WTO Thoughts, 2 weeks later.

I should say up front that my politics are all over the map. I’m a financial conservative, but socially, I’m rather liberal. Perhaps that describes a libertarian philosophy. I wouldn’t be surprised if my views are actually set out in some book somewhere, I just haven’t found it yet. I read three newspapers regularly, The Wall Street Journal, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and The Stranger (a local alternative weekly). Each paper has its point, although the PI’s point may lie somewhere in the comics section. I should also mention that I’ve read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged recently.

If we’re worried about the WTO destroying the world, we should think again. More precisely, we should think about where this country is leading.

We’re worried about the envrionment when the average passenger vehicle weight has risen since the gas crisis of the 70’s. The bloated 4 door land yacht has been replaced with bloated jacked up 4wd land yachts. We have soccer moms driving 3 and a half ton trucks. Ford has just came out with a SUV so big that the first person to get one in Oklahoma peeled the roof off going into their garage.

We’re worried about the effects of big business, yet we are currently participating in the year end orgy of consumerisim called the “Christmas Buying Season”. Angels we have Heard on High, Tell us to go out and BUY.

We’re worried about the WTO infringing on our sovereignty. We, as a people, are voluntarily ceeding our sovereignty every time there’s an election and someone doesn’t vote. We lose sovereignty every time that we hold an election for an uninformed electorate. And we’re worried about a global body that when they do finally agree on something, we ignore them anyway. Oh yeah, and by the way, we’d like them to impose labor and major envriomental laws on the developing countries. It’s a poor weapon that can’t point both ways.

Friends, the WTO is following us. It’s being pushed by the desire for global trade, but there’s one engine that has been desiring global trade these last couple of years, the consumer of last resort: the American consumer. We don’t care so long as it’s cheap.

Well, some of us.

There are enough vocal consumers that some companies have figured out that it’s economically advantageous to “do the right thing”. Victoria’s Secret pays their workers well because the consumers demand it. The get better workers for their trouble. Starbucks, the focus of some violent protest in Seattle, seems to be doing pretty well. They offer benefits for part time workers. (At least the one in Greenlake was advertising that while looking for help). They require a premium coffee product that allows for a more ecological cultivation than the lower grade coffees.

Corporations understand money. Their entire purpose for existence is to utilize capital to generate profit. You cannot have a sustainable corporation that does not seek profit; look at the government for examples. To expect a corporation to do the right thing is wishful thinking, unless there’s some economic reason that the right thing is a less expensive alternative.

Developing countries understand money. When the recipient is willing, investment is a good thing. New jobs tend to raise the existing wage scale in a developing economy. It moves countries beyond sustenence farming economies. Investment requires at least some degree of stability, so that there’s some hope of a return on the investment.

Despots understand money. Historically, the great quasi-governmental lending agencies have had the easiest terms. They lend money and they don’t get repaid. The money flows into the country, skips its intended recipients and heads straight into the pockets of those in power. We get a lot of flack on how the US is so unfair that a large percentage of the wealth is concentrated in the hands of the richest x% of the population. It could be a lot worse; that wealth could be concentrated into several familes. They’re not hard to find, Look for billionaires in countries where the average yearly income is measured in hundreds of dollars.

The WTO can not force the europeans to eat genetically modified food, (nor processed american cheese food, but I digress). The WTO can not force americans to go out and buy the biggest SUV we can find. The WTO can not force us to buy dolphin unsafe tuna. The WTO is powerless when compared to the consumer.

Not only is the WTO not such a bad thing, it’s better than the alternatives. While the WTO is not an open body, it’s far more visible than back room agreements that would take place in its absence.

Yes the envrionment is a mess. It got that way because there’s a species on this earth that doesn’t understand the costs of what they are doing. We keep looking around for the next inexhaustable resource. The envrionment does not add up on any balance sheet that I know of, but at some point we are going to notice that existence is becoming precarious. Inexpensive clean water supplies require unspoiled land. Oops. Forests filter our air. Oops. Green space moderates asphalt jungle temperatures. Well, warm is good, right? It’s getting so the snow on Mt Rainer never is white, at least when viewed from Seattle. But this doesn’t mean that the WTO is any more or less culpable than the people that drive it.

If there is to be change, it’s going to happen from the people. Without the support of the people, there is no reason for our leaders to follow. Without consumers, there’s no reason for trade.

Well, that’s not quite correct. Change will happen anyway. We just might not like the direction it’s going.

Stay tuned for next week, when we try to figure out what happens when “Earth Shrugs”.

No comments

No comments yet. Be the first.

Leave a reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.