country as much as it does in other countries. Meanwhile, many cities in India do not have proper water systems or public facilities, so people shit in the streets; to attain even a poverty-line standard of living in the United States would be a dream come true for millions of Indian citizens who can't even afford to eat.

So. Would someone please explain to me - slowly, if you will - why the hell the Democratic party, the champions of the poor, the downtrodden, the workers, the blah de blah, only give a shit about the poor in our own country? Why does the party of civil rights think it's okay to deny people the right to work because they're a different color so long as they don't live in the U.S.? Why do they clamor about the evils of nationalism and racism in America while trying to enact Operation Starve the Darkies?

And don't give me the argument about lower wages and exploitation. Wages are relative to the cost of living in an area; there is no reason to expect people living in a city where rent is a percentage of what it is in American cities to make the same as an American worker. Furthermore, if you were to offer a choice to the terrible foreign thieves of American jobs whether they wanted to A) Keep or B) Lose their jobs, something tells me most of them would pick A.

Yet, somehow I'm the asshole. "You're willing to pay lower prices to put Americans out of a job? Shame!" Yeah, and you're willing to pay higher prices to put Indians out of a job. Loving your country is fine and all, but hypocrisy ain't.

To hell with nationalism. Read more.